Note from Marilyn L. Davis
How we say something is just as important as what we say.
Because I firmly believe this, I’ve decided to start a series, New Year-New Voices to help others hear the message of recovery from some exciting writers who will present the information in their voice, tone and style.
Our first New Voice is Craig W. Stratton, adjunct professor at Hudson Valley Community College.
Addiction, Recovery and the Pursuit of Purpose
By: C.W. Stratton, MS, CASAC
“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” Arthur Ashe
Addiction and recovery have multiple definitions throughout the helping professions and self-help environments. However, the term addiction has always received a negative connotation, and as a result, those dealing with addiction have incorporated a negative view of themselves.
Many of us clearly understand that addiction is a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavioral problem. It’s the compulsive need to have a substance or regularly engage in behavior that is knowingly harmful to the individual. While active addiction may present as pleasurable to the individual, it impacts health and interferes with everyday responsibilities.
Addiction is a chronic brain disease, and we must acknowledge contributing factors that precede active use:
• Family History
• Mental Disorder
• Abuse (Sexual, Physical, Psychological)
• Other Forms Of Trauma
Another definition of addiction is the Great Eraser because it removes so many valuable things from the individuals life, such as:
Recovery Is Possible Through Hard Work
Recovery is the return to a normal state of health, mind or strength. Or, it’s viewed as the action or process of regaining possession or control of something that was lost or stolen. Looking at these definitions would allow us to look deeper into the lives of the individual and begin to assess all areas of the person’s life to determine what can be returned to its normal state and where they may regain control.
What was lost or stolen? Many of you may be individuals who are in recovery but, you may be at the point in your life where you can now identify what has been lost or stolen from your life due to active addiction. We are now regaining or even obtaining more of what we felt as being lost.
We are faced with the dilemma of identifying ways to assist and guide these individuals to a healthy way of living. There are several methods that an individual can use to move from active addiction and, at least, reach the initial goal of abstinence, or discontinuing the drug and alcohol use. Abstinence is a prerequisite to the recovery process. Motivations to discontinue the use of substances varies. These motivations can come from:
- Family Members
- Perception of losses: children, jobs, freedom, or life
- Health Related Matters
- Involvement In The Criminal Justice System
- Accountability Courts And Other Alternatives To Incarceration
More people today have obtained their start in the recovery process through the criminal justice system. While the criminal justice system is not the top motivating factor, it has had a huge impact on the lives of those whose start began there.
No matter the initial steps taken to enter into the recovery process, as long as the individual arrives is what is important.
Addiction is a complicated illness to battle or overcome, and it takes hard work and diligence to do so. Looking at the individual along with the behaviors associated with active addiction, we can plainly see that the actual act of using substances is just the symptom of a larger problem. We must also acknowledge the other self-destructive behaviors and outcomes associated with active addiction:
- Continued Use, Regardless Of Consequences
- Criminal Behavior
- Loss Of Family
- Possible Loss Of Life
Reflecting on The Point of Reference
The Point of Reference requires us to look back in time, our childhood, family interactions, and involvement with those in our community or school. There is a great percentage of us who can think about many of the basic life rules that were taught to us.
Things like, clean up after yourself, be respectful, be honest, have faith, admit when you’re wrong, go to school, etc. Although some of us didn’t particularly like the idea of these things needing to be done on a consistent basis, we heard the messages. Some may say, “my parents never taught me these things because they were addicted as well.”
However, we had extended family, members of the community, educators and even the criminal justice system trying to instill these ideas in us. We just happened to replace those positive messages with negative self-talk or our active addiction made using these messages impossible. Our behaviors and attitudes moved us away from those valuable concepts due to our associations.
Within the 12-Steps are several correlations with the helpful messages we heard growing up:
- Be honest
- Have faith
- Acknowledge the harm we have caused others
- Admit our wrong
- Make amends
- Be of service to others
The Steps are all related to life itself. I encourage individuals to look at the Steps and acknowledge how they apply to life in general and how we were taught many of these ideas as young children.
Now that we have arrived, what to do now? We’re clean and sober; we’ve refrained from illegal behaviors and old associates, but life seems stagnant. Do we remain obsessed with the idea of remaining abstinent without taking further action? Now is the time to take a closer look at our lives and find out what meaningful things should be applied to enhance recovery and life.
Transformations, Spiritual Awakenings, and Purpose
Before active addiction, many of us had certain passions, interests, hobbies, and skills. We discontinued using these admirable qualities in our active addiction, but we have an opportunity to resurrect them in our recovery. We have reached the point that a transformation can occur. Some may call it “The Spiritual Awakening” but others may see it as a time to find “Purpose.”
Uncertain about our purpose, many of us decided to take a class, get involved in a group (outside of recovery based groups) or chose to return to school. These are ways to begin recognizing what our purpose is, and that means identifying our talents, passions, and skills.
Taking a moment to sit with ourselves and dig deep into our core to identify what’s meaningful, selfless and what will provide joy is essential in moving towards Purpose. I tend to pose the age-old question that we heard in pre-school or kindergarten; “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
During that time of our lives, we had immediate answers. Today, when asked the question, we at times have a puzzled or unsure look on our faces.
It’s time to grab a hold of our lives, nourish that inner creative being and begin moving away from the enslavement that addiction has caused. Yes, it only happens “One Day At A Time” but today we must start the journey of purpose. So, I’d ask you to reflect on:
- What is your purpose?
- Can you change your negative assessment of yourself through your recovery efforts?
- Can you see where your experiences can motivate and encourage another on this journey of recovery?
If you can answer, “yes” to any of these questions, can you share those messages with the world?
About Craig W. Stratton MS, CASAC
Combining his passions with a purpose is one of his goals. He has worked to help marginalized populations understand their addictions and introduce them to the benefits of recovery, as a Case Manager for the homeless, and those in Drug Treatment Court.
He has also counseled adolescents, adults and couples over the last 14 years in various agencies, and worked extensively on Alternatives to Incarceration, to incorporate treatment rather than incarceration for non-violent offenders.
Craig is an Adjunct Professor at Hudson Valley Community College, where he brings his personal experience of 17 years in recovery as well as his education to his students ensuring that the next generation of substance abuse counselors understand knowledge of addiction, but more importantly, know a representative of the addicted population.
Bringing this human element to his classes advocates for recovery and will help remove the stigmas and myths associated with faceless addicts.
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