The Struggle to Recover from Addiction
One reason I struggled to remain free of alcohol was my aspirations and values were heavily wrapped up in the drinking identity. Alcohol was more than a drug for me, it was a way of life.
When things got bad enough, I would develop the willingness to ‘quit the booze’, but it was much harder to let go of the worldview that supported the behavior. So long as this old ‘frame of reference’ remained intact, staying sober felt like a struggle because it meant I felt incomplete and lacking in a key component necessary for my well-being.
Frame of Reference Explained
Have you ever noticed how two people can witness the exact same situation yet come to different conclusions about what has occurred? When this happens, how do we decide who is seeing reality the ‘right way’? Well, I’m not sure if we ever can with certainty.
This conflict in perception arises because none of us experience reality exactly as it is. Instead, we filter what we see through our beliefs, conditioning, biases, and assumptions. It is this frame of reference that gives our life meaning and structure, but it also means we are experiencing reality in a biased way. It acts like an invisible prison because our way of experiencing reality means we focus on evidence that supports this view.
The Frame of Reference that Supports Addiction
I once believed a ‘good life’ had to involve the consumption of alcohol and drugs. I now see this as an incredibly sad way of looking at things, but at the time, I was convinced because all the evidence seemed to be backing it up.
In my old frame of reference, the pub was at the heart of every community. It was the place to go to escape the pressures of life – a venue where socializing felt easy. I saw alcohol as a vital component when it came to romantic relationships because I needed a drink to meet girls, get to know them, live with them, and get over the hurt of losing them. Alcohol was my reward and consolation – if I didn’t have it, what was the point of anything?
It was only when I started to question my old frame of reference that I began to get free of it. I began to see how my way of looking at the world was keeping me trapped, and that I had been deluding myself.
You Can’t Get There from Here
I empathize when clients tell me they can’t imagine life without drugs. I see how there frame of reference makes any other way of living appear impossible. It is hard to convince a person to leave their prison cell when they can’t even recognize they are being held captive.
One of the great gifts of mindfulness practice is we begin to question our beliefs, assumptions, perception of reality. We start to appreciate how convincingly the mind can trick us, and this creates cracks in our frame of reference. When we realize how this way of perceiving reality has contributed to our suffering, it becomes easy to let it go.
Once we have understood that no frame of reference is ultimately true or real, it gives us the flexibility to adopt one that better serves our purposes. A new frame of reference can completely revolutionize the way we experience reality. It can mean chemically numbing our brain no longer feels like an attractive proposition – there is no longer any sense of loss or lack so remaining free of drugs is easily sustainable.
I also discuss the importance of letting go of the addictive identity in this post – Real Recovery Require More Than Being a Caterpillar with Wings