Carl Rogers, humanistic psychologist, postulated it was impossible to help someone if they do not believe they need to improve. The desire to improve must be a precondition of progress, and many substance abuse programs base their mode of treatment on this belief. The first step is admitting you have a problem, and you can never underestimate the power of denial.
I mostly work with addiction in my field, and this belief is something you must tell yourself on a day to day basis. If not, you will soon find yourself burning out. You put on this armor and adorn it with a dark sense of humor in self defense. Unfortunately, this method of coping can also lead one to believe they are beyond his or her client’s circumstances.
The book of Matthew asks, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your eye?”
This has never made more sense than it does today.
I was working with a client in recovery from substance abuse. Her main issue was mental health, but unfortunately, she found herself self medicating with essentially every intoxicating option available. When we started working together, she had previously gone through detox; one of many. She was an absolute delight. She had this light shining outward from within, so much so it was grueling to imagine her in the stage she was previously as stated in her records.
Considering relapse is part of recovery and considering the cycle she already established, it was not long until her history repeated itself. She fell off the wagon, and she was determined to find out how far she could fall. Within two days of discovering the relapse, I could no longer recognize the woman I had spent so much time with in the months preceding.
If you could imagine for a moment what it would look like to see a person suffering from demon possession, her behavior will likely be strikingly similar. Her relapse began with one drug and soon multiplied into a potentially deadly cocktail of illegal substances. This happened directly before she was set to accomplish a long-term goal.
The disturbing aspect is not the relapse or the drastic change to her personality but the recognition of my own denial. I remember thinking, “How could you do that? Why would you do that? Why can’t you just fix this problem?” I found this sudden and drastic change devastating.
I spent the following weeks searching within about what could have gone so wrong that I realized I could not only do what she did, but I could do it with incredible ease. This revelation shocked me to the core of my being to find how little separation there was between this woman and I, as I told myself countless times, “I would/could never do that.”
Our mutual character flaws may not have manifested themselves in my life the same way they did hers, but they were no less destructive; no less self-sabotaging. I found myself painfully conscious of my own behaviors and flaws while I discovered the similarities between myself and my clients. There are no words to describe the recognition of yourself in the persona of another human being.
Oddly enough, my emotions shifted from shock to humility. Why is it so difficult to forgive ourselves of our short-comings compared to another’s? If I could feel all of the empathy in the world for my clients’ plight, could I not spare any for myself? Furthermore, how could I help her when I fail myself?
I have always had a harsh judge inside me, and after years of practice, I learned how to subdue that monster within and bury it. Are we or are we not supposed to accept ourselves? Is that or is that not part of the positivity and self esteem movement? What if instead of pushing that inner voice back down into the depths from which it emerged, I entertained it?
I began listening to the critic inside, and I initiated the process of chipping away at my own facade to find the truth of who I am and who I long to be.
I must admit it is not an entirely pleasurable experience discovering goodness is not genuinely earned without the fall. I made a commitment to tell myself the truth in all things. I fail myself at times, but it is a steep learning curve. Even the book of Isaiah states, “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” I began to analyze everything I spoke outwardly and stated in my own mind to witness if it aligned with the truth, and I chose to follow my own advice to my clients.
I fell into this field by chance. The desire to improve the world kept me here. I would have never guessed it would lead to a desire to also improve my immediate surroundings. Jesus stated, “The kingdom of God is within you.” It only makes sense that if you must change mankind, you have to start with the individual.