The French philosopher Rene Descartes coined the famous quote, “I think therefore I am.” He was speaking about how the words and beliefs that we carry about ourselves have the power to influence our behavior. Thankfully, the epidemic of addictive behavior is finally catching the spotlight from the media. However, the language that is used has the power to influence the viewer negatively and not lend itself to dialogue regarding solution.
As a person in recovery who is very familiar with the language used “in the rooms,” the word “addict” makes my skin crawl. When immersed in a 12-step fellowship, attendees generally understand the terms used. However, when a coworker, family member, or government official hears it, the interpretation can become muddled.
The inner dialogue that we used is the most powerful because we hear it more than we hear any other voice. It runs on a constant loop within our mind and soul whether we realize it or not. When I lost my career as a direct consequence to my addiction, I also lost my identity. For many years I identified myself by what I did for a living. When I lost it, I also lost who I was. It took me time in recovery to separate who I am as a uniquely created individual with what I do.
This is a very strong concept for a person in recovery to realize. When I am pursuing a life of recovery, I am able to explore who I am deep within. I am not the sometimes deplorable things that I did. I am not an “addict.” I am a father, son, employee, and friend. I am a man who is in recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of mind, body, and spirit. I am a man with purpose, dreams, and aspirations. When I identify myself with such a limited term like “addict”, I also limit myself from the endless possibilities that life has to offer me.
Statistics have shown that when a person learns that someone is an “addict” or “alcoholic”, they think that the person is actively still abusing a substance or utilizing another destructive behavior. The lack of education by the general public leads to a drastic misunderstanding that can be severely detrimental towards advocating for a life of recovery. When the word “addict” is used when describing a person, it also tends to keep the conversation about the problem going while ignoring the solution.
If I am giving a speech to a community organization or legislature, which example sounds more solution based? “Hello, my name is Stephen and am an addict?” Or, “Hello, my name is Stephen, and I am a person in recovery?” I believe the first statement can be interpreted as someone who is still living in the problem. The second one speaks to someone who has found a way out and it currently pursuing a life of solution.
I do not believe that there is one way to get better. Every person is just that, a unique individual who became addicted to whatever for many reasons. There are many roads that lead to this, therefore there are many roads out. I am not here to argue whether addiction is a disease, for spending time arguing this point stifles any meaningful dialogue about solution. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that it is a disease. This being the case, diabetes and heart disease are also diseases. If one person can take normal Insulin to control their diabetes, why is that another person needs a different formulation of medication? Since a disease manifests itself differently for each person, treatment must be tailored as such.
My point in bringing this up lends itself to the language also. Persons in recovery from cancer or a cold don’t describe themselves as “Steve and I am a cold or a cancer.” Why should it be any different for those recovering from addiction? The people who are recovering from these other conditions do not limit themselves to their condition.
When someone makes the decision to enter into a life of recovery, limiting beliefs must be smashed. Speaking for myself, I used drugs, alcohol, and other behaviors for the effect produced. However, I was attempting to run from the limitations I had placed upon myself from past failures, mistakes, and goals never realized. I also attempted to quiet the voices of others who placed limitations on me while growing up. The critical parent, childhood peer, or teacher who told me I would never be this or that.
When I decided that the pain of staying the same was greater than seeking change, I had to start small. When one finds themselves standing in front of mirror feeling disgusted at the 100 pounds that have put on and make a decision to change, the process is the same. They desire to lose all of the extra weight, but shedding it must be done one pound at a time. Prior to the hard work of exercise and healthy eating, the inner dialogue must change. He must separate what he sees in the mirror from who he is as a person. While the evidences of his behavior and limiting beliefs is very clear, he is much more than that He is not his previous choices that led him here, but a unique person who can achieve anything he believes in.
It all starts in the mind and with the things that we tell ourselves. You are not an addict, alcoholic, flu, or heart attack. You are a person who is in recovery from these things. When you begin with telling yourself that you are not your past decisions and behaviors, your world vision becomes limitless. There is a reason that the rearview mirror is tiny and the windshield is large. One holds much limitation, while the other is wide, vast, and infinite.
Stephen Kavalkovich is a former paramedic and 9/11 rescue worker who lost it all due to heroin addiction. He is now a man in recovery who writes, advocates, coaches and speaks. I have written this piece and wanted to offer it for your magazine. Find out more about him here.
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