There are no easy answers: Two people can experience the same traumatic event and one becomes entangled and enmeshed within despair while the other chooses life and becomes whole. The questions as to how and why one dies and one lives have puzzled the best minds in the treatment domain since the dawn of time, really. For me, there are not enough tools available to reach those stuck within their toxic circumstances. So, I’ve built my own, though it might be more accurate to say that I’ve appropriated concepts within a framework I understand and can apply both to me and to my clients.
I’ve seen and experienced the immense confusion that emerges from the nature of human existence. As the only animal on the planet that is aware of and can reflect on his or her own mortality, humanity becomes embroiled in an internal struggle to live in spite of our pending demise. Something like Terror Management Theory (TMT) attempts to explain an unconscious defense mechanism of the mind that protects us all from the existential harm that our awareness of death can cause. The difficulty is that death is prevalent and the negative energy associated with its reality cannot be sublimated by anything, unconscious or otherwise. While TMT places self-reflection as the cause of what ails us, my framework requires it.
My whole approach and framework for substance abuse treatment is built on and around the concept of the “Collective Capacity.” The Collective Capacity (CC) is the unfettered choice of will to live in spite of the unfettered awareness and knowledge of death. CC is a dynamic, NOT static, entity within which all humanity plays a role in extending. To live within the CC is to see, create, an extend all that is good and strong and beautiful. The key word in CC is unfettered: Chains of protective beliefs prevent awareness both of life and of death and become the means through which people trapped in confusion reside. Only in liberation from those chains can people realize their free will to choose.
The sad thing is that, though the CC is universal, not everyone accesses, feels, believes, or even wants to partake of what it does. Because death’s negative energy is prevalent, despair grows within a person and replaces all choices towards life. Despair takes many forms, but its essential function is to isolate a person from the CC and therefore, from love itself. Despair, when stripped to its essence, is the abyss that looks back at a person when a person looks at it. An old saying that I like is, “When you dance with the Devil, the Devil doesn’t change; the Devil changes you.” Despair, then, is the abyss that develops inside a person and if a person looks into that despair, the despair looks back at them. Sometimes, despair derives from an external source, sometimes it derives from an internal source, but it is always developmental; that is, it develops inside a person over time and through a person’s normal day-to-day life. The person stuck in despair then needs to protect him or her self from this despair, if they can’t handle what the despair sees in them.
This protection comes in the forms of denials. Denials are, effectively, masks that a person uses to hide from facing the despair that has welled up inside of the core of his or her being. The greatest danger of these masks is that they often become projected onto those unfortunate to be around the person affected with despair. These projections then lead to further isolation, which then leads to hell on earth: the immutable and permanent life without love. Life for those who live within the fetters of their denials are living through masks that prevent life. Most people see suicide as an end to one’s life and while I agree with that definition, I see two types of suicide: 1) Acute; and, 2) Chronic. Acute suicide is what is commonly meant: a person commits a sudden act that end’s his or her life. Chronic suicide, however, is when a person destroys his or her life through bound choices until the moment of his or her last breath.
To me, this framework isn’t a bunch of theoretical crap. It’s as pragmatically important as learning to balance a checkbook. The count of Monte Cristo said that only in experiencing ultimate despair could someone experience ultimate bliss. I believe he was right, but what he didn’t say is that, in my opinion, in any given situation, there’s good or bad and if a person has climbed out of despair and into life through the CC, then that person can recognize the simultaneous existence of good and bad and so therefore must choose through aware will, the good. Those stuck in despair can’t see the good and choose to reinforce the bad such that their despair grows deeper. The reward of bliss that the count describes is the full experience of the good and the strong and the beautiful.
Compulsive behavior is rooted in anxiety, defined as the perception of not having either internal or external resources to face a given situation. Then, when the despair rises and rushes over a person, they must behave in such a way that eases their suffering. Their behavior may ease the short-term suffering, but contributes more and more to the well of despair. They then apply their masks as a way to defend their destructive actions
This is the framework, then, from which I treat a person. Most treatment models require two things: 1) that an addict sees the consequences of their actions; and, 2) that the interventionist breaks through the denials that the addict has built such that they can see truth. But, I disagree with both because I see that the end result of the combination of both is only more despair. Rather, I’d rather the addict begins to see the good in any situation, rather than the bad. To me, only through the CC can someone learn to put away their masks and develop more and more within the CC until they can experience more fully their life. The problem for me is that when a person remains in his or her despair state, not only does he or she risk his or her own life, but he or she also risks impeding others’ lives and not extending the CC. Addiction emerges either from a desire to achieve bliss without any work or from a desire to escape despair without reflection.
Since the CC is dynamic and actively so, I then see it in the human realm in terms of functionality. To me, a person can function on one of five levels:
- Divine: A person who has achieved direct and complete communication with all that’s good and strong and beautiful. This person experiences Agape, pure and unconditional love, in all he or she does. He or she no longer requires awareness of life or death because there is no longer death to this person. He or she lives through and with the CC every moment.
- High: A person who is fully aware of the good and the strong and beautiful and consciously seeks to extend the CC. This person knows love, has strong relationships, and yet continues to struggle with the shackles of human experience. That is, they looked at the abyss, the abyss looked back at them and they can still be hurt by what was reflected. Still, they move forward through the CC and not through despair. They experience life and love. The prerequisite here, though, is that a person has to experience the most hopeless point of despair such that they can break all chains and choose to wholly and fully experience the good and the strong and the beautiful.
- Average: To me, this is the most common person here in the U.S. This person may live through masks, but doesn’t know death’s true despair and so his or her masks never really need to do much other than present mildly annoying symptoms. Average functioners know neither despair nor bliss and they don’t want to know. Theirs is a life lived, not experienced. They’re never faced with the choice required within the CC.
- Low: Low functioners live through despair plow through their lives confused and hopeless. They often present as opiate and/or alcohol addicts, but can present as an addict of any type. They are isolated from love and their being is at risk of becoming their masks. They are not free and often their choices are not unfettered. Mostly, they just want the pain of their existence to end. They simply do not have the means to access the CC.
- Sinister: Here, people have not only lost hope for themselves, but also, they seek to end all that’s good and strong and beautiful for all humanity. They can be addicts, but their addiction is just another form of destruction. They seek to end the CC in themselves and in others and live lives completely devoid of any potential for love.
As the CC is dynamic, so is all of humanity and life itself. These categories, with the exception of the divine and sinister, ebb and flow and a person can love in any one of the others at any given point. A person can be a high functioner, but then become overwhelmed with death’s grip and succumb to despair, as can a low functioner grow in the CC and become a high functioner. Functioning is a continuum and only in the extremes: Divine and Sinister; can I see real end points.
In my opinion, people want to be accepted and loved despite being flawed. Whatever a given person perceives those flaws to be, to me, that’s THE basic human desire. To try to explain, let’s look at someone I’ll call, “Joe.” Joe thought, from an early age, that his parents favored his younger brother. Joe wanted his parents to love him the way they loved his brother. Joe began, over time, to feel inadequate about himself and thought there was something profoundly wrong with who he was. He also began to resent and, almost, hate his brother. These feelings developed a tendency in Joe, during later life, to be envious whenever anyone received anything he himself wanted.
Joe, although he may have at one point recognized his tendency towards envy, protected himself by thinking he was gracious and NOT envious of others. However, Joe was known to say, “The reason he (or she) doesn’t like me is because he’s jealous.” This is the projected mask that reflects the denial of Joe’s tendencies towards envy. Down deep, he felt he flawed, denied those feelings of inadequacy, denied his envy, yet began to resent everyone around him on the grounds that they were all jealous. The last straw for Joe was walking in on his wife having sex with one of his friends. Her actions confirmed the worst Joe thought of himself and of life and that was just too much for him to bear. He became sullen and death’s weapon, despair, enveloped Joe’s entire being. He couldn’t make sense of his life; he couldn’t find a reason to continue and secretly carried a wish for death. He turned to heroin to cope with the pain he felt from his isolation from love.
In order to treat Joe (who, by the way, I see as a low-functioner),I would involve one person who truly loves and accepts him. I’d have this person write a letter to Joe that details the specifics about that love and acceptance. That letter would become the soil from which Joe could learn, piece by piece, that he is worth of love and acceptance. Joe would then need to come to see and accept his tendencies toward envy and acknowledge his own self-hate. Otherwise, he’ll never be free.
To me, we are all the same in terms of the CC. However, if despair enters a soul, the last thing a person is capable of seeing is all that’s good and strong and beautiful. That person becomes isolated and bound by self-hate and wishes for nothing more than death. This is my framework. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to work…