if you want to help an addict, be the best version of yourself

The more time I spend researching and educating about Addiction, the more I’m beginning to realize that rewriting an identity is the real goal of any effective treatment program.  As a matter of fact, rewriting an identity is emerging to be the goal of ANY personal change program. I came to this realization, not through any type of Addiction/Recovery work, but through studying the life trajectory of a man named Camilo Restrepo Torres.

To quickly summarize Mr. Torres, he was born in 1929 in Bogota, Columbia and died in 1966 in San Vicente, Columbia.  His family was a part of the Columbian aristocracy; yet he turned his back on his family’s riches to become a priest.  He didn’t identify with the life of wealth, rather, he found it meaningless and decided that for his life to have value, he would serve God’s creation, especially those who were less fortunate than he had been.  However, the more time he spent administering to the poor and sick, the more he realized that people like his family were not neutrally rich; rather, he came to see the aristocracy as oppressive and controlled too many resources.  In time, he left the priesthood and joined the Columbian revolution as a guerilla soldier.  He died in his first combat excursion.

I find Camilo Torres extremely interesting.  His sense of identifying with the poor was so strong that it led to his death.  It was to their cause that he was attached and he wrote and taught from that perspective.  It simply wasn’t enough for him to teach and serve; he felt that it was his moral duty to take up a rifle and fight powers that he saw as oppressive.

Like Mt. Torres, I believe all people ultimately attach with whom they identify.  In order to come to identify with someone (or something), there has to be exposure.  In terms of recovery from Addiction, in order for someone who is addicted to a substance to develop a “recovery identity,” he or she must find a “role model” that will provide a template for a life with which the addicted person can identify with. Camilo Torres saw the poor’s struggle as his own and he could not tolerate their oppressed circumstances.  However, had he not been exposed to the common people through his work as a priest, he never would have joined the revolution.

I’ve come to believe, with little doubt, that in order to “help” someone with an Addiction, people have to strive to be the best version of themselves as is possible.  That way, they can be seen as a template for those who may be struggling.  However, if people live through fear and shame and anger, they’re only serving to further extend the identity of the addict.  If treatment providers develop a treatment program that can lead to health, but if an addict’s life circumstance only reinforces the addiction identity, then there’s very little chance of the treatment program succeeding.

Therefore, if you want to help an addict, be the best version of yourself that you can.  that way, you can be an example of a healthy life.  Really, it’s beginnning to seem more an more likely that a “recovery identity” needs a role model just  like any other goal oriented behavioral change program.