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One of the most difficult aspects of helping a person struggling with alcoholism or depression is to be able to bring hope.  We don’t derive hope from taking tests for alcoholism or depression, or from hearing a lecture about these subjects.  Mainly we get hope from hearing the experience of a recovering person, and identifying with enough of what happened in the course of that person’s disease to hope that what happened in that person’s recovery might also happen for us.  The experience of hope usually comes from another person.

Hope can be very difficult to have.  It can be almost impossible for a person in the throes of an active chronic disease to have a vision of what it is like to really be well again.

Similarly, it can be very difficult for a person with one of these chronic diseases, who has gotten some relief, to have a vision or motivation to want to go further.  To hope that they can really be well.  Folks in this position are often characterized as stuck in relief.  This may be the alcoholic who has somehow managed to stop drinking by going to AA meetings, but is not working the 12-steps of AA; i.e. he has gotten some relief but he is not doing the work to try to deal with the underlying emotional issues that were being medicated.  For the depressed person, this is taking anti-depressant medication and not doing anything to address the underlying emotional issues that were repressed and which repressions caused the depression.  Patients who are stuck in relief have to answer this question: Do I just want to feel better, or do I want to get well.  There is not one shred of evidence, there are no clinical studies, which suggest anti-depressant medication addresses the cause of depression.  In fact, the science of these medications is that they are designed to treat symptoms.  Getting well, or real recovery, from addiction or depression requires work; the kind of opening up to emotions work that is very hard for us lawyers.  Again, there is often the lack of hope that getting better than just neutral is possible.  We think maybe it is possible for others to feel joy, but not for us.

One reason hope is difficult at the stuck-in-relief stage is that much in our culture represents a form of the neurotic illnesses we are trying to be free from.  It almost seems all we can hope for is to be neurotically adjusted to a neurotic society.  If we looked at society as a clinical patient, we might come up with several diagnoses.  We might just look at the ads for alcohol and conclude the patient was addicted.  Dr. Al Mooney, a former LAP Board member and physician in Raleigh, has a wonderful slide show of alcohol advertising in which he shows how ads romanticize the symptoms of addiction as ways to entice purchasers.  Or, we might look at how many products are sold with sexual messages and easily determine that the patient is a sex or relationship addict.  We could look at the work life culture in law and easily conclude the patient has a work addiction.  Or, perhaps we focus on certain athletic footwear ads and soft drink ads and conclude the cultural patient is bipolar and stuck in the manic phase of that disease.  Maybe we look at how we treat our natural environment and conclude that the cultural patient is suffering from some form of low self-esteem that creates a type of depression such as dysthymia, which is a low-grade, longer term depression.

The bottom line is that our popular culture does not give us much reason to recognize healthy patterns which might give us hope for personal change.  To really recover from addiction or depression requires us to accept life on life’s terms without having to escape into one of our culture’s obsessions, which allows us to avoid how we feel.  We must learn to develop the emotional capacity to come to terms with living in a world where we learn to love people who die, where there is much loss and sadness as well as joy.  Not only can we be stuck in relief, we can also be stuck in creating our own solution.  For those who have a chronic disease and find their life a struggle, this may mean buying self-help books or complaining about how law practice takes all their time and then take a time management course.  Such attempts to remedy problems may help those basically well, but usually not individuals with chronic diseases.  For the people with severe addiction or depression, they may have no choice but to try to really get well.  For these people, the hope of those who have gone before and recovered is essential.  Our post modern, materialistic and reductionist world offers few models for hope.  When we deconstruct everything in a sort of linear cause and effect, we never find hope.  But healing from chronic diseases does not occur in a linear, Newtonian world.  If we see the course of the diseases of addiction or depression as linear and totally predictable, there is no hope.  But true healing is not linear.  Healing is a process with many feedback loops and with such complexity that it can be analogized to chaos theory.

The basis for chaos theory is non linear math developed in the nineteenth century by the French mathematician Jules-Henri Poincare who discovered that in complex systems there are points he calls resonances.  If an object in the system strays into a resonance point, it is no longer defined by the linear causal network determining the system.  It is set free.  This is why despite gravity, sometimes meteors leave our solar system, or more mundanely why your computer occasionally freezes for no apparent reason.

Hope, recovery from chronic disease, is not rational.  But by engaging in the complex tasks of 12-step work for addiction or needed psychotherapy for depression, one is offered the chance for real recovery, to be set free.  The road to the mountain doesn’t cause the mountain to come into being, but leads you to where it is.

If we get hope from the stories of others to stay on the road of recovery, to do the real work, then it is truly possible to enter that space where we can be set free, where healing occurs and life can again be joyful.

– by Don Carroll


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