The Power of Perspective to Heal and Transform

Most of the great problems of life are never resolved. They’re just outgrown.

-Carl Jung

The truth of this Carl Jung quote resonated when I first read it. The process of recovery (from anything) seems to follow a certain similar path for most people. It is a paradox that while our individual journeys are totally unique and never duplicated, there are some big themes that seem universal. It is also paradoxical that while our individual journeys are never linear (they tend to jump around a lot), there are similar stages of recovery for all. One of the reasons education about our conditions is so crucial in any kind of treatment or counseling (for alcoholism, depression, anxiety or other conditions) is that having a basic understanding of the process of disease empowers us to make better choices and informs our recovery process for the rest of our lives. For example, knowing that depression and alcoholism thrive in isolation (and the contributing psychological, physical, and sociological causes and effects) helps empower someone to say “yes” when asked to join a discussion group or engage socially (when that may be the last thing someone wants to do). There are so many big themes in recovery. One of the big themes in recovery involves perspective.

It is not uncommon to hear discussed “the disease of perception” in an AA meeting. It is always so fascinating to hear the various experiences people have had with major shifts in perception and perspective, and the relief and personal growth that occur as a result. Or maybe it is the other way around – maybe the growth happens first and then the shift in perspective results. It is a classic chicken-egg mystery.

One of the great gifts in LAP is the opportunity to see this growth and shift in perspective as a lawyer’s recovery unfolds. I recall early in my tenure at LAP the first in-depth conversation I had with a FRIENDS volunteer who was recovering from depression. He expressed how his recovery had opened his eyes to what he could only describe as a three- (or maybe four-) dimensional world, and it shattered his prior linear frame of mind and way of thinking. While he used different words and concepts to frame his experience, I too had a similar ‘shift in perspective’ or ‘awakening’ or ‘opening’ experience (whatever one chooses to call it) in my recovery that very much paralleled his. I listened to him and was struck by the similarity of his path and process to those who are recovering from alcoholism.

Often the shift in perspective can only be measured or observed in hindsight. And as Carl Jung so astutely points out, much of the shift involves outgrowing a certain perspective, or moving to a higher level of understanding and insight. Over the years in LAP, I have heard lawyers share some profound things. These may not seem profound in the retelling, but given the stalwart defense mechanisms of our egoic structures, these are monumental shifts in insight and indicators of a lot of personal growth.

One lawyer observed that during his early sobriety, had he been given a polygraph test asking whether he was an alcoholic, he would have answered, “No,” and he would have passed the test with flying colors – despite the fact he was a severe alcoholic. He observed that recovery slowly opened his eyes. The unfolding process of self-honesty was more of a journey of growing self-awareness – the more self-aware he became, the more honest he could become. And through education and hearing the experiences of others he gradually came to see that he indeed was an alcoholic. And as the years passed, he could look back with increasing clarity. He joked that at 25 years sober he seemed like a much worse alcoholic than he did at 1 year sober (at which time he was still reeling from the consequences his disease had wrought).

Another lawyer observed with some disbelief and wonder, that the problems, fears and concerns that consumed him upon entry to LAP a mere six months prior, now seemed laughable in hindsight. He could not fathom that “those problems” had him so wound up. He laughingly observed that he now had a different set of problems, fears and concerns that consumed him, but he suspected that one day down the road, these problems might also seem laughable. There is something magical and freeing about the big lesson in perspective - on some level we know that whatever problems are consuming our thoughts and energy today, will be seen and understood with a different lens down the road. A lens informed by growth and expanded perspective. We begin to intuitively understand and believe in our hearts (not just our heads) that “this too shall pass.” And we can begin to trust the unfolding process of recovery, life, awareness and growth.

Another lawyer recently sent a note to LAP staff thanking them for insisting that he do certain things for his recovery. He had initially been very resistant to all suggestions made. It was a sobering note because he reported that he had stayed in touch with everyone he had been in treatment with and they all had relapsed. He was the sole survivor who was still sober a few years later. In his note, which was the inspiration for this article’s theme, he said that he was beginning to haltingly glimpse the bigger picture, and in so doing, his perspective had changed radically from feeling imposed upon to feeling immensely grateful for the very things he had resisted and resented.

This kind of shift in perspective is much bigger and more profound than the trite glass half-empty, glass half-full metaphor we often hear. It is the manifestation of inner growth, accompanied as always by a shift in inner priorities, which leads to a different view of the world and our place in it. As William D. Silkworth observed, part of this shift in perspective “appears to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.” Anyone engaged in a genuine and committed recovery effort can attest to this shift in priorities, ideas, emotions and attitudes – and to a change in perception and perspective that recovery brings.