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By Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts: Leader for The Compassionate Friends of Mohawk Valley

There is a teaching in The Afterlife of Billy Fingers by Annie Kagan that reads: “Life is filled with illusion pretending to be truth.” I found this to be true during my twenty-seven-year career counseling chemically dependent individuals. The illusion is that the addictive behavior of chemically dependent individuals is who they are. The truth is that the behavior is what they do, and not who they are. We do have to hold their addictive behavior accountable and stress sobriety so that the individual can achieve a successful lifestyle. However, we also have to look beyond their behavior and find their unique gifts and strengths. Their unique gifts and strengths are assets that they can utilize to embrace a drug-free lifestyle.

There are many times we choose not to look beyond the illusion of behavior in certain situations. One of the reasons may be that our biases cloud our ability to be objective. I believe that we all have biases; embracing them gives us a rich opportunity to learn from our human experience. There is also fear and uncertainty that accompanies changing our perceptions. For many, change means letting go of the familiar. We may prefer to hang on to the familiar, even if it prevents us from achieving a higher level of awareness.

There are many times we choose not to look beyond the illusion of behavior in certain situations. One of the reasons may be that our biases cloud our ability to be objective. I believe that we all have biases; embracing them gives us a rich opportunity to learn from our human experience. There is also fear and uncertainty that accompanies changing our perceptions. For many, change means letting go of the familiar. We may prefer to hang on to the familiar, even if it prevents us from achieving a higher level of awareness.

We may prefer to hang on to the familiar, even if it prevents us from achieving a higher level of awareness.
The work with chemically dependent individuals is sometimes complicated by society’s generally negative and largely inaccurate perceptions of them. Their decision to use is inevitably tied to their worth as a human being. Many of the chemically dependent individuals with whom I worked were among the most intelligent, passionate, creative and heartfelt people I have ever encountered. Many also had significant periods of sobriety where they helped others who were experiencing the challenges of chemical dependency, did volunteer work, or just random acts of kindness for others.

Their lives are not just about the decisions that they made to dance with addiction. It is about their innate gifts and what they offered to others when they were sober. Their positive impact on society cannot and should not be overlooked. What also tends to be forgotten is that many chemically dependent individuals have also been able to maintain long-term sobriety without relapsing back to drug use.
As a parent who has experienced the death of a child due to cancer, I have had the privilege of meeting other parents whose children died; several due to drug use. It distresses me when their children are perceived as less than because of their dance with addiction. It is the totality of a life that determines a life, and the gift that is their life that is important.

With that in mind, I want to conclude with the teachings that I have discovered from working with chemically dependent individuals. These are their permanent gifts to me.
∙ The importance of recognizing the inherent strengths and assets of individuals who cross my path
∙ That making them conscious of their behavior is more beneficial than judging their behavior
∙ To let their stories, unfold so that they may achieve clarity and perhaps in the process, embrace a peaceful perspective about their lives
∙ Survival and resiliency; tools that served me well in my own journey after the death of my daughter Jeannine
∙ The importance of being present and listening
∙ those labeling individuals because of their behavior is not only disempowering but prevents us from discovering their true beauty and grace.
∙ That we must collaborate with chemically dependent individuals, to help them discover their own unique paths to recovery.

Dave Roberts is a retired addiction professional, a licensed master social worker, an adjunct professor of psychology and psychology child-life, at Utica College and chapter head of The Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley. He can be reached at bootsyandangel@gmail.com or at 315-269-0524.

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