Counselor's Corner: Addiction and loss of freedom

By Fred Cavaiani

A couple of weeks ago the newspapers and television news reports told us about Charlie Sheen’s return to addiction. He was found in his hotel room, naked, drunk and had destroyed the room. This very excellent and entertaining actor was destroying his own life and reputation simply because he was letting two little substances: alcohol and drugs, control his life. There was no freedom in this man’s life. He was a prisoner to addiction. Hopefully he will get help this time and take recovery from addiction seriously.

It is sad to watch famous people do stupid things. It is even more sad to watch ourselves do stupid things. Addiction in our society is becoming rampant and we continue to minimize it, deny it and push it under the carpet.

Addiction is a loss of freedom to a substance, a person, or a situation. I am often amazed as I look back on my younger years. Those late night social gatherings with friends are hard to remember because we often filled those gatherings with so many drinks. We laughed and talked and shared but I am not sure many of us remember clearly what we shared and to what depths we shared. Now with many of these same friends, the gatherings are not filled with much alcohol but rather with much more profound conversations and personal sharing. There is a freedom among all of us that wasn’t there in our younger years.

Restaurants do not allow smoking anymore. Another addiction that cannot be acted upon to the detriment of others in a public place. I think restaurants are just as busy as before and perhaps even busier. It has been a forced letting go of an addiction so that others can live healthier. Everyone benefits, even the restaurant and yet most of them were frightened by this new law believing that it would be bad for business.

All of us have our little addictions in life that hinder our freedom. For some it might be alcohol. For others it might be food. Some people incessantly need to keep everything clean and organized and cannot do anything else unless everything seems perfect. Some people worry about everything. The addiction of being obsessive in thought and compulsive in action can put a person in an emotional prison that is both controlling and painful. Alcoholism puts a person in the same prison. So does drug abuse. People who are workaholics have an incessant need to work and put work as the absolute priority each day of one’s life. They put a prison around a person who then becomes unreachable to other people.

What limits your freedom in life? Is there time for silence and reflection in your life? We often are afraid of silence. Once we are productively silent, we are challenged to look at the addictions in our life that destroy our freedom to live happy and peaceful lives.

Addictions cloud our minds and our hearts. It is easy to see how alcoholism and drug abuse do this. A person is either in a fog while drinking or using or painfully and sluggishly coming out of the fog as the drug or alcohol leaves their system. Yet the sad thing about addictions is the denial that it is present. Addictions cause a person to minimize the prison they have entered and the short lived high of the addiction becomes more powerful than the joy of living in freedom and fellowship and creative productivity.

The other night I stayed up late playing a game called Angry Birds on my new Droid. It is a very simple game. But my intensity in wanting to get to a new level caused me to stay up much later than I have in a very long time. It was a simple, momentary lapse on my part. Thank God it wasn’t alcohol or food. Yet this little act of addictive behavior could become huge if computer games were my addiction. Many people spend hours playing computer games and spend hours in alternative reality games. The fantasy games become more real than real life. Freedom goes out the window.

Over the years I have watched people immerse themselves into addictions and become very superficial and very imprisoned and myopic in their behaviors. I have watched other people leave their addictions and become so open and expansive that they radiate a presence to the world that becomes so warm and inviting that people just want to be around this person. Their words about life and love and wisdom are inspiring and enriching.

To live a life of freedom means to confront our own big and little addictions and let go of them. Sometimes this might mean looking for outside help. Sometimes it means spending more time in silence and meditation. It may mean finding a therapist or a spiritual director. It could mean joining a 12 step group like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous or whatever other group that could help us. Whatever we choose, the purpose is to help ourselves become free and happy.

To remain in addiction is to remain in prison. I know many people who live very free lives because they have confronted their addictions and have let go of them. This last week I was at a gathering where I listened to two men I have known for a long time. They are fraternal brothers and have been living a life of freedom from their addiction for over forty years. They both confronted their addiction within a year of each other. These two men, brothers with the same mother and father, have helped many people to live happier lives over the past forty years. Their joyful, loving and peaceful presence radiates hope and encouragement to everyone. In both their lives they have suffered loss and diminishment, tragedy and pain. Yet life has not diminished or stifled their happiness and peace. They are never in a fog but always in a light filled with wisdom and care.

Men and women, like these two caring brothers, know what freedom is really like. Addiction no longer controls their lives because they confront their own personal self each day to make sure they continue to live in freedom and not in prison. Their lesson can be applied to each of us. Examine your own personal loss of freedom and do something about it. It can bring the greatest joy to your life.

Fred Cavaiani is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and Henry Ford Medical Center. He conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeastern Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at (248)362-3340. His e-mail address is: Fredcavi@yahoo.com and his website is fredthecounselor.com

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