It matters that people have a way to use the latest findings in psychology beyond buying a pill for depression. It matters that people have a way of looking at their lives that lets them ask the big questions and determine how they want to live – and that this is supported by therapists and mental health professionals.

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Amy Winehouse, Addiction, and the search for meaning in life

Posted on 29 Jul | 0 comments
Amy Winehouse
Photo courtesy of AmyWinehouse.com

She had a brilliant, lovely and desperately sad life – but that could be said about so many others who don’t live the life of a star.

There is really no real way of knowing what was going on in Amy Winehouse’s heart. There is no real way of knowing what is going on in the hearts and minds of those caught in the cycle of addiction.

Each experience is subjective, that is, what it means to be an addict is unique to that individual. What will get them to move out of addiction and into recovery is entirely dependent on that person. Even with all of the social and community resources, seeking help for addiction is still in the hands of the individual. How one gets onto the road of recovery depends on who they are and how addiction is in their lives.

For the existentialists, addiction is directly connected to meaning.

Victor Frankl, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor and well know existentialist, argued that the addiction is one part of the mass neurotic triad. Addiction, aggressive and depression are the main source of humanity’s suffering. Why does this triad of suffering exist?  This suffering exists because those who suffer have lost meaning in their life.

Dr. Frankl felt that the “mass neurotic triad” was caused by what he called the existential vacuum. Whatever one has in their life, be it fame, piles of cash, a beautiful voice, or a loving family, there is something missing that the addict will try to fill their drugs of choice. To Frankl, the addict is caught in a place or a void of loss and meaninglessness, meaningless suffering.

Over time that suffering may become to unbearable and a choice must be made. In the existential thought and psychology, choice and responsibility are the givens in life. Even in our darkest moments in life, we still have the choice to step out of the darkness or not.

Author Gila Chen cited in the paper The Meaning of Suffering in Drug Addiction and Recovery from the Perspective of Existentialism, Buddhism and the 12 Step Program, that suffering can be the motivation and cause of addiction. When addict no longer wants to experience the suffering they chose and hopefully with the love and support of others, they will life.

Choice and responsibility are intertwined with the existential given of freedom.

It is obvious that addiction interferes with an individual’s personal choices in life. They make their choices based on their addictions. The person is lost and they become the addiction and less of their authentic selves. The addicted self makes all of the choices and the true self has lost its freedom. In other words the drug rules the spirit.

Understand that choice and responsibility is not about shame and blame rather it is about personal empowerment and freedom. We have the freedom to choose to fuel to the addiction or to choose the pathway out.

These are all concepts that may seem to counter research that shows there is a biological or physical addiction at play here. That may be the case. But even with the internal knowledge that one is physically addicted to a substance, there is still the potential for the mind and spirit to step away from making that choice to serve one’s addictions. The rebuilding of the mind and spirit is what is needed to help pull a person out of the physical addiction experience for life.

Referring back to Frankl, even if we eliminate the physical addiction, that void that the individual needed to fill will still be there unless it is filled with meaning.

Would we be able to eliminate addiction by helping people find true meaning in their lives, by helping them to see that they have choice and freedom?

It may be possible. But only with renewed efforts and innovative approaches to drug treatment that move outside of the behavior/biological model of addiction to one that encourages meaning making, personal choice, finding true freedom and teaching people how to be with death, isolation and suffering.

- Makenna Berry

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