As I approached another milestone in my life, I found myself wondering how I came to be where I am.
What steps had to happen, in imperfect harmony, so that now I am right where I need to be. Were cosmic forces at work? Is there a ‘secret’ I’m not aware of?
Was it fate?
Turning 40 years old this year, I find my internal dialogue turning to existential banter. I’m curious about the possibilities that could have been MY LIFE had I gone left instead of right, up instead of down, or walked on by instead of saying ‘hello’ to my wife. The possibilities are as limitless as the choices that I could have lived, but accepting that ‘things are what they are’ because that’s the way it was meant to be, has never, EVER, resonated with me.
It was 7 years ago that I made a choice to value myself, my family, and my happiness above all else. I reasoned my way through a number of possible choices and ultimately came to the conclusion that I was in complete charge of my life and actions. It was with this realization that I became free of the Recovery Society rhetoric and found myself in control of my life and every choice and action within it.
This leads me to the following question… When it comes to living our lives, have we been guided or prodded by causes and, or, reasons?
Causes versus reasons, what’s the difference?
Over the past 6 months, I’ve been exploring many of the big milestone decisions in my life. None have been more impactful than the decision to stop consuming alcohol and other addictive substances.
I have been closely working with the teams from Saint Jude Retreats and Baldwin Research Institute to better understand ways to help my readers and networks. They’ve been wonderful at providing us a construct or context to better understand the choices we make, which are fully in our control and not typically a cause of some external force. We are powerful beings and can choose self-directed personal development and positive change through our decisions and directed actions.
…I still hear people blaming some external stimulus – whether be a bad day at work, financial stresses, a soured relationship, etc – as both the cause and the reason for making the choice to abuse alcohol and other substances.
This doesn’t work for me, and it shouldn’t stand for you either. To better understand this concept, Ryan Schwantes, President of Baldwin Research Institute painted this picture for me.
Imagine You are Punched in the Face
So you find yourself standing at the bus stop one cool, winter morning. You’re scrolling through your Facebook feed on your new iPhone, and out of nowhere you get cold-cocked. You are knocked clear off your feet, as the unexpected force of the punch takes you aground. Your phone lands next to you, where your assailant reaches down to grab it. What do you do next? Try to stop him? Let him grab your phone and make a getaway?
Think about your answer.
It’s pretty safe to assume that half of those reading this would let him get away with the phone, while the other half would probably fight to defend themselves and keep their phones.
On the victim’s side of this scenario, one part is CAUSED, with the other part REASONED. And to understand the difference between the two is to understand your nature as a human being.
If we look at the sheer physicality of this scenario, it’s easy to say the physical object (the attacker’s fist) strikes another physical object (your body). The strike of the fist is the CAUSE; and the effect is that your body is sent to the ground, the force of which knocks your phone from your grasp. Your attacker CAUSED you to fall and lose your phone. This is an instance of pure materialistic cause and effect that applies to all physical things.
However, the next sequence in this event is far different. It’s the part where you CHOOSE the movements of your body. REASONS come into play. Instead of being pushed around like an inanimate object, you decide what your body does next.
As you read through this article about Cause versus Reason, recall The Freedom Model.
Here’s TFM explained:
- The Positive Drive Principle (PDP) – this principle is the basis of all internal human motivation (including yours). It states: “All people always move in the direction of what they believe will make them happiest at every given moment in time.”
- Free will – you can, and do, choose all of your own thoughts and all of your behaviors based on your internal freedom of will.
- Personal Autonomy – you are separate, completely independent being from all others, with thoughts that are yours and yours alone. This makes you completely free from the control of all others.
Option 1: You choose to avoid confrontation
You value your phone, but you also think that a man who’s willing to sucker punch you to steal a phone isn’t worth fighting with. You think “this could get worse; he could be crazy and have a weapon; let it go, it’s just a phone” and so you recoil a bit and play too hurt to retaliate, letting him make off with the phone. You chose this as the best course of action, based on your specific reasons held within your own mind.
Option 2: You choose to fight back
While laying on the ground, with your attacker above you motioning to your phone, your mind races. You may be thinking, “oh no – it’ll be so hard to replace my phone; I can’t deal with that; he’ll have all my personal information and can really mess with my life; I might be able to take this guy.” And so you reach quickly for the phone and tussle with your attacker. You CHOSE this as the best course of action, based on your personal REASONS held within your own mind.
Whichever way you go (and certainly many other options and potential reasons supporting those different courses of action), the behavior in option two is not exactly caused as there is a multiple of possibilities available, and it boils down to your own thinking and reasoning, which will decide your course of action.
Your thinking is under your own control (remember, you have Mental Autonomy). If we put 5 people (of the same approximate physical build) into this same scenario, all 5 would be caused to have the same first movement (fall and drop their phone) by the sucker punch. BUT, all 5 could then engage in completely different behaviors based on completely different reasons. Each person could have their own unique mental prediction of what actions will best help them fulfill their Positive Drive Principle (see above explanation).
None of the potential reactions are caused.
Option 3: You choose ego first
There’s another possibility. One person may think, “I’ll look like a wimp if I let this guy push me around,” and then go ahead to choose an entirely different behavior – he grabs the phone and beats his attacker senseless with it, breaking the phone in the process.
His behaviors are chosen for completely different reasons than the first two options. He barely considers the phone or its safety. Instead, he thinks happiness is found in maintaining a tough reputation.
When you’re in the place of being physically hit without warning, you are at the mercy of the basic principle of cause and effect that applies to all matter; your body will move in a way that you clearly did not choose. A trained scientist could predict how far a lifeless ball will travel when hit, by calculating the various factors, such as the force of the hit, density of the object applying the force, weight of the ball, gravity, etc. The same applies when calculating the movement of a human body hit by another object. But there’s a limit to the scientist’s powers of prediction.
Whereas the scientist could predict the entire trajectory of a ball right up until it comes to a final resting place–he can only predict the first trajectory of a human body up to the point that the human chooses what to think and how to react. That part is unpredictable because it’s ruled by the individual’s Free Will and Mental Autonomy. Lifeless objects don’t have these attributes; as far as we know, they belong only to the creature known as man. A baseball can’t choose to turn around and hit the batter who knocked it out of the park.
Consider what happens when gasoline comes into contact with a flame. There is an explosion of fire. The gasoline doesn’t think “I’m mad, I’m gonna explode.” Nor does it have the alternative option of thinking “I shouldn’t explode, I don’t want the other chemicals to think I’m unstable.” It is a lifeless, mindless, substance. It can’t think. It can’t choose. It can only be caused to do what its nature as a lifeless, mindless, unstable substance dictates it will do when it comes into contact with some external catalyzing force.
The unfortunate thing about this world is that good habits are so much easier to give up than bad ones – Somerset MaughamTweet This!
You are probably thinking… “So, Dai, what’s your point?”
Why am I painstakingly explaining all this?
Over my past 7 years of choosing to not consume alcohol, I have heard endless chatter about “the causes of addiction”, as if people are inanimate, lifeless, mindless objects without the POWER OF CHOICE.
Cause is a strong word.
Human Behavior is Reasoned, NOT Caused
I’ll be the first to admit that human behavior may not always appear reasonable or rational. At times it seems extremely irrational and illogical to would-be observers. It has the potential to be ugly and shortsighted, like that of the man attacking someone at a bus stop to steal their phone. But, nevertheless, we tend to act according to our how we reason and think things through, to support the decisions we make.
When I asked Mr. Schwantes to help me better understand Cause vs Reason, he shared the following:
There’s no guarantee that we’ll always make the best choices for the best reasons. That would need an immense amount of effort; and if we could always choose a perfect option, I feel it would negate the idea of freedom of choice. Simply having FREE WILL means we have multiple choices available to us at any given time regardless of external circumstances and events. Whether it be good, bad, or ugly all human behavior is chosen.
The nature of being human is that we have the ability to choose our behaviors based on our reasonings. As much as scientists try to explain human behavior in the same terms of cause and effect, as used in physics, this would be a mistake. Sure, they sound credible and convincing, but the science of physics is not the science of human behavior.
A science of human behavior must consider all the attributes that makeup humans, otherwise, it’s not a complete science. Human behavior has reasons, not causes. To solve a problem of human behavior, you must understand the reasons involved; the motives, the drives, the goals. Once you understand these things, the problems with the following FALSE STATEMENTS become clear:
- Addiction is caused by trauma.
- Exposure to drug cues causes drug craving and use.
- Addiction is caused by social disconnection and loneliness.
- Recovering addicts need to beware of triggers that can cause a relapse into active addiction.
- Addiction is caused by stress & anxiety.
- Addiction is caused by depression & other co-occurring disorders.
- Cheap heroin is the cause of the heroin “epidemic.”
Every one of these statements puts forward a direct cause and effect relationship that ignores the nature of human beings as creatures of free will. They ignore the mediator between stimulus and response in human behavior – the mind.
Take special note of the absurdity of the last statement. Is it really true that you could cause a person to start using heroin regularly by offering it to them at a cheap price? Of course not. That person would have to believe that heroin use will benefit them in some way first. They will have to believe that it benefits them enough to be worth exposure to whatever risks are involved in it. They will have to believe that heroin use is a worthy way to achieve whatever personal goals and desires they believe to be important. Or put another way, they’ve got to have some reasons to support the choice to use heroin. Cheap beer is available at almost any corner store, but this fact doesn’t cause people to drink from dusk till dawn every day.
There probably are people in the world for whom the cost of heroin is the only issue on which their choice to use or not hinges upon. Such a hypothetical man holds many reasons in his mind that he’d like to be using heroin; he thinks it’s fun, relaxing, and would fit well into his life if only it was cheaper. Present him with a steady flow of dirt-cheap heroin, and he would choose to use it regularly. But by doing so, you haven’t proven that cheap heroin causes heroin use. Present cheap or even FREE heroin to someone who doesn’t think it’s very enjoyable, and who thinks it would interfere too much with other activities he thinks are more important, and he still wouldn’t choose to use heroin regularly. The difference between these two men and the true deciding factor in whether they will begin to use heroin regularly upon learning of a cheap steady supply of it is their thoughts, i.e. their reasons. One sees reason to use, the other doesn’t.
To put this and all such causal claims in perspective, when you put a lit match to gasoline, the gasoline will combust 100% of the time – that is direct cause and effect. If touching a flame to gasoline only resulted in combustion 20% of the time, then we’d assume that some other cause must be in play when combustion happens. We wouldn’t broadly say that a flaming match will cause the combustion of gasoline. Yet we’re comfortable in psychology saying that anxiety causes addiction when this association is only found 20% of the time. This is a strong statement. Cause is a strong word.
The claim that high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression are the causes of addiction is very popular now. About 7-10% of Americans are classified as addicted at any given time. Are they the only people experiencing stress and anxiety? Certainly not. Nearly everyone experiences these feelings throughout their lives. Stress, anxiety, and episodes of depression are extremely common; responding to these feelings with heavy substance use is actually abnormal.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 20% of Americans diagnosed with these disorders also engage in problematic substance use. That means that 80% of the time, mood, and anxiety disorders are not related at all to problematic substance use (note, that’s “disorders” which would be very high levels of anxiety & depression. If disorder level anxiety isn’t related to heavy substance use a majority of the time, we should hardly think that lower levels of anxiety would be.) The constant talk about “causes of addiction” or causes of any human behavior is intellectually irresponsible.
“Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.” – Martin Seligman Ph.D., former head of the APA
Clearing the Way to a Workable Solution with the Freedom Model
The Recover Society, the drug war, and the efforts of most parents and spouses are based on the theory that human behavior is caused by external stimuli, however, the Freedom Model is based on the theory that human behavior is reasoned and chosen. Two very different views ultimately lead to two very different strategies for dealing with substance abuse.
A cause-based approach looks to name causes, and eradicate those causes, shelter “fragile addicts” from them, or offer support and special techniques to the “addict” so she can fend off those causes in some way. This results in a confusing smorgasbord of tactics that often need as much effort as heavy substance use itself, with little long-term change. It can also seem to compound problems. For example, let’s look at a popularly perceived cause of substance use: stress.
Why we can’t blame stress for our substance abuse
The Recovery Society often teaches people that stress is an “underlying cause” of their addiction.
The problem, they say, is that your life is too stressful, and you are too weak to deal with the stress, and so it somehow compels you to use substances – you “self-medicate” your stress with drugs and alcohol. You’ll be asked to identify your stressful situations in life and be told to avoid them. This could mean dropping out of school, finding an easier job, avoiding family members, and shifting your life responsibilities to other people.
Next, you’ll be signed up for ongoing counseling/therapy that you’re told to continue indefinitely, so your therapist can help guard you against stress. Then you’re told you need a support network of recovering people, and meetings to turn to so that stress doesn’t get the best of you. Then you’re trained in techniques for dealing with stress, so that when something stressful happens, hopefully, you’ll use your new coping method before the stress causes you to turn to drugs and alcohol. Beyond this, your family might even be asked to make sure they don’t stress you out too much either, or else you might be caused to use substances.
Frankly, this all has the effect of making a mountain out of a molehill, and it sadly misses the point. People are led to shrinking their lives and live every day in fear of one of the most common human emotions – stress. If you didn’t think stress was connected to your substance use before rehab, you now do, and every time you feel it you now think of substance use. If you previously connected stress to substance use, then you now connect it more than ever, and your problem hasn’t been solved – you still think of substance use whenever stress appears.
We can’t say this enough–stress is an extremely common, universal human experience. A life free from all stressful situations is unavoidable. Life throws curveballs when you least expect it. Everyone faces stress, yet only a small minority of people connect it to heavy substance use.
The Freedom Model approach to the stress/substance use connection is simple. Recognizing that there are no causes of substance use, just reasons, we want you to know that you can let go of stress as a reason for substance use.
The only connective tissue between stress and substance use is a thought. Those who connect it, a reason that substance use is a good or necessary response to stress. If you think this way, though, you can change it. The billions of people who don’t respond to stress by using massive amounts of substances simply don’t think stress is a good reason for this kind of substance use. They don’t think it’ll solve the stress, or they think it’s only a temporary fix, or they think it’ll compound the stress with more stress, or they may have never mentally associated stress and substance use at all. You can join them, by changing your reasoning.
The Freedom Model says to change your thoughts/reasons, and you’ll change your desires and behaviors.
You don’t have control over all the stressful events you’ll face in your life, but you do have control over whether you connect them to substance use or not. And if you do disconnect them, it can be permanent. You can come to understand a few facts pretty quickly that would result in a profound internal change:
- If stress caused heavy substance use, the whole world would have drug and alcohol problems. Stress can be seen as a reason for heavy substance use, but it’s not a cause.
- Substance use often leads to more stressful situations. This makes stress an illogical reason to use substances (even if it worked temporarily).
- Substances don’t even relieve stress in the short term (we’ll show you why).
Stress is a feeling that comes from the act of worrying about problems; it comes from interpreting some event or condition of your life as signaling a loss, and then focusing on that. Many people think that substances relieve this feeling temporarily, but this power to relieve is an illusion. Imagine for a moment that you’ve been stressed, but you’ve taken 5 stiff drinks at the bar and no longer feel stress. Not long after, you hop in your car to drive home, and you get pulled over by the police. You think “oh no, I’m going to get arrested for drunk driving” and just like that, BOOM, you’re hit with a massive amount of stress. How could that be if you’ve got 5 doses of a stress-relieving drug coursing through your bloodstream?
The fact is, the alcohol itself never relieved your stress at all. You relieved it yourself. You chose to stop thinking stressful thoughts, and focus instead on the tingly buzzed feeling you got from the alcohol. You gave yourself permission to put those thoughts aside while you drank. You gave yourself permission to be distracted. But now, a problem that demands your attention has arisen, and as you think about it, you’re back in the feeling of stress – even though you’re drunk. There is a staggering amount of research on alcohol, yet none of it has uncovered a direct pharmacological action by which alcohol removes stress. That’s because it doesn’t. The idea that alcohol and other drugs relieve stress is folklore. Now that you know this, you don’t ever need to connect stress to substance use again. You can let go of stress as a reason to use substances.
- The cause-based (Recovery Society) approach has you trying furiously to eradicate and hide from stress, and fearing each potentially stressful situation as a moment where you could be caused to involuntarily use substances. You walk around as a permanent victim of circumstances.
- The reason-based approach (Freedom Model) shows you how you can permanently end any connection you’ve made between stress and substance use, and move on without threat, regardless of how much stress you face, by changing a thought. It points you to exactly what directs your desire and behavior, and what you have ultimate control over your thoughts.
My “Triggers” made me do it — I had no choice
The danger of the cause-based approach is worse than you may think because it actually distracts you from changing the reasoning behind your substance use. For example, the recovery society harps on the idea of triggers. According to them, just seeing an image of drugs or paraphernalia, liquor on a shelf, or the glowing neon sign of a nightclub is enough to trigger (i.e. cause) you to crave and eventually use substances. They tell you to avoid all these things… or else!
If you get caught up in trying to avoid these so-called triggers, you are thinking of yourself as a helpless, out of control thing that’s simply pushed around by other lifeless objects – like a bat to a baseball. And guess what you’re not doing while you focus on triggers: reconsidering how useful substance use is to you. Like cheap heroin in our earlier example, these “triggers” are utterly MEANINGLESS to people who don’t seem good enough reason to use substances excessively. Triggers don’t cause people to use substances; their own reasoning causes them to use substances. And again, trying to combat this supposed cause is life-consuming and doesn’t solve your problems.
So, what do you think? Do you think you are free to make your own decisions?
Nearly 7 years ago, I made a decision to stop blaming everyone and everything for my alcohol abuse. I made my decisions freely. I chose to consume a variety of substances in hopes that it would make me happier. Hoping that it would help me to deal with life’s stresses and numb my sensitivity to everything I thought brought me pain. It wasn’t until later that I realized the power of the Freedom Model and that the Recovery Society’s rhetoric didn’t apply any longer. I am powerful beyond measure and am in control of my own choices at any time. I chose me. I chose my family. I chose to change.
Power and freedom can be attained through knowledge. This is how the Freedom Model works. You have both the Mental Autonomy and the Free Will necessary to change your reasoning, and when you do, you don’t ever have to feel caused or compelled to use substances heavily again.
We all agree we want something better when facing painful cycles of substance abuse, while fearfully trying to fend off the ‘causes’ of our abuses. It’s in these moments that we can best harness the power of the Positive Drive Principle in search of greater happiness in our lives.
Remember, Human Behavior has Reasons, not causes… reason yourself to choosing happiness, because you can.
You alone can choose happiness at any time.
“Your life is the fruit of your own doing. You have no one to blame but yourself.” – Joseph CampbellTweet This!
Don't stop here, check out the other articles from the Addiction for Life series