At fourteen, I got to visit Australia with my best friend and his family. For some reason, he and I decided it would be fun to use that trip to go on a stealing spree.
We began at the airport before we even left, swiping books and candy from little souvenir shops.
Every day of the trip, we’d walk to this nearby video store and fill our jackets with tapes and goodies. We must have looked so conspicuous; I mean, it was way too hot to be wearing those massive, heavy jackets. Besides, we were each over six feet tall, and the lifted contents puffed out our jackets so far we walked away nearly spherical.
At malls, we’d hit bookstores back and forth, one standing guard while the other shoved books in his pants and ran out.
The problem with stealing is you do get addicted to it. You start to enjoy the danger and the rush, and seeing how much you can get away with.
We hit the same bookstore too often one day and got busted by mall security who forbade us from ever returning. I’ll never forget spending the whole rest of that day creating these ridiculously dorky disguises so we could sneak back in.
By the end of the trip, we were completely careless, taking whatever we wanted wherever we went.
The night before our flight home, we hit this little convenience store, filling our clothes with candy and magazines. The store owner saw what we were doing right away and called the cops. We were arrested, my friend’s parents were brought in, and we were taken to an Australian police station, booked, and basically scared out of ever wanting to steal again.
Our perspective changed after that. Even if we were ever to be tempted by thievery’s mad rush, the absolute horror of how our Australia experience had played out was so deeply ingrained it was inescapable. Its compelling power surpassed all temptation.
Maturity has a lot to do with perspective—with no longer being able to ignore what’s most valuable to you and others, and also what’s hindering those values. With a mature perspective, you can’t help but predict the likely consequences of each course of action you might take in a given scenario.
I mentioned last time how coming to see more of the good things you want (your values) empowers you to allow those values to bring themselves more into being through you.
Let’s say you see every connected piece of the life you want, and you know all your next steps to get there. There must be some willpower involved somewhere, right? I mean, actual choices must be made in specific moments to act in line with your values instead of your compulsions, addictions, etc., no?
“The process of recovery from addictions is in many ways a process of completing the process growing up.”
-Dr. Linda Hatch
So how can you choose to take those next steps when you’ve never been able to before?
In short, your behavior can only change if your perspective changes first.
What you want has to go from being a hope, a should, or a plan . . . to a must.
In other words, thoughts like:
Wow, we’ve sure been stealing a lot lately; what if we get caught again? Why do we even need all this stuff? And now we’re banned from the mall! I wish we could just stop doing this and enjoy the rest of our trip.
…have to change to:
Nothing could ever make me steal again after that.
“Maturity means delaying gratification but the addict wants it now, and usually does not care who they inflict their infantile wants on. One of the paramount tasks in addiction recovery is for people to become mature and fully functioning.”
-New Life Recovery
Perspective and Choice
Now, it’s where changes in perspective and changes in behavior cross that things get a little tricky. The more you see of what you want—the more your perspective changes—the more your instincts tell you to zero in and find the right method to follow so you can reach and live by those values.
That’s called planning.
But you can’t plan your way to a changed lifestyle.
Even when your desire for change peaks and tears at you from the inside, I encourage you to go against those instincts. Keep holding still.
Just keep watching. Know that you’re close. Trust. Allow…
“Mature adults can defer acting upon their own immediate desires. They are better able to consider their actions in terms of their relationships. They also have increasing capacity to understand the ‘bigger picture’ of groups, organizations, and society.”
-Dr. Tom Horvath, et al.
In one sense, you’ve already seen yourself become someone that won’t be satisfied with choices other than those you know the person you hope to become would make.
Now look at your life from the other side: Look at every addiction, compulsion, personal limitation, and circumstance currently keeping you from your values. Stare all those things right in the face as much as you possibly can.
Not only do you find no pleasure in giving in to those forces anymore . . . and not only do you see how self-control and change would be in your own best interests . . . but really consider the negative sense of that same equation:
Addictions and other hindering forces actually push you to live in places and states where you should be afraid of how (and where) you’re living, and where you should be afraid to be what you’ve become.
A certain kid lies so much he can’t even tell he’s lying by the time he’s an adult. How much anxiety must someone in that state feel to always have to remember exactly who he’s told what to? What’s it like when the craziness sets in and sprouts from his unconsciousness, forcing him to reckon with the fact that he really can’t trust himself or his thoughts at all?
Does that seem like a fun way to live?
“Mature people live by values. They have principles that guide their decisions. They are able to progress beyond merely reacting to life’s options, and be proactive as they live their life. Their character is master over their emotions.”
Here’s something I once wrote while high at the peak of my weed addiction:
“This feeling I’ve gotten used to of being out on the streets with nowhere to go because I’m high and can’t go home . . . it really is the worst. And all these things I’m doing should make me paranoid. I’m driving around harsh cities with broken headlights I never fix; I could get pulled over at any moment, and my car is filled with paraphernalia.
“I even get high all the time at work, no matter how much I tell myself not to. It must be so obvious to everyone. I really don’t believe I’ll stick to anything I tell myself I should do.
“How could you ever relax if you see the serious problems potentially caused by your actions?”
Could I have ever really “gotten used” to spending countless hours out on the streets with nowhere to go because I was high (on a work day, at 34 years old) and couldn’t really go anywhere I knew (public or private)?
See enough of your values, and you know yourself; see enough of the consequences of all that hinders your values, and the prospect of living that way indefinitely becomes too much of a nightmare to endure.
As I’ve shared in the last two articles and throughout my Facing Addiction story, you gain empowering perspective on all aspects of who you are, what you want, what’s holding you back, etc. when you find a way that works for you to share your real experience over time.
That’s how you grow up so you can no longer keep putting off living the life you want.
You fall in love with the person your values make you as they use you to bring themselves more into the world.
Going public with your real experience reveals and takes you to your current capacity so you can then grow beyond it.
Now, seeing your current capacity isn’t fun, since it’s seeing your true limits and the consequences of every bad choice thus far. You don’t look so good (to yourself) at that point, and you can’t hide at all from what you see.
But that’s what makes carrying on in that sad state progressively less bearable. That’s when you change and refuse to haphazardly, continually, addictively steal from your own potential anymore.
Really Growing Up
When it comes to perspective and maturity, you really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, so hopefully getting older means coming to see more of how precious life is.
Adolescents basically have no responsibilities, as well as unlimited time and options, so they feel they can afford themselves at least a little self-destructiveness, selfishness, negativity…
I have no desire anymore to be self-destructive or inconsiderate in the fun I choose. I’ve also come to see life as being too short for holding grudges or fighting for things that really don’t matter.
I was watching this video of a Metallica show in Antarctica, and was so impressed by what the band had to say to the crowd, talking about how life is precious and how all those watching and listening should do something positive to make a difference.
In fact, I heard Tool say the same thing in concert years ago: encouraging the audience to take the energy they felt from the music, and to do something good with it in the world. At the time, I’m sure I thought that was pretty cheesy; but now I really like it.
“The emotional maturation process is stunted for those with addiction issues when they begin using their substance as a way of coping with life.”
We’re all just people; we’re not alive for that long. I feel like I value things like sweetness, walking softly, and letting old troubles stay dead . . . at least a lot more than I did ten years ago.
Perspectives can change; they have to before life can.
Hatch, Linda, Ph.D. “Gaining Emotional Maturity Is Key to Addiction Recovery.” Psych Central.com. N.p., June 2013. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. <http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex-addiction/2013/06/gaining-emotional-maturity-is-key-to-addiction-recovery/>.
“Maturity-Lack of Maturity in Alcoholics & Addicts.” Maturity and Addiction – New Life Recovery. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. <http://newliferecovery.net/treatment/maturity-addiction-treatment/>.
Horvath, A. Tom, Ph.D., Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. “Developmental Theory And Addiction.” Mental Help Developmental Theory and Addiction Comments. N.p., 14 Mar. 2016. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. <https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/developmental-theory-and-addiction/>
Elmore, Tim. “The Marks of Maturity.” Psychology Today. N.p., 14 Nov. 2012. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/artificial-maturity/201211/the-marks-maturity>.
Patrick. “The Adult Ride: Emotional Maturity in Addiction and Recovery.” The Adult Ride: Emotional Maturity in Addiction and Recovery. N.p., 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. <http://www.duffysrehab.com/blog/articles/the-adult-ride-emotional-maturity-in-addiction-and-recovery>.