Updated: Apr 1, 2020
I’ve spent a good portion of my career working with people who are addicted to drugs. A Probation Officer’s whole goal is to take a person who has committed a crime and help them never do that crime again. In the process, we hope to guide them into a healthier, happier life.
Towards the beginning of my career, I was working with a young man, roughly my age, who had a severe heroin problem. For the blog purposes, we’ll call him Chance (not his real name). Now, when Chance was clean, he was hilarious. He had this uncanny ability to take his life tragedies and make them into these elaborate, comedic stories. You couldn’t help but root for this guy. Underneath all that, though, we knew he was struggling. Heroin does some harmful things to your brain chemistry, making it one of the most difficult drugs to recover from. This led to Chance having more than one relapse during his probation sentence.
Chance would frequently refer to himself as a “drug addict”. This always bothered me. Every time he would say it, I would wince a little bit. In my mind, if you see yourself as a drug addict, you’re going to do drug addict type stuff. This is a little different from your typical Alcoholic Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous routine, where you introduce yourself as an addict and accept it. Accepting it is an important first step, but if your self-image doesn’t evolve past that, you’re going to be stuck doing those same things that got you there. You can’t live in that negative light for very long without risking some serious set-backs.
Over the two years that I worked with him, I never asked Chance about his self-image, and I kick myself every time I think about that. Maybe if, when Chance looked in the mirror, he saw himself as a “recovered drug addict”, or “sober man”, or just “someone who had a rough past and learned from it”. Maybe he would evolve a little bit sooner.
You see, at the time, I wasn’t as confident in the belief that your self-image drives your behavior.
I am now.
Let’s say you’re someone who looks at themselves in the mirror and wants to make a change (which is pretty much all of us at one point). It could be a change in your fitness level, spiritual well being, attitude, etc. That first step does involve you admitting that you need to make a change, but you can’t live there. Don’t stew in that negative emotion. As soon as you decide, “I’m making a change” then you are no longer the person who needs to make a change. You are now a person who is changing.
I believe that’s an important distinction. When you see yourself as an evolving, changing human being, you’re much more accepting of slow progress. More importantly, you’re just happier while you’re doing it. Changing your life doesn’t have to be miserable. It’s hard, yes. Miserable? Nah. It’s one of the most rewarding things you can do.
It all sounds a little cheesy. I get it. But…a lot of cheesy stuff actually works. Go stand in front of a mirror, ask yourself what is that you want to accomplish. Now, become the type of person that will accomplish it.
I have no idea where Chance is now. I really hope that he evolved passed seeing himself as an addict. But I know, now, that I’ll never hesitate to tell someone that they can change into who they want to be. We ALL can. You get to change into exactly who you want to. It’s true. It’s cheesy and it’s true.
Who do you want to be?