Antidotes to Emptiness  

Freedom and responsibility (and addiction)

The experiences of freedom and responsibility are very closely tied to addiction, but are so much more in the forefront of a human being’s struggle that addiction is quite secondary and symptomatic. It is not the major issue. Many clients are in addiction because it is the ultimate place to hide from freedom and responsibility. “That’s crazy!” you say. “Who would hide from freedom?” Yes and no. We all do a lot to run from freedom and responsibility. “No, not me!” As human beings we live within many paradoxes, and one major paradox we deal with on a daily basis is confronting our freedom and responsibility. We both crave it and run from it. People will die for it (terrorism, martyrdom, etc.), and will die to avoid it (addiction).

I will let someone else explain this better than I, and then discuss. Yang (2009) writes:
According to Fromm, freedom is unavoidably tied to responsibility and destiny. Responsibility is equated with authorship. Jean-Paul Sartre (1956) wrote that to be responsible is to be “the uncontested author of an event or thing” (p. 633). To be aware of responsibility is to be aware of creating one’s own self, destiny, life predicament, feelings, and, if such be the case, one’s own suffering. Sartre, like Fromm, believes that human beings are doomed to freedom. Again, a paradox. (p. 184).

How can discussing freedom sound so negative and depressing??!! No one ever said the existentialists were a bubbly sort, and their writings definitely struggle with embracing the sunnier side of life, but they do write about human realities. We are in a paradox. We do fear our own freedom. We do fear our own sense of responsibility. It can feel like walking a plank. It can make us want to run home or stay in bed.

Addiction is also a paradox. It can serve both as a way to avoid as well as a way to discover. It can be a way one’s psyche forces them to take responsibility. The only way out of addiction is to take responsibility and confront one’s freedom. I have seen adolescents and people in their twenties arrive in addiction because so much was done for them by parents that they didn’t know how to stand on their own two feet. Addiction is a way to cope with that, but it is also a way to change the dynamics in the relationship so drastically that parents can no longer “rescue” their “child”, and that child is forced, by their own accord, to grow up, take responsibility, and live life. This becomes a choice for the person in addiction. Do they want freedom? Without choice and responsibility, we have no freedom.

As the quote above stated, the scariest thing about responsibility and freedom is that it is ultimately up to us to create our life, “to be the uncontested author” of our lives. We create our predicament. “No, not me, the government screwed me, my parents have wronged me, my boss is unfair, my family won’t talk to me, I have a disability, I’m clinically depressed!!!”  We all have limitations, and some more than others, but the only true way out of them is to realize what responsibility we do have for our feelings, our thoughts, and our lives. There are also limits to freedom, and accepting and realizing this will help to “experience” freedom within those limits.

But why is it so scary to be the author of our lives? That’s what we want, isn’t it??? Yes and no. If it is all up to us, then we are very much to blame. We don’t want to hear that. We don’t want to feel like failures in a world that expects perfection the first time. We want a place to lay blame if it doesn’t work out. “I’m not clean because that treatment center sucks!”  “I cheated on my wife because she won’t have sex with me.”  “You made me angry.”  “I can’t go after my dreams because my mother needs me to take care of her.”  Even the things we think are to blame are choices we make. We already are the authors of our lives, but we can often ignore that.

Accepting responsibility for everything gives us freedom. Realizing we make choices everyday, and accepting responsibility for those choices, gives us freedom. Freedom is scary, but once we step into it, it is liberating. We are all looking for some aspect of liberation, but ultimately we are needing full liberation from ourselves – that part of ourselves that gets in the way of freedom: our fear.

Hoffman, L., Yang, M., Kaklauskas, F., & Chan, A. (2009). Existential Psychology East-West. University of the Rockies Press: Colorado

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Antidotes to Emptiness articles

About the Author

Jason is a counsellor, psychotherapist, and life coach in private practice. He is a Certified Canadian Counselor (CCC) with the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association. Jason has a Master of Arts degree in Psychology with a Marriage and Family Therapy Specialization. Jason's training prepared him to work with individuals, couples and families. Jason believes strongly in helping clients to remove the obstacles that get in their way so they may embrace and accept who they are, utilizing their own resources.

For the past 5 years Jason has worked with people struggling with addictions. He has gained new insights and perspectives into this problem and is always learning about this phenomenon. Jason's passion for writing and researching addiction treatment philosophy has led him to a more grounded and humanistic approach to the treatment of addictions.

In his practice, Jason helps his clients change, grow and search. He is still working with addictions but also works with other issues such as anxiety/stress, finding meaning and purpose, depth work and couples therapy. Please see his website for more information. In addition to his private practice, Jason also facilitates groups for court mandated clients in the Relationship Violence Program and the Responsible Drivers Program. Lastly, Jason co-facilitates the Parenting After Separation Course through the Kelowna Family Centre.

For more information on Jason's services, visit his website at www.jasonmccarty.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories