• Timothy Harrington

Opinion: Addiction — An Opportunity to Innovate

Opinion Editorial by Tim Harrington

As a Family Addiction Recovery Coach, I’m always thinking about how to reframe things so people can hear me. Why?

Because the dominant narrative for so many families who experience addiction, and/or mental and emotional injury, is no longer palatable. It just hasn’t delivered the outcomes they are looking for. In their quest they unfortunately use up much of their emotional capital, and indeed many use up all of their financial capital trying to help a loved one. How could I keep the family engaged and more importantly how can I help them get results they desire? To do these things, I had to innovate.

One day about 10 years ago, while on a hike it occurred to me that life has consistently been an opportunity for personal and professional innovation. A challenge would present itself and the universe would simply say, “So, Tim, how are you going to innovate? You’re welcome!”.

This is a life changing shift for a person who decried life challenges as unjust or unfair, not as a gift. Life is how you look a it and what you focus on and most importantly what I get to recognize is that although I’m wholly capable of overcoming life’s twists and turns, will I choose to go head on or will I turn and run the other way?

In the context of people experiencing emotional health, mental health, and addiction, innovation to me is clearly about adapting to your environment based on the inputs that are out of your control.

Maybe that’s a reframe I could use with impacted family members. Maybe I can get them to say, “Wow! I never thought of it that way’. So, I gave it a try and it worked.

My point of view is that we are not aware that so much of what we are processing is in the subconscious. The world either supports us, or it doesn’t. We either get rewarded or punished. We are reacting not responding, and this can cause all kinds of stress, discomfort and pain and so in response we develop innovative ways of behaving that are either healthy, unhealthy, or a bit of both.

My first opportunity to innovate in a big way came when I was seven. This opportunity was born out of the separation and impending divorce of my Mother and Father.

As I stood, anxiously, waiting for Dad at the screen door to come and pick me up, each passing car that did not stop was another punch in the heart. What’s wrong with me?

The second opportunity to innovate came when a neighbor boy molested me. The trauma wasn’t from the event itself but the inaction of telling someone about what had happened. Who would I tell? Who would believe me? I felt such shame and confusion. Better to just not say anything. What’s wrong with me?

Of course, at this point in the story, the innovations were still unknown to my conscious mind.

But every relationship in my life from that point on was influenced by the pain of being rejected, not ever feeling I was enough, and the secret of molestation. 

In my mind, the mind of a seven-year-old, I had no idea why my Dad wasn’t coming to get me and take me to the park like he said he would. All I knew was the pain. And the molestation distorted my sexual identity for decades; all dealt with in silence, which, of course, is in itself an innovation.

I relived that pain and confusion for years, and these events/experiences became the protagonist in my story that created susceptibility for me to develop a relationship with painkillers and pain distractors—Innovation.

The first painkiller/distractor was sports. I played soccer 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for a decade. I was okay, and that felt good for a moment, then quickly faded. Inside voice: What’s wrong with me? 

The second painkiller/distractor was attention and adoration from people, but especially not exclusively from females. It was real currency that helped me cope with the crippling contrast of how much pain I felt inside and how unworthy I felt from all the attention. I like to joke that I had attention deficit disorder; I just could NOT get enough attention. No amount filled me up. The rejection by my Father held too much power. Inside voice: What’s wrong with me?

But because alcohol played such a big part in our family, it was inevitable that I would taste it, and when I did, this innovation would supersede all others. The contrast of before and after was a subconscious realization of just how stressed out and anxious I was. I was in love. This is awesome. There’s nothing wrong with me!

I developed a relationship with painkillers (alcohol and cocaine) that would last from age 14 to 36. They weren’t my problem; they were my solution. I never had a drug problem, EVER, even though that’s the way everyone else saw things and it makes sense because the behavior and symptoms can be all consuming. Still, ultimately they are a distraction from the actual reasons anyone would want to escape themselves for a few hours, no matter what the cost. Like many committed relationships, it was fun at first, then it was fun with problems and later just mostly problems. Back to, what’s wrong with me?

Well, what I can tell you now is that there was nothing wrong with me. I clearly understand now that some things happened to me, and those experiences shaped the innovations that shaped my life and the way I looked at it. The thing about innovating is that the outcomes are wholly dependent on your current perception about self and those who are your closest friends and family. 

For me to innovate healthily, I got to take a look at my relationships. Every single one of them was strained and suffered from unhealthy innovation, and I was the common denominator. 

To innovate in a healthy way, I got to renovate, renovate my perceptions of what happened to me as a child that shaped who I was to become and how I saw the world.

It’s been a long project, and it continues to evolve, but what I can tell you is that today, I am a possibilitarian. I see you and the world as an opportunity to express my unique perception (innovate) and use it to help change the world so other people can innovate and renovate and create a life of usefulness beyond the comprehension of a child who couldn’t stop wondering, “What’s wrong with me?”.

Tim's the founder & Chief Empowerment Officer of Family Addiction Recovery Mentorship Services, Sustainable Recovery Renovention® Services, Inc., LaunchPad Discover Your Purpose Services® & Co-founder of Wide Wonder ZERO Stigma Education Services. Tim is a loud and persistent voice in the field of mental and emotional health advocacy, addiction treatment, and recovery. He is an active participant in the movement to reduce social stigma related to substance use disorder as well as emotional and mental health injury. The goal of his most important role so far, as co-founder of Wide Wonder, is to create the first ZERO Stigma city in America.

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