A recent topic in my groups has been whether group members are escaping or embracing life. It is difficult to differentiate at times which an individual might be doing. It is my contention that in a large number of cases it is more about the attitude than the activity.
The group where we have been having this discussion is for substance abusers. Recently I wrote a chapter in the book I’m working on about harm reduction and used a similar group as an example for that phenomenon. The reason I used that group as an example is because some of the members were attempting to control their substance use, as opposed to the usual suggestion of abstinence; hence, harm reduction. The example may also serve to describe the difference between embracing and escaping life.
First, I want to make it clear that substance abusers are not the only people attempting to escape life. In fact it’s not even my contention that all substance abusers are escaping life. Many people attempt to temporarily escape their life. In fact, I have spoken with people (who weren’t clients) who believed that their escapes were the only way to enjoy parts of life.
Let us begin by looking at a group of substance abusers as an example:
In this group there are five members. Ryan is in his mid twenties, and his drug of choice was opioids. He drinks a beer, glass of wine, or other alcohol beverage once in a while. In the six months he has been attempting controlled use, he has not become intoxicated. John just celebrated his twenty first birthday. He is also an opioid addict but has decided that using alcohol and marijuana are important to his life. He does become intoxicated, reporting a blackout in his short period of attempted controlled use, along with using marijuana approximately twice a week as well. Joe is in his early twenties and recently became abstinent from all substances. Betty has been abstinent for over three months and is in her mid twenties. Jane just turned 20 and is also abstinent, after having failed at controlled use at another treatment facility.
If we compare Ryan and John we can see the difference in attitude regarding using a substance. Ryan is using minimally, and seems to be using alcohol as a supplement to an already enjoyable life. John is using substances more regularly and may very well be trying to escape what he finds to be a mundane life. When this was explored in group sessions the members appeared to agree with this assessment. Even John admitted it seems like he might be trying to escape life.
The difference between embracing life and escaping life is often simply a matter of attitude. Two events can look exactly the same, and yet one person may be escaping life and the other embracing it. It would seem that over indulgence in anything runs the risk of being an escape.
If we look at an example of a weekend getaway the attitude involved in escape versus embrace may be more evident. Both couples may feel they need a break and to get away from some of the stressors they are experiencing. Both couples may go to an island for a long weekend. What the difference may come down to is the way each couple views the getaway.
Couple one might see this getaway as a much needed opportunity to relax and focus on their relationship for a bit. They may do many of the same activities as the other couple. Couple two might also view the getaway as a much needed opportunity to relax and reconnect. But their perception may be more focused on this mini vacation being what they’ve been working to have for months. They may be dreading going back to their jobs and their “normal life”.
That simple attitude or way of perceiving life is the difference between embracing or escaping life. Many people perceive life as drudgery. This is obvious in the saying “life is a bitch and then you die”. (I won’t offer the alternate male version). A great many people muddle through life looking for the next great escape, whether it is a vacation, a new toy, or a new romance. It is not uncommon to notice people working for some kind of end reward. Many people believe happiness is around the corner, and they never really turn the corner.
A lot of this relates to what I wrote in “The Psychopathology of Normal” which came from a quote by Maslow. And the purpose of writing about it again is similar, the desire for all to find happiness in their lives. In that vein I challenge you to look at your life and determine of you are escaping it or embracing it.