03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Addiction: Why We Bark Up The Wrong Tree

I'm fascinated with failure. And I don't mean the "to err is human" failure, but the crash and burn kind. It's not that I like to see other people suffer, but I think, optimistically, it shouldn't have to happen; success should be within our control, right? Isn't that what pop culture ala Tony Robbins and Joel Osteen tell us? If I can imagine a world without failure then it should be . . . kind of like the ontological argument for God (if we can conceive of the greatest possible being, then He exists). At least avoiding failure should be within our control. But alas failure is a necessary part of life isn't it?

My own failure has been limitless. It started out with a failed marriage, then failed career number one, getting fired at jobs to pay for career number one, failed self-esteem due to addiction, bankruptcy etc. Looking back on the failures now, I can see them as necessary losses on the road to becoming a man. At the time, of course, it was the end of the world. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong, especially since I was doing exactly what I was taught. I came up with the only logical conclusion anyone would after said track record: "I" was a failure.

One of the beauties of crashing and burning with an addiction is that it forced me to look at some attitudes and behaviors that I wouldn't normally look at. As I looked at "my part" in my resentments and fears, most of my resentments were around not getting the validation I thought I deserved. Growing up there had been no time for healthy validation as we were all just trying to survive our dysfunctional chaos. So why not get it from the world once I grew up, right? I mean that's sound logic, isn't it? Thus began the tree that I would bark up. All pursuits got squeezed into the prism of evening the score from childhood. "I'll show them," was the battle cry from the moment I woke up.

Carl Jung described the crash and burn problem as being like water piled up behind a dam. "We should try to find, in a change of attitude or in new ways of life, that difference of potential which the pent-up energy requires." He goes on to say that changing direction requires a spiritual solution. Left to our own devices we'll just bark up the wrong tree for life. I don't know how it happened, maybe because of finally surrendering, but one day it just seemed like "contributing to the planet," seemed like a whole better tree to bark up than the former. Finding a wife who could be honest with herself sounded good. Focusing on being of service to people and helping them get what they want seemed right. Not only was it right, the pendulum started swinging the other direction toward success. Could finding success be as simple as "contributing to the planet?"

Sadly, too often, failure isn't allowed to run its course and produce a transformation in us. We're either too shocked by it or someone else's moral condemnation butts in to derail the process. Tiger Woods has been labeled a lot of things recently, including a "creepy sick dude" by ESPN Nation, which really mislabels the issue in my opinion. If anything, Tiger's got a soul sickness, a lot of stuff to work through . . . there's no reason why this can't be his chance to have a spiritual awakening.

But making that leap everyday from evening the score to contributing to the planet requires a psychic jiu jitsu move that I am just barely starting to exercise. Joseph Campbell illuminates the issue as follows:

To evolve out of this position of psychological immaturity to the courage of self-responsibility and assurance requires a death and a resurrection. That's the basic motif of the universal hero's journey - leaving one condition and finding the source of life to bring you forth into a richer or mature condition . . . If you realize what the real problem is - losing yourself, giving yourself to some higher end, or to another - you realize that this itself is the ultimate trial. When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.

Ahh . . . but first one has to get oneself back, don't you think? I've tried the other route. I tried giving it away before I was ready and the result was futility. But contributing after taking care of myself and my needs . . . that just might work.

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Jung, C.G. Modern Man in Search of a Soul. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1933. Print

Campbell, Joseph with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth. New York: Anchor Books, 1991. Print