Become Who You Are
The Freedom to Create

By Tony Hale, C.A.S.

 

"Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is"

Camus

    The phrase become who you are, was probably first used by the early Greek poet, Pindar. It was later picked up by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to help explain his concept of amor fati, or love of your fate. It is taking on the challenges of this life and giving style to your character. It is loving what you’ve got to work with and creating your life out of the constraints and determinants that are unique to you. It is the freedom to participate in this life with passion and become who you are. It is the individual’s ability to create ones life, as opposed to ones ability to choose ones life. It is the ability to create and choose out of what you have to work with. The ability to create a masterpiece out of your life and become who you are.

    In our Western tradition and especially in the United States we have been deluged, since early childhood, by parents, teachers and society that we can become anything we want to be. In other words, the assumption is made that we make choices in a vacuum in which there are no constraints or determinants that influence or direct our behavior and our choices in life. We are not born into a vacuum, nor are we free to choose whatever direction our lives will go. We are all born into a certain culture, a specific century, a certain tradition, a particular race, particular parents, a particular upbringing, unique physical characteristics, biological influences and neurological differences. Does this mean we have no freedom to choose who we shall become? Does this mean we are hapless victims of this life? Does this mean one cannot overcome constraints that were imposed on our lives before and after we were born? The answer to these questions is both yes and no. The difference is, we have the freedom to create who we are out of what we are given, versus the absolute freedom to choose who we are.

    We are not hapless victims of our lives, we can overcome constraints imposed on our lives, and we do have choices and some amount of freedom. Goethe best said, we have freedom within limitations.

    When we are born we are like a piece of clay that already has some shape and contains features that lead our lives in a particular direction. Throughout our lives we are influenced and motion is set in a particular direction by constraints and determinants. I was born in the 20th century in the United States. My ancestry is German-Irish. Addiction, as well as depression runs in our family. My Father was killed in a car accident when I was 5 years old. A distant ancestor of mine was the abolitionist John Brown and the inventor Robert Fulton. I have a gift for writing and abstract thought yet I struggle with method and mathematics. This is just a limited example of some of the determinants that influence the choices I make in my life. Each of us has our own, that shape the choices we make.

    Our choices are not made in a vacuum and we do not have absolute freedom to choose who we are, or are to become. I suppose one could interpret this to be a nihilistic, defeatist view, where we are not responsible for our lives and blame can be placed elsewhere. To the contrary, we have the responsibility and the freedom to create who we are out of what we are given. We all have our given talents, abilities, and limitations. View your life like artwork where you have limited materials to create an outstanding masterpiece. Your life is like a canvas where you have but one brush stroke to paint your life picture. When you lift the brush from the canvas your painting, your life, is completed.

    Why is this perspective important, especially for the addict? Addicts usually swing from one extreme to the other, even when they are clean. They are especially vulnerable to men or women who have years of sobriety. In 12-step programs you often here speakers with 10 or 20 years, dressed in expensive suits talk about their success since being clean. This success is usually measured in prestige, status or money. What message does this impart to the newcomer? The same message, with a different twist that you received when you were a child; you can be anything you want to be, rich, famous, and honored if you remain clean. What is lacking in this message is any conception of interest on the part of the speaker, any conception that this is the right thing to do, any conception that this man or woman who is wealthy and clean is using his or her talents or abilities in a positive way. The underlying message is the same old red-blooded American diatribe that says you’ve failed if you haven’t succeeded. Success measured in wealth or prestige. The addict with his or her low self-esteem strives for or dreams of this unfortunate message, without any consideration whether it is appropriate for them. The most important message for the addict is silent. Become who you are!

"Man is asked to make of himself what he is
supposed to become to fulfill his destiny."

Paul Tillich

 

"Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Emerson

     You don’t become who you are by following in others footsteps or path. You don’t become who you are by trying to be something you aren’t. Perhaps, in the example of the wealthy 12-step member mentioned above, he or she has become all they are capable of being. That’s fine, if that is their passion in life. Hopefully, most will realize that becoming who you are is an inside process that has nothing to do with external rewards. It is the process of becoming the most complete human being you are capable of being. It is creating who you are out of your own unique talents, abilities, constraints and weaknesses. As I’ve said before, we all have limited materials to work with. That is where the beauty lies, in our limitations. With our limitations, the masterpiece we paint, or what we create of our lives, becomes even more beautiful and wondrous. This is often very hard for the addict to accept for often their painting up to this day, looks like a mistake, looks ugly, and they look at their lives with sadness, despair, ruin and devastation. Remember I previously said we have but one brush stroke for our life painting. Many addicts would like to lift the brush from the canvass and start anew. They fail to see that what looks like an ugly painting is not complete, and that the flaws in the painting are its strengths. Goethe said, …we have no defect that could not become a strength, no strength that could not become a defect." In a similar manner Nietzsche stated, all thy passions in the end become virtues, and all thy devils angels." What we see as devastation and ruin today often times turns out to be a learning process, where we are given the opportunity to create our lives from what we have. This guides us to a point of beauty and strength and the unfolding self that is becoming.

     As addicts, we’ve created devastation, chaos, broken marriages, gone to prison, felt unbearable guilt and shame and can find no reason to believe that our past, with all its scars can have meaning for becoming who we are. I would like to share a story from India about a cracked pot that hopefully will clarify much of what I’ve been trying to express about taking a new perspective on your constraints, determinants, attributes, talents, and so called flaws, and becoming who you are.

     A water bearer in India had two large pots; each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck.

     One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house. The cracked pot arrived only half full.

     For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.

"I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."

"Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?

     "I have been able, for the past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts," the pot said.

     The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."

     Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.

     The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house."

Author Unknown

     Becoming who you are is accepting what you have to work with and then creating a masterpiece out of it. Many of us, like the pot, are cracked and scarred. We, like the pot, are ashamed of our so-called limitations. Our lives seem like a wasteland where only pain and devastation can be seen. But what were non-beneficial actions or choices in the past that led to a seemingly bleak outlook on life now hold the opportunities to create beauty out of darkness. We can’t change the past, nor should we want to. We may regret certain actions in the past, but we must affirm the path that brought us to this point. Nietzsche said, how can I wish that my life had been anything other than what it was, for I would not be who I am." We must affirm all of our life, past and present, beneficial and non-beneficial, and make positive choices that create the full potential of our lives. With what you have to work with, you must create your masterpiece, your life, and become who you are!

     Tony Hale is a Case Manager and Addiction Counselor for a prominent treatment center in Southern California. Tony has years of experience in both In-patient and Intensive Out-Patient care for addiction and spiritual guidance. He is available for personal spiritual guidance, medicine walks and speaking engagements. Tony can be contacted by e-mail: tonyhale@netscape.net

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