Empathy process

Discovery phase:

Getting to know that I am conducting research with rehab, the primary participants are people with criminal background with substance abuse past. I Started reviewing literature on addiction and the users.

Research on 12 steps of recovery program. And I also research on how to build empathy, which brought me to be get deeper into what addiction is like, and what are the challenges faced by these people.

I had no history of substance abuse, but I used to binge drink, so I started gathering more data on alcohol addiction. Had to understand what real alcoholic feel like, so went to AA meeting through skype. Read a lot of literature on how to overcome addiction and went through a lot of motivational stories of recovery. Most of them have been clean for so many years, and some were first timers. I felt like an imposter to just attend the meeting, so decided to immerse and overcome my empathic horizon, to go beyond my own beliefs and prejudices held against people who has addiction problem.


Decided to go through the 12 steps of recovery program in depth, the first step was acceptance, simple admission of being powerless over alcohol. I could not do that cause I never had problem with drinking. Although doctors had warned me two years back to control my drinking habit, as I had started to develop fatty liver, I just ignored their advice as I knew I will not be drinking as much as I used to cause I was a social drinker and I didn’t know anyone in Finland and I don’t like drinking alone by myself.

But to understand how alcoholics feel, I started surrounding myself with the party goers, and being a tutor for exchange student helped me a lot to go out frequently to bars and clubs. I realized that slowly I am really becoming an alcoholic, as all of my social interactions was always surrounded by alcohol. It felt good at first, less inhibition, I used to dance and sing and never bothered about what others would think. I could not stop at just one or two drinks, I had to drink like I am not going to leave until the alcohol is finished or I pass out. I would not just drink one kind of alcohol but mix everything, but soon, my body started developing resistance to it. I never felt drunk enough to achieve the same state of mind, where I could not care less about myself and others.

I was spending a lot of money and would always be ready to attend gatherings where alcohol would be served. Also caught up with the habit of smoking, which affected my health pretty badly. On the next day, I would promise myself not to drink again like this ever, as day would be gone in hangover and unproductive. My sleeping habit was really disrupted as I would sleep really late, or early in the morning, and it was hard to adjust my work and my normal routine into the daily lives. Good thing was, my work provided me with flexible timing so I could just wake up at my will and I was done with all of my studies except for this research.


After following the lifestyle for a good amount of time I started having difficulties cause after being intoxicated, it was hard to maintain eye contact, or to be sociable among the crowd as it would feel too much of a burden just to communicate. As you know you are not in your normal self, while you are intoxicated, it created unnecessary tensions and anxiety while trying to have a conversation, which really degraded the effective communication skill and hinder making any personal connection as the second person can feel the speech being slurry and I cannot even articulate what I am about to say.

After this pattern is repeated frequently, you become aware of it and try to avoid communication or any interaction which doesn’t feel comfortable or where I have to put any effort. And I became more aware about all of the problems that I was facing at the moment, which prevented myself from enjoying the moment and just lost in my own self observed thoughts just like any person with addiction would feel. I tried to change my habits, but it was hard to say no to the social circle and peer pressure cause I didn’t want to disappoint my friends.

It felt more like, I was reading the stories in the chat groups and tried to relate to the experiences that they had. I felt like I reached the stage where I really had no control over my cravings and alcohol. It didn’t make sense back then, but it does now.



I decided to take a break from everything so I packed my bags and decided to go back home for a month long vacation to distance myself from the lifestyle. It was a good decision to step back and reflect on what I was experiencing. It helped me put things into perspective. With increased understanding about oneself, addiction and recovery it became easier for me to focus solely on what was important.

I continued interviewing with the staff members, gathered much more information on the residents, and decided to go continue with 12 steps of recovery like the way they would do it in the bridge coaching association. I was becoming more inquisitive about my research questions and felt like I was better related to the users that I was designing for.

One important thing was, the residents had difficulty in writing so, instead of typing letters or emails on computers or mobile, they had to go write down all the answers in their 12 step worksheet with their hand. When I decided to do it myself, it felt so much better, as I realized I had not also written down anything for so many years, I could analyze my handwriting, the stress I would put into the certain letters was very profound. I didn’t even realize that simply writing a journal could feel so great, so I started writing and carrying my journal around.

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