Some years ago, as a United States Peace Corps volunteer in the Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, my Indian government counterpart, Narpat, and I took a bus to a conference. It was a long, tiring ride, and the temperature was at least 120 F. All the windows were open wide. The hot air moved across our bodies but did nothing to alleviate perspiration. Our discomfort was heightened with the presence of a few chickens, a goat, a huge truck tire and the scent of fellow passengers, who were also traveling long distances in crowded conditions.

My colleague and I dozed intermittently. Suddenly, the bus jerked, and I awakened with a start. As I looked through the window across that hot desert floor, I saw in the distance one of the most beautiful and tranquil lakes ever imagined. Its perfect shine glistened in the desert sun. The lake looked to be miles and miles long. I nudged Narpat and asked him why no inhabitants were taking advantage of such a valuable resource. He raised his head for a brief look before replying nonchalantly, “Oh, Mr. Bobji, it is just a mirage. Don’t be fooled.”

The vision of that lake was as real as anything I had ever seen. Until I was able to absorb it, Narpat’s response was far less believable than what I was observing. At first, I thought he was joking. That’s how real my view seemed.

Contemplating that experience over the years has reminded me of how easy it is to fool ourselves. We rationalize, we fantasize, and we talk ourselves into the most untenable of situations because we think the momentary benefit we get from shortcuts, or cheating, or puffs, or sniffs, or injections, or swallows, or food, or views, or touch, or purchase, or wager, will somehow magically satisfy our needs. These are self-created mirages.

Narpat had grown up in India. He had seen many mirages. He knew them for what they were. Unlike the stories of desert travelers insanely crawling across the sand toward the phony vision of an oasis, Narpat’s years of experience, kept him from chasing a fantasy.

As we justify and fool ourselves about our bad habits, wrongful actions and faulty lines of thinking, we may devise ways to fool our families and associates as well. This can be a very self-destructive path leading to tragedy for ourselves and those around us.

There are wise people in addiction recovery whose shared experiences could tell us about productive, non-destructive ways to fulfill our emotional needs.

I recently attended an addiction recovery meeting where a 26-year-old was presenting his Step One inventory (listing past behaviors in addiction). When he finished, a member of the group, 20 years his senior, said, “Thank God you’re dealing with this now. If I had found support for resolution of my problems at your age, I would not have experienced the relationship issues, the divorce, the unhappiness and the hell I’ve had for the past two decades.”

That group member and others consistently attend meetings with those who have similar recovery goals. They ask questions to get help, and they share success tools from which they have benefited. Self-help is possible as well, simply by asking ourselves regularly why we’re doing what we do and how it may help us reach, or distract, from our goals.

Assistance is also available for co-dependents, those loved ones and associates who recognize unusual behavior in others and need to learn how to help. Confidential contact may be made to Weber Human Services, Davis Behavioral Health or United Way’s 2-1-1 resource information line.

Those with experience can provide the tested alternatives to meet our emotional needs. They’ve been there. They can tell us when we’re seeing a mirage, when we’re being fooled and how to get on track.

Robert A. Hunter is director of The Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service at Weber State University. He may be contacted at rhunter@weber.edu.

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