It’s a Disease, Not a Choice: Part 2

by Bill Brenner on January 4, 2011

The Sunday night step study meeting I wrote about yesterday gave me more to think about than I could cram into one post. Another thing that stuck with me is how society continues to mistake addiction for choice.

Mood music:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cECTX3mPu1o&fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0]

I’ve tackled this subject many times in this blog. In the first “It’s a Disease, Not a Choice” post a few months back, I noted that the addicted brain works differently.

My problem was binge eating and a growing dependence on wine, further complicated by the variety of pain pills I was prescribed for the aches and pains caused, ultimately, by my bad habits. I was a less-than-ideal husband and dad. You just couldn’t rely on me. I’d sneak around feeding my addiction and then cover my tracks. Sometimes I would blatantly lie about it. [See “The Liar’s Disease“] I didn’t lie to be evil. I did it because the shame was too much for me to handle.

You might also say I didn’t know any better.

One thing’s for certain: I didn’t wake up one morning and decide it would be a laugh riot to slowly destroy myself and hurt everyone around me in the process.

To someone watching a loved one in relapse, the question is always “How the fuck could HE/SHE do this to ME?”

Here’s the ugly truth: Alcoholism — addictive behavior, period — is a disease. Nobody chooses it. They are chosen instead. It controls you like a puppet. You know as you’re doing that addictive action that it’s wrong and you hate every second of it. But your motor skills have taken over and you CAN’T stop.

Sure, we can shake it in time and find recovery, but relapse is a natural part of the disease. In fact, relapse is something I probably worry about the most, because I’ve been relatively lucky up to this point in my 12-Step program.

I know it can creep up on me and regain control at any moment, before I know what hit me.

In one of my favorite TV shows, “The West Wing,” Leo McGarry describes where the mind goes:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ma3d-YdLjCs&version=3&rel=1&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1]

“My brain works differently,” he says, followed by,” I don’t get drunk in front of people. I get drunk alone.”

It’s the same way for a food addict. You can’t have just one slice of pizza. It has to be the whole box. I once joked to a friends that I can’t eat just five. And when I really wanted to numb my frustrations in a bag of junk, I always went peddle to the metal out of sight from others; typically when I was alone in my car.

At Sunday night’s meeting, someone brought up another thing about addicts and choice: We all have choices in life, but when we become addicted to something, choice is destroyed. We become slaves to an evil force that’s far more powerful than our sense of reason, right or wrong. We become slaves to the substance. We have no choice but to feed it.

But the story doesn’t end there. 

My own experience is that there is NEVER a point of no return. Slaves sometimes break free of their captors. On rare occasions they come back with a shotgun and kill the bastards. Most of the time the slave just runs away, hoping to avoid recapture. In a world where addiction is the captor, relapse is when the oppressor catches up to you and puts you back in chains.

I broke free. But I always have to watch my back.

A family friend has a dad who has suffered a long time with alcoholism. He achieved years of sobriety, only to relapse. Now he’s in a very bad place.

He’s a slave again.

I’m praying for him.

Even when the addict is returned to slavery, they still bring something to the table that the rest of us can learn from:

They show you what it’s like to suffer, and their example serves as a warning.

Make no mistake about it: This is some seriously complicated shit.

I’m just glad to be free today. I managed to see through the haze one day and I got my choices back.

Here’s hoping I don’t lose them again.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Eva January 4, 2011 at 7:51 am

I sometimes wonder if there is a different perspective. For me, I always ask what I’m committed to. There were times I was committed to going out w friends every night of the week. Didn’t really care about much except getting to work for a paycheck and having fun. Then I got pregnant and all of that stopped, happily. Didn’t have a drink from the week before I found out I was pregnant until the baby was about 5 months. And I can unequivocally tell you that the only important thing in my life is my son and being the best mother = commitment. Every decision I make takes my son into consideration. If your commitment is to disregard the things you give your word to – then I get that someone could go awry. But if you’re clear on your commitments – you know when to say no, even if it’s to yourself. And I get it’s not easy sometimes … That’s why it’s important to pick the right people to surround yourself with. 🙂

Me January 4, 2011 at 8:56 pm

I don’t necessisarily agree. I do agree that your “brain makeup” isn’t a a choice. But you always have control of your behaviour. That is always a choice. It might take time to gain awareness of that choice, but by saying that addictive/compulsive behaviour is outside of our control we are continuing with the “victim’ stance, and that give no hope whatsoever to those of us with OCD – where our obsessions are continued with our compulsive behaviour.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: