“In your mind, you can be okay, you can just do one. But like they say, ‘One is too many and a thousand’s never enough.’*”
– Bruce Cherry, Pennsylvania (*: quote from Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text)
Regardless of how long a person has been in recovery—one day or a few decades—I have a high regard for anyone with a substance use disorder who has truly surrendered, who has hit bottom and said, “No mas!” to their sense of being able to control their consumption of alcohol or drugs.
Why do I have deep respect for such people? Because I know from experience how insidious and clever addiction can be in order to get me to indulge (“I can handle doing just one, right?”), how the voice in my head would slyly remind me how good I would feel if I had a drink, a puff, a pill or a hit.
And before I got into recovery, I believed in the illusion that voice was selling. Over and over again, come hell or high water, no matter the consequences I’d face (jail time, ruined relationships, being thrown out of the house, tarnishing my work record, etc.), I would succumb to the temptation and imbibe, intending to restrain myself from ‘going overboard’… but never doing just one, and instead always drinking or using drugs until I was thoroughly inebriated or passed out.
Whenever I questioned myself after such an experience, I’d feel not only baffled as to why I couldn’t control my use of alcohol or drugs, but also ashamed and miserable, as though I was a “loser” who couldn’t beat this incessant foe. And I would resolve to “try even harder next time” to limit myself whenever I’d be in front of a drink or a drug again.
But no amount of will power on my part or self-admonishment was ever sufficient to stop me from pouring or rolling or popping another, and then another, and then another, ad infinitum.
As is often heard in addiction treatment programs or 12 Steps meetings. “No one plans on getting hooked.” One day, I woke up and realized my whole life was based on getting and using alcohol and drugs, even if it meant losing all of my relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. When I’d “wait too long” to get loaded, I’d start feeling sick, panicky, and desperate. I felt and believed if only I could have another drink or hit, I’d be saved from the discomfort, anxiety, and pain I was in.
It is only when I found my way to recovery that I learned about “the disease of addiction;” how it was not a personal lack of will power or morality or character, but rather a physical, mental and spiritual illness that could be treated. I discovered I couldn’t control my alcohol or drug consumption because I have a disease that’s characterized by obsession and compulsion to drink or use. (I later learned my years of drinking and using had literally rewired and “hijacked” my brain.)
Given this new understanding, I felt I‘d been blessed with a miraculous ray of hope, which encouraged me to strive with all of my resources to recover from what was afflicting me. Quickly, though, I also learned there was no “cure” yet for this disease; rather, I could, by practicing a regular program of recovery, gain freedom from active addiction and all its horrible consequences… but it would be 24 hours at a time that I would have this reprieve. I would need to develop a daily recovery routine and commit to it in action.
All-in-all, these facts about addiction eventually fueled a strong fire within me. As I began firmly planting my feet in recovery—reaching out for help, taking suggestions from addiction professionals and fellow recovering addicts (whose program of recovery I respected) and following them to the best of my ability—I came to see how my choices and actions were all I truly had control over. But this knowledge became my lifelong ally, enabling me to choose a life of recovery, which has for 22-plus years now allowed me to remain free of the illusion of my having control over addiction, and in so doing, allowed me to enjoy a life beyond my wildest dreams, one day at a time.