When I was using drugs and drinking, my friends and family would often say “Why can’t you just stop?” or “If you put your mind to it, you could probably quit.” Many of them saw my addiction as a matter of will power. They didn’t understand why I didn’t have the self-discipline to put down the drugs and alcohol.
Not that I hadn’t tried. There were periods in my life where I tried to give up drugs and alcohol with will power alone. I did pretty well for a while. I was able to stop using drugs and drinking for months at a time. But I was so miserable. I didn’t get off the couch; I rarely bothered to eat or shower. My day to day life was in shambles. Will power in addiction allowed me to put down the drugs and the drink, but it didn’t help me live.
Sometimes people say things in the rooms that aren’t very helpful. One of these sayings is “Don’t pick up, no matter what.” Sounds great in theory- no matter what happens don’t use drugs. But telling me not to pick up was like telling me not to breathe. I don’t know how. I had no will power in addiction.
The first time I sat down with my sponsor, she told me that alcoholism is a matter of power and choice. What this means is that when I start drinking or using, I cannot control how much I drink or use. I can’t tell you how many times I bought enough drugs and alcohol to last me three or four days, and I was out after an hour. The other part of my disease is choice. It means I can’t stop when I want to stop and when I stop, I can’t stay stopped. Will power in addiction was a delusion. I had no power at all. I had no choice.
It was a relief to me to finally understand my addiction. It meant that I wasn’t just weak willed or lazy, I had a disease. I had a physical allergy to alcohol and drugs. When I take any mind-altering substance, I no longer had will power in addiction. I couldn’t stop even though I was hurting my family. I couldn’t stop even though I was homeless. I couldn’t stop even though I really, really wanted to stop.
Step one in Alcoholics Anonymous is “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” Will power in addiction isn’t part of the equation. We admit that we have no power to decide when we drink, how much we drink, and when to stop. Even the most self-disciplined man, if he is a true alcoholic, will never be able to control his drinking.
I had tried everything in my power to quit drinking and using drugs. I had made countless promises to myself and everyone else around me, and I still couldn’t stop. I had changed jobs, cities, boyfriends. I had avoided people I used with and places that served alcohol. I traveled. I saw doctors. I exercised. Nothing worked until I realized that there was no will power in addiction for me.