“Try to do something without thinking about doing it first.” That was the first lesson given to me by my soon-to be mentor when I was 19 years old. At the time I was a seriously lonely, depressed and misguided young man in search of answers to why I was so unhappy. I had stopped drinking and drugging 18 months prior, had just matriculated out of a long-term drug and alcohol rehab program, and was in a bad place emotionally. The rehab experience was terribly confusing and did little to build stability into my life. If anything, I felt lost and like my whole existence was on hold. Being “a person in recovery” made me feel as if my whole world and any progress in it was stifled. I felt suffocated with the endless “slogan therapy” and platitudes from “the rooms” and was in desperate need of someone to help pull me out of the suicidal rut I was in.

I sat in Jerry’s office explaining all of this – I had decided to be completely honest with him about my daily struggle to live and find happiness. When it was his turn to talk, he explained that he’d been conducting research on people like me, people that didn’t fit well into the 12 step/rehab paradigm. I learned I wasn’t alone in my reticence to “give myself completely” to the 12 step cult or to the “professionals” in rehab. There were many that wanted a different foundation on which they could build their lives. The disease concept and the entire defeatist angle that was being peddled throughout the treatment industry seemed a bridge way too far for me.

My issue was simple, I felt like all the disease/powerlessness ideals being promoted in AA and the rehab I attended were counterintuitive to my actual inner experience. I’d quit drinking and drugging before I was mandated to rehab and AA. This timing is important. I had already changed my mind about the value booze and drugs had in my life, and I felt quitting was the better option for me. It was after that mental and emotional shift that I was forced into the rehab system only to be told I couldn’t have made such a decision on my own. While this was obviously not the case, after more than a year of “intensive outpatient therapy”, and much browbeating by the therapists, I found myself rewriting my own history to fit their narrative. I began to believe that I could not possibly have quit using without treatment of some kind. It’s astonishing to me now just how deeply disturbing that is, and how powerful the rehab system is in capturing the minds of those in their “care”. Thankfully I graduated from their program, got my driver’s license back, gained my freedom, and found someone who could explain what had happened to me.

Jerry was a researcher, and a good man who would eventually become a second father to me. That first day we talked was a watershed moment for me. By giving me a simple assignment, he changed my perspective on my entire life, and effectively erased the brainwashing I received during my treatment.

“Mark, try to do something, without thinking about doing it first. I want you to spend the next twenty four hours doing this, and then let me know what happened.”

As a researcher and teacher, Jerry knew this lesson would create a self-evident truth for me. I tried for an entire day to attempt things without thinking about doing them. At points I felt silly and even thought it was a trick question and assignment. Of course you can’t accomplish a task without an initial mental thought. It’s impossible. This, I discovered, was the point of the assignment. The next day, Jerry said, “Now that you know without the shadow of a doubt that a human is incapable of accomplishing human tasks without thought first, you can also know that the idea of being powerless over an urge to drink and/or drug is an impossibility as well. No one drinks or behaves in any way without thinking about doing it first. If there is thinking, there is reasoning. If there is reasoning, there is cognition of factors in the decision making process. In other words – no one is an “alcoholic” or “drug addict” in the conventional Western sense that promotes powerlessness and the image of a drug taking zombie. All substance users think before they act based on the workings of their mind.

Furthermore, the mind is not the brain. The mind is the software and the brain is the hardware. All motivation and feelings (like “feeling addicted”, cravings, and the like) are based on what we value and prefer. Those are intensely personal things, because our autonomous minds are the embodiment of each person. Who you are is your mind, which houses what you think, what you feel, and what you experience. All of this makes you have complete power over your environment and what you prefer. In closing – no one is diseased or powerless over alcohol and drugs. We each make a determination on the value people, activities and things have to us within the confines of our minds. In knowing this, you are free to choose any use option or none at all. You have always been free.”

This conversation changed my life. If it is true that I think and reason before I act (and obviously the lesson proved this to be the case), then I had never been powerless at all. I was choosing my addictions all along! I also had chosen to stop before my court-mandated treatment stay. The treatment professionals were entirely wrong! Even as a 19 year old kid, I had been right the whole time. Furthermore if I had been a chooser of my destiny in the past, if I gained more knowledge about my world, I could become a better chooser in the future. I didn’t have to live a life of simple treatment slogans and 12 step meetings. I could let all of that go and be a chooser of success and build the exact life I desired.

The following years were some of the most productive and satisfying of my life. I moved past both the addiction construct and the recovery construct and allowed myself the privilege to be a chooser of greater pursuits. I went back to college and graduated top of my class with a 4.0 average. I became an author, a researcher, and eventually the chairman of a world renowned drug and alcohol research company. I became a father of three and a husband. I became what I wanted to become because I embraced the power of my mind, and the rest followed.

You, too, can move fully past addiction. You, too, can move past the confines of recovery (which forever ties you to a past “addiction). You, too, can be free to become a chooser – a chooser of any destiny you desire. But first you may need the addiction and recovery myths you’ve learned in treatment and/or in our disease centered society debunked. Maybe now is the time to read The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap and learn how you can let go of a lifestyle that’s hurting you. Become a chooser and learn to be truly free.