“Remember that we deal with alcohol – cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us.” (p.58-59, Alcoholics Anonymous)
From the age of 10 years old I was told of the mysterious powers of alcohol. I was told that if I ever touched so much as a drop of it, that I would drink uncontrollably. I was told that I was born an alcoholic because my father was an alcoholic, and his parents were both alcoholics. I grew up in the recovery culture before I even knew what that was or what it meant, so as I became a teen and had the opportunity to experiment, I already had a warped belief system. Not only did I believe that alcohol and drugs had mysterious powers to enslave me, but I had also heard that alcohol and drugs had more wonderful powers that made them totally and completely irresistible.
I was set up to fail from the beginning. Alcohol and drugs were supernatural. They were both heaven and hell. There was no in between. Using them was both unacceptable and irresistible. I was curious and skeptical even as a kid, but this indoctrination was so completely ingrained in me I never questioned the obvious, such as why I watched nearly everyone I knew use drugs and alcohol without issue? I didn’t question why, when I first used pot at 12, that I didn’t get instantly hooked on it? I didn’t question why, even after I began drinking heavily, that I could stop drinking prior to passing out, and I could go several days without it if I had a good enough reason to stop. And I didn’t question why, even after I became a daily drinker and drug user, I could stop using all drugs completely, on my own, a full 6 months prior to quitting drinking. Each of these things I did flies in the face of the addiction disease theory, yet I did them.
I remember a particular night of partying when I was about 19. It was an epic end of school year, high school party. My only goal that night was to get completely wasted because I knew it would be fun. And looking back, I can tell you, it was great fun. I remember leaving the party, walking back to my friend’s house all alone well after midnight, along a deserted state highway in my small upstate New York hometown. I was singing The Late September Dogs by Melissa Etheridge at the top of my lungs in the pouring rain. It was a great night that was only tainted by the dire warnings I’d heard all those years. And as I crashed on my friend’s couch to get some sleep, I heard a voice echoing in my head, ‘it’s happened, you’re an alcoholic .’
For the next few years, I drank and drugged with increasing frequency until it became a daily habit. I failed out of college as junior after being on and off academic probation. I went through friends, roommates, and lovers rapidly. At one point my friends (all heavy partiers too) staged an intervention with me. They told me my behavior was out of control and that they were concerned. Of course, I became angry; I denied I had a problem and told them they were the ones with the problem. I abruptly left those friends and moved on with my life as I always did. But deep down I did believe it. I believed I was completely out of control and that eventually I would have to stop. You see, I had taken on the addict and alcoholic identity fully long before I took my first drink or drug. And even though I believed myself to be addicted, I freely admitted that I drank and drugged because I loved it.
Eventually I did what was expected of me since I was 10 years old, I landed at my first AA meeting. Thankfully I didn’t fully buy into it. Thankfully, I held onto the knowledge that I had actually quit on my own 2 full days prior to attending my first meeting, which meant I wasn’t powerless at all. I never actually accepted that I had a progressive, incurable disease that was waiting to get me at a weak moment, because I had just watched my grandmother lose her 12 year battle with a real disease, cancer.
I knew that I had a choice to drink or not drink but I did stay in the AA because that’s what I thought I had to do. I said what I had to say and did what I had to do to stay in the cult for several years partially out of fear and guilt and partially because I had made friends and I wanted to help people. For several years I held the belief that I was someone who could never use alcohol or drugs moderately, so I abstained for nearly 20 years even as I saw mounting evidence that all people have the ability to drink or use drugs moderately.
My desire to help people who had struggled like me, and my skepticism and curiosity have led me down a path of amazing discovery. And my eyes have been opened to most serious and egregious problem in our society — our beliefs about substance use and addiction have created and are fueling our current addiction crisis. My experience is but one example of how that happens, and as we see the problem increasing at a rapid rate, it’s very easy to see that it is the result of 75 years of misinformation and lies.
Make no mistake, believing that alcohol and drugs are both heaven and hell, both irresistible and taboo, and that they have the ability to enslave people is the problem. Until it changes, people will continue to struggle and some will die needlessly. The only antidote is to learn the truth. All people have the innate power and ability to choose to use substances or not, and they can choose how much to use, when to use and for what reasons they use. The antidote is truth and you can find that in a book I co-authored, The Freedom Model for Addictions.
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