All addictions are dis-ease. Whatever anchors us to (any) material gain in favor of nourishing the spirit is the result of a breakdown in the way we are supposed to live and thrive. You may say our very existence is material in nature so the world “out there” is what provides us life, happiness, and purpose. That’s a lie; and if you have the courage to read forth, I’ll do my best to illustrate the point.
A full year into my recovery I was still having a hard time accepting the notion that alcoholism (or any addiction) was a disease. Evidence supporting my conviction seemed strong enough. My life and body were returning to health. I felt productive, peaceful, and focused. In my opinion, as long as I stayed away from the bottle, and continued in the program, the road of success would continue to unfold; I was wrong. It was all too soon that well-worn symptoms and habits once commonplace during my years of blurred and incoherent meandering began to reassert themselves. They weren’t the dominating force they once were, that’s for sure, but they were hazardous to my well-being, destructive to the environment, and they were beginning to escalate. Was the “shine” of my new life beginning to tarnish? Was I fooling myself that simply staying away from alcohol and following the steps would cure me of what seemed to be my nature? There is no doubt. Luckily the relationship with my mentor was still in full swing. He helped me put the brakes on the resurrection of my old lifestyle before it got to the point where momentum would overrule any intent of stopping it. This is the turning point where I finally learned that alcoholism truly is a disease.
The term “Dry drunk” is the label for identifying the reactions of alcoholism without the catalyst being involved. (Notice that I said reactions, not actions; I’ll get to that later) I’m sure the term can be applied to any addiction as long as “drunk” defines an excess of self-destructive, self-centered behavior. Food, sex, drugs, money, power, and so on, can all be obsessive objects of an unhealthy focus. In essence we can be “drunk” on almost anything.
I sat down one evening with my friend and he explained it to me. “You’re still having a hard time coming to grips with the notion that alcoholism is indeed a disease?”
“Yes. I suppose I still see it as nothing more than a bad habit meant to be broken.”
Joe smiled one of his “here we go down the rabbit hole” smiles and continued. “Describe to me what happens when you drink.”
“Describe what happens leading up to you taking a drink. Let’s say you have been sober for a few days, white knuckling it so to speak. What takes place when you make the decision to get drunk?”
I attempted to clear the uncomfortable feeling beginning to build in my throat and went into state. “Well……I guess it’s like another spirit enters my body. I’ll be feeling good, terrific in fact, and it seems to come at me sideways. I’ll get in the car in this dreamlike trance knowing I’m doing something horrible, drive to the nearest liquor store and buy my usual brand of poison.”
“I always start asking myself questions. Why am I doing this? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I quit? I’ll walk in to my apartment and sit there for a few minutes with an unopened bottle in my hands, staring at it, thinking it’s not open yet; I haven’t broken any rules unless I drink it. I then open it up and slam it down along with a boatload of shame and regret.”
Joe wasn’t smiling anymore. In fact he was crying a little. “I know what you mean. Been there myself.” He paused, searching for the exact right words to say next. “Is alcohol the problem in the scenario you just described to me?”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“Is not alcohol a reaction to the problem?”
A light bulb started going off over my head, and I began to see the truth of it. “Yes…..there’s a long series of events that must take place before I even drink.”
“Now you’re getting it. The thought process that leads up to you doing something you know you don’t want to do is broken. You are going somewhere you don’t want to go and you’re going to end up somewhere you don’t want to be. Your brain is at war with itself. In other words you are mentally……….. what?”
I filled in the blank rather quickly. “….ill…..”
“Certifiable, mister. Alcoholism is a disease of the mind, not the body.”
“Is there no cure then? Will it never go away?” I asked nervously.
“No, not completely. Its influence can wither and lose strength, but the seed will survive and continue to ask for nourishment and rebirth throughout your lifetime. The good news is there are actions you can take to keep it in remission, and done properly they will steer you towards great achievements. There’s an advantage to continuing an effort in pursuit of what is desired and evasion of what must be avoided; this is called conscious evolution. All people inevitably evolve by means of subconscious evolution. They adapt to the environment, they do what is necessary to survive, they avoid pain, and they seek pleasure. The few that go beyond the automatic requirements of living can command great resources. They are the ones the rest of the human “tribe” will look to and recognize what is possible. They are also the ones who will provoke more opposition than support, because challenging someone to be better by example is often interpreted as pointing out that where they are now isn’t good enough.”
Joe went on to explain how the brain works. He had a higher education in philosophy and psychology, so when he spoke, I listened. The way it was put to me was like this. Think of the mind as the hard drive of the human computer. Programs are input as we grow older so we may adapt to specific tasks. Some we embrace through awareness, others are downloaded by pure instinct. All are designed to cope with our environment. Most are compatible with the rest, but when a program such as “excessive drinking” eventually begins to fall out of harmonious synchronization with the others, (that is the “program” has become outdated and inefficient at providing the mind and body what it once was capable of) pain and suffering usually occurs, both mentally and often physically. “Programs” can be made obsolete or unused by installing new, upgraded programs, but old information can never be erased. Here lies the real (and BOY, do I mean real) problem with addiction. When we attempt to re-route thought patterns of addiction, we will experience great difficulty, because the neural pathways of addiction are located in the limbic system- the area of the brain that processes functions directly related to emotion and survival. Make no mistake, thought patterns of addiction are energetically alive, and that which is alive and becomes threatened with obsolescence will fight to survive, sometimes in covert ways. The nature of these impulses will continue as long as we live, which is why awareness must be maintained and progress must be continued.
Do the shadows of the past ever attempt to block my path of dedication towards a better tomorrow? Of course; but in doing so they remind me of what I am motivated to stay ahead of. You may find it strange, but I would not give up one minute of experienced misery for the promise of eternal bliss. I have said this before and I mean it, because all the suffering and all the pain I once went through is my most prized possession. Knowing what I must move towards as a result of the chaos I leave behind is truly priceless. Do I have a disease called addiction that resides even now in my mind? Yes. Is my destiny set to a live a life of constant courageousness as a countermeasure to what affects me? Yes; but all of this is a gift, not a curse, for I can think of no better way to fulfill my absolute potential.
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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood