This article is dedicated to a good friend who is told repeatedly that no alcoholic EVER regains choice. Sadly, the people telling him this can’t seem to comprehend the basic structure of alcoholism, of which there are two components: mental and physical. Physically, we never regain control. Mentally, we can absolutely regain control. In fact, that is very definition of recovery. Without mental control or choice, nobody would ever get better. The Big Book delineates all this very clearly, but since a basic understanding seems lost on the contents of my friend’s group, let’s have a closer look.
The Big Book does state that the alcoholic never regains physical control, meaning that his or her body will always respond abnormally to alcohol once ingested, but that our power of choice, which is mental, can certainly be restored. That is what recovery is. Loss of power of choice is temporary. Moreover, the process of losing choice is a choice. Nobody is born an addict. Sorry, can’t blame your genes, i.e. your parents.
The Big Book reads, “On the other hand – and as strange as this may seem to those who do not understand – once a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required a few simple rules.” -from The Doctor’s Opinion, xxix
So what is a psychic change? Again, quoting Carl Jung from There Is A Solution (p.27), “Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.”
If that isn’t a description of the restoration of choice and willpower, I don’t know what is.
Let’s continue from Into Action, p.85: “And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time [after amends] sanity will have returned [sanity = choice, mind you]. We will seldom be interested in liquor [or never, in many cases, such as mine for example]. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally [normal people have choice. Choice is mental, loss of control is physical], and we will find this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given to us without thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, nor are we avoiding temptation [power of choice is necessary to make avoiding temptation irrelevant]… Instead, the problem has been removed.“
In “Anybody Can Take Steps” I wrote, “Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), this abnormal physical response to drugs and alcohol, once acquired, is permanent. While that may sound hopeless, it is not, because all any addict or alcoholic needs to do is to restore willpower, supplemented by a life of spiritual growth, and he or she can then choose never to drink or use again. Thus, the real defeat is what happens to addicts mentally.”
And this is why the Big Book confirms that “…the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body.” –Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 23
Thus one can see that if we could never regain the power of choice, nobody would ever recover. Regaining choice is the very definition of recovery. It is the very thing that allows an active addict to become restored and never drink again. If I was walking around with no choice, then I am subject to drink or use at any point in time, and that is not my reality. I have full control of my mind and the power to choose/willpower has been restored. My once broken mind has been fixed (at least in that department).
Choice is associated with our mental condition. Active drinkers or users have lost the ability to think rationally or reasonably about drugs and alcohol. When the thought to drink or use comes into their minds, they cannot choose whether to pick up or not. They just pick up. By all accounts, an active user who has so thoroughly lost his or her willpower is insane. This is what we refer to as the mental obsession. The mind has become so compromised and so owned by drinking or using, choice has been lost.
But choice is mental. Choice is a mental loss of ration, reason and power. And power, just as ration or reason, can be both lost and regained. I and other recovered individuals have regained that ability. I choose every single day not to pick up, as drugs and alcohol have no power over me. In fact, I repel them. To me, they are nothing but spiritual poisons that push me away from God, and all I want to do now is grow closer to God. So our problem is mental.
Before my obsession was lifted, I had certainly lost the power of choice. In fact, I didn’t even think at all. I’d use your bathroom, notice a bottle of Percocet, and my arm would reflexively reach out and before a single thought had entered, the pills were sailing down my esophagus. This is what the Big Book refers to as those “strange mental blank spots,” where the mind stops working and we just pick up for no reason at all. Put another way, active users have a broken mind. Recovered people have grown new minds. So while the body of an addict cannot be fixed, his or her mind can. This is why it is fruitless to try to treat the body of an addict, which has ignorantly become the entire focus of addiction treatment today.
So when I say I am a recovered alcoholic, what I mean is that I no longer suffer from thoughts to drink. Additionally, I can purposely think about alcohol and these thoughts have no effect on me whatsoever. I can walk through the halls of a liquor store, meet friends at a bar, or even work in a brewery and because CHOICE has been restored. More importantly, I have no desire to drink, and for me, that goes hand in hand with becoming recovered.
What I have now is much better that what I had before during brief times of sobriety. Once again, I have come to naturally repel drugs and alcohol as opposed to miss them nostalgically. I view them as evil garbage as opposed to a long lost love. I have come to repel anything that pushes me away from the Holy Spirit. This is precisely the result of the spiritual actions of the Twelve Steps. Right action enables us to access the power of God and make us sane once again.
So to beat a dead horse, if addicts and alcoholics never regained the power to choose whether they pick up or not, nobody would ever get better. Regaining the power of choice IS the very definition of recovery. It’s called getting better and becoming sane again, though many who have only achieved physical sobriety have yet to experience this freedom. The white-knuckle crowd should try it by taking the Steps we are so blessed to have received in the Big Book entitled Alcoholics Anonymous. Once restored, you are a free man or woman. You can go anywhere on God’s green earth because drugs and alcohol no longer have you by the balls.
Power, by definition, IS choice, so I’m not sure I understand the assertion that we never regain choice. The entire program of AA is designed to give us our choice back and teaches us that power can be both lost and regained.
Hope that helps, my friend.