Monday, October 11, 2010

“Why Can’t You Just Quit?!”

My heart goes out to any of you who have had this comment thrown your way. Maybe it was a loved one who mouthed off out of anger or frustration. Maybe it was a total stranger who couldn’t seem to mind their own business. Whatever the circumstances, it is one of the worst things an addict/alcoholic can hear. We know, deep inside, that we need to stop. We want to stop. We want desperately to stop. We can’t.

It remains one of the most fundamental misunderstandings about this disease. To make matters worse, there are people out there who have been able to stop. There are plenty of people who looked at themselves and said, ‘gee, ya know, I’m really drinking too much; I need to knock that shit off’--and then did. Maybe it wasn’t alcohol, maybe it was marijuana, or speed, or coke. Somehow, they were able to back off, put the stuff down, and quit on their own. But instead of thanking their lucky stars for being able to do so, they look down on those of us who can’t.

Even with the changing understanding out there about the disease, there are still many, many, people who pass judgment on addicts. They stand on their proverbial high horses, turn up their noses, and think that since they were able to quit, anyone should be able to. They say addiction isn’t real, that it’s a choice, and that if someone really wanted to, they could stop at any time.

How wrong they are.

Some say that, if you are able to quit on your own, that you weren’t really addicted in the first place. I like to remember the passage from the Big Book of AA that talks about having found ‘a’ way to quit, not ‘the’ way, and that if you can find a way to quit on your own, our hat is off to you. I like to remember the passage that speaks to the incomprehensible demoralization. If you have trouble understanding what that means, let me spell out my interpretation. It’s an internal dialog that goes a little like this:

“Oh fuck, I’m drinking/using again. God damn it! Why am I doing this? Why can’t I fucking stop this shit?? It’s killing me. It’s destroying my life. I’m losing friends, money, family. I need to stop. I want to stop so bad. I promised myself and everyone else that I would stop. Why the fuck am I doing this again?? Why do I keep doing this, over and over and over again, even though I don’t want to? How is it that I want more than anything else in the world to not get loaded anymore and I keep on getting loaded?!?!?!”

It is because I am an addict. It is because I have the disease. Maybe there was a point where I could have just stopped, but it is no longer the case.

There are medical experts out there who can explain this in terms of biology. They can tell you about the changes that have happened in the brain, how the natural survival instinct has become perverted. They will talk about stress and how the brain of an addict has been rewired so that the only way to process stress is through using. I am not a doctor. I’m just another addict with the disease, struggling to learn a way to do things differently.

When our disease has progressed to a certain point, there is no turning back. We can’t just stop. It really isn’t possible. Really. We need to treat our disease. It’s not nearly as simple as replacing one bad habit with another habit that’s good for us. For folks like myself, it means a daily maintenance of my spiritual condition. It means going to meetings, working steps, and being of service.

To those of you out there who realized you had a problem and were able to ‘just quit’, my hat is off to you. For those of you out there who are like me and didn’t realize you had a problem until you discovered that you couldn’t ‘just quit’, I know how you feel. I have been where you are. I still am where you are. No matter how much clean time we get, we are still addicts; we always will be. And to those of you who feel you have the right to pass judgment and be self-righteous, I hope you find the compassion within yourselves to thank your lucky stars that you haven’t had to suffer as those of us with this disease have.

And for those of you who were able to quit on your own, and are able to recognize how fortunate you are, and who chose not to beat down on those who do suffer, I thank you. Every addict who still suffers thanks you. Your compassion is a welcome relief from a world that all too often lacks understanding.

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