The Power(lessness) to Choose *

When I first started the 12-step LDS Addiction Recovery Program, I came across a quote by Elder Russell M. Nelson: “Addiction surrenders later freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will.” My addict brain immediately latched on to that quote, jumping up and down in excitement. “You see! You can’t control it now! You have a great excuse when you act out!”

Stupid brain.
Of course, I knew it was a lie. After all, there’s no recovery where there’s no choice. It’s simply a matter of what you think you’re choosing. First of all, it’s important to recognize that there is a lot of chemical stuff going on in the brain with addiction. The brain actually sets up circuitry to push you toward an addictive response if you create the pathway for it. Why? Because the brain is all about efficiency. When you were first learning to tie your shoes, it seemed impossible. But now you don’t even think about it because your brain has it down. It’s a automatic response. You never look down at your untied shoe and think, “Oh crap. My mommy’s not here. What am I going to do?!”
Because my brain has been conditioned for the last 15 years to respond to any sort of negative emotion with porn and/or masturbation, it’s gotten to the point where it’s an automatic response. In fact, if I’m not carefully paying attention to my emotions on a daily, or even hourly, basis, I get completely blindsided, afterwards wondering what the heck went wrong.
Can you imagine trying to unlearn how to tie your shoes? It seems impossible, doesn’t it? Add in a chemical dependency on (too much) dopamine and other hormones released during acting out and I’ve got some pretty strong shackles to break out of.
But here’s the thing. I do have a choice. I’ve just been confused about what choice that is. Let me explain.
I’ve been going to a 12-step addiction recovery group for almost three years now. It was also at that time that I started doing the 12 steps (although I stopped about a year and a half ago because it just didn’t feel like it was helping). I’ve met with therapists, had multiple sponsors, read books, done a rigid 90-day recovery program, written almost 100 blog posts, read hundreds of blog posts by other recovering addicts, and repented thousands of times. Suffice it to say, I have the necessary tools in my toolbox to do this recovery thing.
Where I screwed up, though, is thinking that I have a choice in overcoming the addiction, and I don’t. No matter how hard I try and how long I resist, it beats me every time. And during the low tide time when I feel good about things, my addiction is really just in the other room doing push-ups, biding its time. So no, when it comes to overcoming this addiction, I don’t have a choice. Like Elder Nelson said, I gave that choice up a long time ago.
However, where I do have a choice is in submitting it to God. And I haven’t done that very well lately. I’ve been so focused on doing all the things I need to do for recovery that I’ve forgotten the most important part–giving it up to Him. I can do this by not only reaching out to Him, but reaching out to the brotherhood of recovering addicts I associate with. By reaching out to them, I’m giving up the idea that I can do this. Because in all reality, I can’t. And that’s something I need to beat into this messed up brain of mine.
Viktor Frankl once said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response, and in our response lies our growth and freedom.” As an addict, I can always identify that space when a trigger comes along. But the danger comes when I choose the wrong response, which is to try to beat it on my own. As I’m continuing to work my recovery, I want to focus more on the right response, which is giving up the notion that I can do this and putting my trust in God and others who have succeeded in submitting their wills to God so that I can actually get the help I desperately need to do this the right way.

* This post wast borrowed from

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