Addiction – losing the power of choice

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losing the power of choice‘Tom’, a doctor with a drug dependency, found his recovery through mutual aid in the fellowship of Cocaine Anonymous (CA). This is the second part of my interview with him. Here he describes how the 12-step programme began to make sense.

What did you like about CA?

I was attracted to CA because I felt most comfortable there. There were also several CA members that I really identified with. This was vitally important as I started to hear the similarities between my addiction journey and others. This connection gradually developed and remains a powerful tie to the fellowship.

My own using history /active addiction was not typical of most of the alcoholics and addicts that went to the meetings. If I heard long descriptions of the horrible situations people endured in addiction I found it harder to identify. I hadn’t been a street heroin user and I hadn’t used alcohol to the same extent as many of the alcoholics. These were real differences which could have been a potential hurdle (in my head anyway).

So what were those similarities?

I found that many of the shares in CA focused on the cognitive and emotional processes surrounding addiction. People were open about their thinking patterns, feelings of unease, disconnection from other people, obsessive compulsive behaviours, selfishness, fear, anger, shame, guilt etc. I identified with this stuff rather than any particular material consequence of addiction. I had never really heard people talk so openly about these things. I had always believed that admitting weakness was the wrong thing to do; if I buried this stuff then maybe it would go away. I didn’t understand that through acknowledgement and identification of personal weakness we are opened up to a new found power and strength.

What was the approach to addiction?

There was also a distinct focus in CA to clearly describe to the newcomers what it meant to be a full blown addict or alcoholic. It gradually dawned on me what this meant. Initially the talk of “physical allergy” and “mental obsession” passed in one ear and out the other. It made more sense when somebody said, 1. A real addict will invariably be unable to control the amount of substance they take, a physical craving is triggered when we take a substance that makes it almost impossible to stop using once we start. This is the “physical allergy” 2. A real addict will experience losing the power of choice over using. At certain times we will use against our will. We experience a “peculiar mental twist” or “mental blank spot” when we have no mental defense against the first drink or drug. This is the mental obsession.

Did that make sense to you?

This information matched my personal experience of using drugs. I had repeatedly used more drugs than I meant to, never being able to pace myself and always had a physical feeling that I needed more, I was never satisfied. Also whenever I did manage to stop and make a firm commitment to never use again at some stage my thinking would lead me back to using. This twist in my thinking could hijack me at anytime, there was no obvious warning. I was often using again before I knew it.

It was almost like I would enter an autopilot mode, my higher cortical centres would switch off and my limbic system would kick in. That primitive instinctive drive would engage and I would be off and running again. Mental vigilance was never going to be enough. I was unable to out think a process that was already part of my thinking process. I never seemed to be free from the obsession to use or not to use drugs. If I did stop there was always a conscious effort not to steal drugs from work. I was a slave to my obsessive compulsive thinking, the mental obsession hounded me.

And what did this all mean at the end of the day?

It was a joy to finally understand what was happening to me. It was also the information that I needed to accept that I was in a hopeless situation. Hopelessness and joy at the same time! I could see that other people were getting better by working the CA programme. This brought back hope that if I also followed what they did, I could also recover from my drug addiction.

This interview will continue. Read part one here.

    7 Responses to "Addiction – losing the power of choice"
    1. Jocelyn says:

      Thank you for this interview. I relate on all areas and it has helped me pinpoint part of the process of the recovery through the 12 Steps (in my case, NA). This sentence “I was unable to out think a process that was already part of my thinking process”, proved to be the crux of a truly baffling disease for me. Today I have relief from the mental obsession and cravings. I continue to enjoy the posts here and recommend your blog to many here in Australia.

      • djmac says:

        I think you have hit on the reason so many people need help to find a way out from addiction. Thinking is flawed and insight is limited and charting a path is much easier when done in the company of other recovering people.

        Thanks for the positive feedback. I’m grateful to ‘Tom’ for being willing to be interviewed and for his reflective answers to my questions.

    2. Detox Nurse says:

      A really interesting read. It’s great to hear a ‘story’ of how mutual aid works – looking beyond the evidence/theory.

    3. Phyllis says:

      He describes the ‘mental obsession’ as the mental blank spot or peculiar mental twist but it’s so easy to confuse the word obsession with the ‘irresistible thought of the next high’. The former has everything to do with relapse and is exclusive to addiction whilst the latter is also very familiar to heavy drinkers and users alike.

      I think he gets confused himself by the end – “I never seemed to be free from the obsession to use or not to use drugs.”

      Relapse and desire are two different beasts! One will kill you, the other’s a very uncomfortable inconvenience.

    4. Tom says:

      Thanks for the feedback. I hope sharing my experience and perception of the CA programme can be helpful to others. Thanks also for the critique Phyllis. It can be hard to describe the cognitive process that occurs in addiction. The terminology within CA/AA literature is open to personal interpretation.

      The CA “We Can Recover” card says “The obsession is a continued and irresistible thought of cocaine and the next high”. I agree that we can desire things without relapsing. I also agree that true addicts experience “mental twists” which then lead to relapse. Are obsession and desire different? I suppose it depends on definition.

      My understanding is that a desire may be fleeting while an obsession enslaves the ego for prolonged periods. If I have a recurrent mental obsession to use drugs my experience is that I will eventually relapse. Is the “twist” part of the obsession? I’m not sure. Is it the mechanism that breaks the obsession?

      I am interested in what other people think but I am also aware I can over analyse these things. Too much thinking has never been good for me, more obsessions! 🙂

    5. Mike Sarson says:

      The more choice you have the more likely you are to find something you believe in to help you on the road to recovery.
      Mike Sarson
      Founder Director
      East West Detox

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