It is said across the globe that the first step in recovery towards getting sober and staying sober is accepting that you have a problem – and naming it. By standing up and declaring yourself addicted, you acknowledge that there is a long road ahead and you face it, ready to stride forward into uncertainty. While the first step never guarantees that you make it any further than that, what it does guarantee is that you at least got to the most important bit – the part where you understand that you have an addiction, and must fight it.
However, what is addiction? Is it a disease, or is it a choice? In addition, if it is a disease, why do you need to choose to be sober? On the surface, it is all a bit confusing. However, if you delve in just a little bit deeper, you will realize that the line between where addiction becomes a disease and stops being a choice is very clear.
Today, we are going to talk about addiction and choice, the relationship between the two, and how your choices both landed you in this mess, and are vital to getting you out. Like any clinic or professional setting, this article is free from judgment or moral condemnation. No one goes through life without making regrettable choices, and while an addiction begins as a set of bad choices, most make these choices while in a state of mind incapable of looking ahead towards the looming consequences. It is much like making a deal with the devil in your most desperate hour.
Addiction and Choice
In most cases, addiction begins with the choice to do drugs. For teens, that choice is often heavily influenced by a potent combination of peer pressure and raging hormones. For adults, it may be a desperate choice made to seek instant relief from a soul crushing and emotionally unbearable situation, the only alternative to suicide. Addictions unfortunately often start in places of abject misery and suffering, but they remain choices. Regrettable choices that led addicts down their path of dependence, but choices nonetheless.
The trouble comes when people begin to moralize these choices, and apply punishment in place of what should be compassion. Using drugs to cope with a terrible time in your life is not a heinous act, but a sad one, and one that needs to be addressed with help and treatment.
Once an addiction kicks in, however, the element of choice is largely removed. It takes a lot of willpower to decide to get sober, and even then, sobriety is not something most people achieve on their own. Yes, you have to choose to be sober – it is a difficult road, and if you do not passionately want to stay clean, then you will have a hard time staying clean.
However, that choice does not immediately absolve you from addiction – it only points you in the right direction. Rehab programs, sober living homes, support groups and countless other resources exist to help addicts find the support they need to stay clean long enough to be in control again.
That is where choice returns. After early rehab, after the first few weeks, the only thing between you and a permanent regression back into constant addiction is the choice to stay sober. That choice must prevail and stay strong, even through relapses, setbacks, emotional pain, and hardship. Once you get clean, staying clean does become a matter of willpower – even with friends at your side, you have to pick sobriety every waking day.
At first, that might seem impossible. Being sober is not nearly as fun as being high, to the uninitiated. However, you can make choosing to be sober a little easier by improving what it means to be sober.
How to Stay Sober Long Term
Maintaining long-term sobriety is a matter of owning your sober life. Yes, choosing sobriety over addiction is a first step, but you have to convince your brain that being sober is so much better than being addicted. For that to happen, you have to give your brain time to forget the addiction, while simultaneously introducing your brain to as much new stuff in sobriety as possible, until something sticks.
Fun is important. We need fun in order to manage stress and move on with our lives without running straight into a brick wall. Finding a source of physical fun, and a way to keep yourself mentally occupied can do wonders for your recovery. Go to the gym, go dancing, pick up water sports, or try any of a dozen different activities to see what you like best and can do consistently. Then, consider your creative needs. Do you prefer writing, sculpting, woodworking, drawing, and painting? Whatever it is, pursue it with fervor.
More than just finding ways to kill the time, doing things you truly enjoy counts as a form of therapy, and can drastically help improve your recovery – and keep you sober.
A Disease with a Cure
Addiction is a disease rather than a choice because physical and emotional dependence hijacks the very functions of the brain dedicated to making choices. Your cognitive abilities are diminished, your capacity for thinking ahead and calculating risks is dwindling, and on top of the slow buildup of brain damage, the chemical mechanism for motivation and willpower is eroded and replaced with a cycle of highs and lows.
However, as heinous as this disease is, it also has a cure. This is important, because understanding that there is hope for a time when you do not have to worry about relapsing any more means making that choice to stay sober is a lot easier. Sobriety is not an exercise in futility, and it does not make every day into a constant battle between your addicted side and your sober side.
Yes, treatment is difficult, and things start out rocky. However, if you stick to the treatment, get professional help, make new friends and hobbies, and find a way to enjoy your new sober life, you will find that it gets easier over time, and eventually you will have your addiction under complete control. There is no definitive timeline. How long it takes to overcome addiction depends on each individual. That is why it is easier to focus on finding work and a passion, and putting your mind towards improving on both ends. Time flies when you are having fun and working hard, and the less time you spend worrying about the days and weeks you have spent in sobriety, the less time you have to worry about holding out until the cravings get easier to resist.