Impulse or Choice?

Alcohol and drug use disorders change our brain stability.  ASAM describes: “Addiction and alcoholism impacts brain chemistry and circuitry and results in compulsive drug-seeking and drug-using behaviors that interfere with daily functioning. A high level of drug dependency, co-occurring medical or mental health disorders, polydrug abuse, family history of addiction, high levels of stress, experience of trauma, and low level of support at home can all contribute to the onset of addiction”

But however it begins, no matter how long it has existed, recovery is possible.  We are told, “The only thing you have to change is everything”, but how do we start making changes to keep us in recovery?  Just stopping the use is only the first step; through stopping use, we begin the process of claiming our lives and our control over our actions.  We finally begin to think clearly and make healthy choices for ourselves and our loved ones.

Before recovery, while we were active in our addictions, all of our choices, regardless of how high or how low we functioned, revolved around our next use.  Our ‘choices’ were made,  transmitted and based  on the malfunctioning portions of our brain that were affected from the continuous use of alcohol or drugs.  Our minimizing or denial of our use, hiding the extent of our use, and planning and preparing for our next use impacted and encompassed all aspects of our lives.

Our ‘choices’ determined our daily patterns of life, and these patterns became our habits.  Sometimes they are more subtle, sometimes more identifiable.  These habits evolved, developed, and were created from the necessity to use.  We set our alarms earlier to give us more morning time to recover from the effects of the night before.  Our recreational activities were specific, with time slotted before, during and after for use.

There was a man once who did not drink alcohol all year; he worked very hard at his job, and planned for his vacation over the Christmas holidays.  He made elaborate plans for these two weeks off from work-he fully stocked his liquor cabinet and his mixers; completed all of his holiday shopping, wrapping and mailings ahead of most of us as he planned for his vacation.  But his vacation was a two week drinking binge.  He began on the night of his last day of work, and drank throughout each day and night of his two weeks, ending on New Years Day.  This was his ‘recovery day’.  And then he would start the planning and process for the next Christmas holiday.  His entire year was dedicated to these two weeks and being drunk.  

Our vacation destinations were influenced to ensure access to, or the ability to bring, alcohol or drugs.  Most of us were very detail oriented, with alternative plans carefully identified in the case of unforeseen obstacles.  Our choices for shopping, driving, and eating reflected this.  We develop a pattern in the grocery store if we buy our alcohol there.  Even how we dispose of the evidence of our use becomes a pattern.

A friend of mine would hold a bonfire burn several times per year.  He would begin making the new pile for later burning right after the first one was completed.  His burn pile contained all burnable trash on his property, including plastics, roofing materials, anything.  Throughout his active alcoholism, the containers for his secret, or extra, alcohol had to be made of plastic.  On the eve of his big burn, he gathered his hidden empty stash bottles and hid them within his burn pile.  The next day, he would burn his pile.  It smelled awful, but he dissuaded questions because it contained the visible trash he kept just for this occasion.  

Every decision we make in active addiction or alcoholism is skewed by our need to protect our use-in recovery, we need to change, create new patterns and build new habits to protect our recovery.  In active addiction or alcoholism, our ability to choose is controlled and defined by our addiction.  Our choices were determined by our internal motivation to use them.  In recovery, our ability to choose becomes ours again, but we are training our ‘new’ brain, and we must create a new internal motivation to not use them.

Question Everything

Remember the story of the gal who kept dating the ‘wrong’ type of guy?  As she lamented over the break-up of yet another terrible relationship, she was told; “You’re not a bad person-your choices are.  She had to first learn to know herself, and then she could recognize a good choice.

One of the first steps in learning to make healthy choices in recovery is getting to know you.

Consider these questions and ask yourself:

  1.  What are my values?
  2. What matters to me in life?
  3. What are my goals?

As always, my hopes are for your hopes and dreams…..T

To learn more about choices in recovery, follow this link: