Try Breaking the Shackles)
In my last post I said that if are unsure whether your negative behavior qualifies as an “addiction,” simply make a sincere commitment to stop doing it. I’ll further add that when you do, be sure to consider the usual excuses people give for giving up their resolutions and promise yourself that you won’t give in to any of those pitfalls. Promise yourself that you won’t ever say “well this next time will be the last time.” Commit to never say “I’ll make the change when I hit this next milestone in my life.” Assure yourself that you won’t be dissuaded by situations or friends. Acknowledge that the desire to do this behavior will rise again and resolve that you won’t give in to it even so.
And if you feel like you don’t agree with one of these commitments, then have an honest conversation with yourself about why not. Perhaps you want to stop overdrinking but not drinking altogether. Perhaps you want to commit to eating healthy when on your own but also want to leave the door open to getting a burger with friends. Perhaps you don’t want to keep viewing pornography after you’re married, but you figure in the meantime it isn’t hurting anyone.
If you find yourself making such concessions, then I would advise still making the commitment to cut the behavior out entirely, but you can make it temporary if you’d like. Say that you won’t do the behavior, not even for any of your usual exceptions, for three months. After that, after you’ve proven whether you can have your indulgence or leave it entirely at your own whim, then you’ll know whether you’re in control of the situation or not.
Many people attempt to do exactly this and are shocked to find that the future version of themselves goes entirely off rails from what they had previously decided. They come to realize that there are two persons living inside of them, one who is calm, in control, and rational, and another who throws all that out the window in a moment of impulse. We often make the mistake that addicts are always addicts. Sometimes that is the case, but more often I would say that addicts are only addicts some of the time. Because of this fact, the majority of addicts actually don’t know that they are ones until they try the sort of test that I described above. Nothing proves whether you are a prisoner than when you see if you can open the door to get out. It is sincerely trying to stop, and utterly failing to do so, that one becomes convinced that they really have an addiction.
Or, at least, this is the point where some become convinced that they have an addiction. Even after all this, some will try to write off their failure as a fluke, as a result of improper commitment or methodology. They remain convinced that they really are their own master, they just need to have the right approach in swearing off their troublesome behavior.
Very well, let them try again and again, by all manner of different methodologies. Let them read and employ every self-help book that promises to give them full control of self. Let them have as many failures as is required to finally surrender and say that they are a lost cause.
If at any point they do manage to break free, and permanently, then well enough. They have proven something to themself and they have managed to right their ship. But in my experience, it is very much the minority of people that will ever achieve this. Most often, by the time one even begins to wonder whether they have an addiction or not, the shackles are already thick and heavy.
Your Common humanity)
It might seem a shameful and discouraging thing to learn that you are a slave to your behavior. You might feel that that classifies you as the very worst of humanity, but nothing could be further from the truth. If you felt so sure that your vices were only minor indiscretions, and then discovered that they were addictions run amuck, you can be sure that there are untold billions for whom this pattern holds as well. In fact, you are in a more elevated minority simply by having come to accept the truth of yourself. Most people choose to remain completely self-deluded.
The fact is none of us get a free pass in this life. Either some tremendous hardship, or addiction, or both will take us all. We each will be broken by something that we cannot control. The fact that you don’t have the power over your own behaviors only means that you are human. Along with learning that you are no better than the rest of us, also be sure that you are no worse.
Or, perhaps, even after testing your resolve and finding it lacking you still feel anxious about the label of “addict.” Perhaps you acknowledge that you have a problem, that is it out of your control, but you still have some bias that prevents you from describing that problem as an addiction. Tomorrow we will begin examining the semantics of it, and the social influences that cause us to shun these labels.