WILLPOWER, PART 3

But, What If I Really Am Doing What I Don’t Want To Do?


BY: Frater Bovious

(CARROLLTON, TX – Cradle of Civilization) I need to make clear that the two previous columns specifically did not address addiction.

With regard to addiction, I am very specifically qualifying my statement that we sin because we want to as follows:

  • Sin requires a deliberate act of will by a knowing subject; addiction compromises brain function and thus culpability for actions. I am narrowing this comment to the topic of sin, not the topics of crime and punishment.
  • Because of the significant interference addiction causes to normal brain chemistry, there is a qualitative difference between addiction, habit, and virtue.

Yet, the will is still involved, even in addiction.

From the Catholic News Agency, I found the following quote in this article on addiction:

“He said basically we have this desire, and our desires are insatiable. So God made us with this desire for more more more, and with that desire we can do one of three things…we can become a stoic, an addict or a mystic.” – Dr. Bottaro quoting from a talk by Christopher West

A stoic, an addict, or a mystic. Intriguing. I see these as three dispositions toward reality.

I will add this simple observation, and then explore a bit what it may mean. People do recover from addiction. People quit smoking, they quit heroin, they quit drinking. They even quit meth. I think these are among the most addictive substances on the planet. And people do quit.

How? Why?

Plato likened the intellect to the charioteer guiding a team of horses. These horses are dark and light, and represent the mortal and immortal realities of man. (NB – not, as one might think, the good and bad realities of man. The mortal and immortal realities of man are both goods.) It is the job of the intellect to unite these two realities into an harmonious whole.

If the intellect fails in this task, then one response to reality is addiction.

In my case, preventive education helped to keep me away from illegal drugs. I was, simply, too afraid to try illegal drugs. And that seems to have been a rational fear, and has saved me from a lot of grief. And so a common prescript for avoiding sin applies to addictive substances – avoid the near occasion of addiction.

Avoiding the near occasion of addiction is incredibly critical as one exposure can trigger a brain chemistry response that overwhelms the intellect, leaving the will to choose, again and again, the apparent good of the next high.

So, how do people quit?

I read this article in Psychology Today. The article had a sub-heading: “The antidote to addiction is learning to tolerate reality.”

I was surprised and encouraged by this statement in the article:

For, as AA has long rightly recognized thanks to psychiatrist Carl Jung’s influence on its founder, alcoholism and other addictions are at least as much sicknesses of the soul, psyche or spirit as of the physical body and brain.

The author was, in part, speaking against the current positioning of addiction as a disease, as opposed to a disorder (both of which are sicknesses.) The problem of styling addiction as a disease is that a disease is something that happens to us, something for which it is difficult to blame ourselves. Whose fault is it when we get the mumps? Calling addiction a disease implies that it is not our fault. It puts the cause, and therefore the cure, outside of us. And therefore the culpability is outside us.

Yet, even when we are sick with a physical ailment, something that happened to us, we still have the ability to make a choice, and that choice is to say “yes” to treatment. And so, if styling addiction as a disease allows someone to seek treatment who otherwise would not, there is some value to that paradigm.

But the author of the article feels that the efforts to effect a “cure” are hampered by the fact the underlying issues responsible for the behavior that lead to addiction may not be addressed. While it is true the physical addiction must be addressed, if the underlying mental issues are not addressed, the cycle will begin again.

The author’s summary paragraph states that:

“The antidote to addiction is learning to tolerate reality. Little by little. That is what sobriety really is. This is what the recovering addict needs the most assistance with: soberly dealing with inner and outer reality. And part of existential reality involves personal responsibility.”

Later in this paragraph is this interesting statement, “What the addict needs to discover is that reality is bigger than we are.”

Yes, indeed.

However, tolerating reality would seem to be the Stoic response. I would suggest a slight modification to the subtitle of the article: “The antidote to addiction is falling in love with reality.” How does one do that? By falling in love with Truth.

I suggest the proper response to reality is to become a mystic. And that is an act of will. The proper response to our desire for our good.

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