Willpower: The Addict’s Enemy

Willpower: The Addict's Enemy“The alcoholic is absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. We must admit we can do nothing about it ourselves. Will power and self-knowledge will never help in the strange mental blank spots when we are tempted to drink. An alcoholic mentally is in a very sick condition. The last flicker of conviction that we can do the job ourselves must be snuffed out” (Twenty-Four Hours A Day, August 16).

How many times have you heard it? How many times have you believed it? How many times have you tried it and how many times have you failed? Conventional wisdom and well meaning others tell us that when it comes to drink, what we really need is a little willpower. They tell us their personal stories and solutions: how they never have more than one, how they can take it or leave it, how alcohol is really no big thing and you’re making to big a deal of it. But they are not alcoholics…

We listened anyway. We resolved to have no more than one, to only drink in the evening, to only drink in the company of others, or we swore off altogether. Now we would show alcohol who was boss. We would rally our self-control and exert some willpower. We held on by our fingernails for a span of time-maybe a day, a month, or even longer. We believed we were finally in control. But the result was always the same. Within a short time we were drunk again; demoralized, depressed, and devoid of hope. Why could we not follow the advice of normal drinkers? Why could we not adhere to our own best intentions?

It is because there is a fundamental difference between alcoholics and normal drinkers. Put simply, alcoholics have lost the power of choice in matters related to alcohol. A normal drinker can indeed moderate, cut back consumption, or eliminate alcohol altogether if they have a desire to do so.

An honest alcoholic, however, will admit that this sort of decision-making no longer applies to his or her relationship with alcohol. It is precisely what separates alcoholics from normal drinkers. A normal drinker can choose to employ self-control. Many normal drinkers genuinely enjoy alcohol, but they can decide what role they will allow alcohol to play in their lives. An alcoholic, on the other hand, is no longer the master. He is the slave. Alcohol runs the show. Willpower is not an option.

This is a hard, but watershed admission. No one likes to admit they have lost control of some aspect of their lives. When we admit that we have no willpower, no control, no recourse, then what? The slow slide into alcoholic death?

Far from being the key to recovery, willpower was a barrier because it kept us from admitting what we really needed. For the honest drunk who has come to the conviction that he or she is an alcoholic, this admission of powerlessness is the ticket into recovery, sanity, and wellness.

This is often hard for normal drinkers to understand. And many will deny your problem and your inability even after you have accepted it and taken action. It is not your job to do the convincing or to question if maybe you are making too big a deal of your alcohol consumption. Simply because those around you can drink normally-or because they refuse to admit they can’t-does not bear upon your situation or your status as an alcoholic. Each individual must honestly assess him or herself and the role alcohol has played in life. No one else can do this for you. Sobriety is your decision, based upon your need.

No one understands the paradox of admitting powerlessness in order to receive power like a recovering alcoholic. In the end the directive to “have a little willpower” only delays the inevitable: destruction. It prolongs our adoption of the solution that has the power to save our lives.

“Personally, I take the attitude that I intend never to drink again. This is somewhat different from saying, ‘I will never drink again.’ The latter attitude sometimes gets people into trouble because it is undertaking on a personal basis to do what we alcoholics could never do. It is too much an act of will and leaves too little room for the idea that God will release us from the drink obsession provided we follow the A.A. program” (Bill W., letter, 1949).