Addiction is a word that has become quite personally meaningful to me in the last few years. The very idea of addiction, in fact, has been more influential on my life than anything else. Before I was introduced to the idea of recovery, I considered addiction to simply be something that happens to people who have had chronic and extensive exposure to powerful mind and mood altering substances. I’ve come to believe, in my recovery, that addiction has nothing to do with any sort of substance use or abuse, but rather it has to do with a person’s very approach to life itself. Some substances are thought to be more or less physically or psychologically addictive than others, but addiction, as I see it, does not deal with either of these. Anyone can become physically dependent on such a substance and break that dependence relatively easily. Addiction, though, is different. Physical and psychological dependence on substances is simply an effect of addiction, not a cause of addiction. In other words, it takes an addict to become addicted. Prior to the use and abuse of substances, I was an addict. My approach to life was such that it was not possible for me to be satisfied with life. There is a facet of my personality that seeks misery and is quite skilled at finding it. When I found drugs, they became a refuge for me from that misery. There were times that I used drugs and found a bit of escape from that misery that haunted me. The drugs’ ability to help me escape the misery quickly faded, though, and became, just as everything else, but another way for me to find that misery. When I was introduced to a recovery fellowship and the twelve steps, though, I was promised freedom from active addiction. I first took that to mean that I would simply not have to use drugs anymore. I thought that using drugs was “active addiction” and that abstinence from drug use was the goal of recovery. As I progressed in recovery, though, and continued to find misery in other ways, I began to learn a very important lesson. I began to learn that “active addiction” is when I continue to focus on and create misery in my life. Abstinence was only the beginning, as it has become impossible for me to use drugs without releasing my addiction, or that part of me that will tell me that I ought to be miserable. Abstinence from drugs is no guarantee of that freedom that I was promised. That freedom begins to come into my life when I realize that I have no reason to be miserable, and that I never have had or will have a reason. In my recovery, I learn to remove some of the excuses that I might use to be miserable and replace them with excuses to be grateful. The fact of the matter is that to feel either way is not dependent on the outside issues. I need no reason to be grateful and I have no reason to be miserable, I simply choose to be one of the two. Because I have a strong tendency to choose misery, I must practice vigilance in my recovery and do what it takes to avoid those things that might make a choice of misery easier than it must be. As I grow in my recovery, though, I develop an even stronger tendency to choose gratitude. A true relapse occurs at the very moment that I choose misery over gratitude. When I’ve chosen misery long enough, it can become an excuse to act in despair by using drugs or doing worse. As I choose gratitude more consistently, I become more secure in my recovery and in the idea that I do not have to use drugs. So it is that addiction is not chemical dependency, but rather it is simply a tendency to choose misery, and recovery is not abstinence, but rather it is a process of learning how to choose gratitude more consistently. This is what I believe, today, and what has worked for me, so far.

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