The miracle of a life free from addiction

A multitude of images — mostly faces of people who I have known, worked with, watched grow up and admired — come to me as I approach this column’s topic, each person experiencing radical life changes while confronting issues of addiction. I’m beginning to think more and more of it being a miracle that any of us can escape addiction issues in our lives. Think about it for a second — consider all the ways that we as human beings can find our thoughts, our emotions and our very lives dominated by addiction:

Mood-altering substances. Gambling. Anger. Video games. Pornography. Work. Food. Money. Risk-taking behaviors. Stealing. The Internet. Power/control. Relationships. Collecting. Consumerism/materialism. Religion. Anything can dominate our lives beyond our control.

Our minds can turn against us as our pleasure center begins demanding a repeat of the experiences of elation that we first encountered.

Last March, Newsweek published a cover story about the hunt for “an addiction vaccine,” discussing the increased efforts in the medical community to validate and provide treatment for the addict’s brain “malfunctioning as surely as the pancreas in someone with diabetes.” Addiction today is not considered a matter of “lacking willpower” but a complex “bio-psycho-social-spiritual disorder.” The article concludes with the reality that, to date, we have “no magic bullet” for recovery from addiction. It remains a challenge of dedication, commitment and support every day.

“One day at a time,” my friend Donna repeats. ‘Today I will stay sober. Today I will not drink.” Without hesitation, Donna is willing to share her story. She speaks of an up-and-coming career with a large aeronautics corporation and of having everything seemingly going her way. She tells of the “wake-up call” that friends confronted her with one day: “Donna, you’re a drunk,” and her angry refutation of their intervention. She remembers watching her career, relationships, cars and home all go away. She remembers the day when she said to herself, “Donna, it’s either die or get help.”

Donna chose help. Today, she is a successful family therapist still taking life one day at a time. She goes to her meetings wherever she travels. She has no shame about the reality of being a non-drinking alcoholic, and she tells it like it is.

Perhaps there are two miracles for us to reflect upon here. One, that we might somehow be able to escape having addiction issues enter our lives. And perhaps even more significant, that we are able to reclaim our lives from the devastating effects of addiction. Is that not a miracle to be celebrated each and every day?

Steve Pults, LMHC, is an individual, couple and family therapist at Mercer Island Youth & Family Services.

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