Accepting Addiction As A Disease

“Learning that addiction is a disease offers us a new understanding and suggests that compassion could replace anger and hurt. We can spend our time wishing things were different but must accept the fact that we have no power over another human being. We need to care enough about ourselves to give up the struggle over which we have no control. We may have tried many things such as keeping score, pointing the finger and blaming others in order to keep from feeling so much pain. No matter how harsh reality is, we can learn to accept each new day with confidence.

Accepting addiction as an illness helps us realize we cannot waste action and energy in fighting the battle but instead we can seek recovery for ourselves.”


Is it a disease or a choice? I’ve entered into this debate many times. But I’ll leave the final word to the experts, one of whom, Nora Volkow, I quoted in my memoir:

“Insist that our loved ones are choosing to be addicts, that they want to stick a needle in their arm and live in a gutter, and we feel justified in our anger and our bitterness. Keep feeding those feelings, and they will consume you. I choose to believe that my daughter is wired differently and is prone to addictive disease. That’s no surprise, since four generations in my family have all had addictive disease in varying degrees. For whatever reason we still are unsure of, whatever life stresses beckoned her into that dark place, she became a victim of addiction.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has said: “I’ve studied alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana and more recently obesity. There’s a pattern in compulsion. I’ve never come across a single person that was addicted that wanted to be addicted. Something has happened in their brains that has led to that process.”

Am I Helping Or Enabling?

Memoir Excerpt:

 “Rehab was mostly clear sailing for Angie. But there was one incident at the end of March that was upsetting: she snuck out beyond curfew with a friend and got drunk. She came back eventually, very repentant, and good-naturedly accepted her loss of privileges. The staff felt obligated to call me about the incident. I wasn’t sure what it all meant, but I joked with Gene that she has acted out more since she was twenty-one than she had in her whole life!

I’ve heard it said that once drug abuse takes hold in someone, they stop growing emotionally and remain stuck. Angie was thirty that year but clearly acted like a rebellious teenager. And up until the present when she found the courage to break away from me, she had been almost completely dependent on her father and me. But we, addicted as we were to her, made that easy for her. From time to time throughout her addiction, she fought to establish her independence from us. Then she would turn around and ask for help. I wanted so much for her to take charge of her own life, but later on it would be crystal clear: Addiction was in control and was happy for any handouts. Drugs cost money.”


I made many mistakes early in Angie’s addiction. Taking over too many of her responsibilities, I should have closed the bank sooner. I often say that deep pockets are dangerous. They allow us to be generous and feel good about it. A friend in Virginia told me that she’s glad she didn’t have the money to bail her son out of jail. He was forced to stay and feel the consequences of his behavior. It taught him a lesson, and he chose to go into recovery when he got out. He’s doing very well today. I see an important lesson in that.

Accepting Ourselves

“If we have submerged ourselves in the needs of others we may have lost sight of who we are, our self-esteem and individual rights. Awareness of the futility of doing the same things over and over, trying to control another person, and expecting that one day these actions will work, is freeing if we allow it to be. We are entitled to our own opinions, beliefs, limitations, and strengths. Accepting and loving ourselves for who we are will enable us to grow and change.

The less we try to manage others’ lives, the more effective we become. If we are accepting of others and the things around us, we can simply be ourselves.”

The definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I have accepted that my Higher Power will restore me to sanity. I will cease trying to force solutions and control my daughter. She has her own path and her own Higher Power. And I have mine.

The Courage To Let Go

Memoir Excerpt:

    “Angie told me once that that’s why she hated NA meetings: pimps, dealers, and strung-out junkies just itching for their next high often attended them. But in Angie’s case I don’t think that’s true. I think she didn’t go to meetings because she needed to deal with her addiction her way, and not be told by anyone else what to do: CSR—compulsively self-reliant—just like her mother.

Or maybe she just wasn’t ready to embrace recovery at all, a painful possibility I had not yet considered. I was still determined, at that point, to believe that she was going to beat her addiction and that I, of course, would be the glorious savior she would spend the rest of her life thanking, handing me my redemption on a silver platter.

I would finally, thank God, let go of the oppressive burden I was placing on my daughter by demanding she get well so that I could be OK. My mother unconsciously did the same thing with her children: she was a demanding perfectionist, beating back the pain of self-doubt and unworthiness by raising “successful” children. I’m very glad to have found recovery from my dysfunctional upbringing. It has helped to ‘relieve me of the bondage of self’. And most importantly, most importantly of all, my recovery has freed my children.”

Accepting Imperfection

“When we strive for perfection in ourselves and expect it in others, we may feel we have failed when this doesn’t meet our expectations. This step teaches us to accept each other and ourselves as we are, even if it’s less than we had hoped. We strive only to do our best. This invites us to practice humility in order to begin our progress toward recovery.”


True humility is the ability to see myself in relation to God, and this keeps me where I need to be with the people in my life. It has nothing to do with humiliation; it’s maintaining a realistic and balanced perspective of myself. I’ve heard it said that addiction is a disease of relationships, and it certainly has the power to destroy them. When I try to let go of many of my defects and practice humility, my relationships work better. This, I believe, is God working through me.

Do you believe in God, Angie?

Memoir Excerpt:

 “Xavier and I had spent a lot of money on rehabs. But it didn’t matter. I’d already hurt my health, ended my career. But none of that mattered to her. The only thing that mattered, the only thing, was her willingness to do what was necessary to get well.

If she had had cancer, and the doctor said she needed chemo to get well, she would have needed to go for her chemo treatments. If she’d had diabetes, and needed insulin to stay alive, she would have needed to take insulin. She held all the cards, all the passports, to a healthy life, the life her parents had dreamed for her when she came into the world. But could she do it alone? I didn’t believe so. Some addicts recover without having faith in something outside of themselves; they rely on willpower, among other things. Faith in God or any “higher power” is, for many addicts, a difficult idea to embrace. And Angie, ever since she was little, had been a confirmed atheist.


In 1987 when Angie was eight, she was visiting my mother in Massachusetts. She adored her Nana, and confided in her things that I didn’t know about. During one of these chats, Angie said,

“Nana, do you believe in God?’

‘Well, of course, Angie, don’t you?’ my mother responded.


My mother, before she died, used to love telling me that story. She was tremendously amused by Angie’s stubbornness and independence. But now, at this point in her life, Angie needed faith more than anything, because whatever she was using up to this point was having no lasting impact on her recovery. In the Program, they define insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again, and hoping for different results.” Well, flooding your brain with dangerous drugs clearly does make you crazy, temporarily or otherwise. Angie needed to change course if she was going to get well. She needed to do things differently. But what I realize now is that what she chose to do and how she chose to do it was/is none of my business.”

The Heart To Listen

The Serenity Prayer (Part 4)

“and Wisdom to know the difference…

“Wisdom is God’s own conversation with me. Often he speaks through books or other people. Wisdom can be found merely by listening to others after I develop the ability to hear it in their words. To recognize Wisdom, I must have compassion for others, which gives me insight rather than knowledge of myself. Facing reality encourages recognition of Wisdom, because Wisdom is always truth.”

Thank God I have the ears to listen when He speaks to me! Not always, of course. And some of the best wisdom I pick up is in the rooms from other members. Opening my heart to listen to others is one of the great rewards of my recovery program. And I NEVER feel alone anymore.