Disease Or Choice?

I received these emails over a year ago:

“I am sick of hearing addiction is a disease! It is a choice! I have been clean/sober for over 20 years. I made a choice! I chose to put a needle in my arm. I chose to get drunk because I could not handle what life gave me. Then I chose to get clean and stay clean. Life is all about choices.”

And another: “Addiction is a disease. Recovery is a choice.”

I’ve entered into this debate many times, and I use this situation as an illustration:

A bunch of kids are at a party and heroin is offered. One kid experiments with it and can’t let it go. He gets hooked, looks around to get it, keeps taking it for the feeling it produces. He becomes addicted to it.

Another kid at the same party does the same thing, even likes how he feels when he takes it, but is able to heed the warnings he hears and makes a choice to walk away from it, never tries it again.

The first kid may have the addiction gene in him already and taking heroin just activated it. He didn’t choose to be an addict. He just was. But he still has a choice about recovering from his addiction.

The second kid doesn’t have the inclination toward addiction. That’s why it was easy to say no to it and walk away from heroin.

Both of these women who emailed me are right. I just think we all get bogged down in semantics.


On a more personal level, I see the difference in my own family. Both of my daughters have experimented with drugs. Sadly, Angie is an addict (passed down through four generations in my family).  Except for brief periods when she was in rehab, she hasn’t been able to walk away. My other daughter is not an addict and she doesn’t want to waste her life the way her sister has (Angie’s “choice”). I’m sad to be losing Angie to this terrible disease, but I’m thankful that my other daughter has been able to “choose” more wisely.




Happiness, Too, Is A Choice

From Each Day Is A New Beginning, September 20:

“’What difference does it make how I’m treated by life? My real life is within.’ Angela Wozniak

It is said that we teach people how to treat us. How we treat others invites similar treatment. Our response to the external conditions of our lives can be greatly altered by our perceptions of those conditions. And we have control of that perception…”

“Perception,” how we see things, attitude…

We who live in and around addiction and its cruelty are spun around day in and day out by the effects of it. Whether we are watching a child slowly commit suicide in the throes of heroin addiction as I am; or enjoying the recovery of a loved one. It’s still there: the elephant in the living room. And more and more, thank God, we are able to talk about it. Our story was on 60 Minutes last week. No more shame; no more silence.

But how are we doing on our own, when no one is around, when we stare back at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves if we can ever be happy again?

That’s when I go within, to the spiritual life I’ve learned in my recovery program. That’s when I remind myself that I have a roof over my head, plenty of food to eat, and lots of people in my life to love. But there’s more: that’s when I remind myself that the more service I am to others the more goodness will come back to me tenfold.

That’s when I remind myself that life is an incredible gift and I will cherish mine. Though I live with a heartbreaking disappointment, I will celebrate my life.

It’s all good.



Faith and acceptance go hand in hand. There IS a reason for things that happen and, though we may not understand it right now, “all will be revealed” in time.

Life is simpler for me when I have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. When I give up resisting and let go of that pain. When I turn it over.

I surrender to a greater intelligence.

Seasonal Prompts

I love observing the seasons and the months they represent. They are the embodiment of the natural flow of life—and a constant reminder of change and renewal.

I was a high school teacher for twenty years. Summers were times for me to breathe, relax, and get off the treadmill. Then in August the anxiety and excitement would build, as I felt hungry to return to school and start using my skills in the classroom again.

Just as our lives change and new routines replace old ones, our feelings about the months of the year change as well. Bright red chili festivals have replaced pumpkin cutting in the classroom for me. Life is never static, and I do well to remain open to new opportunities as they present themselves.  Change is good. Change is very, very good.

Now, some months are times of remembrance. I’ve been retired for nearly a decade, and August/September has a new meaning for me. August 16 is the birthday of my mother, who died eight years ago. And August 23 is the birthday of my estranged daughter, Annie. But now I celebrate my granddaughter Emily’s birthday on August 9 by going to Seattle to see her. I never miss either of my granddaughters’ birthdays. In focusing on my blessings, I feel a sense of abundance every day.

September/October start to herald in autumn for me. In Albuquerque the leaves change color from the frosty night air. This is a welcome change from the oppressive heat of the summer. But here the leaves turn yellow, not the reds I used to see in New England.

In New Mexico, autumn is a gorgeous and productive lingering—well past Thanksgiving. It’s harvest season and the farmer’s markets overflow with abundance from the ground. Many holidays come in autumn and on the cusp of winter. These are always poignant times of the year for me, but now more than ever they are times to take stock and savor all that I have.

Winter drops like a curtain, in some states more than others. A couple of weeks before Christmas, Mother Nature lowers the boom. Winter is bitter in the high desert. Where I live, there’s very little snow. Sandia Mountain, across the rift valley from my farmhouse, attracts all the “weather.” At nearly 6000 feet, the air is cold even with the sun shining, though the temperature rarely drops below freezing.

Winter rings in differently state to state. But universal, in the areas where cold weather does settle into our bones, is the wish to smell spring in the air.

Many of us enjoy watching the trees coming out of dormancy and preening like peacocks, their colorful buds in bloom. We thrill to see the first flowers peek up from the ground. And gradually, though differently from state to state, we see the resurgence of nature, in all its glory. It is the season of renewal, of new beginnings.

Life goes on, and we with it.

Spiritual Empowerment

From Hope For Today, April 15:

“…Before I seriously practiced meditation and prayer with Step Eleven, asking only for knowledge of God’s will for me and the power to carry that out, detaching was an exercise in futility.

Today detachment is different for me. It’s an opportunity to make a choice. I can focus on the problem, or I can attach to my Higher Power and see what is before me with rest, new eyes and thoughts. I am learning to detach from old reactions that interfere with my serenity, old fears that feed into expectations and judgments, and the part of me that diverts me from my primary spiritual aim…”


I’m very grateful to be able to make the choices I make today. I’ve changed. I make decisions that support my living well—with gratitude, peace, and joy. As I said on Tuesday, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Today I choose the serenity that comes from detaching from the problem and attaching to the solution. I’m happier when I live in the solution. I can say with a full heart that life is good.




It’s All A Matter Of Perspective

“Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it…and so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.” ~Charles Swindoll


I’m not a victim. I’m a traveler like everyone else here. Life is a mixture of joys and sorrows, good and bad.

Watching my daughter Angie self-destruct has given me a laser-sharp focus on what’s important in life: all the relationships that are left to me, friends and family, co-workers, the mailman. I guard them and cherish them with a special intensity now, because I know how fragile they can be. I take nothing for granted anymore.

All of us here are learning lessons about love and loss. Life, in all its ferocity, is a gift. I will celebrate mine every day. Blessings to you all!

The Red Brick Road

From The National Institute on Drug Abuse:

 “Does relapse to drug abuse mean treatment has failed?

 No. The chronic nature of the disease means that relapsing to drug abuse is not only possible but also likely. Relapse rates are similar to those for other well-characterized chronic medical illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have psychological and behavioral components. Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors. For the addicted patient, lapses back to drug abuse indicate that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted or that alternate treatment is needed.”


What “alternate treatment”? There are a number of options for addicts out there, and they include programs for folks who don’t believe in a “higher power.” I’m so glad that the recovery net is spreading wider and including other sources of strength and help for the addict. My daughter Angie could not believe in God or reach beyond herself for recovery, and many addicts feel the same way. But many of them recover.

 Whatever works, I always say. Addicts suffer badly enough from this cruel brain disease without being told as well how to find relief from it. There are many paths to recovery and remember: Dorothy may have been on a yellow brick road, but there was also a red brick road right next to it.

Spiritual Levitation

From Hope for Today, May 20:

“The serenity I am offered in Al-Anon is not an escape from life. Rather it is the power to find peacefulness within life.

Al-Anon does not promise me freedom from pain, sorrow, or difficult situations. It does, however, give me the opportunity to learn from others how to develop the necessary skills for maintaining peace of mind, even when life seems most unbearable…

Serenity is not about the end of pain. It’s about my ability to flourish peacefully no matter what life brings my way.”


In the movie, “The Shack,” Mac has a dream and in it he meets God. Mac had recently lost his young daughter, and in his anger and bitterness he lashed out at God. Who else to blame? God (a woman in the movie) came right back at Mac with Her own defense: She didn’t orchestrate all the misery on earth: Aleppo, The Holocaust, children starving in Nigeria. “Don’t blame me for all that,” She said.” My purpose is to help you rise above it.”

Al-Anon has the same purpose in my life. God doesn’t have the power to return my daughter Angie to me. But if I continue my daily practice of gratitude, accept what I don’t have the ability to change, and have faith that God’s plan is unfolding for a greater good than I may ever see, I can live peacefully and even joyfully, savoring all the goodness that is in my life. It’s my choice.