“Denial is the most cunning, baffling, and powerful part of my disease…When I look back…
Why Moderation Is The Addict’s Enemy
It follows conventional logic that the key to all things in life is moderation. And when considered with the rational mind, it does seem that moderation would be the answer to the addict’s problem of “too much.” Well-meaning family, friends, and even medical professionals encourage the addict to “exercise her willpower” and bring her appetites under control. It seems like such a simple thing.
And for the normal drinker, eater, gambler, etc., it is a simple thing. Their bodies and minds seem to be outfitted with a trusty switch that alerts them when they have had enough. Their rational brains kick in and make the decision to put down the fork or decline another drink.
The addict experiments with moderation. She gets on one more diet, convinced that this will control her overeating. She puts rules and boundaries around her eating. Or she resolves to cut back her drinking—no drinks until a certain time of day, no more than a certain amount, only drinks of a certain kind. Or she promises to stop binging and purging and to begin eating normally.
But the addict is not operating rationally in the face of her addiction. For her, it seems there is no magic switch telling her when she has had enough. She quickly forgets the pain and demoralization of past binges and so she repeats the patterns again and again. She has tried to moderate, she had tried to place limits on her consumption, or to give it up all together. She resolves to be better, to make better choices in the future, but the moment she begins to engage in the behavior, all resolve vanishes.
Addicts are not the way they are because they do not understand moderation. Many of them understand moderation quite well. But being able to practice it is a different story. Addicts, unlike normal drinkers and eaters, have a disease—an obsession of the mind and a compulsion of the body. They are battling a force that is bigger than they are. They cannot hold back the flood once it starts, no matter how noble their intentions.
So for the addict who has only seen failure and disappointment in her attempts to moderate, there is a better solution. Sobriety. Abstaining completely from the substance or behavior removes its power. The addict who is currently active in her addiction can’t imagine giving up her fix for an entire day, let alone a lifetime. But addicts who have chosen to manage their disease through sobriety find that, along with the working of the Twelve Steps, the cravings begin to taper off and eventually vanish completely. There is no more fighting. Sober living becomes the most natural and even desirable approach.
Non-addicts typically do not comprehend the need for complete abstinence. That is because these are people who still retain the power of choice in the face of food, alcohol, sex, etc. They know they are free to “take it or leave it.” They control their consumption; it doesn’t control them. Thus it will often be difficult for them to understand why the addict can’t have just a little bit, why she can’t come to the bar, or why she can’t just have a taste of that cookie. For the addict, even the smallest amount can trigger an avalanche. Non-addicts can best help their addict friends and family by doing whatever they can to support their abstinence and sobriety, even if it is not always convenient.
The addict doesn’t need to learn moderation, nor should she continue to attempt it. One or two experiments will be enough. If the individual is truly an addict, any attempts to moderate or regulate will only lead to failure. This is not bad news! Once the addict realizes that she truly is an addict, she can begin to get the help she needs. The Twelve Step program and the path of sobriety are only effective for the people who know they need them. For the eater or drinker who has come to the realization that she is an addict, the fight against food and alcohol can finally come to a close. The battle with the elusive moderation is over.
While sobriety and abstinence may at first seem unpalatable to the addict who is yet active in her recovery, there will come a time when the desperation of addiction will give way to the promise of recovery, no matter what may be required. With time it will seem that sobriety was a small price to pay for a life of freedom and sanity.