What Freedom Really Means—and Why Some People Don’t Really Want ItMicah Robbins
Addiction is commonly compared to slavery. Look at the portrait of a human-trafficking victim and you see many parallels to the life of an addict:
- Constantly anxious or depressed
- In poor physical health
- Feeling little personal control over daily activities and available funds
- Frequent uncertainty about time or location
- Difficulty relating to others
- Fear that something worse will happen if they’re caught by outside authorities
Often, people stay in miserable situations for years because they fear the consequences of leaving more than the agonies of staying. While the former drug user faces less danger of human retaliation than the person leaving an abusive boss or partner, drugs do take revenge for being abandoned: ask anyone who has endured a withdrawal period.
THE WORST IS OVER—OR IS IT?
Even after detox, freedom can prove disillusioning once the exhilaration wears off. Sure, the hangovers and the fear of being caught are gone, but what immediately fills the vacuum isn’t what most recovering addicts hoped for.
What newly detoxed addicts feel they’ve earned:
- Universal accolades for the battle they fought
- Immediate restoration of damaged relationships
- A period of things “going their way” while they ease back into “normal” life
- Drug temptations to leave them alone
What newly detoxed addicts usually get:
- Insistence they rebuild trust by the slow-and-steady route
- The same old frustrating, problem-ridden “real world”
- Advice to change routines, habits and relationships they thought had nothing to do with the addiction
- Frequent boredom and wondering “what to do with my spare time”
It’s easy to develop what Bible students call “Egypt syndrome”—from the Pentateuch story of the ancient Jews who were used as literal slaves by the Egyptian government. They hated that life and, when finally allowed to migrate out of Egypt, jumped at the chance. However, once they realized a long walk through the desert lay between there and the part of the Middle East they planned to settle, they spent most of the trip complaining about food and water shortages and all the time this was taking—and how they didn’t have to put up with any of that back in Egypt. Then, when they finally reached their destination, they refused to carry out plans to settle in because it looked like too much work—and they seriously considered returning to the land of slavery.
The place we aren’t has a way of looking better than the place we are—even when “the place we aren’t” has been tried and proved disastrous.
BEARING THE RESPONSIBILITY OF FREEDOM
Wherever you are, you’ll be disappointed if you expect real freedom to mean freedom from rules, struggles or setbacks. If you want to live free of drugs and the stalled-in-a-rut lifestyle they represent, you have to accept the responsibilities that come with a better lifestyle.
- If you want to restore old relationships, it’s your responsibility to make amends to those you have wronged.
- If you want to be a respected member of your family and community, it’s your responsibility to work for the good of all.
- If you want your future to be an improvement on your present, it’s your responsibility to set goals and work toward them.
- If you want others to empathize with you, it’s your responsibility to empathize with them.
If you choose instead to grumble whenever you don’t get your way, you’ll become enslaved to narrow-mindedness whether or not you relapse into drug use. Demands for a problem-free life destroy your freedom to see other options and generate your own positive attitude.
As Lord Acton put it, “Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right to do what we ought.”
FREEDOM IS NOT A ONE-TIME THING
If all that isn’t tough enough, we still face the truth that recovery is a lifelong marathon. We never really reach the point where everything becomes easy.
One more quote, from Wendell Phillips: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” The good news is that vigilance doesn’t always have to be at the high-adrenaline level: if the first months of recovery are managed effectively, the practices that go with it—
- attending support groups
- taking regular self-inventory
- choosing leisure activities that keep the body strong and the mind sharp
- setting goals for the future
—become habits, and while it still takes regular vigilance to keep them from sliding “just a little,” that vigilance feels considerably more natural and less painful.
Nonetheless, freedom is never for cowards or the lazy. With all its joys and privileges come many responsibilities—yet with all those responsibilities come personal growth and fulfillment, plus self-respect and effective human relationships.
Are you ready and willing?