Addiction Is Not a Choice
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Addiction Is Not a Choice

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This post was originally published on October 27, 2014.

Memory, as we all know, can be fallible.

And yet, for me, that’s not the case when it comes to remembering my first time doing anything addictive; those memories are as vivid and thundering as an autumn storm. They include the conviction that those firsts were always my choice. And this is how I was able to deny for years the definition of alcoholism as a real disease.

If I close my eyes, I can recall what I was wearing the night I first knelt on a bathroom floor after a supper made of oven-roasted turkey and zucchini squash, the smell still pungent 16 years later. A friend of mine had just revealed to me the secret to her beauty: starving for days and vomiting her guilty food when she didn’t feel strong enough to resist the temptation.

“You won’t be able to eat a piece of chocolate, Alice,” she had warned me. “It’s a life choice.”

It was 1998 and I didn’t know bulimia would destroy my life. On that first night, I felt powerful because of the choice I had just made and I couldn’t wait for its effects to change my miserable life.

That image and the decision-making process behind it are as clear as my first line of blow and the night when I drank myself into oblivion for the first time. In all those cases, I was in search of relief, fearlessness and power.

I figured that I was in charge of my life so I could do what I wanted. Back then, I hated myself almost as much as I despised my parents for bringing me to life. I was miserable and—in my sick head—free to do whatever I wanted with my existence.

For many years, I didn’t know what being an alcoholic or an addict truly meant, especially when the consequences, for me, were still hidden. I simply considered myself dysfunctional and useless—an easy justification to make when the people who surrounded me drank and used as much as I did, if not more. I had tried therapy once but quit when the truth had become too harsh for me to swallow.

Years went by and bulimia ceased to be a powerful enough coping mechanism. Anxiety and panic attacks were becoming a chronic condition, depression would reach unbearable peaks and alcohol seemed to do the trick.

In search of Xanax and words of wisdom, I decided to give therapy one more try and that’s when I began researching the nature of what afflicted me—something that no doctor, boyfriend or job seemed capable of alleviating. Some studies proved that all my addictive behavior was my choice while others defined addiction as a chronic relapsing mental disease.

It was more convenient for me to stick to studies that rejected the plausibility of the mental disease theory. Self-destruction, I felt, was not necessarily a disease. Today I know that I was subconsciously getting something out of my guilt.

I am not a doctor and certainly not a psychiatrist but as an addict in recovery I have recently started to notice patterns and triggers in my daily sober life.

A few months before bottoming out, I went to Las Vegas with my brother and, for the very first time, understood how addictive the nature of my brain was. I am not a gambler and yet that night I couldn’t stop playing the Sex and The City slot machine in every casino on the Strip, soon enough draining my almost empty bank account in the search of more adrenaline though not really the big win, Mr. Big. Where had my free will gone? I was powerless.

I have a little over two years of sobriety now and the Vegas night is far back in space and time. But my addictive behavior is still disturbingly active; only a couple of weeks ago, after applying Abreva on a blister hurting my lower lip, I liked the buzz of its topical numbing effect and exceeded the recommended dosage.

I can’t help but reflect on the many times I had promised myself I would never get drunk or high again. Why was I never able to follow through on my heartfelt intention? The question started to echo in my head louder than it ever had, and it was only by honestly answering—essentially taking the first step—that I was able to find a sense of peace, relief and absolution.

I did choose my first time, and perhaps the second and third one as well. But there was a day when I crossed a thin, almost invisible line; free will had, by then, stopped being an option.

My only explanation for this behavioral pattern is that the disease has always afflicted my brain. I’m not the only one in the family with self-destructive tendencies, although mine are of a different and much more severe nature. So it was by letting the first one in that I opened the door for more.

Relief came from finally realizing that I wasn’t an evil person even th0ugh I made mistakes, lied and hurt my family. Peace came from looking the disease in the eye and accepting that my brain had slightly defecting wiring.

Alcoholism kills; it’s a fact. Since an instinct for death isn’t our biological drive—life and procreation are—I am confident that only those impacted by such a disease would willingly go against nature.

I belong to that group, and daily recovery is my medication; it’s how I keep on track and also stay alive.

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About Author

Alice Carbone Tench is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles. A former translator and interpreter from Turin, Italy, Alice moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent for several Italian magazines, among which Vanity Fair, the Italian news agency ANSA and the online magazine Fine Dining Lovers. In 2011 she started a blog, Wonderland Mag, to share the American experience with her Italian friends, but the blog soon became something more, the source material for a book. Her debut novel, The Sex Girl, was published by Rare Bird Books in July, 2015. The book is currently out of print. From 2013 to 2015 she hosted the interview podcast Coffee with Alice. Today, Wonderland Mag has evolved into a candid portrait of Alice’s life: Stories of healing, of being a woman in today’s America, stories of food, love, and of how to dust off after a storm, to move forward stronger than before. Alice is currently working on her second book, a collection of essays from this blog titled Making Sense of Reality. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, keyboard player Benmont Tench and their daughter, Catherine Gabriella Winter.

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