Freedom Isn’t Free… Not for Addicts Either

freedom isn't free

Freedom isn’t free.” That is the often heard reframe intended to remind us of the courageous sacrifices made for our political liberties, and other freedoms, by the nation’s warrior class. That freedom costs is an axiom because, quite obviously, without the blood and treasure spent on defense over the 200-plus years of our nation’s existence, we would be a nation no more. We would be a people of political liberty and personal autonomy no more. Both vigilance and attention to detail are essential to a robust and effective defense. The military that relaxes, grows complacent, and coasts along on yesterday’s victories is the military that is soon ruined while the people who depended upon it are subjected to the political will of others.

Noted psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankle reminds us that responsibility is the price of liberty. It seems that attached to all freedoms is some kind of price—including, and perhaps especially, freedom from active addiction. No addict just stumbles blindly into a substance-free life. Vigilance and attention to detail are required in sobriety as well as in any other kind of freedom. Despite some vocal, even insistent voices to the contrary, we are never cured—we are never beyond the reach of temptation. We are constantly vulnerable to attack from our old enemies.

“What we have,” the Big Book teaches, “is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition (pg 85).” The phrase “spiritual condition” is left intentionally vague and could certainly use parsing. In fact if one were to ask three recovering addicts to define “spiritual condition” one would likely get five different answers. Also, how one maintains such a condition is another thorny question. However, let us start with the often over looked phrase “daily reprieve.”

Just as the world’s various military services train constantly, so must we. They do not simply sit around hoping for the best without also preparing for the worst, and so must we. They take their enemies seriously, and so must we. They constantly inspect the condition of all their tools and weapons, even as addicts must constantly inventory ourselves, taking swift action to correct any faults that arise because unexamined faults can lead to failure, and failure to death. These actions we repeat constantly because the day we skip preparation is the day we begin to slip back into hopelessness, back into slavery or stagger into an early grave.

In a sense, recovering addicts face an even more dreadful enemy than a foreign army. We face each day with the phenomenon of craving, ubiquitous triggers, and even our own brains may try to kill us. With these forces arrayed against us how do we prepare to battle them? If the brain can deceived and work against us, intellect is of little help. Moreover, our wills (although not weak as some suppose) have been corrupted by addiction to seek substances rather than resist urges. It is this failure of our best efforts that insures only a “spiritual condition” can offer real hope.

Although I am a Christian without equivocation or apology, I realize not all people of recovery are so inclined. Therefore, spiritual condition must be considered in its most basic and simple sense. A spiritual condition in this sense means, for me, building a way of life that exists in the light and not the shadows. Rigorous honesty with God, with ourselves and with others is what is needed, and apart from such honesty we fail, we fall, we even die. The practice of such honesty comes from the Twelve Steps. The first three steps deal in our relationship with God as far as we can “understand Him.” Perfection in our relationship with God is not required The next three steps cause us to become honest with ourselves. The following three focus on being honest with, and caring for others. While the final three require daily and consistent attention to the first nine.

My sponsor, God rest his soul, used to call the urge to relapse “Hell’s Bells ringing.” When Hell’s Bells ring for you (and they absolutely will at some point) the consistent practice of deliberate and attentive recovery strengthens your defenses against this most recalcitrant of foes.

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