What happens to enslave us to a substance, a person, an activity, a behavior? It may begin with a desire or need to self-medicate, to alter one’s mood or consciousness toward pleasure. Like the attraction of the Ferris wheel, it’s glittery and exciting. It’s fun the first few times. Maybe it’s fun for quite a long time. It’s beautiful. Whether it’s gambling, drinking, drugs, sex. shopping, or a relationship – you’re having the time of your life.

What happens when you can’t get off the spinning wheel? When it won’t stop. When it turns faster and faster and it seems like no one is in charge anymore.

You may not notice that it’s no longer pretty until you begin to lose everything else in your life. You may not notice until someone else tells you things are spinning out of control.

Addiction is, by definition, progressive. That doesn’t mean you have to be a hostage the rest of your life to the next drink, the drug, the score, the jackpot. Just as you surrendered your will to the addiction, the way out lies in Surrender of another kind. The genius of the 12 Step programs, the reason they work for many millions of addicts of all stripes, lies in accepting our powerlessness over our “drug” of choice.

The truth is we can become addicted to anything – work, food, hoarding, cleaning…the list is endless. We will convince ourselves that our particular habit is manageable, even in the face of glaring evidence that we’re neglecting all that once mattered to us. Addiction drives people to lose their health, their loved ones, their freedom, and often their lives.

Addiction doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It is a systemic problem. Whether it’s the family system or the larger system, which encourages and enables drinking, prescription drug use, or sexuality disconnected from our humanity, we are all part of the problem, and therefore part of the solution.

We, the enablers, make it possible for individuals and society to continue to indulge in addiction when we clean up someone else’s messes, do anything for them that they’re well able to do for themselves, or tolerate unacceptable behavior in the name of love or a misguided tolerance. Just as there are an endless variety of addictions, there are countless ways to enable. It’s such a subtle dynamic; we can be forgiven for not always knowing we’re doing it.

This is why the corollary programs, like Alanon,and Naranon arose to help the families of alcoholics and addicts. If there’s no particular program that fits your pattern of enabling, you can always try CODA, codependents anonymous. They will likely fine-tune your ways of relating in the direction of greater health. To be in relationship with an addict is to be drawn into addiction yourself. Oftentimes, the whole system begins to shift toward health when even one member gets help.

There is a magical quality to the 12 Step group process that supports and sustains us through the most difficult times.We find that we are better together than any of us were able to be alone.

Comparisons based on looks, skills, or experiences are as refreshingly irrelevant as they are in this duck pond. And once you open the gateway to recovery from addiction, you’ve entered a world where sanity and serenity are the touchstones. Welcome!

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