– By Captain Michael Morse
In the midst of addiction, overwhelming feelings of helplessness seem to come from nowhere.
The cravings are just there, the need for escape impossible to deny. As part of addiction, these urges can rule someone’s life. People give in to addictions, not because they are weak of will or genetically destined to be forever burdened, rather, they simply lack the training to talk themselves out of it.
As a firefighter I often found myself in life-and-death situations. Had I lacked proper training, those moments would have been my undoing. Instead, I used the tools that came with the training to keep things in perspective. Knowing when a room was about to flash gave me the luxury of going in deeper without the debilitating fear of death. That fear is always ready to take up residence in the absence of knowledge – which may be a good thing for survival when you don’t know your fire. However, the ability to understand the origins, behavior, chemical reactions and predictability of fires is not innate; it needs to be learned. Bringing a mind full of learned facts – and as time progresses, experience – into a firefight makes the outcome far more desirable than throwing water on a blaze from a distance, hoping it goes out.
The sobriety attempt that stuck did so because I first admitted the enormity of the task, and perhaps more importantly, I recognized I probably needed help. Based on these two new acknowledgments, I created a three-pronged attack:
The last part of the plan was the most difficult. No longer could I downplay my drinking, claim I was “tired,” or just merge into what everybody else was doing and hide. By letting the proverbial cat out of the bag, I closed the door to my own self-deception. Now, when I lied to myself, I had to lie to the people I trusted as well. They were not as easy to fool. Not that having a plan makes it easy. The white knuckled journey into sobriety is far more difficult than generating a plan. It’s more about attacking the beast with all available weapons – it’s really the only way to give yourself a fighting chance.
By contrast, a clear head can have a profound effect on our thinking, and as a result, our feelings. Fear, hopelessness and failure are replaced with optimism, eagerness, and confidence. Armed with that, our chance of overcoming our biggest fears becomes simply a job that needs to be done. As firefighters seeking treatment, we often get sidetracked when we equate treatment with disempowerment, as if maybe the bottle or substance were our superpower. The many firefighters who have gone in and come out of treatment successfully have looked at it as having a job to do. They see themselves as finding the knowledge and the tools to do it. And this approach works.
It was definitely useful for me to think of my path to sobriety as “getting the job done.” So for those who want put out the fires of addiction and get on with a substance-free life, it’s time to get to work!