Self-control redefines addiction “safety net”

I remember watching the movie Flight, a film about a pilot battling alcohol addiction, with my friends a few years ago. The pilot would promise to change and get his life together, only to relapse as he took out one last stash of booze he had kept hidden. This happened repeatedly throughout the movie, so much so that my friends started mocking the predictability of the plot. They were laughing, but I was not. It pained me to see the pilot go through that, because this was exactly the kind of frustration that is all too familiar to anyone who has ever been addicted to anything. You commit to breaking free and start to feel the shackles of your desire slipping off, until you taste the bitterness of relapse again and again.

This is exactly the same kind of frustration that violinist Gabi Holzwarth describes in her article “The Constant Hero’s Journey” in the Huffington Post. She had recently given a TED Talk about her recovery from food addiction. She stood in front of thousands retelling her story of fighting her inner demons and winning. Her success story inspired so many with their own addiction problems to press on and keep trying, hoping that one day they too would live free of their addictions. However, despite having reached a point where she felt empowered to help others, she relapsed soon after her talk. Her views on addiction shifted. She no longer thought there was a safety net for those in recovery for long enough.

“I do not believe that the end feels like a safety net. I do not believe that there is an end,” Holzwarth said in her article. The idea that addicts are forever bound to their desires sounds like a very grim view. One might even call it nothing more than an excuse for failure, but I believe Holzwarth’s view could not be closer to the truth. In fact, believing that a safety net exists at some point can only be detrimental. Someone struggling with addiction will let his or her guard down at a vulnerable time, which can lead to relapse. Addictions become a part of you, no matter how deeply tucked away they might be. They are still present and can be awoken at any time.

If anything, this gives me hope. Once you come to terms with this reality and realize that addiction will always going to be a part of you, you learn to deal with it. You learn to avoid triggers or risky activity when you’re not in your strongest of times. It’s a constant struggle you learn to live with, with its own ups and downs. You never stop being an addict, you just fight it every day. In a strange way, I see the same pattern in the road to achieving success.

Overcoming addiction and achieving success both feel like a feasible goal. We often think we can overcome an addiction and live free of those desires. We see the same principle in Nobel Laureate John Nash’s life as portrayed in the movie A Beautiful Mind. Nash suffers from schizophrenia for much of his life. He is never cured; he just learns to live with his schizophrenia. Nash becomes more aware of his condition as it invades and disrupts his family life, but must choose to resist the hallucinations. In this way, Nash is technically “free” from his disease, but only because he chooses to resist it.

What we do every day is what defines us. I would argue that it is true that you can be free of an addiction, but only insofar as you can resist it every day of your life. You’re only as free as you are today, and you’re only as strong as you are today.

This fleeting nature might seem depressing, but it gives me hope, knowing that I can shape myself into whatever I want, and all I need is to do it today.

Omar Shehata ’18 is from Alexandria, Egypt. He majors in computer science.