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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Will and the Conscience

Obviously, one of the biggest problems people have in understanding 12 Step recovery is the role of the will.  Addiction means the alcoholic loses control over his own will and can no longer choose to not drink.  He is drawn to alcohol in a way that he seems to have no control over.  His will becomes broken.

So, the alcoholic (or addict of another stripe for that matter) will often be told to stop, will even want to stop, but can't seem to pull it off even when he has every incentive to quit.  He can lose his job, his family, his health... nothing changes this loss of control.  Yet, everyone assumes that you have use your will in order to quit.

AA says, 'no'.  The will cannot fix itself.  We cannot self-repair.  We need outside help, and this comes from God.

But, you may ask, how can God help us unless we use our will?

This is where I think the language of the Church can be helpful.  The Fathers speak of the human person having two drives, appetitive and irascibility.   In other words, desire and anxiety.  When the will is broken by addiction, it only really operates out of anxiety, this irascibility.  It no longer truly desires anything, because it is filled with fear.

What the Steps introduce is a desire for God, awakening this appetitive aspect of the soul that has been repressed by anxiety.  This desire can be used to overcome the anxiety of the soul that has come to characterize the will.  The will is broken because anxiety has overcome it.

We must also keep in mind that for addiction of any kind to be present, their must be a complete conscience underneath.  The anxiety originates in the conscience's struggle with guilt and resentment.  Because the will is overcome with anxiety, it cannot cure its own conscience, since anxiety can only 'strike' or 'lash out'... or 'run'.

Only desire can cure the conscience, because what the conscience really needs is healing.  It needs something from the outside to come in and repair what was broken.  The conscience needs healing words and images of reconciliation and justice that anxiety cannot bring, because anxiety brings nothing.  Anxiety pushes away.  So, the conscience can be overburdened and ignored, but it cannot be absent from the addict.  If it was absent, then there would be no addiction because there would be no suffering to drown with booze or drugs.

A broken will does not mean a broken conscience, though the conscience can often be numbed to the point that it no longer is perceived.  This is the goal of addiction: to shut off the inner voice that says things are all messed up.  Addiction is anxiety.

Addiction is also not true desire.  Desire is not about fear.  Desire is wanting, but not out of anxiety.  Things done out of anxiety are not desire, but rather anxious actions.  So, you can drink a glass of wine out of desire for the pleasure of wine, or you can drink it because you need to.  The latter is anxiety-driven, it is craving rather than a desire.

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