When I was quite young, around five or six, my family left the summer heat of Phoenix for a few days’ vacation in the milder climate of Northern Arizona. Like so many children before and since, I never needed a restroom so badly as I did just ten or so minutes after leaving a rest stop. So, just after crossing into the mountainous portion of the trip, I announced from the back seat “I gotta go pee.” A little disgruntled, my grandfather pulled over. He held the barbed wire apart while I climbed through a perimeter fence, then pointed me to a small group of trees around twenty yards away, telling me to “hurry up.” As I went around the trees for privacy, I ran into the business end of a surprised bull. There were several cows and calves mulling about and the bull quickly grew enraged at my presence. I can remember it beating its head into a young tree so hard that pine needles and small branches fell upon and around the outraged beast.
I was just a boy, and a city boy at that, so I was not exactly sure how much danger I was in, but the threatening situation scared me enough that I walked back around the tree cover and yelled to my grandfather that there was a “cow” behind the trees. My grandfather, a lifelong farmer, yelled back at me that a cow won’t hurt me and he sent me back to the tree line to finish up. So, I did my business about fifteen yards from a furious bull who did everything but actually charge me to register its displeasure.
In fact, this beast followed me as I rounded the tree line scraping at the ground and making some indescribably threatening sounds. The instant my grandfather saw the truth—that I was being followed by an enraged bull instead of a docile cow—he screamed for me to run. Thank God, the bull never did charge, and the only thing dealt me that day was a lesson on the implications of bovine anatomy. The point of this anecdote is that my grandfather and I displayed inappropriate action because we operated on incorrect information. Not recognizing that situation for the great danger it was led to insufficient action which could have, in turn, led to disaster.
Is it not the same when battling addiction? If we underestimate the threat, the resulting actions are likely as not to be insufficient. If we misinterpret addiction as a freewill choice, then we believe the only action necessary is to make a different choice—easy, just stop. On the other hand when we see addiction as only (or even as mostly) some kind of sin or moral failing then once again we see a harmless cow of a problem easily defeated by repentance and a prayer or two. However, when at last the seriousness of our position becomes evident, when we are finally ready to see the bull—stomping its hooves and breathing fire—then we almost automatically know serious action is the only reasonable solution; in fact, it’s the only sane course of action.
The truth of our situation is that addiction is a disease of the brain and, like any other disease, appropriate treatment is required. However, treatment for us is not chemo-therapy or radiation. For us, treatment is to attend Twelve-Step community meetings, work with a sponsor, maybe get a commitment to serve others. These actions usually are, if worked on an ongoing basis, sufficient to face and defeat the fury of the bull that stalks us.