It means living under the delusion that life is controllable. It means constantly struggling to maintain the illusion that you are controlling it. It means lying to yourself all day, every day, insisting that, with enough effort, you can get life to do whatever it is that you want it to do.
It means having to match your failure at controlling life by blaming others – your parents, your spouse or partner, your children, your colleagues, your friends – for your failure. It means having to dull the pain of failure with booze, pills, television, overwork, or whatever your method of numbing yourself to the reality of life’s uncontrollabitly may be. It means spiraling into the madness of delusional thoughts and addictive behaviors that make sense only to a mind drunk on the insanity of its own divinity.
Addiction is a disease. Most people on Twelve Step recovery assume that their disease is physical: an alcoholic’s disease is the inability to drink moderately, just as a drug addict’s disease is the inability to cease taking drugs, or a compulsive overeater’s disease is the inability to stop eating when full.
I disagree. My assumption is that alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive overeating, and any other addictive behavior are physical symptoms of a deeper psychospiritual disease, a state of mind that all humans share. The real disease from which almost all of us suffer is the disease of playing God, of thinking we are or should be in control of what happens to us in life.
As long as you maintain the illusion of control, you are fine, but eventually and inevitably life slips out of control, and you are faces with a very difficult choice: Quit playing God, and abandon the delusion of life’s controllability, or find some way to escape reality and maintain the illusion that you are in control.
Most of us opt for the latter. Rather than admit that we are powerless over life, we redouble our efforts to regain control. This is like a hamster on a wheel who, wishing to get off the wheel, keeps running faster, hoping in that way to come to the end that much sooner.
Like the hamster, our quest for control always ends in exhaustion and failure. How you deal with that failure determines what kind of addict you may be. Failure to control life leads you to take refuge in alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, shoplifting, excessive religiosity, workaholism, or any number of mind-numbing behaviors that allow you to continue the delusion that life is controllable by maintaining the illusion that you are controlling it.
This is what Bill Wilson, creator of the Twelve Step program of recovery, knew, and why he said, “First of all, we had to quit playing God.” Wilson isn’t implying that addicts imagine themselves to be the Creator and Judge of the universe. What he means is that all addicts – and I would say almost all humans – play God by insisting that we can and should control our lives.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro.