Powerlessness and the Illusion of Free-Will (Part 1)

Author: Adam Abramowitz

Are we in control? What dictates the thoughts that enter our brains? Are these thoughts ours, or are they a response to the stimulation provided by reality?

Can we prevent ourselves from gravitating towards the things we like, pursuing the things we want?

It seems to me that everything I know, everything I’ve learned, has been shown to me by another. From an early age, my parents were a prime of example of how I learned and developed into the individual I am today. They gave me a baseline for my own likes and dislikes. They showed me music, movies, art, and books. They spoke to me as I learned to speak, they read to me as I learned to read, and they provided their own taste in music as I learned to listen.

The question of free-will. Am I ever really making choices? Or am I guided by forces completely out of my control?

As I sit here, at the computer, I have come to the conclusion that a force beyond my understanding, a vast network of electrical impulses and brain activity, dictates my choices. In fact, I couldn’t even say that the music I am listening to was really my choice.

The album, Pink Floyd’s “Animals”. One of the few records I can listen to while writing, regularly provides me with a feeling of serenity. Serenity provided by a memory…

The memory of a boy laying in the warmth of a fold out couch. Tucked in after dark, surrounded by the energy of a Christmas holiday, this young man had received a gift. By lamplight, he struggled to open up a CD case enclosed in plastic, hindered by the elasticity of a sticky label.

Holiday had passed and the residue of laughter, love, and family coursed through him. Consumed with child-like wonder, CD player in hand, he snuggled himself up in his comforter and pressed play. As the record began to spin, he was transported into the music, his mind floating through gentle guitar riffs and melody as the album guided his thoughts towards feeling. A feeling that encompassed his heart through earbud. A feeling that had been captured on record decades before he was even born. A feeling he was fortunate enough to experience because of a gift.

Today, I sit here now, years later, tapping into the same feeling provided to me by another, my Aunt. The point being, I don’t think I ever had a choice in listening to Pink Floyd. My aunt had given me the record to teach me, to show me what music was. My own curiosity pressed the play button on my CD player, but it was the influence of my Aunt that really guided that hand.

So where does this leave us?

Did I make a choice to press play on this record, or was I guided by the influence of another person, a physical manifestation of the human spirit?

I believe that I was always going to press play on that record. Although it is a charming story, it is not the catalyst for me coming to terms with a lack of choice in nearly everything I do. The metaphysics involved in understanding free-will are best described when I relate it to my own Alcoholism…

Simply stated, I am powerless over drugs and alcohol. In my years of learning what drug addiction and alcoholism is, I have discovered that I have an allergy of the mind and the body. When I intentionally ingest a substance to change the way I feel, craving and obsession to drink and drug consumes my being. The introduction of a substance to my body triggers my mind to look for that escape constantly.

More so than the allergy, I have a disease of the mind. A disease that will never fully be cured. Even when drugs or alcohol are removed, I am left with my own mind. A mind that needs to be worked out. A mind that searches for relief and a sense of purpose. In the rooms of 12-step meetings, I find relief from my disease. I find a daily cure for the craving and obsessive nature of my own selfish desire to use everyone and everything to escape myself.

The fact is, as I have come to understand it, if I am powerless over drugs and alcohol that means I WILL drink again. Fundamentally understanding that no matter what I do, no matter which positive outlet for my own emotion I discover, left to my own devices, I WILL use again. It’s this thought that keeps me engaged in my own recovery on a daily basis. As I write this now, I am actually repeating to myself the things I hold true, the things that keep me sane and sober.

The following story is an example of the powerlessness of an untreated Drug Addict and Alcoholic. A prelude to my current mind state of awareness, this story is the last time I relapsed while attempting to complete the 12-steps. This final break from sobriety catapulted my life and my well-being into a final state of debilitation…

I remember meeting my father for lunch shortly after being discharged from my last stay at a drug and alcohol treatment center. I had graduated the program and was living with two friends in an apartment. I was 120 days sober when I shared a lunch date with my father.

We spoke of goals, plans for the future. Re-enrolling in college, working at my family’s packaging business, and pursuing a life of self-sufficiency and responsibility. I left our meeting with hope and encouragement. The sun was shining, I had a job, and I was living and providing for myself. I hugged my father goodbye and we parted ways.

As I pulled away from the parking lot, I began to drive towards my apartment. I pulled up at a red light in an intersection and glanced at my phone…

3:00 P.M.

I began to think about what was waiting for me back at my apartment. Playing video games, watching movies, and smoking cigarettes: relaxation. As I thought of these activities, I felt nothing. Boredom began to fester within me like a plague of irrelevance. Nothing I could think of brought me any relief. I had no plan for the rest of the day. No people I felt like calling. No purpose for my breathe, no thought of future or past; the present boredom nagging at me in full blast.

The traffic light turned green and I proceeded towards my apartment complex. I looked at my phone.

3:05pm

and a thought popped into my head…

“Get high”

Despite everything I had been through, this fleeting thought began to fester in my brain, consuming all other thoughts with fervent force.

I craned my neck to the right and began to steer my vehicle towards an empty parking lot outside of an office building.
I stared at my phone & contemplated…

“If I use, nobody will know. If I use, I’ll escape from boredom. If I use, I’ll only use this once. I’ll manage. I’ll be ok. I won’t hurt anybody, I’ll just feel good. I can make it work this time… but, I deleted all my contacts. I don’t have any of my old dealer’s phone numbers. There’s got to be a way, there’s got to be somebody I know who can score for me… but, I can’t have anyone knowing that I’m using. I’m sure I can find some dope. People have always told me about a place, a section of downtown….what was the name of that place…”

The single thought, “Get high”, had completely overtaken all of my other thoughts. Nothing else mattered. My mind experienced a complete shift in perspective as the simple thought, a miniscule idea, began to consume me. No other purpose was needed. From the depths of my mind, no consequence of my past bubbled up to surface. I could not generate a spark to prevent. I had no defense against myself and my intention. The only thing that mattered was to bask in the infinite warmth of an opiate high.
“The Bluffs…that’s it.”

I loaded the internet explorer application on my phone and began a search for “The Bluff’s”. I found the streets that marked the location in my city where heroin could be attained. I engaged my vehicle and pulled out of the parking spot.

As I began to make my way towards the clandestine dope capital of the city, I began to ponder how I would meet someone. Buying drugs from a random person was a mission I had never experienced and waves of uncertainty began to plague my being. Amidst a fear of the unknown, my purpose was fully realized. It didn’t matter. I would go somewhere and find somebody. I had faith in the manically obsessive nature of my own desire to get high. I would find dope and be transported into a numb bliss of quiet satisfaction; long-lasting orgasmic relaxation.

I passed the first street marking the beginning of “The Bluffs” and I began to scan the gas stations and fast food restaurants as they approached. I searched for people in static motion. People moving and vibrating energy within the confines of a regulated area.

At a red light, I noticed two young men, around the age of 20, pacing around the parking lot of a gas station. They were restless, moving about the parking lot in an expectant fervor. Waiting for someone. Anticipating the appearance of a dope fiend like me. I guided my car into a parking spot in front of the gas station’s food mart.

I stepped out of my vehicle and slowly trudged towards the mart. I walked inside, went to the back of the store, and grabbed a bottle of water. In my peripheral vision, I saw one of the men walk near my car. I brought the water to the counter, exchanged currency with the clerk, nodded my head in gratitude, and retreated back towards my vehicle.

“Ice cold water! Ice cold water!” A young man began to implore.

The gentleman leaned against the store front, directly in front of the hood of my car. Staring directly at me, he was expectantly intrigued by my presence.

“I don’t need any water…”, I stammered, looking at him with pleading eyes.

“What choo lookin fo? Boy? Girl? I got choo dawg, I know a dude, not far from here neither. We can be back in five minutes”.

Sunlight began to beam on my existence and I shot a thin smile in his direction, “Let’s roll”.

The young man, “G”, joined me in my car and began to direct me towards a neighborhood a few streets away from the gas station. We discussed prices and the specifics of what I was looking for. After a few minutes, we pulled up to a house. The front lawn was littered with garbage and a concrete path snaked through the foliage of unkempt grass and weeds. The porch hung low to the side and the wooden walls of the house were tempered by the memory of weather damage and erosion. I turned to “G” and handed him my funds. He exited the passenger side of my vehicle and began a trek towards the house. I saw him enter the front door and I began to wait.

The seconds felt like minutes and I started to realize that I had no control of the situation. “G” had my money; he had my hope. All I wanted was for him to return.

I began to sweat nervously as I played out a scenario in which he never reappeared from the house. I began to feel frightened. My personal safety and the money I had already given “G” did not factor into any of the anxiety and fear steering my emotional state. My only fear was that I would not get my drug and I would have to spend precious time and energy finding another person to act as a guide; to start over and re-engage myself on another lengthy quest through an environment of poverty and drug addiction. An environment I had no knowledge of. An environment that felt dangerous and alien. A landscape of dread opportunity. “G” meant everything to me and I didn’t want to spend any more time not being stoned.

My thoughts began to swell in expectation as I focused my mind on the door opening, and a few moments later, the door slowly budged ajar.

“G” slid out on to the porch and relief swept over me as I was instantly grounded. Feeling the inverse of fear and anxiety, I began to tingle with excitement and anticipation.

I drove “G” back to the gas station. We exchanged phone numbers and parted ways. As soon as he exited the car, I directed my vehicle to a side street of a neighborhood and used.

The reality of my life shifted that day. I began living a lie. I had completely re-engaged a habit of discreetly using drugs and alcohol every day.

I attended meetings, lived with sober roommates, and flirted romance with a girlfriend; hiding a habit of drug use from everyone and everything. Once again, I was completely powerless over my obsession to drink and drug. It was an obsession that consumed my every waking moment. If I wasn’t high, I was thinking about getting high. My life was regulated by the constant craving and desire to escape. The powerlessness of my alcoholism is eerily similar to how I feel now.

As I write, I am guided by forces that I do not understand. I do not feel powerful as I write, as I create, I feel powerless. I let go and allow my thoughts to flow freely from my mind. Thoughts that have manifested in response to the places I have been, the people I have met, and the life I have experienced up until this moment.

For me, the question of Free-Will is one that has been answered. Individually, I understand that I cannot change what I like and what I want. Who I want to be with and where I want to go. I am guided by forces of attraction completely beyond the realm of my own human understanding. Forces that have lead me to my gut and my current state of self-awareness.

I’ve always felt like the same person, yet my attitude and my ideas are constantly shifting and engaging the only man I will ever truly and fully know, the voice in my head.

The reality of my life is that I have no control over people, places, or things. For a time, I thought I had control of my own behavior and actions. A belief that was forever changed the moment I experienced a new obsession, a new desire and craving.

Next post, I will explore the unexpected thought that completely shifted my state of awareness, from the illusion of control, to the acceptance and understanding of the unknown. A higher power, cosmic life-force, and/or spiritual energy that continues to direct my thoughts: from my minds eye, to yours… ©

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