One of the best things I’ve ever done is something I was able to do from home during the initial Covid lockdowns, which was to study and to undertake the learning involved in the Freedom Model. The Freedom Model is a program for the treatment of addiction that relies on factual research, and completely dispels 12 Step Recovery Programs and traditional rehabs. It was started by some Catholics who were in AA and, after a decade or so got fed up with saying they were alcoholics and identifying with the former self they’d put away.
So they started doing a little research.
Now if you’re involved in a 12 Step Recovery program and it’s working for you, I’ll be clear that I’m not here to burst your bubble or change your mind. But if you need a change in your life and are concerned in any way about substance use issues, then the Freedom Model is well worth a look.
What It Is
The Freedom Model uses cognitive behavorial learning to help one realize that they can simply and easily change substance use patterns, that doing so is not impossible – it’s done all the time by hundreds of thousands of people the world over – and that it can in fact be pretty easy.
Most people who quit any type of substance be it alcohol, tobacco, drugs of choice, do so on their own. Even 12-steppers admit this when they say the steps only work once you’ve made up your mind. The Freedom Model simply points out that once you’ve made up your mind, that’s all you really need to do aside from exploring, trying, and learning new habits and activities.
Instead of avoiding things like cravings, detox, the seeming terror of lifelong abstinence, and the Freedom Model points out that we are going to do what brings us the most happiness in any given choice. Say you’re a three-pack a day smoker who’s thrilled with the pleasure from each and every cigarette. You may have many reasons for quitting such a habit, but you first have to confront the fact that there are things you completely enjoy about the habit. Then you have to confront the fact that there are other things you’d enjoy also, besides feeling like you’re addicted to cigarettes. Once you realize that, you can start trying new things and then make a decision based on what you really enjoy.
I quit smoking in 1997, and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. But I did it.
I just finally made up my mind and threw them out at 2:15 am one morning, went to bed, and woke up the next day to never smoke a cigarette again in my life.
And it was an absolutely horrible few months. But I enjoyed a lot about cigarettes, and learned a lot about myself too.
Alcohol and the Single Priest
Of course, Catholic Priests are single, and it’s not uncommon to have some type of alcohol at times on your own. But misconceptions about the commonality of alcoholic priests, coupled with the rumor mill and the potential for scandal, are enough to keep anyone dry.
Still, many priests joke about it. One friend said of day-drinking “Heck, that’s why I became a priest!” (It’s not really why he became a priest.) A newly ordained was joking about it so much and so often and reminded him to take care, or people would start to talk and he’d end up at Guest House.
A nearby religious community had an inside joke that if you needed some vacation time, you could drive your car into a tree and leave an empty wine bottle in it, so you’d have an instant 6 month getaway at Guest House. (Who needs that?)
Undoing 12 Step Thinking
While at times I’ve abused alcohol, I go through most of life without it. I do enjoy some wines, some cocktails. But if I don’t like something it will sit in the rectory for years completely untouched, which has prompted many a cry of “Well then you’re not a real addict!” Thank you, I never claimed to be an addict at all. Well, except for that cigarette habit.
But. Studying the Freedom Model I realized that the traditional recovery thinking that we all hear about, know by heart, and learn about constantly through tv, movies, books, seminars, government programs, etc, had invaded my mind to such a degree that I was not even aware of its influence.
At times in my life – such as in the aftermath of Katrina for example – I drank quite freely, along with most everyone else. In the back of my mind was this type of thinking that I had learned:
- it runs in the family
- it’s inescapable
- it’s a disease
- there’s no avoiding it
- you’re going to drink until you have to go to rehab
- then you’ll have to go to meetings for the rest of your life.
- there is no escaping this well-trodden path
- it is inevitable,
- you may as well have some alcohol because you’re powerless.
The Freedom Model throws that right out the window.
You’re not diseased, you’re not powerless. You’re doing what you consider is bringing you the most happiness at the time. Once you really let go of that mindset and realize you can drink as much or as little as you want, that you’re not powerless or diseased and you can let go of the inevitability and powerlessness of things, you quickly realize you don’t need to drink at all. You may want to, but that’s a completely different story, really, and a great realization.
The entire situation comes back into its proper perspective when you claim your full freedom. Once you can do as much of anything as you want, and know that you’re not powerless, but free to choose the option to overdo it, to moderately do it, or completely leave it alone, you quickly start to realize that a lot of other enjoyable options exist and powerlessness goes out the window. We all know this in our hearts – it’s what a culture unmoored from Jesus Christ teaches that can be problematic.
It also earns one the refrain, “Well then you’re not a real addict/alcoholic/whatever!”
Fine. I’ll take it. Truth is, the choice to drink occasionally is fun. But life without cigarettes is fun. Long stretches with no alcohol are fun. Turning the cell phone off is fun. Leaving behind the internet is fun. Piles of books, long walks, gym work, piano and organ music, – seriously, why are the 12 steps the go-to for everyone?
I’ve noticed often, and you no doubt have noticed it too, that when some are caught up in substance use they start having a certain sense of inevitability and powerlessness about themselves. Their conversations and general thinking can go like this:
- I’m a drug addict. Even worse, I’m an intravenous drug user.
- I’m such a loser. No wonder everyone abandons me.
- I’m going to keep using until I die or until start going to meetings. And I hate meetings.
- But I have to hit rock bottom first, and I’m definitely not there yet.
- Once I go to meetings I have to go the rest of my life. That’s got to happen at some point.
- I’ll have to avoid all stress, all triggers, forever. People will have to help me do that because I’m powerless. I have no control over anything.
- Even then I’m bound to relapse because everyone relapses and I’m such a failure anyway.
- I may as well relapse right now.
- I’m powerless, I have to just do this and then end it at some point.
Traditional rehabs can literally brainwash people into using more, avoiding all responsibility afterward, and expecting to relapse while they’re leading miserable lives of avoidance and powerlessness, not seeking happiness in their choices.
They can do that. And they do do that. But for some, they work – and they work well.
The freedom model changes that. Just start asking questions.
You’re substance user, you do it because you like it, and you’re not powerless to quit. Why are you using it if you don’t like it? Why don’t you like your life right now?
Once you start asking the question “why?”, you start getting a lot of interesting answers and new ideas about things.
Starting to ask questions in general became a game changer for me during covid lockdowns. I was answering so many questions constantly it was exhausting. Once I started asking “Who?” “What?” Why” is this?” “Why are they complaining about that?”, and posing questions to people instead of trying to find an answer I didn’t always have, things started to be clearer overall. That’s a separate story. But finding freedom is empowering across the board.
The thing is – I’ve studied and had to use the 12 step method since my teen years in our family. I never fully embraced it, but it has shaped my thinking in many situations.
Put on the New Man in Christ
There must be a renewal in the inner life of your minds; you must be clothed in the new self, which is created in God’s image, justified and sanctified through the truth.Ephesians 4:23-24
What I realized is that I had false beliefs about things. My false beliefs about substance use, in this case alcohol, were bothering me because when you really start diving into them, they don’t make a lot of sense, and I was wondering how best to answer my own questions.
I was able to clear out the old ideas, and decided to simply have some drinks from time to time if I wanted to, without worrying about it anymore. What I’ve found is that I usually don’t want to, as I’d prefer to be reading the mounds of books all about me, or pursuing some type of hobby or exercise when I’m not busy tending to the salvation of souls.
The Substance Users all Around Us
We all know people who consider themselves addicted. Their families wait for them to hit ‘rock bottom’, so they will finally get into treatment. I wish I could send them on a Freedom Model / St. Jude Retreat to help change their minds about things.
Maybe one day I’ll be able to do so.
The Freedom Model is a work in progress but has a great success rate. I highly encourage everyone to check it out if substance use of any sort is an issue in your own life, or in the life of anyone you love.
And for the record – it does not give you permission to use substances. It simply gives you the freedom to start making informed decisions about your life and to put on the new man in Christ – if that’s what you truly choose to do.
I didn’t go to treatment to quit cigarettes, I don’t go to treatment to not eat an entire chocolate cake I might bake. Regarding alcohol, it’s not that I don’t like it, as it can be a part of an enjoyable time with friends. But I don’t like drunkenness, and I prefer sobriety. It’s a simple choice. Anyone can choose it.