“Is addiction a choice or is it a disease?”

This question has been at the center of a series of #AddictionFreeLife articles. When I was first introduced to Saint Jude’s Retreat and Baldwin Research Institute, I was presented with a construct that just made sense. Back in 2010, I made a choice to lead a life without alcohol, and even though I didn’t know it back then, the Freedom Model helped me better understand the journey I had embarked on which I continue to travel today.


Whether you know it or not, I’m confident the Freedom Model has presented itself in your life many times. It’s a model that is comprised of “3 vital, natural, undeniable and universal gifts all humans possess internally at birth.”

The Freedom Model explained

  1. The Positive Drive Principle (PDP) – this principle is the basis of all internal human motivation (including yours). It states: “All people always move in the direction of what they believe will make them happiest at every given moment in time.”
  2. Free will – you can, and do, choose all of your own thoughts and all of your behaviors based on your internal freedom of will.
  3. Personal Autonomy – you are a separate, completely independent being from all others, with thoughts that are yours and yours alone. This makes you completely free from the control of all others.

Of all the explanations, the most concise and to the point Freedom Model can be summed up as:

All people have the natural right, the ability and the inherent tools to think freely within themselves and independently of all others, and can, and do, exercise and express those thoughts as behaviors through free will and free choice, from birth to death and that at any and every given instant in time a single internal drive motivates every human being: the pursuit of happiness.

With the help of Saint Jude Retreats, I’ve explored the Positive Drive Principle. The 2nd aspect, “Free Will”, is a concept many of us are fortunate to have the privilege of living each day.

However, the 3rd part of the Freedom Model – “Personal Autonomy” – is arguably the one attribute that deserves the most respect. And for the sake of this article, that’s just what I’ll aim to do and hopefully help you with better understanding the FMT and how it plays into our lives, especially as it relates to the negative aspects we would like to change.

Autonomy and more specifically, mental autonomy, is truly incredible because at its core it determines freedom. Without embracing mental autonomy you’re never truly free.

The ‘Recovery Society’ Trap?

Often in recovery models, traditional methods of recovery use what is called the ‘Control Method’. This type of treatment takes the erroneous position to tell people what to do, as opposed to empowering them to make decisions on their own. The ‘Recovery Society’ is a part of this control method because they imply that external factors such as alcohol or drugs cause you to do something, or, cause you to make a decision. This methodology completely removes volition from the equation. And the way I see it, as long as you maintain personal volition, you are an autonomous being. When I asked Steve Slate, Co-Author of The Freedom Model and creator of TheCleanSlate.org to elaborate on this idea, he said:

The Recovery Society often says “you have to want it to work” in regard to their treatments. What they mean is that you have to sincerely want to reduce your substance use in order to successfully reduce it. They’re right – this is the entire key to making a different choice. Changing your wants is an autonomous activity though. It can only be done by you, in your own mind, coming to see that you would be happier if you used less. Nobody can do this for you. The Recovery Society doesn’t know how to facilitate this process. Instead, they try to circumvent your autonomy and force the process by convincing you that you must become abstinent immediately or die; that you must follow their program or die; that you are a helpless addict who has no choice but to follow their commands. The result is that people don’t really think through their options and change their wants. They may sober up for a while, but they’re still left wanting heavy substance use, and it all falls apart.

Based on these treatment methods, it’s clear to see how the ‘Recovery Society’ is literally the direct opposite of the Freedom Model.


Autonomy and the Freedom Model

When I first made the decision to give up alcohol, I knew that it was for me first and foremost. I had reached what I felt to be a rock bottom both mentally and emotionally. There were no more pointing fingers. There was no more ‘it’s not my fault!’ When I got past all the excuses and looked at myself introspectively, I realized the only person that could make the decision to change was me.

It’s funny, only because it’s very much a cliche we hear often today, but it seems that ‘history repeated itself’. When I was 14 (going on 15) years old, I had a similar experience. I was clinically diagnosed as being morbidly obese. I’ve shared often in presentations, my book, and past articles, about how depressed and disconnected I was as a result. No one should ever feel that way, no matter the age, but you can imagine some of the stigmas I faced at the time. I was faced with two very distinct options: 1. I could kill myself or 2. I could choose to make some changes that would improve my health. I thought about the first choice often, but I couldn’t handle the fear and potential finality of death, so the latter option it was. I couldn’t live with my current state any longer and as much as I wanted to point fingers at everyone outside of me, from my parent's divorce, the junk food I was eating and the lifestyle I was living, it all came down to one thing in the end – ME.

I chose me. I chose my health. I chose to make some changes and never looked back.


You think I would have learned from that experience and been bettered prepared for when in my 30’s I experience a similar epiphany again.

This time though, I had the maturity and wisdom to pay close attention to my inner workings and am grateful that I was able to choose a path that forever changed my life’s trajectory.

And if there’s one thing I’ve tried to hammer home with the #AddictionFreeLife article series, is that you have a choice. Always. No matter the situation.

To better understand the Freedom Model and the role Autonomy plays in it, take a moment to read the following excerpt from the upcoming book, The Freedom Model.

Autonomy – the independent nature of the human mind. It is why we can’t be forced to think or feel (emotionally) in any particular way by anyone or thing outside of ourselves. It is also why personal change is a choice, we choose to think, and we choose what to think, which in turn directs our actions.

One of the three attributes of the Freedom Model is the uniquely human attribute of mental Autonomy. What is meant by this is that your mind is an impenetrable fortress. It means that no one or nothing can force or cause you to think or feel any particular way. As Dr Viktor Frankl put, the last of human freedoms is the ability to choose your own attitude. This attribute is easily demonstrated by cases like Frankl, who chose to feel strong and motivated, even while physically stripped of everything in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. It is demonstrated by those born with physical handicaps who choose to see themselves as “differently-abled” despite those who pressure them to behave helplessly.

With autonomy, everyone is the master of their own mind. Nevertheless, we ignore this fact with external control methods of change. We invest in a vision of ourselves as delicate beings, helplessly brainwashed, and mentally and emotionally pushed in any direction by our circumstances. For example, we learn to avoid so-called “triggers” such as the sight of a liquor store or drug paraphernalia – believing these things can literally force us to want to use substances. We’re told to avoid “toxic” people whose words can cause us anxiety and stress that we’ll then be forced to self-medicate with substances. Or we’re told that circumstances such as living in an impoverished environment can cause us to desire and to ultimately use substances heavily.

All of this ignores that we are the masters of our own minds – we have autonomy. Again, because this attribute is ignored in external control methods of change, there a rampant problem with this method and unintended consequences. The answer is simple, you don’t have to believe that heavy substance use is all that great anymore – and boom – it doesn’t matter if you see any so-called triggers! You can believe that your other pursuits are more important than getting high – and boom – it doesn’t matter if you live in an impoverished neighborhood amongst drug dealers!

These personal thoughts are what you have the most immediate direct control over. And yet they are completely ignored (even denied) as a tool to change in the external control methods. Instead, they seek to change the world outside of you or to retreat into some artificial safe space. People are encouraged to spend months or even years on “sober living” communities; they’re taught to work frantically to avoid triggers, or else they’ll relapse, and they’re taught to see themselves as an inevitable product of their environment and to simply lower their expectations of a brighter future, and learn to cope with their predetermined fate. This all leads to a lot of unnecessary inconveniences, pain, and repeated episodes of problematic substance use for those who have led astray in this way. Because you have mental autonomy, you can choose to throw the ideology of fear and external control based methods away and choose the beliefs and attitude that will eventuate in a brighter future.

In closing…

Autonomy, while being a principal like the PDP (Positive Drive Principle), is not only a realization, but it’s also something that can be practiced and performed at any given time. Whereas the Positive Drive Principle cannot be, it just always is.

The importance of autonomy in overcoming addiction is that once you have the realization you are in control of your own thoughts, and regardless of what people tell you or try to get you to believe, you have the power to believe what you want to believe.

Often times, those who have a significant amount of confidence bordering on cockiness are sometimes called egotistical assholes, for lack of a better word, are autonomous people to an extreme. They think what they think, say what they want to say, and ultimately do what they want to do regardless of what outside factors, norms, or other people tell them.

Being mentally autonomous is essential to success because otherwise, you’d be flip-flopping in any direction in which popular thought would have you go.

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?


39 Days until I turn 40… #40daysto40

Life is ultimately a series of choices. And one thing I realized from the amazing comments and discussions from yesterday's video, is that perspective is everything. All day I had the theme song from Monty Python's 'Life of Brian' echoing through my mind… "always look on the bright side of life!" I don't regret any choices I've made in my life — after all, they've brought me to where I am today. But, if I failed to learn from the choices that brought me sadness, caused pain or hurt to others, or detracted me from being the person I was determined to be, then I would be full of regret… Today marks 39 days until I turn 40.Today's Topic: Power of Choice#40daysto40I talk more about this in the following article:https://www.daimanuel.com/2016/10/06/are-we-truly-free-to-do-what-we-want-when-we-want-addictionfreelife/

Posted by Dai Manuel on Thursday, 6 October 2016


At the end of the day, I know we are all individuals and all have our own power to choose the paths, actions, and lifestyles we live. I could have easily chosen to go left instead of right in many situations in my life. I don’t regret any of the choices I’ve made because it has led me to the point of my life I’m at now. But I am grateful that I have the mindfulness to listen to my heart, my emotional and psychological being, and recognize the actions that will bring me closer or take me further away from sustained happiness for a whole life. And at the end of the day, when I look in the mirror, the person looking back at me is the person I need to win the respect of.

Don't stop here, check out the other articles from the Addiction for Life series

Seeking a Life Free of Addiction started with a Choice


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