Four simple words.
I don’t want to.
They’re the perfect excuse.
People of all ages have relied on those four words to get out of any number of situations. We treat them like magic. On some level, we earnestly believe that those words have power, and a great deal of it, to boot. All we have to do is utter those four words, and suddenly, we somehow find ourselves no longer obligated to participate in whatever scenario is playing out before us.
When we were children this was a progression for us away from simply saying ‘no’. ‘I don’t want to’ becomes the justification for why we said ‘no’ in the first place.
Clean your room. Get dressed. Stop hitting your brother. Don’t be a tattle-tale. Take out the garbage. Urinate in the toilet, not in the yard. Please refrain from pointing at people. Get in the car. Put on your seat belt. Grab your shoes before you leave the house. Take a shower, and when you take that shower, use soap.
Adamantly, many of us have said ‘I don’t want to’ to those requests and others. What we fail to recognize is that A) most of those are not actually requests and B) we have no real power in that relationship. And yet we still felt that ‘I don’t want to’ was an adequate excuse.
So whether or not we actually did what our parents asked of us, most of us held onto those four words. We carry them with us. We use them to get out of things. And we do this because we’ve learned that for every time the phrase didn’t work, there are just as many situations where it did.
For instance, those four words probably got you out of going to a movie, attending the birthday party of someone you didn’t particularly like, or kept you from having to play some sport you were never interested in.
Each time ‘I don’t want to’ worked for us, it reinforced in us the notion that those four words truly do have special power. And just like when we were children, we continue to use those four words into adulthood as a defense for not attending to matters which might actually be of utmost importance.
Look at it this way. Many of us drive, and if you don’t drive, chances are good that you’ve been in an automobile at some point in your life. Fortunately for all of us, there are rules of the road. Those of us who have gone to the effort of procuring a driver’s license (rather than invoking those four words to stick it to the man or usurp legal actions against us) had to take a written and road test to earn the privilege to operate a motor vehicle.
The average car on the road weighs something in the vicinity of two tons. Everyday hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in super fast machines which carry a high potential for death or dismemberment. The primary thing keeping death and dismemberment at bay are the rules of the road. For the most part, we as drivers collectively follow these rules. We don’t speed (excessively). We don’t drive on the wrong side of the road or on the sidewalk. We stop at stop signs and red lights. We attempt to decipher how to properly use a four-way stop or a roundabout.
Not every accident, but a lot of accidents, can be blamed on those four words. Someone is in a hurry so they say ‘I don’t want to’ with regard to the speed limit or spending the proper amount of time in one lane before merging into another lane. Perhaps someone simply disregards the stop sign in the neighborhood on a regular basis. That may not be an issue ninety-nine percent of the time, but what about that one time when a kid is riding a bike or chasing an errant ball?
When we use those four words to disregard the rules of the road, especially on a regular basis, the results can be detrimental, even deadly. Likewise, if we continuously use those four words to explain away our unsavory habits and behaviors, we are likely to suffer the consequences. And we’re never the only ones affected by out actions. The lives of our family and friends and circle of influence are all impacted by our desire to bury ourselves in ‘I don’t want to’ rather than accepting responsibility for our actions.
Given our propensity to refuse to do things based primarily on those four words, it should come as no surprise that we use them to keep ourselves sick. We use them to allow ourselves the opportunity to hold onto a false sense of control. We use them so that we can keep using.
And I’m sure you’ve heard it said that sobriety has to be a decision made by the individual. That’s true. Until someone really wants to change, until you truly want to change, you will not. If you’re a codependent or a loved one you have a responsibility to keep your side of the street clean, but remember this. You didn’t get them drunk, and you can’t get them sober.
But if you’re the drunk, the addict, the gambler, the sex fiend, the porn king or queen, the chronic relationship hound, or whatever, we have to come to a place where those four words change to three simple words. ‘I don’t want to’ has to become ‘I want to’ because, whether we want to admit it or not, we need to want to. We need to want to because we need to change because if we don’t change, we will die.
So how do we get there?
Well, it doesn’t happen overnight. In my experience, it didn’t happen when I set foot through the door. Entering the rooms was not enough for me. It took time.
Why, then, you might be asking, did I enter the rooms in the first place? Actions have consequences, and as stated previously, those consequences affect other people in our lives, not just ourselves. I was given a choice – some might call it an ultimatum.
So I walked into the rooms. I didn’t want to. But that didn’t matter. And that’s what we have to come to realize. No matter how much weight we put on those four words, ‘I don’t want to’ is just as invalid an excuse today as it was when we didn’t want to take out the garbage as kids.
As much as our friends and loved ones are aware (or not, as the case may be) that we have a problem, we are also aware. We don’t want to admit it. We don’t want to come out and say that there’s anything wrong with us. We don’t want to state out loud that we’re out of control. We want to hold onto the illusion of control. We want to keep living into the castle of lies that we’ve built up around us. We want to keep living in denial because, in many ways, we’re comfortable here.
So ‘I don’t want to’ becomes our mantra.
But think about the guilt. The shame. The remorse. Think about all the times you’ve told yourself you’ll never do it again. Think about all the times you’ve lied to cover it up. Think about the way you feel about yourself. Think about the fact that what you’ve been doing all these years does not and should not define who you are or what you’re worth.
The Big Book says that many of us come to a place in our lives where we “want to want to stop.” Now that’s a step in the right direction, but it still carries the weight of those four words. It’s still plagued by the power of the disease in our lives. It’s still admitting that the place of power in our lives is held by our addiction.
When our ‘I don’t want to’ becomes ‘I want to’ with regard to becoming sober, we present the opportunity for something other than our disease to take the reigns in our life.
It’s not easy. That’s why there’s a program. That’s why there’s a fellowship. That’s why there are instructions. That’s why we need accountability. That’s why we can’t give into the urges to fall back on those four words and give up.
If you’re like many of us, you’ve tried to control things on your own but found that to be an exercise in futility. It’s time to turn in those four words and turn yourself over to care and loving concern of God and the collective wisdom of those who have gone before you.
Just know that turning those four words over is a continuous struggle. They’ll sneak up on you. It’s easy, especially after accumulating some sober time, to enact the magic spell again. ‘I don’t want to’ goes from being an excuse to keep acting out to being an excuse to skip regular meetings. We cannot let that happen. You know why? Because our attendance in meetings does a lot more than help keep us sober. First, it reminds us where we used to be and how we got here in the first place. But it also gives hope to others who are sitting there living the same life we’ve already lived.
So next time you find yourself saying those four words, consider the fact that every decision has consequences. A relapse does not happen in a moment. It happens as the result of a series of events and decisions which led you down a slippery slope you didn’t even know you were on.
You might not want to. And that’s okay. We do a lot of things in life we don’t necessarily want to do. Do it for you. Do it for the one who is still sick. But do it. We need one another as active members of the fellowship if we have any hope of coming out alive.
– Alex Walker