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Are You Truly Free?

Earlier this week I received the most powerful, moving guest post I’ve ever read. About 24 hours later, the author decided that they were not comfortable having it published after all.

I was disappointed but I understood. The post was about overcoming a very serious addiction.

And although I won’t be able to publish it, I would like to paraphrase one sentence from the article:

When you cannot control what you do, if your weakness controls you, if you cannot say “no” to a box of cookies or a prescription bottle of pills, then you are not free. You are being lead by something else.

That hit me between the eyes like a hammer. Weakness can mean a lot of different things, but let’s just call it anything that keeps us from doing what we’re meant to do. That’s something different for each of us.

It’s what Steven Pressfield calls “The Resistance.” From his incredible book The War of Art: (review from Jenny McCoy)

It goes without saying that this principle applies to drugs, shopping, masturbation, TV, gossip, alcohol, and the consumption of all products containing fat, sugar, salt, or chocolate.”(page 23)

So there are two quotes from two people I look up to.

Let me be the first to say, I am not free right now. I am being led by things that I am trying to work on. They’re not horrible or incarceration-worthy, and none of my urges would be at home on Jerry Springer, but they’re there.

Are you being led by things that are keeping you from doing whatever it is you truly wish you were doing? Are you truly free?


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photo credit: Randy Read

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jenn March 10, 2010, 12:33 am

    It’s my personal belief, that I’m not so sure if I (anyone) will ever be totally “free” on this side of life. Even when I am not addicted to the obvious “things”, I still find myself holding onto fear, jealousy, insecurity, past identity, (not all at the same time thank God) but most often fear.

    On a lighter note I took on a serious sugar addiction and won. Go me!

    • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 10:43 am

      Sugar is no joke. What was your strategy and how long did it take before you said, “I win?”

      • Jenn March 11, 2010, 12:54 am

        I gave up refined sugar treats for two years. It was things like cookies, cakes, candy, ice cream that I would most often binge on so that (refined sugar products and “treats”) is what I quit eating cold turkey. Just this past January (after two years), I decided I really would like ice cream to be a part of my life again so I chose to loosen the boundaries a bit. This happened after my first, in two years, bite of refined sugar in the form of peanut butter icing. It kick my cravings into high gear but I was able to reel them in, something I would not have been able to do two years prior. Right now, I’m experimenting with homemade natural sugar desserts. My reasoning behind this choice is that when I make it there is a limited supply. It also requires effort and time two things that I lack. 😉 (I also enjoy knowing exactly what I’m eating.) I’ve noticed natural sugars don’t seem to kick in the cravings like the white stuff. Maybe it’s just mental but I don’t care b/c so far it’s working. All I know is two and half years ago I was hiding, lying, and stealing (from my kids) sugar. It sounds dramatic but it was very painful to not be able to say “no” or not have “just one” time and time again. Now I am able to enjoy a bowl of homemade ice cream on the weekend and stop so I feel I have won. Admittedly, sometimes I get a little frightened b/c the slope I’m on seems slippery. I may have won but I’m quite aware that there is the possibility of a surprise attack upon the horizon so I keep my weapons sharpened by monitoring my feelings and reaching out when needed.

        If you are interested there is an entire category on my blog under “food” devoted to sugar addiction. “Sweet Song of the Siren” is the post that details making it through that first year.

        It’s late I’m tired. I hope I didn’t ramble too much or fill your comment section with a bunch of typos that I don’t have the energy to go fix. Sorry. Night.

  • Hulbert March 10, 2010, 12:35 am

    This is interesting Josh. I think all of us have a certain kind of weakness that differs from other people out there, keeping us from doing what we’re meant to do. Some of us will share it with others, while others don’t feel comfortable talking about it. It’s nice that you were able to respect the author who was not comfortable having his guest post published. I hope that the person is able to find a way to free of themselves of their serious addiction.

  • Bamboo Forest - PunIntended March 10, 2010, 2:23 am

    Nothing could be more true. True freedom is mastery over self. It’s a message that never gets old.

  • Joy Tanksley March 10, 2010, 5:34 am

    Hmmm… I’m guessing you’ll get lots of comments on this because it is a deep and complex subject. You know, just slightly universal and one that has been discussed for, oh, say, thousands of years. 🙂

    Here’s my take. We are free when we stop trying to fix ourselves. We are free when we realize we are not broken. When we stop struggling and fighting and forcing and begin ALLOWING, ACCEPTING, and EMBRACING, we are free. Fear binds us. Loves releases us.

    I have found this to be true for myself in the area of food addiction. I was once a binge eater. My eating was so dark and desperate that I ate food out of a trash can on more than one occassion. When I quit fighting with my body, stopped belieivng I had to change it, and began listening to the deepest part of my soul, I was healed. Now, when I hear people say they “struggle” with food or they “struggle” with weight, I want to grab their shoulders and say, “That’s the WHOLE PROBLEM! Drop the struggle!”

    Freedom is not about holding on, it’s about letting go.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 10:47 am

      But Joy, how would you apply something like this to a drug addiction? Giving in and saying, “So I’m addicted to heroin, so what? I’m not broken” wouldn’t help you and could wind up killing you. I know that’s a bit of an overstatement, but I’d love to know if you think that all struggles are worth dropping.

      • Joy Tanksley March 10, 2010, 12:00 pm

        Okay. First, I want to say that I think ending any true addiction requires THERAPY and SUPPORT. Along these lines, I would strongly suggest EBT (Emotional Brain Training) for anyone wishing to free themselves of “external solutions”. Just Google it. Emotional Brain Training.

        When I say “drop the struggle” I don’t mean that you say, “Woo Hoo! Drugs are awesome and I’m just going to smoke and snort my life away. No more struggle!” Not at all. What I’m saying is that our addiction is the SYMPTOM not the problem. Yes, they can become so horrible that they create a million new problems and it really, really seems like if we just beat the addiction, we will be whole again. But that’s getting it backwards. As long as we are wrestling with the symptom, we fail. We can quit smoking or drugging or overeating, but if we didn’t do the internal work, (dissolve the limiting belief systems) then we A) stay miserable and B) find another addiction.

        “Drop the struggle” means quit fighting with your symptoms and begin watching your thoughts, identifying your feelings, and uncovering your belief systems. This is where real, lasting change is found.

        • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 2:23 pm

          Well said, Joy. Is it nice to be a genius? It looks nice:)

          • Joy Tanksley March 10, 2010, 3:04 pm

            A blessing and a curse. Pure genius is my cross to bear. 🙂 Seriously, though, I was just thinking this comment thread is getting WAY OVER MY HEAD!

  • Alexa Ispas | Creating Legacy March 10, 2010, 5:38 am

    Hi Josh, thanks for this blog post. I guess freedom is relative. There are things that aren’t maybe great for us, and that we seem to be addicted to in the sense that we would find it difficult to give them up – but they help us focus on doing things that really matter to us (drinking Pepsi is mine – not good for my health, but helps me write on days when I can’t focus). But then there are other things, such as Steven Pressfield’s notion of Resistance, that we are addicted to and that take us away from the things we know we should be doing. I think it is freedom from the latter that we should pursue with all our might; the other stuff is worth being ‘tied to’, it gives us something to look forward to while we are fighting for our freedom.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 10:48 am

      Alexa, have you read Pressfield’s book? Someone as creative as you would really get a kick out of it.

      • Alexa Ispas March 10, 2010, 7:58 pm

        Hi Josh, thanks for the reply and the suggestion. Yep, have read it and absolutely loved it, I would recommend it to anyone keen to fulfil their creative potential. Steven Pressfield’s ‘Writing Wednesdays’ series on his blog (http://blog.stevenpressfield.com/) is also really helpful. The book is sitting on a shelf very close to me as I struggle to write every day, winking at me every time I’m tempted to make excuses for not putting in the hours 🙂

  • Julianne Fuchs-Musgrave March 10, 2010, 5:40 am

    Very powerful, very gentle post. Your “anything that keeps us from doing what we’re meant to do.” says everything. There is the conundrum when trying to battle an addiction–that to regain control of our lives necessitates a giving up of self-will. The cornerstone of any Step program is the belief that by following fairly stringent “suggestions” for cleaning up the wreckage of our lives–we come closer to being “joyous, happy & free.” Like the new exercise program–it hurts like hell in the first days.
    Thank you especially for understanding your friend’s need NOT to publish. “Outing” any part of ourselves is more difficult for some.
    You really are a nice man.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 10:49 am

      I’m glad I got to read it, even if nobody else did. Thanks for the compliment. I’m not always nice:)

  • Pearl Mattenson March 10, 2010, 5:49 am

    Weird serendipity- I was just going to tweet about this. I am trying to cut sugar out of my diet and am facing my weakness and sense of being controlled in a way that is really not comfortable. When I get to the other side of this I know there is like a freight load of head space that I will have available that is currently being occupied by, “should I? Shouldn’t I? I want..I can’t…etc”

    • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 10:49 am

      all right, Pearl, you’re the second one who has mentioned sugar today. What’s your reason for trying to cut it out of your diet?

      • pearl mattenson March 10, 2010, 11:08 am

        It is a 30 day experiment to start.
        I have a sense that it is at the root of a whole host of other eating dysfunctions and the mere presence of it in my system has me crave and over do…stopping is only hard -in my mind- but when I am off sugar I don’t feel the physiological need for more unhealthy food. Not sure it makes sense but that is what it is about.

  • Dan Cosgrove | Martial Media March 10, 2010, 7:19 am

    Really makes you think.

    For me, it’s analyzing everything. I get so caught up in stats and theories that I don’t ever just *do*. Exercise, eating, living, it all gets over-thought.

    People without addictions, or that don’t realize their small vices are there at all, tend to trivialize these problems in others.

    “Just quit.” Or “Well, don’t do that!”

    As if it were as easy as flipping a switch.

    Even when it’s not drugs, habit and discipline can be a huge factor in deciding what you ‘need’ to do.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 10:50 am

      Whoever can invent that switch is going to be rich!

      • Dan Cosgrove | Martial Media March 10, 2010, 11:05 am

        For some reason I’m picturing everyone post-switch acting like Spongebob in that episode where he turns “normal”.

        Sorry, the kids love it and that episode came on yesterday.

  • ami March 10, 2010, 7:45 am

    That post is so powerful it is reverberating through this space without even having been published. The Force is strong in that one. 🙂

    I’m with everyone else, struggling with issues that are not particularly newsworthy or remarkable, but potent enough to ME to hold me back from accomplishing some of my objectives. As Joy suggests, recognition of these obstacles and acceptance can help us move past them. I also find that, personally, having great clarity about my desired objectives helps lessen the hold of any potential preoccupations and obsessions.

    I also wonder: If these issues are so common and they have such significant impact on individuals – what impact do they have on us as a group or society? Seems to me that we (as a society) could use more clarity about our purpose and objectives, and maybe more acceptance and gentleness about our preoccupations and obsessions.

  • Stephanie Smith March 10, 2010, 8:30 am

    As someone who recently lost what I thought was a friend for life, due to her addiction to prescription pills, I understand the author’s reluctance to share something so intimate, however, I have learned that the more we keep locked away, the more power those things have over us.
    Society is not ready for some of our secrets or fears to be put out in the open. One of the reasons we keep things secret is our fear of how others will react to our “issues”. All too often people do judge before knowing the story and compassion is often hard to find in the me, me, me world. Until you have had to deal with an issue that is shameful or embarrassing or painful to talk about, you don’t understand how to empathize with those walking such a road.
    It is far too eay to allow ouselves to be branded by our issues, rather than realize they are merely one part of us, not the sum of who we are.

  • Srinivas Rao March 10, 2010, 9:08 am


    This is a really powerful concept. I’d like to think I’m becoming more and more free each day. But, there’s no doubt that that there are certain things that I still feel like I have to do as opposed to what I feel I”m meant to do.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 10:52 am

      You’re making more progress than most people I know, Master Rao.

  • Michelle @ Following Your Joy March 10, 2010, 10:40 am

    Hi Josh,

    This was a question I needed to be asked today. So even though the guest post didn’t work out, I appreciate you paraphrasing it and still asking us the question.

    When I am free…I’m on top of the world, life rocks, and nothing can get in my way. That feeling is magical! But I do occasionally let things get in my way that end up “taking away” that hold I had on freedom. And life gets heavy.

    Thank you for tossing that question out to us, and I will carry it with me today.

  • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 10:52 am

    Feel free to drop it if it gets too heavy:)

  • Matthew Needham March 10, 2010, 11:42 am

    I think you’re never truly free. You’re paying off debts, you’re doing a whole load of stiluff that doesn’t necessarily take you towards your goals. At the minute I stuggle between what is easy to do v’s what is important to do. I could comment on blogs all day, but it won’t finish my ebook.

  • Julie March 10, 2010, 11:45 am

    Great post Josh! I have also given up sugar and processed foods as of Feb. 1st and I have never felt better in my life. For me it was the realization that sugar was an actual addiction and not just a lack of will-power on my part.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 2:24 pm

      If that’s the goal, stick to it. Good work and here’s to feeling better.

  • Sid Savara March 10, 2010, 11:51 am

    Hey Josh,

    I’ve been researching something that’s not exactly the same, but sort of similar recently. I’ve been reading a lot about the brain’s pleasure and reward centers, and how they are affected by addiction, and specifically how dopamine is responsible for so much that we do.

    You may already know this, but pretty much all those weaknesses up there are pleasure causing actions that affect dopamine release in our neural pathways. I was really surprised to learn that it applied to fast food – I always knew that comfort food made people feel better, but I didn’t realize it released dopamine the same way that taking drugs and watching television does. There’s a ton of fascinating stuff I learned, I summarized some of my research here:


    I feel a little dirty dropping a link in a comment, but I thought you might like it.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 2:25 pm

      Very interesting. Especially as someone with a dopamine imbalance and a love of retro video games.

  • Jay March 10, 2010, 12:37 pm

    Addiction is a nonchosen condition, but freedom is an hourly choice. So is love and forgiveness and a hundred other states of mind.

    • Joy Tanksley March 10, 2010, 12:58 pm

      Well said, Jay. I agree.

      • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 2:25 pm

        Me too. We’re getting pretty poetic and brilliant around here. You guys class up my shabby endeavors!

  • Randy Hauer March 10, 2010, 1:08 pm

    Do we have free will? Or is it more like “free won’t”? B.F.Skinner maintained we aren’t really free, but like to pretend we are. Sartre, the other way around. I think Skinner is closer to the truth. We “automaton” it more than we like to think we do.

    Perhaps the closest we can get to being free, to being enlightened, is to fully experience our own automaticity/reactivity and yet choose a created possibility instead.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 2:26 pm

      I hope I get a chance to punch Sartre’s ghost in the face someday.

  • Ksenia March 10, 2010, 1:28 pm

    When people talk about freedom they usually associate it with some kind of material freedom or addiction, like drugs or sugar (which by the way, I think is not a trivial one at all). I agree with @Jenn: our emotions can limit our freedom as much as a drug (or even more sometimes)

    Although cookies can certainly do it too =P

    PS: But the way, thanks for stopping by my blog 🙂 And yes, it WAS cold, but not as cold like in some other provinces. The northern part of Catalonia has no electricity since Monday and the border with France was closed in some parts because of the storm. Some people even demanded the dimission of the Home secretary!

  • Boris Bachmann March 10, 2010, 1:51 pm

    Being led around by the monkey mind… I wrote a post about it a couple of months ago – might be relevant, I’m not sure. http://squatrx.blogspot.com/2009/12/further-ruminations-on-second-noble.html

    GS cookies are enslaving me lately. Thin mints w. peanut butter is good – but I should be able to stop after a couple, not the couple DOZEN I plow through almost daily.

  • Josh Hanagarne March 10, 2010, 2:27 pm

    Boris, every time you write GS, I think Girevoy sport. “huh? They’re making cookies?”

    • Piers McCarney March 13, 2010, 7:48 pm

      It’s a new division. How many can you bake in 30 minutes? It’s all about cookie work capacity.

  • Anne Bender March 10, 2010, 5:03 pm

    Wow! This is the second post today that has really spoken to me. I have been thinking more and more about fear. I never thought of myself as a fearful person, but lately everything I say is laced with it. Driving, job hunting, blogging, writing, cooking, the list goes on. Sadly, this is the number one reason I am not where I want to be. Free? No. But awareness is the first step. Sharing here, step two [acknowledging it for the whole world to see]. I shall overcome!

  • Harsh Athalye March 11, 2010, 1:09 am

    This kinda of reminded me of the movie Matrix and its infamous quote “Free your mind!”. Well, we all are weak by heart in one thing or other and that’s what human nature is. If you can control your mind or weakness, then you can reach your spiritual self. But as far as 99% of us go, our weakness controls us rather than the other way round. I wish I could, but not there yet.

  • Interior Designs March 11, 2010, 2:32 am

    If we have addiction in any manner, that means we have some weakness within ourselves.

  • Jenny March 12, 2010, 9:30 am

    Thanks for the mention! It’s too bad the guest post author changed his/her mind.

  • Kelley March 12, 2010, 1:22 pm

    Josh, thank you for this post! Even though your guest changed their mind, I am grateful you decided to include the message. I especially found Joy’s comments enlightening. “Drop the struggle.”

    Giving up the struggle, is it really as simple as a change in vocabulary? I think it might actually be that simple. To quote Yoda: “Do or do not, there is no try”. It is a constant reminder to tell myself I will not *try* to do something, because then I am leaving myself an out, an excuse, to not get it done. No “I will try to eat healthier today”, no “I will try to spend more time with the kids”, no “I will try to be more gracious and forgiving”. One’s commitment should be to actually DOING it, not trying to do it. It is truly a simple matter of vocabulary and what it does to one’s way of thinking. At least, I try to remember that. 😉

    • Joy Tanksley March 12, 2010, 1:42 pm

      Hey, thanks for the nod! Oh, man, I agree that our language is so important. One of the most powerful affirmations I ever adopted was, “I will never struggle with my weight again.” For about 20 years I bitched about how my weight was such a struggle, always had been, always would be. Changing my words helped me change my beliefs.

  • Piers McCarney March 13, 2010, 7:55 pm

    It truly sounds a shame to have missed out on the article you quoted.
    Interestingly enough, the spirit of this post is very much within me right now. In the last month alone, I have felt many revelations and (even better) taken a lot of action along the path to free myself of these weaknesses.
    I love PRs in the gym everyday, but I’m coming to love PRs in my life even more. And these all entail eliminating weakness in all its forms. The weakness of Laziness preventing me from truly doing my job as I am capable of. The weakness of Laziness preventing me from finding ways my wife and I can enjoy each others company as much as she deserves. (Laziness is a big one for me.) The weakness of Arrogance and Measuring Myself by Others that demands me to force my opinions upon others and scorn them when they do not agree…

    Day by day, little by little, I try to break free of these weaknesses. Observation of my life causes more to come to light. I put them in the crosshairs.