The Weekly Vlog

Cannot or Will Not?

Nov 01, 2023

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the most important book ever published about addiction is Alcoholics Anonymous—"The Big Book”—published in 1939. It has so much wisdom that people who have addictions need to understand.

People with an addiction have a switch in their brain that flips when they take a substance into their bodies. It kicks off a craving that is overpowering. They lose all choice about whether or not to consume that substance. They also have a mental twist that the book calls “the strange mental blank spot,” where they lose the ability to remember why they need to abstain, making them more likely to use again. In the book, they outline the Twelve Steps to counter this.

There’s a line in Chapter Five that goes like this: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program.” Cannot or will not. Today I want to zero in on that language, which is repeated throughout the book. 

Can and will. Or could not and would not. I’ve been fascinated by this language for years. I’ve thought about what it means to be able to do this program. To have the money, time, and ability. Is that a can or a will?

I get asked about motivation a lot. I’m not in the convincing business. I’m looking for people who want to change. People can choose to sit on their couches and eat sugar and flour until they die, maybe too young. They make their choices. If they will not follow the Bright path, it’s not my job to say they should. 

What we do to maintain our Bright Lines is a lot. Not everyone wants to do it. I have people that I love, people in my family, who say they can’t do what I do. I buried a family member last summer who tried Bright Lines, and her diabetes cleared up, but then she went back to eating sugar and flour and—she died. She could not, or would not, accept the solution.

I think sometimes the cannot is real and true. For example, when my twins were one pound in the hospital, I don’t think I could have picked up our solution during that time. 

There was a woman I met once in Durango, Colorado. She was retired, living on a very fixed income. She didn’t have the money to do the Boot Camp. So she sold her wedding ring—her husband was long dead—and she got the money to register. I was both moved and horrified. She was certain it was the best decision she’d ever made. She had had her Bright Transformation. She knew her husband would be proud of her vitality and the years she bought for herself. She found a way. She turned a cannot into a can, with a strong will. 

I’m also thinking of a time when I was in Sydney, Australia, and I was in a full-blown relapse. I could not stop eating, despite using every tool. I was praying, and I was as surrendered as I could imagine being. I wrote down my food and committed to it. But the cravings! I could not stop eating. It was excruciating. 

After three months, the only thing that changed was that I hired a life coach. I explained my food addiction and the program, and he told me that doing what I needed to do for the program was my assignment. If you can’t do anything till you deal with food, then that’s what you need to take care of. And somehow that stuck. And my cannot turned into a can and will.

Was it the life coach that turned it around for me? I don’t know. But somehow, working with him turned it around. It was profoundly mysterious. 

I look at a beloved person in my life who doesn’t do the program and I’m not sure that her will not isn’t actually a cannot somehow, and she just can’t face herself at this point in her life. It looks like a will not, but I think maybe she just cannot do it. 

There are mysterious forces at work in what makes a cannot turn into a can. It’s way beyond my pay grade. As a spiritual person, I think this is perhaps the crux of spirituality: where someone’s volition combines with their knowledge, opportunity, and circumstance to produce a can and will. It is profoundly mysterious. 

In Bright Line Eating, we’re dealing with weight loss, and some are dealing with food addiction as well. Both are beasts. It’s nefarious: because when you start losing weight, addiction kicks in. The former smoker does not experience increased cravings just because their lungs are healing. But we, as our bodies heal, experience increased cravings for food literally because our bodies are healing. 

The fact that weight loss kicks up food cravings and binges—one of the hallmarks of food addiction—is one of the cruelest aspects of the whole food-weight juggernaut.

For many people on the Bright Line journey, it’s not difficult at first, because the plan works. To those people, I want to say: have respect for the disease of addiction. Don’t ever assume that your can and will should be taken for granted. Don’t ever assume that the ease you’re feeling means there are degrees of freedom where you can make an exception. The swiftness with which a can and will turns into a cannot and will not is horrifying. Have respect for the Bright Line that signals the cliff.

I had the privilege of climbing Half Dome once, for my fortieth birthday. At the top, there is a cliff you can look over. But nobody walks up and just looks over the edge. You don’t play carelessly at the edge of a cliff. You might be safe—but the risk is not worth it. 

That’s my first takeaway here: respect the disease of food addiction.

My second takeaway is that we should have so much compassion for those who are in some mysterious state of cannot or will not. If they used to be Bright and now they’re struggling—well, there but for the grace of God go I.

My third takeaway is from my experience as a chronic relapser who has not had a bite of flour or sugar for four years, or eaten outside of a mealtime. But I’ve had lots of relapses. And I want to say from experience that if you want to be a can and will, unstoppability will get you there.

I could not keep my quantities line in restaurants for 19 years. Not consistently. And now I can. Flawlessly. For nearly 18 months. About 18 months ago, a deeper surrender turned my cannot or will not in a can and will. After all these years.

It can happen for you, too.

Just be unstoppable.

Summon all the forces. Try another approach. Try more research. Keep praying. Keep questioning: what have you not done? What stone has been left unturned? Try. Try again. Do a jig and try again. Where have you been holding out? Come all the way in and sit all the way down. Try the Boot Camp again. Try Reboot Rezoom. Join Bright Lifers. Join the Gideon Games. Get a guide. Unstoppability will get you there. 

Even if you feel like you’ve been trying for years, there is still time for your cannot and will not to turn into a can and will

Addiction is a beast.

And yet it’s true. Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program—or someone who decides to do a jig at the edge of the cliff, once they’ve recovered.

Click here to listen to this episode on Bright Line Living™ - The Official Bright Line Eating Podcast.

Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D. is a New York Times bestselling author and an expert in the psychology and neuroscience of eating.  Susan is the Founder and CEO of Bright Line Eating®, a scientifically grounded program that teaches you a simple process for getting your brain on board so you can finally find freedom from food.

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