This weeks 'thought' comes from a very helpful, insightful and pastorally written book which I've been reading the last few days in regard to helping people with addictions. It's called "Addiction and Grace - Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions," by Gerald G. May, M.D. I highly recommend it for anyone who is struggling with addictions or knows someone struggling with addiction. After all, most of us know someone close to us (a child, parent, relative or friend) who struggles with addiction. And I know that when it comes to addiction, we usually tend to think in terms that limit it to alcohol and drugs, or in a broader sense, alcohol, street drugs, prescription drugs, pornography, promiscuity, gambling, computer gaming, etc.
Yet as Dr. May points out, most all of us have addictive behaviors of one sort or another, to one degree or another. They come in the form of habits we can't break, or things we just can't seem to stop doing no matter how hard we try. He breaks them down into two categories: 1.) Attraction addictions (things like anger, approval, attractiveness, eating, lying, stealing, coffee, comparing one's self to others, competition, computers, envy, gossiping, nail biting, pimple squeezing, seductiveness, self-esteem, sports, etc.) and 2.) Aversion (fear) addictions (flying, being fat, being abnormal or tricked, closed in places, commitment, conflict, disapproval, germs, intimacy, public speaking, snakes, vulnerability, etc.). And to his own credit the author himself admits to struggling with 14 out of the 160+ addictions he lists.
And his premise is this: "No addiction is good; no attachment is beneficial... some are more destructive than others; alcoholism cannot be compared with chocolate addiction in degrees of destructiveness... But if we accept that there are differences in the degree of tragedy imposed upon us by our addictions, we must also recognize what they have in common -- they impede human freedom and diminish the human spirit."
This selection has to do with the false sense of victory that sets us up to fall again. It can be seen as an explanation of the process Paul describes in Galatians 5:1: "Let him who thinks he stands beware lest he fall." Enjoy.
"I Can Handle It"
"If, instead of failing, the person temporarily succeeds in stopping the addictive behavior, the greatest mind trick of all comes into play. It starts out very normally, with the natural joyfulness of liberation. 'I can do it! I have done it. And it wasn't even that difficult! Why, I actually don't even have any desire for a drink anymore. I'm free!' Before long, the natural joy will undergo a malignant change; it will be replaced by pride.
The fall begins, in a day or a week or a few months, with the recurrence of an impulse to have a drink or a fix (or eat a candy bar, look at porn, gossip, or judge another...). It comes subtly and innocuously, certainly not as a conscious desire to resume the whole pattern of addictive behavior, just to engage in it once. Sometimes the desire appears unconscious. 'I don't know what happened, I honestly don't. Everything was going so well...' The downfall can seem for all the world like a demonically mystical happening. 'It was as if there was another person inside of me I didn't even know was there. [Rom. 7:14-20] All the time I was feeling so good about my success, he was in there waiting for the chance to take over. And in a moment when I wasn't looking and my guard was down, he did.'
More often, the desire to have a drink, a pill, or a snort just gently surfaces in awareness like a harmless little notion. 'A drink would sure taste good now.' 'Boy, if I weren't straight, this would sure be the time to get high.' Or it may come more philosophically: 'I haven't had a single pill for three weeks now. I wonder what it would be like. I bet it would be different now that I have no desire for it and I'm no longer hooked on it.' These impulses have a subtle but exceedingly important effect upon the person's feeling of success. The joyful sense of, 'I'm free' is changing to 'I can handle it.' For a while, 'I can handle it' means the person feels she can fight off any impulses to engage in the addictive behavior. Before long, however, 'I can handle it' means she thinks she can engage in the addictive behavior without becoming enslaved to it again. People have even been known to drink to celebrate their success at stopping drinking. The brillance of this masterful mind trick is now evident; the pure joy of success and freedom has been transformed into an excuse for renewed failure and enslavement. Even after the failure occurs, one can continue to believe one is somehow handling it. 'I'm moderating it.' 'I only drink on social occasions where it would be embarrassing to say no.' 'I only have one drink before supper.' 'I only take a pill or two on weekends.' 'It's not the occasional beer that gets me in trouble, but the hard stuff.' On and on the tactics go, until again, it becomes painfully obvious that one is not handling it at all. Whenever 'I can handle it' surfaces, the fall follows.
The fall is tragic in the classical sense -- an abject crashing down after the pinnacles of pride have been attained. Once recognized, it brings guilt, remorse, and shame in bitter proportion to the pride that preceded it. Self-respect disappears. Suicide is considered. Without even the will to resist, the use of the chemical (or whatever the addiction or fix) increases dramatically, further impairing judgment. A critically dangerous situation results. Through the haze of intoxication and depression, the mind continues to battle with itself... Desperately seeking a way out, unrealistic schemes are hatched. 'If I could just get a hundred thousand dollars, my life would be different.' 'I'm going to leave everything and start life all over again in another country.' These grow into proportions that can only be called psychotic [blaming our problems and lack of control so completely on other people that we want to hurt them]... Fortunately, not all major chemical addictions progress to this degree of devastation. But all of our addictions, even our non-substance addictions, share similar dynamics... Addiction to power, money, or relationships can drive people to distort reality just as much as can addiction to alcohol or narcotics....
Addiction cannot be defeated by the human will acting on its own, nor by the human will opting out and turning everything over to the divine will. Instead, the power of grace flows most fully when the human will chooses to act in harmony with the divine will. In practical terms, this means staying in a situation, being willing to confront it as it is, remaining responsible for the choices one makes in response to it, but at the same time turning to God's grace, protection, and guidance as the ground for one's choices and behavior. It is the difference between testing God by avoiding one's own responsibilities and trusting God as one acts responsibly. Responsible human freedom thus becomes authentic spiritual surrender, and authentic spiritual surrender is nothing other than responsible human freedom. Here, in the condition of humble dignity, the power of addiction can be overcome."
The Bible speaks often of addictive or enslaving type behaviors. After all, addiction is a consequence of sin, though it manifests itself differently in each one of us. In that sense we are all recovering addicts. As Jesus said, "Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin" (John 8:34). A modern translation might be: "Everyone who commits sin is addicted to sin." And if we take that as true (as I hope you do) that would include every one of us except Jesus Himself. And if we understand that we are all addicts (to different things and different degrees) it would go a long way to prevent us from pointing the condemning finger, kill the spirit of self-righteousness in us, and bring a degree of humility to our interactions with others -- all others. In other words, it would go a long way to flood our countenance and all our interactions with a spirit of grace -- the only thing that can really help heal addictions -- ours, as well as those of others.