“Whoever is led astray by alcohol is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1).
Addictions are no respecter of persons. They come in all sizes and shapes—negative and positive—and they affect young and old, rich and poor, black and white, and so on. Negative addictions, for the most part, result in the concerted effort to be happy. Almost everyone wants to be happy. The word “happy” derives from the verb “to happen”. So, happiness is to simply observe what happens, feeling okay about it. Robert Johns, in his book on transformation, writes, “If you cannot be happy at the prospect of lunch, you are not likely to find happiness anywhere.”
When we are deprived of simple pleasures, we look for ways to raise our mood to make up for it. People with negative addictions usually live by the philosophy: “I want what I want, when I want it.” We may turn to anything to help us get the desired mood. And all of us are vulnerable to negative addictions, especially after a great loss. I knew a man who lost his wife to cancer. He began drinking heavily, and he died in his forties. Some cannot overcome the pain of losing a loved one. In seeking to drown their troubles, they end up drowning themselves.
We are in the eightieth year of the Alcoholics Anonymous organization. It began in Akron, Ohio in 1935, and has had a tremendous impact on millions who are caught in this painful web. AA doesn’t work for everyone, but it has had a great impact on many. It helps to know there are fellow strugglers. Similarly, when Jesus was talking about the “Kingdom”, I believe he was referring to the community where people care about each other and look out for their neighbors. Our sense of community is only natural in time of great crisis. You see this following a tornado, or hurricane or other tragedies. For the most part, an addict doesn’t have a sense of community. They are busy looking out for themselves. Addictions can consume people, and some become a “drag” on society.
Scott Peck, author and psychiatrist, calls addictions “sacred disease”, with addicts having more powerful calling to go back to God than most people. He claims that people with this problem have a greater thirst for spirit than non-addicts. So, it’s no accident that alcoholic beverages are called “spirits”.
The biblical passages in Genesis 3 teach that the human yearning to return to Eden is impossible. Substance addictions are subconscious efforts to return to Eden; to go back home. They look for comfort, for peace and for acceptance, claim the experts. These problems reinforce the infantile urge to crawl back into the womb. Depression often results from these impossible longings. By turning these urges into a positive direction through a recovery program, it seems that addicts have a powerful calling to God, but they may not admit it, or even understand it.
We do know that community—the support of fellow recovering addicts—keeps the seeker from entering the “desert” all alone. The early church depended on a sense of community to survive. Believers needed each other in a vital way. There were enemies in every direction. The church owes its very life to this sense of community. Without it, we are fragmented. A strong sense of community may very well keep many people mentally and spiritually whole.
AA provides a road map for transformation. Those who take it seriously know it isn’t easy to change. It not only provides the “why” but also the “how” to go from Eden into the desert of spiritual awareness. And it gains momentum with such clichés as “One day at a time,” or “Fake it until you make it,” or “The only person you can change is yourself.”
As I’ve indicated, almost anything can be an addiction. I refer to mood altering habits that some use to “get high”. These things include gambling, workaholism, addictive spending, sex addiction, over eating and so on. My father never saw food that he didn’t like. During his adult life, he seldom weighed less than 250lbs. I watched him suffer so many “obese ailments” that I promised myself that I would never allow myself the habit of over-eating. This is one reason I swim every day, a habit to which I am certainly addicted. Going to church, praying or helping others are also positive addictions. Being a preacher, I just have to throw that in.
I’ve found that “talk therapy” doesn’t work too well in counseling addicts, simply because the heart of the illness is emotional, not cognitive. Of course, it depends on the individual. So, addiction is a spiritual disease. It’s an attack on the soul. It cases a lack of self-respect and can create paranoia, guilt, anger and shame. The addiction takes control of the personality and makes the person blind to the needs of others and blind to the beauty and wonders of this life. The addict is almost totally afraid of intimacy. They want to withdraw from others, and find themselves saying and doing things that are hurtful even to the people they love the most. The most traumatic experience that I had as a pastor was to watch a friend who was addicted to alcohol shoot himself. He said that suicide was the only answer for him to get out of his misery. Not so.
A person can, indeed, recover and rediscover a life that almost slipped away from them. The twelve-step program of AA is a great place to start. I believe God can work miracles with anyone who has the willpower to work through the illness. When people say, “He is an alcoholic,” I want to chime in and say, “No, he is a human being with an alcohol problem.” Don’t surrender the self to any disease. For example, she is not a diabetic, she is a human being with a problem with diabetes. We don’t have to identify with any disease.
Again, I believe that God can lead anyone with negative addiction to full recovery, if the person is willing to be led. I’ve seen this happen enough times to be convinced.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.”