The fundamental question in any discussion with those battling addictions is:
How did we end up where we are today?
Addiction always has a starting point. Everybody began somewhere and, often, for very different reasons. What probably began as a bit of fun or something ‘now and then’ gradually took over a person’s life, leaving them feeling that there is no way out. All addictions begin very simply and often are about changing the way people feel. Many people don’t even remember the reasons they got started. Also, it is not uncommon for addicts to feel scared of returning back to ‘normal’ because they don’t know what it is going to be like.
It is helpful to try to help them remember what life was like before it got so bad. Often addiction is about trying to blank out thoughts, feelings, emotions and/or bad things that have happened. Usually, the big factor is: ‘I don’t like the way I feel now’. In the beginning the addiction gave the appearance of helping deal with these issues, but after a (sustained) period of time it didn’t really help anymore. It just made people more miserable.
At heart, all addiction is idolatry and an attempt to try to change the way we feel. We want to control our emotions, so we do something about it. Rather than turn to God for help, addicts turn to other things, more dangerous things, things that seem ‘better’ to us. God is just an irrelevance for the unbeliever (believers struggling may claim to believe in God but are really just functional atheists at this point). Yet, the Bible teaches us that everything in life is connected to God. He exists and we either recognise that, and live to please Him, or we deny that and live to please ourselves. Everything we do says something about what we believe about God.
Remember, addiction is a worship issue. Therefore, we must help people to see that when their addictions started, instead of turning to God for help they turned toward that to which they are now addicted. More than that, they liked it. It was good. They started down a road with the sole intent of personal pleasure even if it was to cope with private pain. The point is that people always initiate addictions. They don’t just happen to us, contrary to the disease or genetics model we are proffered as causality reasons. True, their could now be underlying chemical issues and deep psychological side effect, but at one time in our story we have invited whatever it is into our lives and allowed it, over time, to control us. When we look back we liked what we experienced. We liked it so much we did it again and again. We toyed with it and practiced with it and then one day we woke up and found that our whole life revolved around it. It controlled us. we marched to the beat of its drum. It became our God.
It is always good at this point to ask a couple of questions:
What problems has your addiction helped you temporarily forget? What emotions did it help you cope with?
The problem with all addictions is that, ultimately, they leave us feeling empty and more depressed. They satisfy us for a time but we always end up wanting and needing more. So, instead of helping our problems and easing our pain, it has caused us more problems and left us feeling emptier. I do not know a struggling (and honest) addict who will not admit to this. If they cannot see this point then I suggest that they are not ready for meaningful change in their lives. The following is a helpful illustration:
If we were eating a particular type of food and we found that it didn’t fill us up, or we were having a bad reaction to it, what would we do? Change our diet, surely? We need to change our lifestyles. We need to start looking at what patterns and behaviours are unhealthy and what are some of the healthy ways in which we can change.
We need to help people trace back the unhelpful patterns that have developed in their lives. It is often productive to walk them through the following steps:
- I don’t like the way I feel
- I want to manage my world my own way
- I like this. This is good.
- I want to keep doing this
- This means the world to me. I love this.
- I want more. I need more.
- This thing is my god. It owns me
- This hurts. I hate it. I want it out of my life (but I also want it).
In effect addiction is voluntary slavery. We wanted something, we you chased after it and now we are trapped in it. When we begin to understand this and understand how and why we got trapped, we can begin the process of looking at new and better ways of dealing with our pain, struggles and unhealthy emotions. The good news for people is that when we come to God we have an out. We have somebody who understands us and our problems and who will respond to us as we cry out to him.
Next time we will look at how we can help people to ask God to help them in their addictions.