Maybe The Source Of My Problems Cannot Also Be The Solution To My Problems
Some thoughts on Addiction
Look, there’s a whole lot of stuff in the Bible that's pretty hard to relate to. I mean, I’m just speaking for myself here, but I've never felt the need to sacrifice a goat for my sins. Things have changed a bit over the millennia.
But one thing has not changed even a little bit and that is: human nature. There’s a lot in the Bible that can feel foreign until you get to a thing like that passage from Romans in which Paul says I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
I mean, finally. This I know about, because, to my eyes, Paul's simple description of the failure of human will power is just what we now call “addiction”.
I still remember that feeling of powerlessness that came from not being able to control my drinking. I'd wake up each morning after a bender and have a little talk with myself "OK Nadia get it together. Today is going to be different." Then inevitably later that day I'd say "well, just one drink would be ok" Or I'll only drink wine and not vodka. Or I'll just drink a glass of water between drinks so that I won't get drunk. And sometimes it worked but mostly it didn't. In the end, my will was just never a "strong” enough power to get me to do what I swore earlier in the day I would. Like Paul, I did the thing I hated. And any negative repercussion from past times I drank were never enough to prevent me from drinking again.
But that's addiction for you. It's ugly.
Of course you all know that. Many of us would have had far less traumatic lives if it weren’t for drug and alcohol abuse (by ourselves or our loved ones). And I don't know about you, but I am sick to death of burying my friends and my family who keep dying as a result of addiction.
So you would think we’d all just stop. You’d think everyone who has suffered as a result of intoxication or drunk driving or withdrawal –would just totally walk away from the stuff forever. You’d think that the suffering we have experienced as a result of co-dependency would keep us from repeating the behavior. You’d think the negative impact of addictions of all kinds would make the behaviors around addiction extinct but we all know it doesn’t work like that.
Sometimes I feel like we recovering alcoholics and drug addicts have it easy. I mean, the emotional, spiritual, and physical wreckage cause by alcoholism and drug addiction has a certain conspicuousness to it; the messes it leaves behind are not ones most of us can hide for long.
But the truth is, it's not just drug addicts who wake up in the morning and say today it's gonna be different! Perhaps you have done some "self-talk" recently: Today I won't eat compulsively or I'll not yell at my kids or I'll not spend money I don’t have on shit I don’t need. Today, unlike yesterday I will finally stand up for myself. Today I will not place a bet. Today I will start meditating and lift weights and start that KETO diet. Today I’ll go to The Container Store and organize my life so I’m finally in control. But we're not. We’re not in control. Not really. That would be the point. We're addicted to poison and people, and praise and possessions and power.
So who will save us from this body of death as Paul calls it? Well, the world gives us but one solution: our will. If you have tried and failed, then just try HARDER. And as the saying goes - when the only tool I have is a hammer, all my problems look like nails. And I just pound away at everything.
But friends, our own will power is just about the worse place to look for salvation. Because the source of my problems (self-will) simply cannot also be the solution to my problems. I need something or someone external to myself to save me from myself. I need a power source that is just slightly more reliable than my faltering will.
I once had an airplane seatmate who, when hearing I was a pastor, said of their own atheism: “Huh. I just don’t need anything outside of myself to bring me comfort and meaning”. And I thought, “I DESPERATELY need something outside of myself for that. I mean, if I AM ALL I HAVE, I can’t think of anything more depressing.”
I say this as an addict who has been clean and sober for over 31 years: I simply DO NOT have the willpower it takes to interrupt my addictive patterns … I just have the God it takes to interrupt my addictive patterns. God and God alone. Our hope and our salvation.
And not for nothing, elsewhere Paul tells us that God’s strength is perfected in human weakness. How is that not just about the best good news in the world? Look at me out here providing God so many opportunities for God to show off their perfect strength with all my petty weaknesses.
So if you have tried trying harder and it never works, take this to heart: the burden of addiction is exhausting. Brutally, mercilessly, exhausting. But Jesus didn’t say, come to me all who don’t need anything outside of themselves for comfort and meaning. He said, Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 28:28-29).
If you, like me, find that you don’t seem to have everything you need, it’s ok. You don’t actually have to show up to your healing with all your own supplies. What we lack we can always find in the storehouses of the divine. There are streams of mercy never ceasing. There is, in the heart of God, enough compassion when we have nothing but lack. When we cannot stop trying harder, God makes us lay down in green pastures. When we do not have what it takes, we still always and forever have the God that it takes. And God never tires of being called upon for help. It’s like, God’s job.
You can call out for help in the darkness of your own blackout, when the [will]power grid has once again gone down, and plug into a whole different power supply: endless, clean, renewable energy for the road ahead.
So, if you do not do what you want, but do the very thing you hate. If you can will what is right, but you cannot do it, please know this: you just need help. It’s ok. Because there is help to be had. And needing help is not a failure - the whole God-and-Human-thing is set up to work like that. And so is community. As my friend Nikki says, no one can do it for you and you cannot do it alone.
You are worth all the help you can get.
And your worthiness lies not in the strength of your will but in the unyielding determination of God's Divine Love which is simply too fierce to leave you unchanged.
Finding help with:
(these are just a few of the communities you can reach out to for help)
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