Use of substances or practice of behaviors that bring about disproportionate and severely imbalanced amounts of immediate gratification and long term damage. Common substance addictions include Alcohol and Drugs including caffeine and nicotine. Behavioral addictions include Gambling, Pornography, Sex, Eating(or not eating), Video Games, TV Shows and other media, and exciting things such as sky diving, bungee jumping and launching one’s self from the roof of a warehouse in a shopping cart aiming for a small mattress with the intent of experiencing Adrenaline.
These are substances and behaviors that we can easily see and identify as harmful when done to excess(some when they are done at all.) The more interesting survey is of “healthy” things done addictively. Work. Art. Relationships. Exercise. Vain and insincere spiritual practices. Watching too much TV.
Addictions play a variety of roles in our lives. We use them to feel good. We use them to dull pain, physical or emotional. We use them to avoid challenges and take our minds off of real life. We use them to calm down or to cheer up. We use them for fun and because we’re bored. We sometimes use them because we know no other way to live.
May we be ever more mindful of the things we do to be unmindful.
Typically understood as the period of life following the cessation of the addictive item that was causing problems by its continued use.
This is a spiritual term that I include in this discussion because it’s part of my heritage and, hopefully, part of the heritages of some of my readers.
Repentance can be understood as “Turning and changing,” or no longer doing what you did before. In the Bible, repentance is frequently demanded of peoples and individuals. For example, the Israelites were frequently called to repent from idolatry and sometimes they would, but then they would relapse. I imagine this was frustrating for them.
This makes me wonder…is repentance, like abstinence, just about behavior?
If you repent of something out of fear or obligation, have you really repented?
Is repentance a one-time thing or, like recovery from addictions, is it a long process of maintaining your abstinence after you’ve repented?
One person can call another to repent of something, but how do they know if the repentance is genuine is all they can see are the behaviors?
How can one person mandate a change of heart in another person? It’s already difficult enough for a person to change their own heart!
Wait….isn’t abstinence the same as recovery? Isn’t it enough that I just stop the behavior?
Abstinence is not the same as recovery. Abstinence is about behavior. Recovery is about lifestyle. To maintain the abstinence from a behavior that you loved to do so much, you need to act different, think different, respond to feelings different, be in relationship different, take care of your body different, probably go different places, have different friends and do different things for fun.
Abstinence is the easy part. Anybody can abstain from anything for a designated amount of time given enough structure. Ask an incarcerated person. Abstinence, and even behavioral repentance, don’t really require you to change anything about yourself.
Recovery is transformative. Recovery changes how the mind things and how the heart loves. In recovery, you change values and perspectives and this leads to changing thoughts, actions, relationships, recreation, and even how you eat and sleep.
Recovery is a lot of work. I suspect this is why not as many people do it.
Change, Healing and Growth
What I’m getting at is that any process of growing and healing and changing must be about more than just visible behaviors. Especially where addictions and other harmful behaviors are involved. Everything you do starts with something you thought and all of your thoughts come out of your most genuine beliefs.
If you want to change yourself, you have to change what you belief.
If you want to see someone else change, you can force a behavior change, but they will only change their beliefs if they are willing.
Ultimately, God is the healer of hearts. Each person is on their own journey with God and each journey can end in healing and abundant life. But everybody’s journey is unique. Different pacing, different methods. This is why we should not ever try to standardize healing, spiritual growth or recovery from addictions. We can’t put God into a box. He tends to surprise us.
This is the part about action steps that people can take with other people. We need people because recovery, healing, growth and change cannot be sustained in solitude.
So then. How can we best support each other in our growth, particularly if addictions are involved?
The easy part is talking to each other about the behaviors. 12-step folks have this down to a finely tuned science. You get phone numbers and when you have using thoughts, you call someone and talk your way through the craving until you know you won’t relapse on the substance or behavior. In my professional and my personal life, I’ve observed how effective community can be in avoiding a behavior.
Addressing the cravings so as to avoid the behaviors is crucial, but not the whole picture.
If I reach out to a friend when I’m having a craving, I want them to also ask me what my emotions are. How is my body? What am I thinking about? What kind of day am I having? Is there conflict in any of my relationships? How did I sleep? Did I eat that day? Am I bored? Am I in a safe or risky space?
I want them to help me figure out how I got into that craving spot in the first place.
If I know that, then I will be better able to avoid a craving next time.
And if we should, over time, discover that I always have cravings after, say…fights with a partner…perhaps we might discover that the actual issue is not the behavior I’m trying to avoid…it’s the relationship.
But we wouldn’t learn that if all we cared about was the behavior.
Let us then run with courage the races that are set before us. Let us pursue the deepest understanding of God we can. Let us live in such a way as to honor God with our thoughts, bodies and behaviors. May we live free of addictions.
And let us be community and support to each other, standing with each other in difficult times, lifting each other up when we are weak, and celebrating when one of us has victory.
Create in us clean hearts, oh God…