My step-brother George passed away on Wednesday, December 17, 2014. He was born just short of being exactly 3-years-to-the-day older than me, making him 64 at the time.
George and I were not particularly close and had little in the way of common interests, though he helped Tess and me immensely by performing our home inspection before we purchased our house as well as working with me to move in the washer and dryer that our parents gave us.
My mom and step-dad met and married in the mid-1980s while in their 60s after my birth father died of his final heart attack in January 1980, so George and I never even lived in the same city during the ensuing 30+ years — in fact it was not until early in the first decade of this century that I first laid eyes on the man. Just before he died, I estimated that we had physically been in the same room for less than 24 hours during our entire lives.
Regardless of how little we interacted, I regarded him as good man, a heck of a nice guy actually, generous with his time and labor. The Jewish term mensch would be entirely accurate. Though he could be a bit taciturn at times, once you got him talking, George was generally fun to be around, with a lively sense of humor and a dry wit. I already miss his wisecracks delivered in that deep gravelly voice of his.
The obituary I wrote on my step-dad’s behalf was published in various regional newspapers and is quoted here:
George (last name omitted), born 10/16/1950 in Dover, NJ, died 12/17/2014 in the Prescott VA Hospital, of kidney failure. George was a talented carpenter and mechanic who worked in various construction-related jobs for most of his life. Prior to that, he was a decorated single-tour Vietnam veteran who spent the balance of his 4-year enlistment in then-West-Germany. He was a generous man who liked everyone until proven otherwise, had a firm handshake for everyone he greeted, and was given to helping people who were down on their luck, often at great cost to himself. George is survived by his father, Ronald (last name omitted), his stepmother Celia (last name omitted), his stepbrother Steve Willis, and his cousin Patricia (last name omitted), all residents of Prescott Valley.
Had the obituary told the real story, the whole truth, it would have read something far more like this:
George (last name omitted), born 10/16/1950 in Dover, NJ, died 12/17/2014 in the Prescott VA Hospital, of alcoholism-related kidney and heart failure. George was a talented carpenter and mechanic who worked in various construction-related jobs for most of his life. Prior to that, he was a decorated single-tour Vietnam veteran who spent the balance of his 4-year enlistment in then-West-Germany. Because of his Vietnam-induced PTSD and exposure to Agent Orange, the death of his 2 younger sisters in a car accident, and his mother’s grief-stricken suicide resulting from that tragedy, he carried a tremendous load of emotional pain as well as several chronic ailments. Because the men in his family never admit pain — much less their feelings — and always tough things out, he never sought help for any of these issues; instead he medicated his pain with an addiction to alcohol. While at one point he sought assistance with his alcoholism through AA, he eventually relapsed and his addiction ultimately killed him.
He was a generous man who liked everyone until proven otherwise, had a firm handshake for everyone he greeted, but kept picking losers for wives who then poisoned their children against him after the marriages dissolved. One of them, a gambling addict, kept him in trouble with the IRS and in constant financial straits for years despite George’s successes in the workplace.
George’s codependent rescuing of irresponsible slackers constantly drained his remaining finances and wrought an even greater emotional toll on him when his generosity was trod underfoot, unappreciated.
Eventually, a “perfect-storm” of alcohol poisoning, failed marriages, and freeloaders took their toll and killed him — though not immediately. In the end, it would have been far kinder if the antagonists in this tragedy had simply pulled out a gun and murdered him. Had they done so, his antagonists would also have received a just recompense in this life by suffering life imprisonment or the death penalty — under the circumstances that actually transpired, however, their comeuppance will take place in the next life before a Judge whose judgment is faithful and true, a Judge Who know our hearts and minds and cannot be conned or manipulated.
The actual events that triggered his eventual demise occurred as follows:
- About 4 years ago, George had taken in one of his ex-wives as well as a down-and-out auto mechanic, allowing them to stay rent-free at his home in Kingman, Arizona.
- One weekend, he and the mechanic drove from Kingman to one of his daughters’ house in Northern California to bring back a decrepit boat the daughter was dumping on her father.
- While he was gone, the ex-wife invited her daughter over, someone George had been a father-figure to. They then emptied his house of all his earthly possessions and had a garage sale in his front yard so they could pocket the proceeds.
- After he came home early and discovered this travesty-in-progress — evidently heartbroken — he went out and purchased a half-gallon of vodka and tried to drink it all at one sitting in his pickup truck outside his house.
- Mid-binge, he had a heart attack and — the story gets murky here — there is a question of exactly when and how fast the freeloading mechanic discovered George, got his own head out of his rear, called 911, and got the paramedics on the scene.
- By the time they got there, however, George had gone too long without blood flow and had suffered irreversible brain damage that destroyed his short term memory.
- From then on, he was 100% disabled, unable to pursue his trade or even take care of his most basic needs, requiring 24/7 nursing care.
- Over the ensuing 4 years, his body started shutting down, first through a subsequent heart attack, then total kidney failure. Thereafter, he required 3-times-weekly dialysis treatments and became totally incontinent, having to wear diapers to control his waste.
- At first he was cared for by his cousin Patty, a retired hospice worker, but as his health continued to deteriorate, he became too much for her to handle alone and George was thereafter in and out of rest homes and the regional VA hospital until he was finally admitted to the VA hospital’s rest home in Prescott, Arizona, never to leave.
- Finally, his quality of life at a nadir and with no hope of any improvement in sight, George decided to die and started refusing dialysis.
- Once that decision was made, the end was inevitable and George quietly passed away in a morphine-induced stupor a couple of weeks later.
During all this time, not a single one of his children, step-children, or grandchildren came forward to express any interest in George or his situation other than what possible financial benefit they might obtain from his condition. Because of this, they had to be denied contact with him for the duration of his remaining time on this earth to preclude their abuse of George’s mental condition.
While his step-brother Steve and Steve’s wife Tess had prayed for George and tried to minister salvation to him on and off during this time, George’s inability to remember recent events meant that any significant ministry was totally crippled and George’s eternal destiny is still an open question this side of eternity, though they hope and pray that the prayer he prayed towards the end “took” and that he is now with Jesus. They were the last family members to see him alive as they read Scriptures aloud and prayed over him only a half-hour or so prior to his death.
George is survived by his father, Ronald (last name omitted), his stepmother Celia (last name omitted), his stepbrother Steve Willis, and his cousin Patricia (last name omitted), all residents of Prescott Valley, not to mention two avaricious ex-wives and their worthless offspring, location unknown.
There will be no memorial service.
What a heart-breaking tale! If I didn’t know that everything I just wrote is absolutely factual, I would expect to have found it as a tragic backstory for a character in some novel or movie.
Why did I write about all this? Simple: every person on the planet is addicted to something or someone. We are either addicted to Jesus or we are addicted to something else! That something else runs the gamut from things as heinous and horrendous as serial murder, rape, and pedophilia ranging down through drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography all the way to smoking, serial relationships, workaholism, eating disorders, codependency, and the arrogance that we can make it to heaven by our own good works apart from Christ.
What is an Addiction?
The dictionary defines “addiction” as “being abnormally tolerant to and dependent upon something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming,” while mental health professionals classify addictions as “abnormal compulsive behaviors.” When we look at the term “compulsion,” we find it’s defined as “an urge to do something that would be better left undone” and “an irrational motive for performing repetitive actions against your will.” Often paired with the term “compulsion” is the word “obsession,” which is defined as “an unhealthy and compulsive pre-occupation with something or someone.” So now we can synthesize all of these into one definition:
- an abnormal, unhealthy, irrational, repetitive, habitual, pre-occupation with, and dependency upon, a behavior or substance, a dependency over which the addict no longer has control and would definitely be better off without.
Let me take this opportunity to say for the record that not every addiction is linked to a behavior that is definitively and inherently evil from a biblical viewpoint. In other words, a person can be addicted to anything. Aside from the “classic” addictions, such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, smoking, and sex, there are people who are literally addicted to sports, dating, food, work, cars, fishing, TV, movies, the Internet, even the ministry. Believe it or not, I personally knew a bipolar woman in Tulsa who was actually addicted to being a foster-mom for abused infants.
I’ve already compiled an extensive list of addictions in a previous article, so I will not reinvent that wheel here.
The Nature of Addictions
Awhile back, a former pastor of mine, an expert in addictions and a recovered addict himself, presented us with a checklist that describes the nature of all addictions and I will share it here.
Primary means that any addiction is the #1 problem a person can have. Everything else on the list of what the person needs in the way of treatment for other conditions is always topped by the need to get them sober from their drug of choice. Why? Because in most instances, many of the health problems are by-products of the addiction itself.
In other words, if you deal with the addiction, oftentimes the other problems will go away without further treatment. For example, many food addicts are also Type II diabetics. Cure their eating addiction and many times the diabetes will disappear and require no further medication.
The bottom line here is that you can treat the secondary symptoms until you are blue in the face, but until you deal with the addiction, you are simply trying to put out a forest fire by peeing on it!
This means all addictions get worse over time— never better. Alcoholics need more and more booze to get drunk. Drug addicts need more and more of their favorite drug — or they have to switch to a stronger drug — to get high. Sex addicts deteriorate from pornography to sexual misbehavior to sexual perversion to sex crimes. Workaholics need greater and greater levels of accomplishment and their resulting rewards. Codependent abuse victims go from bad abusive relationships to steadily worse and worse ones. And so on and so on.
When addicts get sober and then relapse some time later, they never go back to the starting level of their addiction —they always relapse right at the level they were at when they stopped.
For example, let’s take an alcoholic who got sober after experiencing blackouts and repeatedly landing in the hospital emergency room; once he relapses, he doesn’t go back to merely hoisting a few after work with his buddies like he did when he first began his addiction. Instead, he picks up right where he left off with blackouts and ER visits. We see an excellent example of this in the character of Deacon Clayborne, portrayed by Charles Esten in the ABC-TV series Nashville.
By this we mean that addictions persist for a long period of time, are resistant to treatment, and difficult to eradicate. Anyone who has ever had to overcome an addiction will attest to this fact. It ain’t easy! And only a self-righteous idiot would say otherwise!
There simply are no hard and fast rules about what kinds of emotional trauma and other stimuli produce a given type of addiction. While you will often hear the term “drug of choice” bandied about by various folks in the recovery community (myself included), truth be told, the reverse is actually more accurate: in most cases, the “drug” tends to choose the addict.
Some are logical for the abuse/trauma the addict has experienced — sex addicts were almost always sexually abused as children, for example, even if that abuse was as seemingly innocuous as exposure to their father’s Playboy magazines. Alcoholics are frequently children of one or more alcoholic parents. Workaholics can get their addiction from either poor self worth caused by verbal abuse from one or more significant parental figures/caregivers, a background of abject poverty, or — such as in my wife’s case — both.
Compounding this is the existence of genetically-based addictions. What I mean by this is that some addicts are genetically susceptible and pre-disposed to be addicted to their particular “drug.” I personally know of at least 2 cases where people tried alcoholic beverages as children and were hopelessly addicted to alcohol from that moment forward. One of the only valid cases made by teetotalers for a total abstinence from alcohol is that, if you refuse to imbibe, you’ll never have occasion to discover if you are a “genetic alcoholic,” and accordingly you’ll never have to recover from the accompanying addiction, thus saving you a lifetime of heartbreak. If you have never imbibed alcohol in your life, their rationale is logically sound and a point definitely worth considering.
Another aspect of this “selective” issue comes from the spirit realm. I have said repeatedly here at Miscellaneous Ramblings and elsewhere that we never sin in a vacuum. What I mean by this is that death is always the result of sin and every time we violate God’s commands — even in the privacy of our own home with no one else present — we have started a chain of death events that will ripple away from us to affect every member of our family! When God said in Exodus that He would visit the sins of the fathers onto the third and fourth generation of those that hated Him (aka the “generational curse”), He wasn’t just talking to hear the sound of His own voice, so you dads who think you’ve got your porn addiction perfectly concealed will find that your children and their children will almost certainly start acting out in sexually inappropriate ways without either you or them understanding why.
Thankfully, if we truly repent before things have gone very far, God’s mercy can often abort that process. If not, however, we are perpetuating a Pandora’s Box of harm on our children! And, for the record, the blood of Jesus is more than enough to overcome any such curse inherited from our own parents, so we as believers have the ability to break that generational curse within ourselves and our families.
By this, we mean that addictions affect every aspect of our being: spirit, soul, and body — no addiction affects just one or two; they consume every part of us like a cancer! They interfere with our walk with God, they corrupt our reasoning processes, wreak havoc on our relationships, and they destroy our bodies.
This means just what you think. Every addiction will kill you, period. Or at least if it doesn’t kill your body, it will kill your mind and/or your relationships with God and/or your wife and/or your kids and/or your extended family and/or your business partners/co-workers and/or your church and/or your community and/or society at large.
Even the seemingly innocuous addictions such as workaholism will do you in if left untreated — remember all those news articles we see in magazines and on TV about how stress will kill you? Who has ever seen or heard of a workaholic who wasn’t obsessively driven and very tightly wound?
At last, some Good News! Every addiction is curable without exception. Some are harder to overcome than others, but none are incurable and beyond hope. As our Lord once said:
If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes. John 9:23
There is not an addiction on this planet that cannot be cured by the love, grace, and power of God!
Medicating Our Pain
Addiction is a complex issue with factors that almost always defy classification into hard-and-fast rules without exceptions. That being said, there are general principles that we can apply when describing and analyzing why someone initially becomes an addict and how their addiction maintains its iron grip on the addict.
As I have just covered, some people have a genetic predisposition to being an addict to their particular “drug.” They have something very closely akin to an allergy that causes them to be addicted, but instead of hives, bronchial swelling, and other allergic symptoms, they cannot stop seeking chronic exposure to that particular substance or behavior. In recovery circles, this is called “the disease model” and for some addicts, this is spot on.
But for the rest of the addicts on the planet? Not so much!
Regardless of whether someone is genetically wired to be an addict or not, is also a proven fact that all addicts use their “drug of choice” to medicate/escape pain. Pain is caused by some sort of injury, whether that injury is emotional or physical in nature.
Physical pain is the easiest one to explain. Someone gets physically injured or ill, has severe or chronic pain, is prescribed painkillers, and then becomes physically and/or psychologically addicted to them. However, often that selfsame painkiller can deaden emotional pain that was not being medicated prior to the physical injury/condition. So what started out as a purely physical issue now adds an emotional component that went undetected and undiagnosed prior to the physical injury.
For example, more than a few veterans of the Civil War and World War I initially became opiate addicts due to their physical wounds — morphine was and is to this day a standard combat medication for the severely wounded. Those vets found that same drug also deadened the emotional pain, grief, and the symptoms of then-unknown-and-unheard-of PTSD they acquired from having witnessed the terror and horrors of those gruesome wars. And that’s just two wars out of many!
Because of the ways our minds and emotions tend to work, especially during our childhood, emotional pain is much harder to explain, diagnose, and remove. So how do we receive the emotional damage that causes this hidden pain?
Unmet basic human needs.
4 Basic Human Needs
We all have basic human needs. They are:
- Love: We all are born with a hunger to be unconditionally loved and accepted for who we are as we are.
- Security: We all need to feel safe from danger and violence.
- Worth: We all have the need to feel that someone regards us as precious and valuable.
While these two terms at first glance seem to be identical in meaning, in truth they are significantly different. Case-in-point: a lock of your baby’s hair would be precious to you personally, but it has zero value to anyone else. A barrel of oil is valuable to many, but no one would consider it to be precious to them.
- Significance: Finally, we need to feel we have a purpose on this earth — a destiny, if you will — and the world is a better place because we are in it.
We were born with these needs because God created us that way. He is a relational God Who built those needs into us because He wants us to look to Him for their fulfillment, for us to be 100% dependent upon Him. Why?
Because He is the only Person in the universe qualified to meet them perfectly!
The primary channels He uses to meet those needs are our relationships with our parents and other people who care for us over the years.
- We fathers are given the vital responsibility of modeling His behaviors and attitudes towards our own children so that, as they mature into adulthood, they know how to properly relate to their Heavenly Father. We also provide crucial self-image information to our sons by reinforcing that they have what it takes to be a man. By modeling healthy and godly male love for our daughters, they feel valued and beautiful.
When this vital role-modeling is removed from a child’s life through a father’s absence (divorce, death, extended military tours, outright abandonment, etc.), the child is left with the unenviable task of finding someone else to fulfill that role. This is the true tragedy of the single-motherhood epidemic facing our society today. Examples abound of young women driven into the arms of predatory men who take advantage of their love-starved state to serve their own own selfish sexual desires. Similar complications arise with children being raised by two homosexual/lesbian parents.
- It is our mothers who teach us how to attach and bond to others, so our needs for human relationships are met, as well.
This is also why it is crucial for we Christ-followers to defend the traditional institution of heterosexual marriage. No other marriage paradigm meets the emotional and developmental needs of children of both genders.
This is the ideal, the behavior of perfect parents. But no one experiences that ideal!
Because of humankind’s innate selfishness (aka sin), we are all imperfect, hurting people raised by imperfect, hurting people living in a sinful world ruled by psychopathically evil spiritual forces bent upon our destruction and ruin. Because of this, we are all members of dysfunctional families. There is no such thing as a non-dysfunctional family — there are only families found somewhere on a continuum between greater and lesser amounts of dysfunction.
We all grow up thinking our families are “normal” simply because that is what we are used to. I cluelessly thought my family was normal until well into my 40s (slow learner, I guess! 🙂 ). It was only after starting my own recovery journey — and soon after, entering into one of my ministry callings as a counselor — that I finally discovered through those processes how my family was nowhere near the idealized concept of “normal!”
Not only do we have our parent’s and our own general human failings and emotional baggage to deal with, but traumatic events beyond our control also conspire against us as well, making the problem worse by throwing us curve balls for which we are rarely prepared emotionally or spiritually.
Here are some general categories of such trauma:
- Abuse & Neglect: I lumped these two together because they, with rare exception, always occur together. Truth be told, they are simply opposite sides of the same coin: abuse is active, neglect is passive.
Abuse can come in several forms: physical (beatings), sexual (rape, molestation, or incest), and verbal/emotional (devaluing/rejecting language/behavior). They almost always occur in some combination thereof. This can be inflicted by parents, siblings, members of our extended family, teachers/coaches and other authority figures outside the family, as well as schoolmates, teammates, and other peer groups.
Neglect is the intentional or unintentional withholding of care: physical (food, clothing, health care) or emotional (the primary caregivers are withdrawn and emotionally unavailable due to their own addictions, codependency, careers, death, or other reasons).
As human beings with an inherited racial memory of the perfection we once enjoyed in the Garden of Eden, we have an instinctual boundary which tells us, even as helpless infants, that we aren’t supposed to be abused, neglected, or abandoned. In other words, we know deep down inside ourselves — without having to be taught — that something is desperately wrong. It is important to note how in the case of the protracted illness and/or death of a parent — even when that illness was incurable or the death was not preventable — it impacts a child emotionally in the same way as if the parent was a self-absorbed workaholic who was never home because of “work.”
- Disasters: These can be generally categorized under the headings of family, personal, social, natural, and political.
- A family disaster can be something along the lines of the death or major illness of a parent or sibling or other significant family member, a divorce, a severe financial reversal caused by layoffs or parental physical/mental illness/addiction, homelessness, being victims of a crime, having a parent or sibling arrested/convicted for a crime, etc.
- Personal disasters can be things like our experiencing a prolonged illness, a serious accident, etc.
- Social disasters include things like rejection or bullying by kids at school or in the neighborhood.
- Natural disasters are the catastrophic loss of loved ones, pets, home, and/or personal belongings due to an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, avalanche, flood, etc.
- Some disasters are political, such as being a victim of — or a soldier in — a war. Another example would be being a member of a suppressed minority group or the victim of ethnic cleansings, such as Germany’s Holocaust, China’s Cultural Revolution, or the genocides that took place under Pol Pot and the Kmer Rouge in Cambodia, in Rwanda during 1995 or the religious persecution suffered by non-Muslims — especially Christians — throughout the Muslim-dominated regions of the world (the Armenian Genocide immediately comes to mind).
Regardless of what category or source, a disaster is something that comes from outside ourselves. Because they are almost always outside of our control to deflect or avoid, they make us feel helpless and victimized.
- Brain Disorders & Learning Disabilities: This covers such things as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Bipolar Disorder, schizophrenia, and everything else contained in the DSM-IV, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed. Learning disabilities includes dyslexia, and a host of others far too numerous to list here. Other examples include traumatic brain damage (TBD) resulting from accidents, illnesses, and combat. These can instantaneously or progressively leave a person with reduced intellectual and/or cognitive capacity resulting in a diminished ability to process information and/or stress.
In such situations, the emotional damage is rarely caused by the disorder itself. Usually the damage is caused by the rejection and social stigmas associated with the disorder remaining undiagnosed and/or untreated and/or misunderstood.
- A woman who is being beaten consistently by her husband or boyfriend will make excuses for him by minimizing the frequency and/or severity of those beatings, often blaming herself for them because of the verbal abuse that accompanies the physical.
- A professing Christian woman will disobey God and marry a non-believing husband under the delusion that she can get him saved after the fact. This usually springs from a desperation born of a poor self-image telling the woman she cannot do any better, or her becoming impatient with God and wresting the relational reins of her life from His to alleviate her loneliness.
- Children of addicts often blame the family’s dysfunction on themselves, being deluded that it is their own misbehavior or poor grades or whatever is causing their parents’ drunkenness, violence, etc.
- Drug addicts will convince themselves they have it all under control and can walk away from their addiction at any time despite the reality of a hundreds-of-dollars-per-day habit
- doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
- The addict surrenders to reality and seeks help to overcome their addiction, or;
- The addict gives in to despair and then indulges in deliberately self-destructive behaviors, up to and including suicide.
My own sexual addiction arose out of one or more incidents of unremembered sexual molestation at an extremely early age. Some of my oldest memories as a toddler can only be described as sexually oriented when looking back on them as an adult possessing the skills to properly analyze them.
For example, in my own case I’ve had ADD my entire life and remained undiagnosed until I was 40. As a child, I suffered a great deal of rejection from my parents and teachers with words like “Why can’t you behave yourself and pay attention like all the other kids?” as well as bullying from the kids who modeled their attitudes towards me after our teachers. My own addiction was greatly compounded by this type of rejection as well as other factors.
So what is the result of such damage? The primary one is emotional pain, followed by depression and anger.
The inevitable result of such trauma is the establishment of a “stronghold.” Strongholds are our instinctive response to damage, designed to prevent further pain. In other words, once we discover the world is a dangerous place out there, we instinctively take both conscious and subconscious steps to protect ourselves from further damage.
The primary danger from strongholds is found in the word “isolation.” As we vainly attempt to isolate ourselves from danger, we also wall out God and other people. And that is far more dangerous than the original threat we are running from because God created us to be relational beings, attached to others in significant and intimate relationships.
A stronghold could be described as a “lie with a wall around it.” That lie is supplied by the devil who wants to destroy us. Our sinful flesh then builds a wall around that lie, defending our right to believe it.
Because our stronghold’s defenses are based upon a lie, rather than the Truth, and because we are limited by our imperfect and sinful flesh, strongholds never work. And in our self-sufficient ways before God, rather than give up our strongholds when they fail, we delude ourselves into thinking that we can reinforce and strengthen our strongholds until they will work (denial and magical thinking).
We’ll delve into denial in depth in a bit, but let me first define here the concept of “magical thinking.” This term is defined as our drawing conclusions and making decisions based on pure fantasy. Magical thinking is a way for an addict or codependent to create an acceptable reality in their mind that justifies their completely irrational behavior. Here are four examples:
And you could fill the Library of Congress with the variations of these four as well as a host of others. All of them share the same characteristic: an absolute belief in “facts not in evidence” as lawyers say and then making colossally irrational decisions based upon those fantasies.
A Warped World-View
Another problem with strongholds is that they warp our frame-of-reference — our world-view — by means of the lie it’s built on. It becomes a filter through which we view reality, distorting our perceptions about the world, God, other people, and ourselves.
For example, imagine looking at a stop sign through a red lens. If the red lens was the same shade of red as the stop sign, you would never see the word “STOP” on the sign — all you would see is a red octagon with no words.
For a more down-to-the-point example, many women who have been sexually molested by their fathers usually believe the lie that, “all males are bad” and they are also likely to believe a related lie, “God is male, therefore, He cannot be trusted, either.” It is interesting to note that a significant number of lesbians are also victims of incest and/or molestation. When you see these lies upon which their strongholds are founded, it is no wonder that they can be among the most difficult groups to minister the love of God to.
My ex-wife found that her former legalism was based on a stronghold of magical thinking. She had been warned repeatedly as a child not to walk on top of a particular wall at her grandparents’ house. When she disobeyed, then fell off and hurt herself, and was scolded for it, she drew the following false conclusion: “If I always obey the rules, I will never get hurt” (magical thinking). As life went on and events challenged this lie, she built higher and higher walls around it (it became a stronghold) to defend and justify her right to be legalistic.
Vainly Trying to Remove The Pain
So what does the addict do in response to this damage and the resulting emotional pain, depression, and anger that follows? The same thing that we all do when we feel pain: we are driven to remove it.
What is the biblical method for emotional pain removal? We turn to our loving Savior, who by the power of His Spirit, comforts us, heals us, and restores us:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the foreigner shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But you shall be named the priests of the Lord, they shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory you shall boast. Instead of your shame you shall have double honor, and instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be theirs. Isaiah 61:1-7
But a child or an unredeemed adult doesn’t know this yet. So, rather than turning to God for healing, addicts resort to their own fleshly solutions to medicate their pain. It’s like having a gaping wound that requires stitches, but instead of seeking medical attention from the great Physician, they try to “fix” themselves with aspirin and a Band-aid.
Guilt & Shame
Through their indulgence in this self-centered behavior, the addict receives some degree of relief. The pain recedes to a tolerable level, but only for a brief time. The problem is that this relief has been obtained through sin, rather than through the healing touch of a loving Savior.
So what is the natural feeling we experience when we sin? Guilt and shame, of course! This compounds the addict’s problem because he/she still retains the original pain but now adds guilt and shame on top of that, thus magnifying the pain even more. Our self-sufficiency once again turns us back to our own fleshly solutions, rather than to the Source of forgiveness and healing, so we medicate again. And again. And again. And again… Now the addict is fully enslaved by the addictive cycle aka “the Law of Sin & Death.”
Because the guilt and shame multiply as the addict spirals downward, the pain increases, therefore the “dose” of medication required for relief also increases. This is why addictions get progressively worse over time, because more and more of a “fix” is required. It is why alcoholics who start off as social drinkers end up as homeless winos and recreational marijuana users end up as meth addicts.
The Bible deals extensively with addictions under another name: idolatry. An addict turns from the One True Living God, the only Healer of our souls, and seeks solace from other “gods” to deliver him/her from the pain. Unfortunately for the addict, simple repentance is not the total solution. While the addict has chosen a particular sin to serve as their medication, that “idol” has turned the tables and addict is now in bondage to it as a “slave of sin.”
So addicts worship and serve only one god: their addiction(s). And they will sink to any depth to feed that addiction. They will go to bizarre lengths, compromise every standard they hold dear (lying, cheating, stealing, etc.), and take amazing risks to get their fix. And they will proclaim to one and all that there is a “line” somewhere that they will not cross — then, when the line is reached, they will zoom over that boundary like it was never there because their addiction is in charge, not them. I recall hearing one tragic case where a female crack addict would daily drop her toddler daughter off at a child pornographer to obtain money for her next fix.
Addicts are on a long toboggan ride to both a personal and eternal hell and there are no brakes on the sled — it just keeps accelerating faster and faster.
On top of all that, God — our only true Defense, Rock, and High Tower — now becomes our enemy (God opposes the proud…), rather than the Source of love, grace, and mercy He so longs to be for us if we would do things His way (…but gives grace to the humble).
As the guilt and shame build, the addict act outs again, and again, and again, with the guilt and shame constantly building. As the addiction gets worse and worse, the addict keeps going back to the same behaviors over and over again seeking relief, but never finding any permanency in it.
The addict becomes insane.
Here’s the applicable Bible passage:
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.— Galatians 6:7-8
The insanity here is that the addict is sowing to the flesh and reaping corruption, all the while expecting life and peace. As the saying goes, “What planet does that make sense on?”
After a few times around the downward spiral of an addiction, a transformation gradually — but inevitably and inexorably — takes place in the addict: their shame turns toxic. This means that the addict no longer sees him-/herself as a normal, fallible, indeed sinful human being, but begins to view him-/herself as irredeemably evil. Thus, we have worthlessness and hopelessness compounding the existing — and already deadly — brew of pain, guilt, and shame. So now the addict not only knows that he/she is a sinner, but now feels that there is no hope of redemption or deliverance, believing Satan’s lie of “God hates you! Why would God or anyone else want to help such a worthless and evil specimen as yourself, anyway? You are beyond redemption!”
Pharaoh & Cleopatra: King & Queen of Denial
Try to talk with an addict about his addiction in the midst of him/her being in the grip of it and you will run into a multilayered network of falsehoods the addict uses to justify and/or excuse their addiction, both in their own mind and to others. This interwoven fabric of lies, delusions, magical thinking, rationalizations, and excuses can be summed up in one word: denial.
Denial is what keeps the addict from facing reality.
Denial is used to “explain” or justify why the addiction is OK, harmless to self and/or others, desirable, necessary, or why the consequences of their addiction were actually caused by external factors beyond their control, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam to anyone who cares to listen. (e.g., “I only drink socially — I’m not an alcoholic!” or “I can stop smoking any time I want to!”) During this phase prior to their admission of addiction, they are known as “happy users” because they are in denial of their pain, their need for change, and their helplessness in overcoming from their addiction(s).
They will therefore concoct excuse after reason after justification after exaggeration after lie to portray themselves as blameless. For example, when addicts lose their job or go through a series of jobs due to their addiction, it is virtually certain they will blame external factors to explain away their employment failures to themselves and others: bad management, a hostile supervisor, jealous coworkers, a bad economy, unreasonable work quotas and/or hours, and other negative circumstances.
In other words, as we try to minister to addicts and reveal the lies upon which their strongholds are founded so that they will get free, they defend their right to believe those lies using denial to rebuff our attempts. The power of denial over addicts is only broken when they are forced to unblinkingly face harsh, inescapable reality. While every addiction is unique because every addict is a unique individual, there are generally only two methods of breaking denial: 1) an intervention, and; 2) the addict “hitting bottom.”
Hitting Rock Bottom
This downward cycle continues until the addict reaches a point of despair. The recovery community calls this “hitting the wall” or “hitting rock bottom.”
This is the point in time where all the magical thinking, denials, and justifications with which addicts delude themselves are recognized for what they really are: lies. This means that for whatever reason/cause, the addict comes to his senses in a moment of clarity and realizes that he is hopelessly in the grip of this monster and desperately needs help.
The “direness” of such a moment is on a continuum ranging from simply waking up one day having a revelation of this by the Holy Spirit to having a near-death experience due to the addiction, with the death of a loved one, losing one’s family to divorce, being jailed/imprisoned, losing one’s job/career, becoming homeless, being publicly humiliated, etc. filling in the center.
Sometimes this crucial moment can be artificially arranged through what is called an “intervention.” An intervention is a meeting with the addict attended by the addict’s family, friends, and/or business associates and coworkers, as well as a counselor where each of the individuals present share how much they love and care for the addict, how the addict’s addiction and associated bad behaviors have negatively impacted their lives, and then impress upon the addict the need to enter recovery/rehab.
It is crucial for a counselor or other addiction expert prepare those who will participate in an intervention on what to say and how to say it during an intervention. Far more importantly, that also includes what not to say as well as how not to say it. Well-meaning, but angry/frustrated and/or hurt and/or judgmental attendees can end up making the addiction worse by heaping additional shame on the addict through saying the wrong things or saying them with anger/condemnation (see the following subhead), so this preparatory step cannot be safely skipped. Guilt-tripping/shaming an addict during an intervention is like trying to put out a bonfire by pouring a can of gasoline on it. As the old joke goes, “Many folks want to fight fire with fire. Experts use water.”
Occasionally, an intervention is all it takes. The addict enters a recovery program or rehab facility to receive the help he/she needs. But even if an intervention goes well, an addict’s denial may still be too strong to overcome.
In such cases, all that remains is the addict “hitting bottom” through the consequences of their own actions.
For example, the rock star David Crosby of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, & Nash renown was hopelessly addicted to heroin and cocaine despite repeated interventions, attempts at rehab, and various negative consequences of his addiction. His wall came when he was arrested, tried, and convicted of drug possession and weapons charges in Texas, a state that didn’t care one tiny bit about his fame and celebrity status. He was imprisoned for 9 months where he was able to finally dry out and kick his addiction. That being said, he was again arrested on weapons charges and possession of a small amount of marijuana in 2004, so his long-term sobriety is in question.
The Point of Despair
One of 2 things happens after an addict “hits the wall:”
This concludes our analysis of addictions and what addicts are up against. In my next article, we’ll discuss in depth how to get free.
Thanks for reading!