kl1964 and I have been reading The Emotional Freedom Workbook. Right now we're reading the section on shame, and it's talking about addictions. I tend to read a lot of different sources on a topic and put bits of things together into something that makes sense for my life. This is an especially relevant thing for me to do in the area of addictions... On the surface, I don't have an addiction, at least not one that is measurable by official criteria. But what is an addiction, really, and how and why does it affect a person's life? And what does all this mean for me? This is something I want to explore in depth. I have a few little gems stored away that I can paste in here as starters, and hopefully I'll remember to revisit this in future entries.
From my journal, September 11, 1998
Today I read a little bit out of a book called "Addiction and Grace". I've never really thought about the actual concept of addiction with any amount of objectivity. I have always thought of it as a sort of stereotype, and a negative one at that. People who are addicted have problems, are "less healthy" than the "normal" person. But reading just this little bit gives me some food for thought. Addiction is the process of creating a habit out of something which gives pleasure. It is normally thought of as a negative thing, such as addiction to drugs, alcohol, unhealthy relationships, etc. I now understand why people use the phrase "addicted to Jesus".
The addiction process is described on page 56 as a process of forming an attachment to something that makes us feel pleasure. We form attachments all the time: attachments to parents, friends, people who influence us in positive ways. Sometimes we call these attachments "love". Sometimes we call them "friendship".
We also form attachments to objects and activities. We call these attachments things like "favorite colors," "favorite foods,""hobbies," "Routines"... These attachments are things we view as positives. We call our negative attachments things like "obsessions," "bad habits," "addictions..." But what is it that makes them "bad" or negative?
From my journal, December 30, 2003, slightly edited:
I've been thinking about addictive patterns a lot. It's not a new topic for me--I'm a psych major. I've looked at it from all kinds of angles: the genetic angle, the substance abuse model, blah blah blah. It keeps coming back to one thing. Addictive behavior is really about idols, and idols are about unmet needs for peace and safety. Some people have been suggesting that a friend of mine has a "cyber addiction." That upset me because I know what treatment for addiction means. It works the same whether it's a substance abuse problem or something else. It involves "detox" and steering clear of the problematic thing which means we don't talk because we only talk via email and MSN. That's a good starting place when the thing is destroying a person's life. But it doesn't solve the addiction problem. So what does? God does, and God knows all about addictions. "Don't get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit." I've actually been thinking about this for a while. In a way, I've had my own addictions--and yes, some of those addictions involve spending time with people. Interestingly, I've run across studies showing that wine use in moderation has some medical benefit. Obviously, so does time with people. Where is the line between choosing how I use my time and addiction/idolatry? Something Madeleine says in Penguins and Golden Calves comes to mind. "If it must be mine, it's an idol." Similarly, if I can't survive emotionally without it, it's an idol. America likes to call these things addictions; and we love to point out other people's addictions while nursing our own. One of the articles I have suggests that addiction is actually a normal problem but that there are "socially acceptable" addictions and levels of addiction.
A quote from Penguins and Golden Calves:
Too often we are tempted to turn and worship the icon, and that is idolatry. The golden calf of the Israelites In the wilderness is the prototypical idol, the man-made creature which was worshiped instead of the Creator, dead metal rather than Living Maker.
After the flight from Egypt, the amazing journey through the Red Sea, the long years of trekking towards the Promised Land, Moses was over-long talking with God, and the impatient and anxious people felt abandoned both by Moses and God. They said to Aaron, "Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him."
And Aaron (what was he thinking of? We would have expected better of him!) said unto them, "Break off the golden earrings, which are In the ears of your wives, and of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me." And Aaron melted down all the jewelry which was given him and made a golden calf, and "He built an altar before it."
Aaron and the people did what God had clearly forbidden: "They made a calf in Horeb, and worshiped the molten image. Thus they turned their glory into the similitude of a calf that eats hay" They tried to turn their idol into a god and of course it did not work; it never does.
And Moses, coming down from the mountain after talking with God, saw the golden calf and the people dancing around it, and he was furious, and told Aaron so in no uncertain terms. Aaron defended himself, explaining that the people wanted gods to go with them, and they didn't know where Moses was, so Aaron took their gold, and threw it into the fire, and "Out came this calf"! Rationalizing and alibi-ing, just as we still do today: Who, me? I had nothing to do with it. Out came this calf!
An icon does not have to be an idol. An icon should give us glimpses of our God who is both immanent and transcendent, knowable and unknowable. If an icon becomes more important to us than what it reveals of God, then it becomes a golden calf, but this does not need to happen.
Notes from my journal during a worship service at a retreat on February 6, 2004
Idols are about convenience. They're predictable, and it's easy to worship something predictable. It's hard to interact with a God who is living and active. I've had trouble with this because I have seen Him as an evaluator who only acts after He evaluates me. I see myself as having to earn His favor, even when I talk about His grace.
Notes from church service on July 4, 2004
With relationship comes access, and with intimacy comes influence. Hmm... God doesn't play favorites, but He has favorites. How do you become His favorite? By seeking Him.
He will test me to see if I am willing and obedient. It won't be fun. Testing isn't supposed to be fun or easy. It will cause me grief.
And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches
every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. (1 Chronicles 28:9)
Note: Solomon's mind was powerful. Study Ecclesiastes in relation to this passage.
God will touch the thing that I trust in the most so that I will trust in Him instead of an idol. Am I bold enough to ask Him to do that?
Repentance from dead works is becoming aware of His spirit until I want nothing else. Being in a place of repentance requires my faith and His authority.
From my journal after attending a Bible study class on August 27, 2004
We started class tonight with a passage (Ephesians 4:17-24):
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
He talked about the difference between sensuality and sensitivity. Sensuality is focused on what I experience (my feelings, sensations, etc.) Sensitivity is an awareness of what God is doing. ... It's not about me. This really comes down to three fundamental questions asked in the Foundation Stones book. Why does God love me? Who am I? What is my purpose in life?
Satan attacks in three areas of belief: the abundance of God, our freedom in Christ, and the goodness of God. This is my summary, and in the book he goes on to dissect the conversation with the serpent and Eve and show how each of these areas was attacked. That pattern holds true in my own temptations. I've also been thinking about something Sheila Walsh said in a 1991 seminar at Praise Gathering. Temptation is always in my greatest area of need. It isn't wrong for me to have needs, but I have to trust God to supply them rather than letting them take my focus from God. And that's exactly what I did. I made my relationships with people an idol.
Last week I wrote in response to my reading:
I have a tendency to think of dealing with addictions as just living without whatever it is I'm addicted to. That's part of the shame cycle, especially if a significant part of the shame has to do with convincing other people that I'm better--and it usually does. So I just live without the substance but don't deal with the underlying causes of the addictive behavior. It can usually work for a while, but then I run into a triggering situation again--or the shame itself can be triggering because I'm having to live without something that maybe I should be able to have in moderation and perhaps could have in moderation once those issues were dealt with, but I don't have the freedom to deal with the issues because my perception is that the people around me don't recognize the issues behind the addiction but only the addiction. So I go on burying the real problems and "treating" the perceived problems, and eventually the "treatment" fails because it was doomed from the start.
Now that I've written out that little gem, what am I addicted to? I honestly don't know right now... Part of me thinks that I'm somewhat addicted to talking to people: I've noticed that I absolutely hate quiet during the day, and I hate mindless noise like TV or radio unless I'm focused on something like writing. So when I'm not writing or reading, I must have someone to talk to. I'm making a more conscious effort to confront this, but it's very difficult for me and it hurts. I've been trying to choose to do at least one or two tasks during the day without trying to call someone, and it's very hard because it feels like I'm punishing myself. Then when I come in here and try to do something that addresses my spiritual life, the little bell goes off that says that God just wants me alone because He wants me all to Himself and He doesn't care how I feel. I know better, but I do know that He doesn't want me putting other people before Him and there are times when I do things alone that He puts neat thoughts in my head. By filling up my mind with other conversations, I'm blotting out any chance of Him speaking to me--and then I have the nerve to say He is ignoring me??? Yes, I do--and that's painful to realize.
I'm kind of reeling with this... I knew it was inside me, but I didn't realize it was so big. There's a bit more to it: things like my use of sleeping and working on projects to avoid any activity that I cannot tolerate doing without interpersonal interaction. The only time I can tolerate an activity like cleaning the house without interpersonal interaction is when it leads to some kind of goal, like having company or going on a trip. I can't do it "just for me," which is what my mom always suggests. Maybe that's disrespectful to myself, but mostly I think it's just a feeling of distaste for my aloneness and a feeling that doing something "just for me" is really just a reminder of how alone I am.
All of this leads me to some conclusions. I have some problems with putting things in my life before God... But more importantly, I have a problem with not trusting in God's goodness, provision, and love for me. These are the real issues I need to address. I can't address the problem simply by ceasing to put things before God. I have to address the problem by putting God first, and in doing that all other things will naturally fall into the places where they belong. There is a deep truth in the song, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus ... and the things of earth will grow strangely dim..." I have been trying to handle the problem by controlling the amount of time I spend on this or that... As Gandalf says to Bilbo in the Fellowship of the Ring, "You've still got the ring in your pocket."
I think it is fitting that I'm writing this today, although I am hesitant to put too much stock in this. Twenty-one years ago today, I was baptized... What a significant day for me to "return to my first love." Will I stick with it? I guess that is entirely up to me...