(Adapted from Wounds That Heal by Stephen Seamands, Chapter 5)
Recurring themes run through the stories of us all. We are certainly a fallen people that live in a fallen world. We sin. We are affected by the sins of others. The world system is evil. The Enemy of our souls seeks our destruction. And, yet, we are not without Hope.
These themes can be labeled as: 1) Compassion Deficits; 2) Behavioral Narcotics; 3) The Two Selves.
Compassion deficits result when compassion and unconditional love are in short supply especially during our early formative years. These deficits can be devastating; not being loved enough damages one’s soul. We somehow keep going, but how do we cope with the pain and emptiness? The answer is that we turn to “behavioral narcotics.” We rely on them as pain relievers for compassion deficits and anesthetics for a lack of unconditional love. For some, the narcotics are actual chemical substances like drugs or alcohol. But for many, the narcotics are not chemical at all but are “patterns and habits of behavior, relating, or coping. These include:
* Habits of workaholism – filling the mind so full of thoughts, dreams, and activities of success that there is little room left to feel pain caused by irrational, underlying feelings of inadequacy.
* Habits of control – constantly striving to maintain control of others, making their will the servants of our own, and binding the hands we secretly fear will strike us.
* Habits of people pleasing – constantly monitoring what others expect from us so that we can avoid the pain of their rejection by minimizing its likelihood, becoming in the process slaves of our servanthood.
* Habits of dependency – always surrendering our will to the will of another (even to God) for reasons of fear and self-diagnosed inadequacy, instead of enjoying the freedom to follow the advice of love.
* Habits of perfectionism – wearing the mask of perfection and rightness to cover inner turmoil and ambiguity.
* Habits of escape – taking emotional vacations from pain through the use of alcohol, drugs, or self-destructive patterns of pain-delaying behavior.
Such behavioral narcotics may temporarily deaden the pain of compassion deficits, but they can’t provide permanent relief because they don’t go to the heart of the problem. As false substitutes, they also keep us from experiencing love and intimacy.
Considering the “two selves,” there are always two “people” within us, and they are battling for occupancy. The false self and the true self vie for the throne of our lives. The false self wants to remain in control. Its antidote for the agony of compassion deficits is always the same: “Turn to behavioral narcotics you are familiar with, and at all costs, stay in control.” The true self, however, desires more. It wants to restore the rightful order and to assume its proper identity. When the true self reigns, love is king. Its rightful reign is the only true solution to compassion deficits and the substance abuse problem of behavioral narcotics.
To numb the pain of compassion deficits and find substitutes for unconditional love, many have fallen into unhealthy behavioral and relational habit patterns. In fact, for so many, these patterns assume a life of their own. When they become compulsive, unmanageable and out of control, we label them as addictions. Experts agree that significant compassion deficits resulting from an unhealthy family life and personal trauma are the root of addiction. During childhood, the needs for intimacy, identity, and adequacy are largely unmet. In fact, adult addicts have been described as “essentially children hiding out in grown-up bodies, hungrily seeking parents to love them unconditionally.”
Out of this addictive root, an addictive mindset develops, revolving around the core beliefs to which addicts usually subscribe:
* I am essentially a bad, worthless person and therefore undeserving of love.
* No one would love me if they really knew me.
* If I don’t meet my needs, they will never get met.
All three of these core beliefs directly contradict the Bible’s revelation of God’s evaluation of us. We are deeply loved by God. When at our worst – hostile, rebellious sinners – God loved us the most. Christ’s death on the cross demonstrates our inestimable worth to God and the extent of his love. And Paul boldly affirms in Philippians 4:19, “My God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
In addition to fostering an addictive mindset, compassion deficits also fuel anger. Behind the addict’s smiling face stands a person who is bitter and judgmental.
Prompted by their core beliefs and fueled by anger over unmet needs, addicts choose to listen to the voice of the false self. No longer do they depend on others to meet their needs, for when they have in the past, they felt powerless and out of control. Instead, they look out for themselves; they seek power and control by taking charge.
Lacking love and intimacy from significant others in their family, addicts turn to substitutes such as drugs, alcohol, spending, gambling, romance, work, food, or relationships to dull the pain and fill the void. At first these substitutes seem to work. They offer “relief” and a pleasurable “high.” They reinforce the lie, “I really don’t need anybody; I can take care of myself. I’m the master of the universe.”
Instead of depending on others or God to meet their needs, addicts learn to depend on their substitutes. Having turned to their substitutes for power and control, eventually they become enslaved to them and, ironically, once again stand powerless and out of control.
When does something that may have functioned as a behavioral narcotic turn into an addiction? The presence of the following characteristics indicates that a behavioral narcotic has become an addiction:
1. Tolerance. Addicts continually need more of the behavioral narcotic to feel satisfied. Their system develops a tolerance for the behavior or substance, thus diminishing its desired effect. Hence it takes more and more to get the pain relief or the pleasure they need.
2. Withdrawal symptoms. When addicts are deprived of their behavioral narcotic, their system responds in two ways. First, there is a physical and emotional stress reaction as the system cries out for the narcotic. Then there is a backlash reaction marked by the exact opposite symptoms of those caused by the addictive behavioral narcotic itself.
3. Self-deceptions. Addicts go to great lengths to justify their behavior and to convince themselves they are still in control. They are masters of mental trickery, adept at denial, rationalization and various other defense mechanisms.
4. Loss of willpower. Despite their firm resolutions, addicts can’t stop the addictive behavior because their will is divided. Although one part sincerely desires to quit, another part tenaciously clings to the addiction. Their determination to quit is always short-lived.
5. Distortion of attention. Addicts become so preoccupied with the object of their addiction, they are unable to fix their attention or love on anything else. The particular object has become their ultimate concern; it is their god. Idolatry is present in every addiction.
The litmus test for whether a person suffers from an addiction is the absence of freedom -when addictive desires and behaviors have become habitual and compulsive, enslaving the addict. Their wills are bound. They cannot stop. Having exchanged the truth for a lie, they have been given over to their addictive thoughts, their lust and desires, and the idolatry of their false gods (Romans 1:25-28).
Powerless – describes the addict best. By turning away from God and others and turning to substitutes for unconditional love, addicts hope to gain power and control over their lives. Yet in the end they are powerless, slaves to the very substitutes they thought would free them.
What does the Cross say to those shackled by the chains of addictions? First, we must admit we are powerless over our addictions. Jesus won victory over sin, death, and the devil by becoming powerless. He overcame not by launching an all-out frontal attack on his adversaries or by beating them at their own game but through the power of suffering love. He chose the way of forgiveness, not retaliation; meekness, not self-assertion. He took everything the powers of evil could throw at him yet remained free, uncontaminated, uncompromised. The devil could gain no hold on him and therefore had to concede defeat. Now the tables have been turned. Death is under His feet; so are the devil and all dark powers. “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive” (Ephesians 4:8).
We will never overcome our addiction until we realize and confess we are powerless. We are not in control; we are not the master of the universe. We can’t quit anytime we please. Our willpower is no match for the power of our addictions. The only power we have is the power to admit we are powerless. Only by confessing our absolute weakness will we find strength to overcome.
Pierre D’Harcourt, who was in the French underground during World War II, discovered this principle of power through powerlessness when he was captured by the Nazis. He was thrown into a prison and handcuffed to the iron frame of the bed. The first hour in his cell was one of the worst in his life. As he lay on his bed feeling utterly alone and hopeless, he turned his face to God and cried out for help.
Beneath everything, beyond everything, I felt myself humiliated and defeated. I knew I must make the gesture of complete humility by offering to God all that I had suffered. I must not only have the courage to accept the suffering He had sent me; I must also thank Him for it, for the opportunity He gave me to find at last His truth and love. Then the inspiration came to me to kiss the chains that held me prisoner, and with much difficulty I at last managed to do this. Once my lips touched the steel I was freed from the terror that possessed me. In the blackness of that night my faith gave me light.
To be set free from the bondage of addiction, we too must discover this liberating principle. Instead of fighting the chains of our addiction, let’s kiss them and acknowledge our powerlessness. We cannot deny or despair over it but must rather embrace it. Our honest acceptance is the first gigantic step on the path to freedom.
Next, in our powerlessness we must cry out to Jesus, for his strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Our powerlessness releases His power. The Lord can break the chains of our addictions. So we must call on Him to deliver us and give Him permission to do anything necessary to set us free.
Finally, in our powerlessness we must reach out to others for help. Make no mistake, achieving freedom from addiction will involve a long, difficult process. To break an addictive behavior cycle alone is a major accomplishment, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. We still must deal with an addictive mindset (the lies we have believed about ourselves) and an addictive root (our wounds and compassion deficits). A determined, personal commitment to change coupled with involvement with others in a recovery program and group support, individual counseling and spiritual disciplines (such as worship, bible study, prayer, meditation, service) are necessary to reach that goal.
My Lord, Jesus, I’m in trouble. I see no way out. I am miserable. I am held totally captive by _________________. It masters me, my life, and all I hold important and dear. It is destroying me and everything of value to me. I don’t understand all the complexity about how I got here, and I can’t honestly see a way to freedom. But, I know that You can somehow lead me to freedom and break the bondage I am in. I admit that I need You so much more than I have ever allowed myself to realize. I admit that I have let _________________ become my god. I am guilty of idolatry. I have turned to it instead of turning to You in the way You require. I admit I want to let go of ______________, and at the same time, I am scared to turn it loose. I can’t even say that I know how to trust You, nor that I really believe You will supply all my needs. But, You are all that I have. You are my only Hope. You offer the only possibility of healing, health, holiness, freedom, and restoration for me. You, Lord, will have to give me the ability to trust you and exercise my faith in You. Make me willing for you to do anything that You know is necessary in my life to break this bondage. With fear and trembling, I do invite you and give you permission to have complete freedom to do whatever You have to do. Help me to trust in Your Goodness to do only what is right and best for me. Help me to even see Your Sovereignty and Wisdom in the way that you have allowed me to suffer with ____________________. Although I hate what I am experiencing, I give You thanks for the way you use even this terrible stuff in my life to make me the person You want me to be. Forgive me! Continue to cleanse me! Heal me! Restore me! Bring me to an end of myself so I can have a new, fresh beginning with You! Thank You, Lord Jesus!