Addiction and Pain
Sexual addiction nearly killed me. Because of the pain of childhood sexual abuse, I attached to the pleasure of masturbation. It didn’t take long for me to develop a pattern: any feeling of pain triggered a compulsion to seek sexual pleasure. This constant pre-occupation with sex brought a lot of shame. The shame drove me to strive to prove to others that I was okay. The perfect student, a competent worker, a self-righteous minister… these identities must be maintained to cover the shame. The exhaustion of maintaining these identities was pain which triggered more sexual activity. Finally, in exhaustion, I attempted suicide because I was just too tired to keep going. Sexual addiction nearly killed me.
Addiction begins because we seek balance in our lives. Picture a man in rural India bringing water from a nearby river. He has a bucket on the end of a pole and the pole over his shoulder. He finds it impossible to keep the water steady and in the bucket while walking back to the village because the bucket is weighing him down on one side, he is not in balance. The solution is to attach an equal size bucket to the other end of the pole creating balance.
In the same way, we seek emotional balance. If we experience some trauma, pain or wound, we naturally seek some positive emotion that is equal in intensity to the negative emotion of the trauma or pain. We may find that positive feeling in experimenting with drugs, drinking alcohol, throwing ourselves into work, eating ice cream, going on a shopping spree or acting out sexually. The source of our positive emotion will depend on what is available to us, what is a part of our world at the time and what is easily accessible. Because I had been sexually abused and knew the feeling of sexual climax, it was what I chose as my source of pleasure.
The power of the addiction finds its source in our need to be in balance emotionally. The pain that we have experienced drives us toward pleasure. Once we experience the pleasure, we attach ourselves to it. Whenever we are triggered by pain, we seek the positive feeling of our addiction. Very soon the pattern becomes almost involuntary and our attachment to the positive feeling keeps us going back for more. We have now developed an addiction.
It is important to mention here that this pattern is often driven chemically as well as emotionally. Because our emotions are affected by our hormones, the presence of alcohol, drugs or the adrenaline of a pleasurable experience can help us turn the corner from feeling depressed and down to feeling joyful and happy. We quickly learn what we must do to trigger this chemically induced “high”.
Since this attachment is the beginning of addiction, it is also the key to overcoming addiction. Some people attack their addiction by using accountability or “tough love” to help them stop whatever the addictive activity is. The problem with this approach is that it does not address what drives the addiction; the pain. In fact, the pain of giving up our addictive pattern usually makes our desire for our attachment even stronger. One of two things usually happens; either we go back to the addiction or we simply change to another attachment. I have seen alcoholics become chain smokers, chain smokers become over-eaters and over-eaters become gym rats! I can’t tell you how many times I promised to “quit” and how many other things I attached to in the process (affirmation, church, massage, food, etc.,).
True freedom from an addictive pattern can only be found when we effectively deal with the pain which lead to the initial attachment. Finding healing and resolution for our pain through therapy, forgiveness, and positive relationships can reduce the inner drive for the attachment to the source of our pleasure. We cannot change the events of our past which led to our pain, but we can learn to release the power of that pain so that it no longer drives us toward addiction. Going back to the picture of the man from India, if we can take some water out of the first bucket, we can reduce the need for the second bucket. This is true recovery.
Here is the good news, Jesus Christ came to give us life (John 10:10). He does this by “cleansing us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9) and “healing” us (Isaiah 53:5). He didn’t come to set up a system of rules and regulations (religion), He came to give us a whole new identity (II Corinthians 5:17) and walk with us as His children in relationship (Ephesians 1:3-5). In other words, Jesus came to empty the bucket of our pain and set us completely free from the burden we have been carrying! Jesus’ promise to use His truth to “set us free” (John 8:32) includes freedom from addiction!
This relationship with Jesus requires repentance (changing the way we think) and faith (believing a new truth). We must abandon all of our “self-effort” and “striving” to overcome the addiction and believe that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross forgives all of our sin and connects us to the Father (John 14:6) in a relationship of life!