Understanding Addiction

 

Many experts teach that addiction begins with attachment.  The person attaches themselves                                                                                     to some substance, activity, person or feeling and, because of repetition, can’t break the                                                                                             attachment.  My own struggle with addiction and my counsel of hundreds of others who                                                                                           struggle has taught me that there is something deeper than attachment that drives addiction,                                                                                   need.  There is an inner craving that is not satisfied by the current lifestyle we are living.   Some                                                                               pain, negative feeling, difficult situation or relationship causes us to seek balance in something                                                                                 pleasurable, something that feels good.  This need to balance life is what drives us to the                                                                                           attachment.   

The object of our attachment is actually not the point at all; it is the need driving our                                                                                                   attachment that is the key to overcoming the addiction.  We can attach to alcohol, drugs, shopping, success, a spouse, a child, pornography, sex, exercise, food, etc.; the power of the addiction is related to the depth of the need not the object.  I have witnessed many people who are able to let go of a particular attachment but, since the need is not addressed at a deeper level, they simply move on to another attachment.  

Overcoming addiction, then, hinges upon our ability to understand this deeper need and find fulfillment. In order to understand this deeper need, we should ask ourselves the question, “What am I looking for?” or “What is it I am trying to get out of this addiction?”   Among the answer I have heard to that question are, “I just want to be happy,” or “I just want to enjoy life” or “I just want to be at peace.”  Happiness … enjoyment … peace.  The addictive pattern does bring all three of those… temporarily.  The problem is that the consequences of the addiction destroy happiness, enjoyment and peace!  The addiction provides an inadequate source for these three desires.  

At a deeper level than happiness, enjoyment and peace, we desire life.  Not just existence, but life to the fullest.  The message of Christianity is that Jesus Christ came into the world to rid the world of sin (John 1:29) and to give us life to the fullest (John 10:10).  Unfortunately, the church has focused on eternal life in heaven instead of on the possibility of experiencing life to the fullest, now.  I believe, and have experienced, the power of Christ to break my addictive pattern and allow me to experience life to the fullest.

How does Christ do this?  The need that drives our addiction is a need for balance.  We have experienced pain, rejection, feelings of inadequacy, failure, even abuse.  Our addiction is an attempt on our part to balance out these negative feelings with positive ones, something that makes us feel good, if even for the moment.  Christ came, not to balance out our negative feelings but to eradicate them and completely eliminate the need for the addiction.  When I make a faith decision to trust that Christ’s death on the cross was for me, I become a new person (II Corinthians 5:17).  This new person has a new identity.  I am no longer defined by my wounds, my failures or my inadequacies.  I am now defined by Christ in me.  My new identity is chosen, child of God, forgiven, accepted and unconditionally loved (Ephesians 1).  Not only do I receive a new identity but I am given the power to forgive those who have wounded me (Ephesians 4:32).  This forgiveness releases me from the bondage to the perpetrator of my wound and the bitterness and anger that have bound me to them.  I am free, free to embrace life to the fullest.

Until I was 35 years old, I was defined by the shame of childhood sexual abuse and I was addicted to sex and pornography.  My addiction brought me temporary pleasure to balance out the horrible feelings I held inside.  After a suicide attempt and a month in a psychiatric hospital, I found that my faith in Christ was the answer.  I have a new identity and am enjoying life, to the fullest.  In my book, 10 Life Choices, I elaborate on 10 specific choices that can lead a person out of a life in bondage to a life of freedom.