Addicts are masters at lying. They are better at it than people who are not addicts not because non-addicts don’t lie (they do) but because addicts get more opportunities to practice their craft. And as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect.
Why do we lie? Yesterday I read a post hosted by our friends at Castimonia, a Christian site dedicated to helping men find sexual purity, which sought to answer that question. It’s written by a PhD, A. Michael Johnson, and he argues that addicts lie because they learned as children, like all of us, that lying protects us. We crave love and compassion and acceptance and we learn early on that lying can meet these felt-needs.
This signal to lie to protect ourselves becomes automatic over time and is signaled by fear and bolstered by a “fabrication system” which helps us recall lies that worked while also inventing new ones. The good news, Johnson argues, is that with some “effort and help” we can learn to detect the signal of fear and choose a more healthy alternative as well as overwrite the “fabrication system” with more mature, truthful responses.
He concludes by writing,
Understanding how you came to be a liar is important because it helps to strengthen your compassion for yourself. You did not learn to lie because you were a bad person. You learned to lie because you were a frightened child protecting himself. That understanding is not a justification for continuing to lie. The understanding helps to remove obstacles to living in the truth. And living in the truth is a central thread in the fabric of recovery.
With all due respect to the folks at Castimonia, I believe this article is a beautiful lie. The only thing I agree with is the last sentence -that living in the truth is central to recovery – but this article obscures the truth and prevents anyone who is truly seeking freedom from finding it.
Back when I was seeking “recovery” as opposed to “freedom” (there is a difference) I longed to find some point in my past which would help explain me to myself and the world. I wanted so desperately to find some sort of traumatic event, abuse, organic deficiency – anything! – that would explain why I was such a mess. Surely I can’t be this bad of a person, can I? Surely there is some reason behind it all, right?
This quest to pacify ourselves is the project of modern, secular psychology and 12 step programs. It’s captured beautifully in Johnson’s concluding remarks where he writes, “Understanding how you came to be a liar is important because it helps to strengthen your compassion for yourself.”
This is the beautiful lie: First, that the goal is to understand ourselves, and second, that the reason we want to better understand ourselves is so we can be more compassionate to ourselves.
The person who follows this logic is no better than a dog chasing his own tail. The addict is an addict because he is fixated on himself – he is selfish to the core – and deliverance will not come by understanding himself better or being more compassionate to himself. When I was in the pit of my sexual addiction and doing exactly what I wanted when I wanted I assure you I was being very compassionate to myself!
So why do people lie? Here is truth:
Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right (Psalm 52:2-3).
Jesus said that out of the abundance of what is in the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45) and his brother, James, says the tongue is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison,” and contrary to Johnson’s optimism that a bit of “effort and help” can make a person more truthful, Scripture says no human being can tame the tongue (James 3:8).
The goal of understanding ourselves is to bring us to the end of ourselves. Victory for me did not come by finding something to blame in my childhood but by recognizing that I was a sinner and that I loved lying more than I loved telling the truth. I loved my sin and the comforts it afforded me more than I loved God and others. Rather than being gentler and more compassionate on myself I needed to see my lying for what it really was: a sin that offended a holy God. I had to cry with David, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4).
And in that terrifying moment I discovered an amazing truth. I discovered amazing grace! I discovered that whatever compassion I was seeking to show myself pales in comparison to the compassion God in Christ showed me on the cross. The cross both indicted and liberated me, causing me to see the truth about myself and the evil of which I’m capable while simultaneously revealing an indescribable love so infinitely attractive I was willing to surrender everything and live no longer for myself (and my own protection) but for Jesus who became my all in all.
If you find yourself addicted to lying please know you don’t have to dig up the past to better understand why you do what you do. God has already told you. And God has already graciously provided a way out. Freedom will come not when you learn to be more compassionate to yourself but when you learn to die to yourself.
And what God raises to new life in the process is sweeter than any comforts our lies seek to protect.