In Sunday’s worship, Pastor Tim Paul preached the first sermon in a series called “Soul Therapy.” The first of the 4 topics to be covered was on addiction. It was a wonderful, gospel-centered approach to a topic that for obvious reasons (if you know me or read this blog) hits home. In the following I want to share some of the points from the sermon while adding some commentary about how they relate to my story, and perhaps your own. Part I, here, will address the problem. Stay tuned for Part II, the solution.
The Cycle of Addiction
- It becomes a part of my identity
I know that 12 Step programs have helped many people but I think they fall short of the gospel’s offer of freedom (I posted an article from the Setting Captives Free website about 12 Step Theology if you are interested in further reading on that). I was part of a 12 Step program for sex addicts for several years, and what I now see in looking back is how much my identity was wrapped up in being a sex addict. This was reinforced every time I spoke in a meeting and introduced myself with, “Hi, I’m Chad, a sex addict.”
- When I try to quit but fail, I feel increasingly hopeless.
How well I remember the hopelessness! For so long the addiction had become a part of who I was that I could not imagine a life apart from it. I cannot count the number of resolutions I made to God, my wife, my friends, and to myself. The only way I thought I could be free of this was to die. As it turned out, I was right, but not in the way I thought.
- Any threat to my addiction becomes a threat to me.
A hand-full of people in my life during that period refused to coddle me in my addiction. They called it “sin” and said that I was hiding behind an identity of “addict” to justify my rebellion against God as well as my selfishness.
I cut these people out of my life (my parents being 2 of them). I told them that they were the ones with the problem as they did not understand addiction nor the struggles I face every moment of every day. Their “judgment,” I told them, was toxic to my “recovery” and the healthy choice for myself was to delete them from my life.
- I begin to lose my life.
The addiction, so much a part of who I have become, gets darker and darker, as the last “fix” didn’t deliver what I wanted. Every moment of every day is spent thinking about the next opportunity to act out in my addiction. More and more risks are taken. In my case, I lost everything due to my love of my addiction more than anything else. I found myself 60 days from being divorced, living in a sleazy hotel room, working at a pizza joint and having to take a taxi even to that. Life was very, very dark and thoughts of suicide became my new fantasy.
- I ease my pain by getting my next fix.
The only thing that takes my thoughts away from the misery around me and the thought of ending it all is to get lost in my addiction. And so the cycle repeats itself, taking me deeper and deeper into despair, hopelessness and an identity more firmly tied to that which I both love and hate.
The Stupidity of Addiction
Pastor Tim shared a passage of scripture, written thousands of years ago, which speaks into this chaos better than any self-help book or program today can do. It’s Isaiah 44:9-20.
Here, the prophet of God talks about the worthlessness and stupidity of the idols (addictions) we become slaves to and the foolishness of the people who bow to them. We take what God intended for a good, noble use (in the scripture passage it is wood from a tree) such as food, time, relationships, sex, drink, careers, money, a program(!), etc., etc., and we fashion an idol out of it. We worship that which was never intended to be worshiped. We then call out to it for our rescue and help in times of trouble (easing the pain with our next fix).
The prophet knows what some people in my life, and perhaps yours, knew: That such people lost in addictions such as these are blind, “their minds are shut, and they cannot think” (Isa. 44:18). He calls us ignorant fools.
The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He trusts in something that can’t help him at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?” (Isa. 44:20).
I wonder how many people deleted Isaiah from their friends list? It makes sense to me that he was sent to deliver a message to people with eyes yet do not see, with ears yet do not hear.
The lie in my hand, the one I would not bring myself to question, was my identity as a sex addict. The delusion I was under, which Isaiah names, convinced me that this was just who I was and that I would need to learn how to cope if I was to survive in this world. Coping might mean surrounding myself with people like myself – fellow sufferers – and divesting myself of any relationships with people who did not accept, understand, and “love” me as an addict.
Freedom comes when we see the lie in our hand and are willing to exclaim with St. Paul,
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Rom. 7:24)
We have a Rescuer! More on the victory that can be yours in the next post…