If you strip it down to its core essence, essentially all addiction is about worshiping an idol.
Now I realize that the term idol has a lot of religious connotations which will put off many people, but I think that the word idol fits well here. Especially if we rethink what it means.
So let me come up with a definition of an idol that hopefully will resonate with anyone struggling with an addiction, regardless of belief. Here goes.
An idol is something or someone or an idea that consumes so much of your thoughts and actions that it distracts you from who you really are.
An addict fits into this category nicely. It could be porn, alcohol, heroin, comparing yourself to others, overworking, over resting, control, submissiveness, anger, joy. Any of these things and many many more could be idols. They become the reason you wake up in the morning. They can be obviously harmful like substance abuse or anger. Or they can be healthy things like joy or selfishness.
Hopefully at this point you are asking why feeling joy and being unselfish can be idols. Good question. Here’s why. Those are attitudes and ways of thinking about the world that we could all do with a larger dose of. They are good and healthy and are important to reach for.
But we can become so distracted to ensure we wake up each morning to seek joy that we lose sight of the lessons that the horrible moments in life can teach us. So when those times come around which are difficult and when suffering arises, joy is evasive. It’s gone. It’s deserted you. What do we do when the one thing that we made our whole purpose is taken from us? We crumble. We fall apart. We look under stones and only find slugs.
So maybe there is something more than joy or good things we should be striving for.
Let me put it into some context for you.
In the midst of the worst of my porn addiction I tried everything to get clean. I thought reading more of my Bible would help. I thought praying constantly would focus my mind, I thought journalling would help me dig deep into my psyche. If I kept a constant combination of all those and others I would be free…
What I had actually done was very subtle but when it became clear, so obvious.
I had simply replaced one idol, porn, for another, getting sober.
Yeah that’s right, becoming sober became my new idol. Something that would help me grow and see myself again actually became my new addiction.
This was detrimental to me as a person for a number of reasons but none more than what I described before. When my idol was to be free from porn and when I used tools to achieve that and when those tools ultimately failed, I crumbled. I had pinned my very core being on being free from porn and when they didn’t work I had nowhere else to turn.
Except to my old friend.
Like many of us who put faith in a God who often seems more distant than close I had abused the things that were designed to help me. My idol of sobriety was supplemented by my idols of reading the Bible, praying and even community.
I wasn’t reading the Bible because I wanted to hear the stories of others who messed up but still found themselves accepted and loved. I wasn’t taking part in community and accountability so I could learn to be loved and to learn to love. I wasn’t praying so I could feel God’s presence and love.
I was doing those things so basically I wouldn’t feel crap about myself anymore. But life is not about getting to the point where everything is perfect and wonderful. It is, for me now at least, about experiencing the one thing that all of us should make our only goal.
For someone who calls themselves a Christian that means looking at the life of Jesus and feeling around for the things that he considered important. Things like caring for the poor, healing the sick, hanging out with people who no one else wanted to. Jesus also talked a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven. Now when people hear this they automatically think about harps and clouds and Daz cleaned white robes. For Jesus, and for the Jewish people this was not how they thought about Heaven. Jesus was not talking directly about where we were going to end up when we die.
The kingdom of Heaven was and is something that was/is happening today, now, where you’re sitting reading this, with the people you are going to have dinner with tomorrow, with the family you are going to bring meals for, with the friends who are expecting their first child.
It is about bringing peace and justice to the world. This world.
It had begun with Jesus and He was inviting us not to miss out.
When Jesus did talk about sin, most of his harshest words were reserved for the religious. Not that that applies to us today of course. (In case you need the prompt, read that last sentence again with a huge dose of sarcasm).
But even when He did talk about sin it was never the point of His conversation.
For example, when Jesus talked to the women at the well and told her to go and sin no more, He did so only after offering her something better than the physical water she came for. He was offering Himself. When Jesus visited the tax collector Zacchaeus, Zach (to his buddies) only decided to repay everyone he had ripped off after Jesus had invited Himself for dinner to his home. (Just so you have some context, tax collectors represented oppression by the Roman Empire and were hated by so many people).
For Jesus our behavior was never the starting point. The focus was Himself. This is why Jesus spent so much time in the company of sinners. He wasn’t trying to change their ways but to offer them the experience of true love. Time with Him was the greatest gift He could offer.
We don’t know how these stories carried on. We don’t know if the sinners Jesus hung out with changed their lives for good. They’re ambiguous for a reason. Almost as if putting all our efforts into not sinning can become a distraction to experiencing true love. Another way to earn love which can’t be earned.
Jesus invites us to experience His unconditional, incredible and controversial love as an end to itself.
When we experience this its incredibly difficult to go back to old ways. But often we make Jesus the focus, only when we want to stop sinning. Like a genie. In a bottle. Stuck in there on Sundays until we feel so bad about who we are and can’t bare it anymore.
This is why Paul when answering the question of how we become free from sin, says very ambiguously, that Jesus is the answer.
He doesn’t give us a 10 point plan or a book on 5 ways to live an amazing life.
He gives us Jesus. The goal is Jesus. The goal is love.
Yeah, sometimes we need to ask for help and yeah sometimes we need to check into rehab, and yeah sometimes praying more is important. But only if you want to experience Jesus more. If it’s just so you can stop messing up you might as well save your time.
When that happens we stop looking inside so much and start looking out at others. We stop fighting a losing battle against ourselves. We start experiencing life and life is found fully in love.
And love is found fully in yep…you guessed it.
Step 11 of the 12 steps of AA says this,
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
The most famous recovery program for addiction in the world ends with a call to seek God. It doesn’t mention what you should do to stop drinking. It simply tells us to seek God. It speaks to us about what’s important.
A call to a new way of thinking, not an action.
It’s almost as if there is something more important than not drinking again.
It’s almost as if there is something more important than focusing on ourselves and our failures.
It’s almost as if in my process of trying to feel alive again I had forgotten what I was alive for.
That I had missed out on so much because I was trying too hard to win a battle I could never win.
We wonder so often why we never hear God when we call out to Him. Perhaps it’s because we’re calling out for all the wrong reasons. Have you been shaped by the thing you can’t let go of? Have you been named by what happened to you as a kid? Are you finding it difficult to forgive yourself because you think your ‘thing’ is too big to be forgiven?
Being sober is about seeing things clearly. Maybe today we could all do with sobering up.