Why Giving Up is the Only way to beat addiction. Part 2.

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. Continue reading

Why Giving Up is the only way to Beat Addiction. Part 1.

ImageBecoming free from the never-ending cycle of an activity that is harmful for you is one of the most difficult things that anyone can ever do. Addiction is a horrible thing to live with and the hopelessness that it causes is soul destroying.

I write a lot about addiction because I am an addict. I used to look at porn. I’ve written that sentence in various forms a lot over the years. At first it terrified me, afraid what people would think. After a while being clean I didn’t want to write it anymore because it wasn’t who I was anymore. Then I realized that actually it’s always who I will be. In much the same way an alcoholic can be sober for 30 years but still identify themselves as an alcoholic.

The reason we do this is simple. No matter how long you have been sober, you are only one pint, or one click away from falling back into old habits. So everyday I remind myself that I am an addict and I can’t go back to my old ways.

Some days are easy. Some are unbearably difficult.

But by reminding myself that I need help everyday, that I need to continue to reach out to the people who support me, to keep going over and over and over the tools that I use; I remember the beauty of where I am and will hopefully keep heading. Every addict who wants to give up will say that this was the last time. That tomorrow will be different. That I don’t want to feel like that again.

The moment you finally do give in again is one of the most depressing and hopeless moments in your life. All the hard work seems like it is lost. All the many victories pale in comparison to this one defeat.

And there is no warning. Your mood can sometimes play a part in staying sober but not always. Everything in your life working out can be just as much of a trigger as everything falling apart. That’s why addiction is so tricky. That’s why you take every day as it comes. Otherwise it will smack you in the face when you’re not looking.

When that moment came for me I had been sober for a few months. Everything had been great and then one day, one single event led to a spiral back into porn. I didn’t see it coming and I wasn’t ready.

That triggered months of indulging in porn.

I tried everything in the book to stop. Accountability, filters, reading the Bible more, praying fervently, journaling, you name it I did it. And yeah some things worked for a while. But not for long.

It felt helpless and I felt trapped in the cycle of shame, some fight and positivity in me, eventual failure and back to shame.

Deep down there was a part of me that believed that success was attainable. I had experienced it for several months before so I knew it was possible. Not in a theoretical sense but in a personal way. This was not someone else telling me I could do it; I had actually done it.

Then one day it hit me. I realized the mistake I had been making the whole time. It seemed so obvious but yet I had missed it completely.

I had been trying to stay sober for all the wrong reasons. I had been using the tools given to me for the wrong objective.

My goal had been to stop looking at porn and I realized that that was a mistake. I had to ask myself why I wanted to stop looking at porn. Yeah it made me feel like crap and yeah it stopped me from being part of things but those were the wrong reasons. As long as I continued to make not looking at porn my goal I was doomed to failure.

And it was so simple why it was doomed. Maybe too obvious.

But once I realized what my true reason for staying sober should have been there was no turning back.

What defines you? Celebrity and Identity.

Unless you have been off social media for the last few days you will know that the famous and talented actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died after what seems like a drug overdose. I call him famous and talented because he was both. Famous because he has appeared in some of the best movies of the last twenty years and talented because even in the movies that weren’t so great he made them worth watching.

Famous and talented yes…but so much more too.

Cory Monteith, Heath Ledger and now Philip Seymour Hoffman. Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. All artists in their own right who have left behind a body of work bursting with genius and who we are only left to imagine the art they would have continued to make.

Often when we lay to rest a celebrity especially one who has made an impact for their talent most of the tweets or Facebook posts and blogs will mourn the loss of a talent that was cut off far too soon. We’ll talk about the movies they made or the albums they created; we’ll talk about the seminal performances that made people sit up and question how art is created.

Then we’ll talk about the reason they died. The drug overdose, the heart attack, the suicide. Experts will be brought in to explain why celebrities become addicted, how they weren’t able to handle their fame, how addiction is a disease that is rife in Holywood.

All true perhaps.

But what if Philip Seymour Hoffman wasn’t an actor? What if he had a regular job and wasn’t well known? What if he mopped floors for a living? We wouldn’t know about his death and he would be just another sad statistic. Except his family would have known. His partner and kids would have known. When celebrities die we tend to emphasize the loss they will be to their art, to the acting world or to the music business or wherever.

Is that how we place value on each other? How much talent we have in our particular section of the world we find ourselves in, but nothing more? How many oscars or grammys we’ve won? How highly critics think of us? Is there more to us than what we achieve? Is being a good parent or spouse any less important than accolades and plaudits?

What truly defines us?

Let’s celebrate the talent that Philip Seymour Hoffman undoubtedly had but let’s mourn the loss of human life to an ugly and spiteful disease more. Philip Seymour Hoffman was much more than a truly great actor; he was a human. In some ways we have robbed him that of that by only talking of him in terms of what he achieved as an artist. His life would have been equally as precious if none of us had ever heard of him.

I don’t know what led Philip Seymour Hoffman to overdose but I do know that addiction can often arise from a place where we aren’t content or we search because we struggle with who we are at the deepest levels. Which is not an actor, or a singer or a doctor, teacher, lawyer, athlete, cleaner, writer.

But a person.

We’re all so much more than anything we do or how well we do it. Our lives are important because we are alive. Our lives are precious because there are people who love us for simply being who we are. I know that the kids of friends wouldn’t care what their father or mother did as long as they are there to pick them up when they fall. I could do anything else than I do now and I know my wife would still love me.

You might call this grace. I call it being at peace.

And unless we start holding our celebrities up for being humans first and foremost we’ll all be tweeting about someone else sooner or later.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not at peace with that.

What you don’t know about Addiction

Addiction is a focused and malevolent disease.

It’s not impartial. Impartiality suggests some kind of outside mediator working for peace, but it doesn’t do that. It doesn’t even hate. Hate suggests some sort of emotion exists; some sort of reason to hate. But nothing has caused addiction to hate. It doesn’t hate you. It is emotionless and void of any respectable trait.

At least hate can arise from anger and anger can be righteous.

Not addiction.

But hate is actually the thing that can help us defeat addiction. Hate may be ugly but it’s real; it is human.

Addiction doesn’t make you feel bad; it uses yourself to make you feel bad. Since addiction has no human characteristics or feelings it isn’t put off when things are going well. Addiction can’t be human itself so it makes you less human. When you are about to act out, the thought of your wife or your kids or family and friends won’t stop addiction in it’s pursuit to destroy you. Forget logic because logic is not in addiction’s vocabulary. You can be addicted and rich, poor, young, old, male, female, angry, generally happy, a Pastor or a teacher. You can feel strong and ready in the morning and depressed and defeated in the afternoon.

But it can be defeated.

By reminding ourselves what being alive feels like. By hating all the ways our life is being ripped apart. By taking steps to connect with people who have won and are winning and to let them show us how. By being open even when it is painful, because at least pain means you are alive.

With every repeated day of sobriety, addiction loses its sting. With every single day that you understand what being alive really feels like, the less addiction can stop you. It won’t give up though, it’s steadfast in its goal, but more and more you will be able to put up the walls necessary to win.

You will forget and you will need people to remind you.
You will give up and you will need people to fight for you.
You will hate yourself and you will need people to love you.

Because hating addiction is only there to set the foundation for the real force that will make you stronger.

Love.

You hate addiction because you know that there is something deeper and elusive.

The love of yourself. The love of others and the love of others for you.

For today at least that’s all we’ve got.

But it’s enough.

Forgiven?

When you find yourself stuck in a pattern of behavior that is clearly damaging to yourself and possibly others it is difficult to get out of.

There are self help books and speakers galore who can help you find peace in just 5 days or freedom in an hour. Some of these may even be very helpful. But talk to someone who has tried and failed to give up smoking or is stuck in a porn addiction that is shattering their self esteem, you will see a person who knows that it takes a lot more than a few days to change behviour.

I heard Saju Mathews from IJM give a talk a few weeks ago about how our identity can produce change. If we see ourselves as children of God then we won’t want to stay where we are, rather we will work at becoming free. We don’t need to continue where we are because that’s not really where we are. We are not slaves any more. Let’s live like it.

Which for a long time I have really loved despite it not really working for me. Why do I continue doing that which is killing me when I know I am free? Is it because I am wrong about Jesus? Or because I use grace as a reason to keep on sinning, as Paul suggests?

Or is it because I don’t really believe I am forgiven?

Take porn.

When you are stuck in an addiction like that and you are constantly battling to be pure but returning again and again into the arms of your computer, it can be very difficult to forgive yourself. No matter how much you know God loves you and has forgiven you.

But am I really forgiven? How does that work? Is it an abstract idea that is true but in reality doesn’t really have any impact on how I live?

When God is not present and when you don’t experience Him, forgiveness can seem like a nice idea but ultimately redundant.

But I believe in it wholeheartedly and I believe it works.

But for forgiveness to change you then I need to see obvious tangible workings of it. Sometimes God just doesn’t provide that.

At least not in the way I think.

Like a lot of things in life we can’t experience God unless we see it, or touch it. We need our senses to make it real for us. Hope or a nice feeling isn’t good enough.

So what is more tangible than other people?

To ensure forgiveness actually changes us we need other people.

Which means that we need to confess to other people.

Bonhoeffer, got it right when he wrote,

Why is it often easier for us to acknowledge our sins before God than before another believer? God is holy and without sin, a just judge of evil, an an enemy of all disobedience. But another Christian is sinful, as we are, knowing from personal experience the night of secret sin. Should we not find it easier to go to one another than to the holy God? But if that is not the case, we must ask ourselves whether we often have not been deluding ourselves about our confession of sin to God–whether we have not instead been confessing our sins to ourselves and also forgiving ourselves. And is not the reason for our innumerable relapses and for the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living from self-forgiveness and not from real forgiveness of our sins? Self-forgiveness can never lead to the break with sin. This can only be accomplished by God’s own judging and pardoning Word (Life Together, 112-13, emphasis added).

Confession is scary because we don’t want people to see us as we really are. It is also scary because perhaps we don’t really want to change.

We should be comfortable telling others our deepest darkest secrets because they are as bad as us. In this case, going to God is the safe option. Should we confess to God? Yes. But if we want to feel the full effect of God’s forgiveness we need to confess to others too.

Then we can experience His forgiveness in a tangible way through the prayers and love of others. Confessing to others is not an instead of God option. It is the way that forgiveness from God works within us.

So we experience God’s grace through our friend who prays for us and walks through every step of recovery with us.

We feel hope from God through the people who have been where we are and have come through the other end.

And we feel joy in God even when we don’t feel joyous, as we sit and listen to our friends telling us how God is working in their lives right now.

It seems like so much of how God works in our lives it requires other, broken, imperfect, porn watching people to be how he speaks to and changes us.

If that’s not grace I don’t know what is.

What the Prodigal son wish he knew.

I wrote something in my blog a few days ago which I believe wholeheartedly and am trying each day to remember and change how I think, but also finding really really difficult. It was this.

We are in Jesus. Jesus died and is resurrected therefore we are in Jesus and have died and resurrected too. Sin has been defeated and we are called to act, not as if this will be true someday, but because it is, right now.

I truly believe that to stop those behaviours (and I’m talking more in line with addictions rather than lying or cheating, although it’s true for those as well) in our lives that are hurting us and others then we need to get our minds around this. We need to remember who we are or else we could end up like the Prodigal brothers.

But it’s not easy. Especially if you have found yourself giving in over and over to a behavior which is always there, sometimes quiet but ultimately ready to rear it’s ugly head.

In line with what I wrote yesterday there is a part in Romans 6 which sums up nicely how we are to live.

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

I say nicely because it all makes sense in fact I would be so far as saying it motivates me to put my trust in God everyday rather than the things which hold me back from truly being alive.

But it gets sticky when at 3am you awake and for some reason you want to look at porn. (There is a pun in there, if you got it shame on you). Or when you decide to give up drinking because you are hurting your family through the way you react to them when you drink but can’t manage to go more than a couple of days dry.

Its verses like the ones above which can be our best friends or can be our most frustrating friends. I get it, I believe it, I just can’t live by it.

And this comes back to my previous post. We spend some of our time thinking through these things without taking serious consideration of their implications. Because when we are told we used to be slaves of sin that is truth. It’s not just some nice theory but it is the reality. We can choose to live because it is true or as if it is true.

Maybe an illustration could help. Continuing with Paul’s theme of slavery imagine a woman who has been trafficked. She has spent her life since she was 6 being told she is free but really is being held against her will. She is told she can stop having sex with strangers anytime she likes but the walls of the small dingy room she is kept in tell another story. She is used to living like this. This is all she knows. As much as she hates it, it is strangely comforting. Continue reading