Scriptural Analysis- Exodus 4:13-15

13 And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.

14 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.

15 And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.

I am trying to understand what Moses meant by saying “O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send,” and why God apparently had such an angry response to it. Moses’s statement seems to be him finally showing compliance to the Lord’s command, so why is the Lord now upset?

I can see three possible explanations for this. First, one might argue that the Lord was already angry at Moses for his prior reluctance, and was simply now showing that anger all at once. Sometimes when someone finally relents we feel exasperated at how hard we had to push to get them to see reason. It could be that this was God’s reaction, though to me that seems petty.

A more likely possibility, in my mind, would be that Moses was consenting to God’s plan, but in a grumbling way. We are told what he said, but not what sort of tone he spoke with. It might be that he was essentially saying “well, if I have to, okay then.” In this instance it would make sense for God to upbraid Moses for being bitter even in his compliance.

And a third option could be that Moses wasn’t actually complying. He might have been adjuring God to send someone else, someone more fitting than Moses. In this case, then God’s anger would simply be due to Moses’s near-refusal to do as he was commanded.

I’m not sure which of these three interpretations is accurate, or if any of them even are. In any case, one way or another Moses had incurred the anger of God, but even while chastising Moses the Lord show graciousness. He gives Aaron as a companion and a spokesperson for Moses, someone to share this incredible burden. What’s more, God reveals that Aaron is already on his way to Moses. God had already been setting in motion the special help that Moses needed. Yes, God was frustrated at Moses faithlessness, but He had also accounted for it in advance.

We Can’t Talk: Part Two

Yesterday I started talking about the tension I notice whenever “hot topic” issues like transgenderism, abortion, or racial differences come up. I have seen in these instances how I go through mental gymnastics, trying to sanitize everything I say, terrified that I will utter something that other side will demonize me for. I live in fear of coworkers, friends, and even family members, often deferring my opinions because it seems there is so much to lose by expressing my convictions. And while I know that not everyone is the same as me, I’m sure that if I’ve had these feelings, there are probably plenty of others who have as well.

And this is a real problem, because it is imperative that we be able to have these conversations as a society. In fact, even more important than talking about than the important issues of our day is having the ability to talk about them. Being able to have the conversation is obviously the prerequisite to then having it. So let’s talk about what it is that makes this discourse so difficult.

What Are You Scared Of?)

After giving it some thought, I realized that when I think about people debating these important issues, I typically don’t picture two friends talking on a bench in a park. That’s not where these arguments typically occur today, they occur online, where faceless avatars scream at their opposition, assume the absolute worst in each another, and wish literal death upon anybody who dares to have a different opinion. I believe that the online forums have trained us to hold great anxiety when discussing these issues in person, because our experience has been that these subjects bring up the most hostile and abusive vitriol. If you were talking to another person face-to-face and they exhibited the same animalistic rage that you see online, then you might genuinely start to fear for your life!

But it probably isn’t accurate to assume that the friends and family and coworkers that we speak with in person would show the same unbridled rage that we see online. At least I certainly hope not! In person, I believe the majority of people are civil and restrained, even when expressing their deeply-held beliefs. But if we can’t express those deeply-held beliefs in person because we are afraid, then we suppress ourselves, become frustrated, and perhaps take that out on some internet forum, ironically perpetuating the same image of anger that keeps everyone silent in real life. We are caught in a vicious cycle, and the only solution that I see is to start challenging the way that we assume the worst in real-life people.

And if I am wrong, and actually our society is so far gone that calmly and respectfully speaking my mind in public is going to get me injured by one of the people I thought I was close to, then frankly it’s about time we had a few martyrs to bring attention to how bad things have become!

Losing a Friend)

Of course, there is a wide range of possibilities between a conversation being a positive experience and it being mortally dangerous! There are all manner of other negative outcomes that might more realistically come to pass, possibilities that still frighten us into silence. The most obvious of these is the loss of a friendship we valued. It is possible that challenging another’s deeply-held beliefs, even when done with kindness and respect, might cause them to determine that they can no longer associate with you.

That is a genuine fear, and one not to be treated lightly. The people that I am close to are very important to me, as well they should be, and I will truly mourn if I lose any of them because they could not abide my convictions. But it is selfish for me to prioritize my own comfort and happiness over doing my part to help the world sort out truth from error.

Also, even if it ends up being misplaced, I believe that I should have more faith in my friends. I know that I have different beliefs than they do, but I still enjoy their company, value their insights, and want to be their friend. I don’t know if they can reciprocate that, but I should give them the chance to do so. And frankly, I’m not being a very good friend if I am maintaining our relationship on false pretenses. There will always be an element of deceit if I know I am concealing part of myself from them, and that will prevent the friendship from ever reaching its full potential.

Addiction and the Angry Spouse: Part Seven

The Reason to Heal)

In my last post I pointed out that many of our emotions are regulated by our subconscious mind, meaning that a spouse who has been hurt by her addict-husband’s behavior might have sudden bursts of tremendous anger, which unbeknownst to her is actually covering up the intense grief brimming just beneath the surface.

I’ve already mentioned that anger is often a secondary emotion, used to mask our fears or pain. Since anger is the side that gets presented publicly, it is what people typically address when interacting with us, either by appeasing to, or reasoning with, or arguing against it. But since the anger isn’t the real underlying issue, anything addressed towards it isn’t actually going to help. Interfacing with a wounded wife’s anger does nothing to help her grow past it.

Now an injured wife might feel upset at the notion that she needs to grow past her anger. She might say that her husband is deserving of her anger, that his actions have natural consequences. And while this is true, the reason for a wife to deal with her underlying issues is for her own sake, not her husband’s. Even if she has no intention to restore her relationship with her husband, it is still to her own benefit that she get past her mask of anger and process the pain hiding underneath.

Even if a wife felt like her husband needed to be punished for what he had done, it is a terrible fate to take upon oneself the role of executor. Staying in a place of rage only makes the wife a continual prisoner to the pain that her husband inflicted upon her. Shouting and berating might feel like she is claiming control of the situation, but needing to do these things only reveals that the wife still lives under the power of her addict-husband’s choices.

Just as surely as the addict needs to become free of his addiction, his spouse needs to be made free of his addiction also. They each have their own work to do here.

Doing Your Own Work)

It is inevitable that the path of healing for both spouses will involve one another. Even if they decide to go their separate ways, they each must resolve the idea of the other person in their mind. The addict must come to terms with the loved one he has hurt. The spouse must come to terms with the loved one that hurt her.

Some of this work can be done together with late-night conversations and couple’s therapy sessions, but much of this work is going to be individual. In fact, a key step in the recovery journey is for both parties to stop trying to manage the journey of the other. The husband needs to not set a timeline for his wife to stop hurting, and the wife needs to stop evaluating whether her husband is recovering in the “right” way. Obviously each needs to be active and sincere in their work and needs to seek out the best resources that they can, but so long as their efforts are genuine they should be trusted to progress at their own pace.

For my wife and I this meant meeting with our own therapists and working our own professional recovery program. It meant having our own homework, meeting with our own groups, and making our own plans of action. We would talk to each other about all the things we needed to talk about, we would update one another on our journey, but we each found healing in our own way and in our own time. After we had each come to a healthier, truer place, we were able to come together and decide what the relationship would be moving forward.

Of course, what I’m describing is not necessarily the process by which every marriage will be saved. There are couples who did their work and still decided that they didn’t have a future together, but they were able to part ways as whole individuals. And that is what this is really about, doing the work to process your own issues and make yourself whole, and that is prerequisite to having a meaningful life, whether together or apart. This process isn’t guaranteed to make your marriage whole, though it is the only way that your marriage even stands a chance.

NOTE: Throughout this series I refer to the addict as “he” and the injured partner as his “wife.” This is merely a convenience for maintaining consistency. It is entirely possible for the addict to be a woman and the injured partner to be her husband. It is also entirely possible for the strained relationship to be between non-romantic partners, such as with a parent and a child.

Addiction and the Angry Spouse: Part Six

The Wall)

In my last post I discussed the fact that we tend to mask our hurt and pain with anger. The spouse of an addict, for example, is going through incredible trauma, but she is also in close proximity to the very person who caused that trauma in the first place. It’s completely understandable that she’s wouldn’t feel safe breaking down and crying in front of the same person that made her cry. So instead she builds a wall of anger.

Something that every addict would do well to remembers is that the incredible height and width of his wife’s wall of anger is a testament to how massive the reservoir of grief being held behind it is. The more anger she is showing, the more hurt she is hiding. It is worth asking yourself whether you have truly allowed yourself to empathize with that magnitude of her pain.

Of course, whether you have direct access to empathize with that pain is entirely up to her. You can try to imagine that pain, but it would be far better if she could explain it to you. She may not be ready to do that yet, and one of the chief reasons why she may not be able to do that is because she has no idea that this is even going on.

The Unknown Self)

Something that we often forget is just how little consciousness we have of our own self. We assume that our conscious mind captures everything about ourselves, but this is demonstrably false. We have no control of our own beating heart, our own digestion, or our own body temperature. We can examine and measure each of these from an external perspective, but we cannot in our own mind observe the signals that we send to regulate each of these complex behaviors. These instructions and processes are unquestionably a very real part of ourselves, and yet we have no conscious knowledge of them.

The same is true of our reflexes. We do not have to consciously think through the process of withdrawing our hand from heat or throwing it out to catch us when we fall. Clearly there are mental processes and calculations behind these movements, but they occur in the subconscious. If asked how we knew how to move our hand we can give no intelligent answer.

And what does all of this have to do with the trauma suffered by the spouse of an addict? Well, the subconscious mind also reigns over our emotions. The spouse is most probably not even making a conscious decision to hide her hurt and respond in rage. She, herself, can be totally ignorant that this is the reason behind her aggressive behavior. If you ask her why she is screaming at you she probably isn’t going to say “because I am very close to revealing my overwhelming grief, and I don’t trust you enough to do that, so I’m going to shout to cover that all up instead!” She isn’t going to say that because all of that rationalization happened in her head reflexively without her ever observing its occurrence. All she knows is the minimal and direct output of all that subconscious calculation, which is to express anger.

Sometimes, though, in the midst of carrying out a subconscious reflex we can become aware of it happening and then override it with a conscious decision. After dropping a knife we might instinctively move to grab it, but if our conscious mind is quick, it might be able to halt that action so we don’t end up cutting ourselves. We can learn to externally monitor our reflexes and impose our higher reasoning upon them.

Similarly, it is possible to gradually become aware of our emotional reflexive actions after they have already begun, and then make a conscious choice to override them. With guidance and practice, the spouse can learn to understand her own self and process all the complex things that she is feeling.

Both she and her husband have to understand that this is a journey, though. Just as he is learning the subconscious processes that kick off his destructive behavior after encountering an addiction-trigger, she must learn the subconscious processes that kick off her rage after encountering grief. They both need to do this work, because they both need to have a greater awareness of truth and self if they are ever to find healing.

It’s hard work, and particularly for the wife it might seem to be unfair work, but there’s no going around it, under it, or over it. If you want to be happy and healthy as an individual, let alone as a couple, you have to go through it.

NOTE: Throughout this series I refer to the addict as “he” and the injured partner as his “wife.” This is merely a convenience for maintaining consistency. It is entirely possible for the addict to be a woman and the injured partner to be her husband. It is also entirely possible for the strained relationship to be between non-romantic partners, such as with a parent and a child.

Addiction and the Angry Spouse: Part Five

Why the Abuse?)

Yesterday I examined the situation of an addict and his spouse when she is abusing him for his wrongs. To be clear, I am not saying that all forms of anger are inherently abusive, at times anger is the right and proper reaction to a situation. But it absolutely possible for the wife to go off the deep end as well. This is never okay, and an addict in this situation should look to remove himself from such a situation. He shouldn’t fight back in kind, he should just get away to a place where he can be safe.

But it is worth considering, why is the wife behaving like this? From name calling to throwing plates, why does she feel like she has to explode in rage? She might have been a gentle, peaceful person up until this moment, so clearly she isn’t fundamentally hateful. What has possessed her, then, to be like this now?

We’ll spend the rest of today exploring those questions, but the short answer is this: the wife is showing outbursts of rage because she is terrified of showing her husband her inner suffering. Behind all that rage is a terrible, terrible sadness.

Secondary Emotions)

Psychology is the study of mental behavior and processes. It takes all of the outer attitudes that we exhibit and seeks to understand what happened inside of us to prompt those reactions. Many of us live our entire lives not even considering our emotional reactions, assuming that they are self-explanatory, but the reality is far more complex.

One concept that is discussed in psychology is that of “secondary emotions.” The idea here is that sometimes an inner, core emotion gets wrapped with a secondary, outer one. A common example of this is anger as a secondary emotion to fear. It is quite common for us to react with hostility to something that has scared us, and this behavior makes sense when it comes to dangers in nature. If we were to cross paths with a wild animal we would feel terrified, but rather than show that fear we might scream and throw rocks at it to chase it off.

But this same instinct applies to non-life-threatening social interactions as well. I’m sure we have all seen a person that has an angry outburst at a seemingly innocuous statement or question. Asking a friend what test score he got might get in a sharp response if he is insecure about his intelligence. Expressing a personal opinion on “rape culture” might elicit a tirade from your partner if your words have triggered a painful memory. Asking your boss to clarify his instructions might call down a strong reprimand if he is afraid of being seen as a poor leader. On the outside we’re seeing the anger, but inside is all manner of pain and fear.

These angry outbursts are therefore a self-defense mechanism, a warning that people should back off from a tender area. It’s very similar to the rattling of a snake’s tail or the baring of a lion’s teeth. Unfortunately, most of us employ this angry warning technique to our own detriment, using them as a way to avoid our problems rather than dealing with them. At some point in our lives we do need to have these defenses challenged, but probably not by someone who is ignorant and insensitive about what is happening inside.

The Hurt Behind the Anger)

And this is the important thing to understand when your wife comes at you with an angry tirade. Most likely, all her cutting, insulting remarks are a mask over the real issue. Her primary emotion is one of intense hurt and grief, but she doesn’t feel safe showing that to you. She doesn’t feel safe because that is a very intimate, very vulnerable part of her, and your actions have communicated to her that you are not a safe person to expose that side to. So when she feels the sadness overflowing and starting to spill over she instead surges out in anger, trying to shield you from seeing the brokenness that almost got out.

I’m not going to say that it’s okay for her to abuse you just to hide her hurt, but we must appreciate the fact that she probably doesn’t even know what else to do. She is trapped in a no-win situation. You, as the addict, have proven that you cannot be trusted with the most intimate parts of her soul, but those parts are bleeding out of open wounds. What exactly is she supposed to do with that?

Well, we’ll talk about what she is supposed to do with that in the following posts, but just for today I wanted to give proper appreciation for the reality of what the spouse is going through. It is in our nature to view those who are overly angry in a disdainful way, but in many cases they are the people most deserving of our pity.

NOTE: Throughout this series I refer to the addict as “he” and the injured partner as his “wife.” This is merely a convenience for maintaining consistency. It is entirely possible for the addict to be a woman and the injured partner to be her husband. It is also entirely possible for the strained relationship to be between non-romantic partners, such as with a parent and a child.

Addiction and the Angry Spouse: Part Four

Constructive Criticism)

All of us need constructive criticism in our lives. We all have blind spots around our personal flaws. An outside perspective helps to bring our subconscious attitudes in check and helps to mold ourselves into the best version of ourselves that we can be.

But not all criticism is “constructive” criticism. Indeed, a much of the critique that we receive tends to be of the “destructive” variety, specifically intended to tear us down. It’s end goal is to make us fit another person’s flawed desires, or simply to make us hurt. This sort of criticism has no value to us, and we would do well to distance ourselves from it.

Further complicating matters, though, is the fact that there is also “mixed” criticism. This is criticism that really does have a good point, a revelation about ourselves that we would benefit from learning, but the speaker of this criticism has impure intentions. What they’re saying is right, but they’re saying it with the intention of hurting us.

Allowing another person to mistreat you isn’t appropriate, but neither is dismissing the fair points they are making about your character. Today I want to focus on a way that you can manage both of these sides at the same time. I’ll start off by illustrating it with an allegory.

The Shot)

Imagine for a moment that a piece of criticism is like getting a shot. Having a needle stuck in your arm, even when administered by a professional, is always going to sting. It’s exactly the same as when we’re being told that we’re doing something wrong, no matter the abundance of tact used, it will always sting a bit. How we respond to this prospect of pain depends on how mature we are.

Children might respond to a shot by arguing against the person trying to administer it, or going limp and falling over so that the needle can’t pierce their skin, or even striking back. We do the same thing with criticism when we start dismissing it as incorrect, entering a depressive state where we tune out everything that has been said, or even start hurling insults back at the person. We don’t care about the medicine that is being offered, we are exclusively focused on the pain that is associated with it.

A more mature person will sit upright and calmly receive the inoculation. They’ll accept the momentary discomfort as a necessary inconvenience, and the whole thing will be over much sooner because of their cooperation.

But so far we’ve been assuming a careful administrator of the shot/criticism. Now let us imagine that the person coming at us is enraged, and they’re swinging that needle wildly! That needle may still have some worthy medicine inside of it, but we’re going to suffer more damage than good by letting this person carve into our flesh with reckless abandon.

The ideal solution (and believe me, this is far easier said than done), would be to stop the would-be attacker, take the syringe into your own hands, and calmly administer its composition to yourself. In terms of dealing with abusive criticism, this means that you will not permit yourself to be insulted or screamed at, and if someone breaks this boundary you will leave the situation, but at the same time you will be sensitive and empathetic to the emotions that are behind the attack.

An Example)

Let us give a clear example of this. Imagine a lust addict in recovery who goes in public with his wife. An attractive woman passes them by and the wife starts to wonder if her husband is lusting for her. The wife feels hurt and insulted, and after getting home she lays into her husband, accusing him of having been emotionally unfaithful the entire evening. She brings up all the past wrongs that he has committed. She shouts, she insults and disparages, she swears, and she tries to push him back into the role of irredeemable cheater. Maybe she even starts to get physical!

And all the while the husband in this case was having a perfectly innocent, sober-minded evening. Now he’s under attack, though, and his fight-or-flight instincts are kicking in. He wants to shout back, or to disappear into his shame, but that will only aggravate the situation. Instead, he realizes that he needs to disarm the situation and acknowledge his wife’s justified hurt.

That doesn’t mean that the husband has to engage with any false narrative, though. He doesn’t have to take her insults to heart. He doesn’t have to say he was lusting that night if he really wasn’t. But he does speak up and admits that that he has betrayed his wife in the past and he can see that she is still hurting for it and he is sorry. He validates her underlying pain, but he does not condone her out-of-line behavior.

If his wife is able to be in a calm place, then he will remain in her presence and work to understand more of that underlying pain. He will take ownership for past faults and meditate upon them. She will see how he applies the syringe to himself and allows himself to feel sad and emotional for the harm that he has caused. If, on the other hand, the wife remains abusively hostile, and needs some space, then the husband moves somewhere else and has that moment of empathy and introspection in private. In either case, he has done his part to learn and grow from the constructive criticism that was hiding inside the abusive criticism. He has responded to the situation in a way that is respectful and honest.

NOTE: Throughout this series I refer to the addict as “he” and the injured partner as his “wife.” This is merely a convenience for maintaining consistency. It is entirely possible for the addict to be a woman and the injured partner to be her husband. It is also entirely possible for the strained relationship to be between non-romantic partners, such as with a parent and a child.

Addiction and the Angry Spouse: Part Three

Toxic Criticism)

In my last post I explained that the addict needs to find empathy for the pain that his behavior caused his wife, though this is easier said than done. Speaking for myself, even after years of practice I still have many emotional safeguards that tried to dissuade me from really leaning into the pain. There is always that tendency to become defensive and search for any other path. I have even tried to fake empathy at times while keeping my heart securely locked off, but nothing but sincerity works. As my mentor in my first addiction recovery program often repeated “you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it, you can’t go over it. You have to go through it.”

Part of the challenge facing the addict is that he will likely face all manner of challenges that trigger his defense mechanisms. Typically the addict’s wife is not only hurt, she is angry, and that anger can come through in a multitude of ways. Insults or shouting or misrepresenting events will tempt the addict to dismiss everything his wife is saying. She’s being irrational, unfair, or intentionally derogatory, so he feels excused from taking anything that she says to heart. After all, this is already delicate, shameful ground for the addict, and anything abrasive is likely to drive him into his shell.

Certainly, the wife of the addict has a right to be angry. She has been profoundly hurt, and no one would reasonably expect her language to be unaffected by that. But at the same time, there must be a point where the expressing of one’s hurt can go too far, starting to become a form of abuse itself. Where is that point? Where is the line where one’s invective just isn’t okay any more? Even if someone has justified anger, they can express it in an unjustified way. And when they do, how are you supposed to respond to that?

Well, we will get into all of that, but before anything else I wanted to spend the rest of the day discussing a fact that every addict needs to appreciate.

Ricochet Damage)

If your spouse is expressing her anger in a way that is unfair, isn’t that basically the same as exactly what you did to her? Wasn’t the revelation of your betrayal something that caught your wife totally off guard? Didn’t it hurt her without justification? Didn’t it come on her totally out of the blue? You might be totally right that this pain your spouse is putting on you is unfair, but paradoxically, undeserved pain is exactly what you do deserve!

Now I’m not here to say that two wrongs make a right, but I am going to maintain that you can use this as an opportunity to better appreciate the reality of what you inflicted upon your spouse. You can feel all the stinging, out-of-line, crushing pain and say “I get it, that’s what I did to you.” In most cases, what you are feeling is nothing more than a part of the damage that you put out into the world ricocheting back in your face.

Which, once again, is not to say that we should live an eye-for-an-eye, but we do need to appreciate what it was for like for the other person when we took their eye away. We need to be able to have a taste for that experience, even if we don’t have to experience all of it.

When the addict’s spouse sees that he is deflecting her pain, that is only going to aggravate her further! The fastest way for the addict to de-escalate his wife’s anger is for him to develop a genuine and profound understanding of her pain. Cheap, phony efforts are only going to prolong things and make it worse for everyone. The addict must learn to lean face-first into the pelting hail. He needs to allow some of the shrapnel bouncing back from his own actions to land in the flesh.

I’ve said it twice now, and I’ll say it one more time. None of this is to say that verbal or physical abuse from a wounded spouse just has to be put up with. There is a line between holding empathy for another’s pain and just being their punching bag. And maybe that makes sense conceptually, but how do you actually walk that line in practice? Come back tomorrow as we explore the answer.

NOTE: Throughout this series I refer to the addict as “he” and the injured partner as his “wife.” This is merely a convenience for maintaining consistency. It is entirely possible for the addict to be a woman and the injured partner to be her husband. It is also entirely possible for the strained relationship to be between non-romantic partners, such as with a parent and a child.

Addiction and the Angry Spouse: Part One

A Precarious Situation)

I attended an addiction recovery clinic when I decided I really wanted to be done with lust and pornography. One of the things that was so helpful about that clinic was that they did two treatments at the same time, one for the addict, and one for the spouse or partner of the addict. Given the demographics of pornography addiction, the addicts were predominantly men, and thus the partners were their girlfriends and wives.

The partners, of course, were deeply hurt by our addiction, and this is true for most other types of addiction as well. Being so closely involved to a person with any sort of compulsive, destructive behavior will always result in extensive wounding. Thus, every addict is going to have to deal with this most intimate relationship at some point of his or her recovery journey. They are going to have to take ownership of their mistakes, empathize with their spouse’s pain, make amends however they can, and accept the consequences that follow their behaviors.

The spouse also has her own issues to come to terms with. Given the secretive nature of an addiction, most likely she is only learning about this whole secret life that was going on behind her back for the first time. She has to process the betrayal, the lies, the manipulation, and has to decide between rebuilding the relationship or moving on. What’s more, the spouse has to negotiate all these matters while being flooded by intense, negative emotions. Very often this makes for periods of deep depression and angry outbursts, both of which are difficult for the recovering addict to know how to deal with.

A Strange Disconnect)

If the addict is sincere in his recovery, then these first months of sobriety probably give him a confusing, dual perspective of himself. On the one hand, this is the most honest he has ever been in his life. This is the first time ever that he can sincerely say that he is giving it his all. He is heroically facing his inner demons and doing something he is genuinely proud of. His recovery group members are recognizing his sincerity and acknowledging his bravery. They are encouraging him by pointing out that he is one of the very few in life who has found the “straight and narrow path” and committed to following it.

But then, on the other hand, the addict feels that he is an absolute dirtbag. For the first time he is really acknowledging the harm he has caused. He has shameful memories that he has avoided his whole life, but now he must face them head-on. He has natural responses of self-disgust and revulsion. The voices inside tell him that he has done too much wrong, he is irredeemable, and that he doesn’t deserve to be loved. And in many cases, that very message is being echoed by the person that used to love him best.

It is only natural that the wife whose whole conception of life has been shattered would have anger bursting out at every turn. Many addicts discover a side of their spouse that they never knew before, full of shouting, insulting, and profanity. Some spouses start throwing objects and breaking things. Some start looking for ways to hurt their husband back, physically or otherwise. The addict is trying to manage his emotions and choose sobriety over quick relief, all while enduring a constant and passionate reminder of what terrible damage he has done.

In fact, since the addict knows that he really is guilty of this terrible damage, he might feel that he has no right to question his spouse’s behavior. He has given his spouse the ultimate trump card in any argument. Any frustration or disagreement that he might express towards his spouse is immediately overcome with “well at least I didn’t do what you did!”

It is easy for a couple in this situation to subconsciously assume a new rule in life. Anything that goes wrong for the wife, no matter how unrelated it is to his past wrongs, is still the fault of the addict. Even if his acting out didn’t directly cause the new trouble, the new trouble is more painful because it has landed on a heart that was already beaten and tender. The addiction didn’t make the spouse’s uncle die, for example, but it has deprived her of the trusted shoulder to cry on now when she needs it.

Moving Forward)

So, which is it to be? Must the addict accept that he is a terrible monster and always will be? That no matter of future sobriety can make up for the wrongs already committed? That he will be an addict, and he must daily self-flagellate because of that? Or is the wife supposed to just shut up about her pain? Does her anguish just not matter because the addict is suddenly a “new man?” Does the past not even matter?

Which of these two extremes is the right way forward? Well, of course, neither.

If the right way were so simplistic it would hardly require a blog series to unpack it. The real way forward is far more nuanced and intricate, and it absolutely requires full respect to be afforded to both sides of the matter. Throughout the next several days we will examine this issue from multiple angles, hopefully coming to a conclusion that resonates with all.

NOTE: Throughout this series I refer to the addict as “he” and the injured partner as his “wife.” This is merely a convenience for maintaining consistency. It is entirely possible for the addict to be a woman and the injured partner to be her husband. It is also entirely possible for the strained relationship to be between non-romantic partners, such as with a parent and a child.

Misguided Strength

A Surprising Discovery)

Early in my recovery journey I went into the mountains to attend a three-day spiritual retreat based on the writings of John Eldredge. While there, I discovered a deeper and more consistent connection with God than I had ever known before. I gained an understanding of my past and a roadmap for my future. One of my takeaways was that I needed to start writing. I came back home and started a story blog, later expanding into this spiritual blog and a novel.

My initial motivation for writing was simply to do something creative, something that I had loved in my youth but abandoned somewhere along the way. Much to my surprise, though, the act of writing also became one of my greatest tools in recovery. As I wrote consistently, I felt my desire to lust decrease to a level where I could easily turn it down. I hadn’t started writing to gain sobriety, but that was what had happened even so.

I found this a strange, if welcome, phenomenon, and I started paying close attention to my behavior and feelings. Through my self-examination I believe I found the link between my writing and sobriety. Perhaps this concept will help you on your own journey.

Energy Costs)

One thing I noticed was that my writing took real energy. Sometimes I would try writing when I was tired because I thought it would be a calm and sedentary activity, but it didn’t work. I really struggled to compose anything, and whatever I did get down was of inferior quality. I found that I did my best writing when I was still fresh and full of energy. I might not work up a sweat with my writing, but it does take real mental energy.

And this, I discovered, was the same with lust. Lust takes a story of energy, even when one is only sitting at a computer. It expends your strength and leaves you weaker than you were before. Thus, I found that my act of creativity was burning the same fuel that was used for lust. When I gave my energy to my writing, there simply wasn’t any left over for vice.

This made me consider how one of my earliest triggers for lust was being bored as a teenager. Sitting around with nothing to do had left me with pent up energy that needed some sort of outlet. At first, I had spent it in my writing, but when lust presented itself as an alternative, I moved over to that, leaving my writing behind. I was able to do one of these activities but not both, and if I didn’t want to do one then I simply needed to do the other.

The Strength of Man)

I don’t think that my situation is unique, either. As I consider men as a whole, I can’t help but notice that so many of us have problems with anger and lust, two high-energy vices. This has led me to theorize that God has given men great strength, in order that we might do a great work. But too many of us are not seeking what that great work is. We miss our calling, but we still have this great strength within us and it’s got to come out in some way.

If this is true, then one of the key things for real recovery is for a man to find what his calling is and spend his strength in it. Exactly what that calling would be is something that he must discover personally for himself. For me it was writing, but that won’t be the right calling for everyone.

One thing I am curious about is whether this phenomenon of pent up energy leading to addiction holds true for women as well. The addiction recovery groups I have been part of have been exclusively male, and obviously I am a male myself. I would defer any insights on the addiction patterns of women to someone who is more directly connected there.

But for men, at least, I think there is some real truth here. I am still evaluating this theory, and perhaps my opinions will evolve as to how energy, productivity, and addiction relate to one another, but I am at least certain that it is always good to seek one’s calling and put one’s strength into it. I am certain that doing so can only help one in their sobriety.

If you have desired sobriety for yourself, but been unable to attain it, I would recommend that you take some time to consider what calling God has for you, and how you can pour your heart and soul into fulfilling it. Join a group, work the program, and find your purpose in life. It is a wonderful way to live!

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 31:1-3

1 And he heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father’s; and of that which was our father’s hath he gotten all this glory.

2 And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before.

3 And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.

Unsurprisingly, Jacob’s increase had the side-effect of upsetting others. The sons of Laban were growing angry, and even Laban’s attitude towards Jacob had shifted. Yes, it was true that Jacob’s flocks had grown at the expense of Laban’s, but as we will see in the coming verses, this was due more to the divine intervention of God than his own cunning.

Jacob had fled his original home to escape the wrath of his brother, and it might have been that harmful thoughts were being cultivated against him in this new home as well. Fortunately, before things could ever get to violence, God commanded Jacob to leave this land for his original residence. God did not specify how things would go down when Jacob met Esau again, but he did provide the comforting promise “I will be with thee.”