Addiction as an Ally: Part One

Talking to the Addiction)

When I was about a year into my initial recovery process our group therapist told us to write a letter to our addiction as if it was an actual person. The next time we met we read those letters out loud, and there was a great deal of anger and hatred directed towards the addiction. Most of us made it abundantly clear how much we had been hurt by the addiction, and how much we would wish it could be hurt in return, if only it were a living thing.

Then our group therapist said something that caught me by surprise. He advised us to redo the exercise, but to tone down the hate this time. We were here to say goodbye to the addiction, not to rage against it. In fact, he said, through all his years of doing this work he had come to appreciate the intentions of the addiction, even if he didn’t condone its behavior.

I had a very hard time processing what he said in that moment, it just seemed too outlandish to accept. Over the years, though, I think I have come to understand what he was getting at. The fact is that our addictions are actually trying to help us. To be sure, they absolutely do not help us, but they are trying to. Our addictions arise due to a terrible grief or stress in our lives, and they are an attempt our instincts make to cope with that pain. Yes, they cope with the pain in a way that only causes more pain down the road, and that is why we have to stop them, but their intention to free us from our anguish isn’t in-and-of-itself evil. How true, then, is the expression that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That quote matches the addict perfectly!

My therapist was trying to help us reach the point where our letters could say in essence, “Addiction, I see what you were trying to do, and I can even appreciate your intentions. Thank you for trying…but now I know that your methods don’t work. In fact, they only make the problem worse. Also, you have not been willing to listen to me when I tried to reason with you, so now I’m here to tell you that I’m cutting things off entirely. I’m not going to entertain your suggestions any more, and I don’t want to hear from you again. This is good-bye.”

Firm and decisive, but not hateful.

As I suggested, I wasn’t able to see this perspective at first. I had spent too long hating my addiction to give it any sort of acknowledgement whatsoever. The more I worked the program, though, the more I had to deal with the fact that my addiction was inseparably connected with my young-child self, who didn’t have the wherewithal to deal with his great sorrows in a healthy manner. I couldn’t bring myself to hate seven-year-old me for being ignorant, for being duped, for just being a child who didn’t understand. Not to say that my young-child self is entirely one-and-the-same as the addict self, but they are inextricably linked. One came about because of the other, and so much of my addictive acting out, even as a fully-grown adult, has been initiated by my childlike impulse-driven mind.

Growing Up)

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. - 1 Corinthians 13:11

Our addiction is a sign that part of us has been trapped in our childhood. We have remained little boys and girls in the area of how we deal with our emotions. Every little child becomes a worse form of him- or herself when they are overwhelmed with emotions that they cannot fully process. They become tyrants, they become liars, they become gluttons.

Ideally, the child will be guided in these moments by a kind and understanding adult. One that can show them healthy outlets for frustration, support them through overwhelming situations, and reaffirm to them their true nature. They need an adult who won’t hate them for having started to go astray, but who will love them back to being who they really are.

Often we only became addicts because we didn’t receive that sort of wise and loving care back then. Instead we were left to figure things out on our own, and the result was that we let an addiction into our lives. The addiction promised us control over our painful feelings. We probably had some instinct that what it enticed us to do was wrong, but also we were young and easily seduced by the pleasures that it offered.

Now, though, we are an adult. We have greater perspective and higher reasoning, if we choose to use it. That small child is still inside of us, and we have the chance to help it…or to aggravate it further. When we direct hate at our addict-self, we inevitably also hate the overwhelmed child that is locked up with it. What’s more, by engaging in these angry outbursts we are only giving up our mature self to lean further into our childish nature, thus ensuring that there still isn’t an adult present to help with the situation.

The true adult would have the maturity to forgive. The true adult would , forgive the child for being scared and not knowing what to do, forgive the child who having made an ignorant mistake, forgive the child for letting the addiction in. Not only would the true adult be able to forgive the child, they could even forgive their addiction.

I absolutely understand if that notion seems incredulous right now. I wasn’t able to come to terms with it at first either. I had to mature in my recovery considerably before I was able to finally say, “Addiction, I get it. I don’t approve of what you did…but I see why you thought you had to. You were wrong, and continue to be wrong, but I forgive you for that. I’m not going to hate you anymore.” I have been able to say that, and then I have parted ways with my addiction in peace.

Or, well, we sort of parted ways. As any addict in recovery knows, the boundaries we set with the addiction are tested many times over. My addiction has snuck through the back door in different guises that I wasn’t expecting. I was frustrated and didn’t know what to do. I started to have a sense that the addiction was never going to really leave. It was probably going to always be there in some capacity or another. And as I came to accept this fact, I realized that I could actually have a partnership with my addiction and still make use of it. Now I realize that might not sound like a very good thing, but I don’t mean it in the way that you’re probably thinking! Come back tomorrow and I’ll explain myself further!

You Should Have Cried: Part Two

In my last post I discussed the therapeutic process of revisiting childhood trauma and mourning the things that might have never been fully processed at the time. In many cases this means finally shedding the tears that had been bottled up for far, far too long.

But I’ve been in therapy groups, and I’ve certainly seen a resistance to this process, particularly among the men who feel like openly weeping is unmanly. Is there a validity to this sense of stoicism, or is it a misalignment in our society? Well, today we will address this question by looking at the example of the greatest man that ever lived: Jesus Christ.

Become as a Little Child)

The primary reason why many feel ashamed to show their unbridled emotion is that they want to be mature and composed. They don’t want to appear as a little child. But what was it that Jesus said to his disciples about little children?

And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 18:2-4

Humble yourself as a little child. Give up your pride and your show of false strength. Stop trying to prove that you’ve got this all taken care of and let yourself admit that you were really hurt.

And in case you aren’t sure that Jesus’s declarations applied to matters of showing one’s weakness and hurt, let us consider another example that he gave in a moment of great distress. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when he was bowed under the pain of the atonement and the anxiety of the coming crucifixion, this was his response:

And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. - Mark 14:35-36

Jesus feels scared and hurt, and he falls on his face and calls to his “Abba.” Abba is a Hebrew word for “father,” and it denotes both intimacy and submission, something like “daddy” and “sir” all rolled into one. “Daddy/sir, you can do anything, will you take this hurt from me? But I’ll go through with it if you ask.”

Jesus has been many things to his followers. He has been called “master,” and “teacher,” and “prophet.” But to his God, Jesus is “as a little child.” Vulnerable, open about his pain, asking for help, and submissive.

Later still, when Jesus was upon the cross, he cried out in a moment of agony:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? - Mark 15:34

Previously, when raised upon the cross, Jesus had been magnanimous to his killers: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” – Luke 23:34. He had been considerate to the well-being of his mother: “He saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” – John 19:26-27. But to his God, once again, Jesus was a little child, crying out and asking why he was alone.

To Every Thing There is a Season)

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; - Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4

The words and example of Jesus Christ perfectly line up with these words of wisdom in Ecclesiastes. Yes, there is a time for stoicism. There is a time for power. There is a time for projecting strength and not weakness. One has only to consider Jesus chasing out the vendors in the temple with a whip to see that there is even a time for anger!

But also, there is a time for weeping, mourning, and being broken. One of the great examples of Christ, which too often goes overlooked, was how he filled the full measure of human emotion. He showed all of his feelings, at the appropriate time. Reserved when he ought to be, confident when he ought to be, distraught when he ought to be, and pained when ought to be. He assured his disciples that there was nothing to fear (Mark 4:39-40), but he also wept at the death of Lazarus (John 11:35).

To claim that you ought not feel or show an entire sector of the emotional spectrum because you are a man, is to claim that that you are more of a man than Jesus. God did not give us our feelings with the intent that we would ignore half of them, all of them were given for our good. Yes, they need to be governed and managed at times, but that does not mean suppressed out of existence!

Previously, I presented the mourning of old trauma as a matter of emotional therapy, and it is, but it is also a matter of spiritual significance as well. We cannot be the full person that God intended for us to be until we truly embrace the full person, broken inner child included.

I know by experience that Christ calls each of us to step into the hurts of our past. Not only that, he asks us to step into those places with him. He goes with us into those defeated places, he asks us to open up the hurt and let the tears flow, and then he applies his healing balm and saves the lost soul within. Mourning our old wounds, with our Savior by our side, is arguably the most sacred act that we will ever do. May we all go through this beautiful process, so that every lost child can be healed and be saved.

You Should Have Cried: Part One

A Five-Minute Tragedy)

This morning I was sitting in my living room when I heard the sound of collisions in quick succession and the cries of my two-year-old daughter. She had fallen halfway down the staircase, and now she lay in a heap, physically tender and emotionally broken.

As you might expect, for the next several minutes she was inconsolable, wrapped in the arms of her mother, wailing as the tears streamed from her face. There was no real damage to her physically, but the terror of falling and the momentary pain had greatly unnerved her.

And then, all at once, she stopped crying, bounced out of her mother’s arms, and went about her day like nothing had happened!

This, of course, is common in the life of a young child. A moment of pain or of fright brings them crashing down, but after a good cry they’re perfectly fine and will soon forget that anything ever happened. One might be tempted to say that this whole thing is silly, likely they are getting all worked up about something that didn’t matter at all, but really this is a sign that their emotions are operating exactly how they should. Being able to stop and have a cry is the child’s way of quickly and effectively processing the trauma, and then they are able to leave it in the past where it belongs.

Unwept Tears)

Sometimes, however, children don’t cry when they ought to. The tears well up in their eyes, but they blink them back and power forward. The primary reason for not crying is that the child doesn’t feel that it is safe to cry, and this situation might occur more frequently than you’d expect.

Consider the example of a child lost at the supermarket. They may feel terribly scared and alone, but many of them won’t actually cry about it until they are back in the arms of a loved parent, which is the only place that they feel safe enough to let the tears come.

Another example would be when the child is surrounded by antagonists. A child that is being bullied at school will often feel that they have been humiliated enough without showing their aggressors the tears in their eyes as well.

There may also be social pressures not to cry. Young boys will feel like they must become stoic and reserved, like men. Though they may suffer a considerable ordeal, such as being in a dangerous car accident, if they don’t see their father shed any tears about it, they will feel that they shouldn’t either. Girls have their own form of this, too, feeling that they must stuff their feelings down in order to not make a scene. They will feel it is their responsibility to not add drama to an already tense situation, to hold the peace and not rock the boat.

There are many other examples that could be given of times and places that a child’s psyche knows that it ought to cry, but they don’t because it feels unsafe or wrong to them to do so. Thus, they are at odds with their own self, suppressing their nature under a show of control.

The Work of Therapy)

I once had a therapist who would quote that “the wound un-mourned is a wound unhealed.” Most of us don’t realize that when we suppressed our tears as children, we essentially covered up the wound without ever treating it. Just like physical wounds, emotional wounds can get infested. Infection will grow within them, and then that infection will come out in odd, seemingly unrelated placed. Many times, we believe that there isn’t a reason behind the bad things that we do as an adult, but after we revisit and mourn our childhood trauma, we suddenly find the motivation to do the wrong thing has evaporated away. Our emotions are like a prairie dog village, with many seemingly unrelated openings at the top, but a whole network of interconnected tunnels hiding down below.

One of the greatest works of therapy is identifying those unwept, unhealed moments of trauma from our past, going back to them, and crying for them like we should have at the time. With the help of a counselor, one has revealed to them the fact that the scared, hurt child is still very alive and well inside. They find that child, weep with it, and bring it to a place of safety.

Of course, I have seen many men in my recovery groups that feel extremely uncomfortable with getting emotional. We are grown men, and we’re convinced that crying is unbecoming of us. But what we must remember is that it isn’t necessarily us who needs to cry, it’s the young boy inside of us. All we’re doing is letting our body be a vessel for that child to get out what it has kept locked away for so long. In this sort of context and for this sort of purpose, tears could never be more dignified.

And, when we do let ourselves go through the full mourning process, just like my two-year-old daughter we’ll suddenly bounce back up and feel such a lightness and relief. We don’t realize just how much our old hurts were holding us down until we suddenly feel the weight of them sliding off our backs. And all things considered, it is a relatively easy thing to do. I never ceased to be amazed that a hurt, held onto for more than twenty years, can be released in only twenty seconds.

But what about the words of scripture? Do they support returning to the state of a little child? Do they approve of such vulnerable, open-hearted weeping? Come back tomorrow as we take a look at the words of Christ, himself, and the example that he set with his very own life.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 46:4

4 I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.

After God’s declaration that Israel will finally become a great nation in Egypt, it might be easy to overlook the two additional promises given next, but they are both significant and touching in their own ways.

For the first one, Jacob may not realize how important it is that God commits not only to “go down with thee into Egypt,” but also to “surely bring thee up again.” Jacob may not know, but God does, that while in Egypt the Israelites will become enslaved. They will become a great nation, but one that is subservient to another.

The Israelites will be great distressed in that time, and they will plead for deliverance. Then how meaningful will this seemingly innocuous pledge to “bring thee up again” become? As the Israelites in bondage review their records, they will realize that God was promising to deliver them since even before the need for deliverance existed. The promise was for them far more than for Jacob.

The following promise is most definitely for Jacob, though, which is that “Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.” This expression means “to close the eyes of one who has died.” God is promising to Jacob that what the other sons have reported is true. Joseph really is alive, and Jacob is going to spend the rest of his life with him, for Joseph will outlive him.

Many parents that have had to bury a child express what a strange twist of the natural order it is to outlive the next generation. We may want to live a long life, but not at the cost of burying our own children. Jacob had to mourn the death of his child once before, but now he is being reassured that the natural order is being restored, and the returned child will continue past himself. This is a very tender promise from God, one that shows His keen understanding of the human heart.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:16-20

16 And they journeyed from Beth-el; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour.

17 And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.

18 And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Ben-oni: but his father called him Benjamin.

19 And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Beth-lehem.

20 And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.

A very somber end to the story of Rachel. It is particularly sobering how childbearing, usually a source of great joy for a mother, was such a source of travail in Rachel’s life. First, she was unable to have any children for several years, causing her to envy her sister Leah. Then she miraculously had one child, Joseph, but then ceased again for a while. Here, at last, she was able to give birth to a second…but that proved to be the death of her. Her grief is apparent in how she named the child Ben-oni, which translates to “son of my sorrow.”

That is a very heavy title for an innocent child to bear, but Jacob set for him another title: Benjamin, which means “son of the right hand.” I cannot help but wonder what sort of special companionship Joseph and Benjamin shared, the only two half-orphaned brothers born of Rachel. It seems a difficult situation for starting one’s life, but perhaps it was necessary for their development. Each of them grew to be the most faithful of sons.

I wonder also how her death affected Jacob, who still had many years to go without his most beloved companion. We do not know exactly how long she and Jacob had together before the end. It is clear that they were married after Jacob had served Laban seven years, and that Jacob served Laban twenty years in all, but we aren’t sure how long Jacob was in Shalem before travelling to Beth-el, and how long he was in Beth-el before this fatal delivery occurred. Still, it seems likely that their earthly union was somewhere in the range of fifteen-to-twenty years. He likely had many years yet to go, but he would always see a living reminder of her in their two sons.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 15:1-6

1 After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

2 And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

4 And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

This story of Abram is very moving to me. It has been years since God first made His lofty promises to him, and understandably Abram is feeling hurt that they are still left unfulfilled.

And I think it is important to note that Abram is not guilty of some offense here by expressing his hurt. He isn’t being harsh or abusive towards God, he isn’t giving up on the Lord, but he is stating his sincere feelings in frank and honest terms. And God can take it.

When we are hurt, when we are confused, and even when we are angry, God is big enough to hold that emotion. It is not faithless to say “God, you said that everything would be alright, but they really don’t seem alright right now. I am in a pain that I don’t understand. Can we talk about that?”

Dealing With Failure- Galatians 6:1

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

COMMENTARY

If a man be overtaken in a fault, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness
I spoke yesterday of how self-correction can be an act of love and protection, where I endeavor to preserve my delicate and spiritual nature from the more callous and worldly part of me. However I have also learned that rushing to the defense of the spiritual does not mean that I must become harsh with the flesh. When one shouts at oneself, one tends to shout at all of oneself, both the offender and the offended.
Yes, the flesh does need to be subdued and bridled. And yes, when I stand between it and the spirit, I must be firm and direct. But as this verse suggests, I can also have a spirit of meekness and compassion during that stance.
This might seem like a contradiction of terms, but it makes sense when I remember the times I have corrected my own children from a healthy, grounded state. A good parent will firmly enforce rules and boundaries to a child, but in the same moment will hold them, express love, and patiently explain the reasons for the rule.
Because in the end, my worldly, misbehaving self often feels like a small child himself. A young, naïve boy who is trying to get what he wants by misguided means. He is a manipulative boy, even a bully of a boy, but rather than be hated for it, he just needs someone to instruct and correct him. Firmly and directly, but also compassionately.

Dealing With Failure- Psalm 82:3-4, Matthew 18:10

Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

COMMENTARY

Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones
These verses have an obvious literal interpretation: to protect and defend the helpless and the young. But also, as I considered the topic of this study, I thought of a figurative interpretation for them also.
The fact is, when I do something that I know is wrong, something that causes harm to my heart, I have a sense like that of a child crying inside. There is a youthful and needy soul within me, delicate and sensitive, and it has to be protected.
Indeed, every wrong action is an act of self-harm in some way, for we are fundamentally composed of a divine spirit, that cannot help but be wounded at the presence of vice. Self-correction, therefore, ought to be considered an act of self-protecting love.

For Our Own Good- 2 Nephi 28:30, Luke 2:52

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

COMMENTARY

I will give line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man

When it comes to commandments that we do not understand the reasons for, it is important to know that there is nothing wrong in our ignorance. There is no shame in saying “I do not understand why this matters.” As we see in these verses, it is the natural and expected course for us to learn one step at a time, which implies that we have not attained all knowledge yet. Even Jesus followed this pattern. Though he showed great wisdom in his youth, that does not mean he came to earth knowing absolutely everything. In fact the record showed that he learned and grew, just like the rest of us.
Consider, also, the example of a small child that has yet to learn addition. Yes, they need to learn that skill, it is important, but there is no shame that they have not attained it yet. For now, mastering counting is sufficient for them.

For unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have
What would be concerning, though, is the child that refuses to learn to count, and by extension refuses to learn every higher form of mathematics. It is okay to not know all things, but it is not okay to stop learning.
It can be tempting to take what commandments we do understand and say “I’ll just keep these ones and not worry about the rest,” but that would be limiting ourselves. Neither should we look at the commandments that we do not understand and say “I feel deeply ashamed for my ignorance,” that would be abusive. As with so many things, the middle path is the right way forward. We can accept that we are ignorant, without shame, and also strive to grow past it.