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!

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:19-21

19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?

20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.

Joseph firmly reassures his brothers, doubling down on the forgiveness he gave to them before. He has let go of all their trespasses, he has no ill will towards them, and he is not going to destroy them. Let us consider a few points of his reassurances.

First of all, in verse nineteen he asks the question “am I in the place of God?” as if to suggest that he doesn’t even have the right to deny them forgiveness. Joseph may have been their direct victim, but even that does not give him the right to demand his pound of flesh. What an interesting idea. This sentiment is expressed elsewhere in scriptural text, such as in Doctrine and Covenants 64:10 where it states “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

Obviously, all of us have the capacity to hold a grudge and condemn each other, but how would our world change if we stopped believing that we had a right to. We may speak for truth, may refute evil, but the damnation or salvation of an individual soul should be left only to the Lord.

But realizing we do not have the right to condemn others does not mean that we cannot be opposed to their evil. Being willing to forgive does not require us to condone all behavior. In verse twenty Joseph states in no uncertain terms “ye thought evil against me.” What his brothers did was wrong, and he does not pretend that it was not, or that he can’t have an opinion of such.

Finally, in verse 21, Joseph reaffirms his tender care. He promises that he will continue to nourish his brothers and their children and speaks comfortingly to them. He shows to us what a kind and sympathetic man he is, taking his brothers unwarranted anxiety and responding with graciousness.

The story of Joseph is an astounding lesson in forgiveness. He takes it to a level that many of us might be uncomfortable with. He shows how we can stand for truth while still loving those who do not. He shows how we can walk the careful life of pardoning unreservedly without being irresponsibly permissive of evil behavior. He sets an ideal that we might struggle to match, but which we all should strive for.

Optimism in a Falling World- Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-11, 2 Nephi 9:41

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.

O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.

COMMENTARY

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive
The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there
I’ve discussed the desire some have to see the world burn, to see the wicked made accountable for all that they have done wrong. To this sentiment come the verses I have quoted above. God will see to the matters of judgment and forgiveness on His own. We are governed by His law, judged by His eye, and doled out mercy or retribution at His discretion.
He employs no servant in the matter of gatekeeping. He doesn’t need or want our help in deciding who is worthy of heaven. Will some be saved and others damned? Surely. Does it matter to us one bit which they will be? Not at all.

Ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother remaineth in the greater sin
But of you it is required to forgive all men
The question of this study is how to not despair as the world embraces evil. It is about how we keep our faith in humanity and work with our brothers and sisters, rather than leave them to their fates. And I believe part of the answer is how we deal with the sins that humanity commits against us. Each of us is affected by the growth of evil in the world, each of us is hurt by the collective abuse of human selfishness.
And our faithlessness in humanity often stems from that initial hurt we received from society, that time when some worldly darkness first broke our innocence. We might know that we need to forgive individuals, but as recorded in these verses what about the requirement “to forgive all men?” If we’re ever to get our faith in humanity back we have to make our peace with the world at large. We have to forgive society first before we can help it.

Dealing With Failure- Matthew 18:21-22

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

COMMENTARY

Peter said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, not until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Each of us must learn in life how to deal with those that disappoint and offend us. And while often we speak of that in terms of other people sinning against us, the truth is that the person who most often upsets us is our own self.
And in return, we usually are also our own worst critics, giving ourselves self-talk that is far crueler than what we would say to any other person. When we do something that lets us down, we mentally shake ourselves and ask when we’re finally going to get it right!
But I feel that Jesus’s counsel in this verse condemns withholding forgiveness from ourselves, as much as from another. And eventually, I started treating myself better after I felt God say to me: “Hey, don’t be so hard on Abe. I love that guy!”
We can forgive ourselves, be kind to ourselves, and still ask ourselves to grow and improve. In fact, our behavior is most likely to improve, when we set our expectations for ourselves with a heavy dose of self-love.

The Captive Heart- Matthew 5:38-39, 1 Peter 2:24, Colossians 3:13

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

COMMENTARY

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also
Yesterday we discussed that the only form of justice our fallen world can provide is “an eye for an eye.” It is fair, but also harsh, and it is destined to worsen the whole human experience over time.
Jesus, of course, recommended a different way. By taking the insult, having the right to lash back in kind, but yet not doing so, the cycle of harm comes to an end. For the first time it becomes possible for the human situation to actually become better instead of worse. It’s an exciting prospect, but who has the strength to do it? How do we find the power to let go of vengeance, when our mortal frame cries for it?

Who bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we should live unto righteousness
Our heart cries for justice. There is an eternal force that sees offense and demands retribution, and that force resonates through us all. It is one of the laws of this world, and it cannot be denied, the compensation of an eye for an eye must be answered. What we need to recognize, though, is that it already has been.
When my fellow brother or sister has offended me, the offense that I would do to make things even has already been endured by Christ. He stands in for them, having that right as their spiritual father, and takes the pain until things have been made equal to what I endured. And because that balance has been made, I no longer need to hurt my brother or my sister. I can forgive them instead.

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye
And what is more, I am not only able to forgive them, I am compelled to! For I have also been forgiven by Christ, and not because of any merit of my own. I have been forgiven undeservedly, thus creating an imbalance, which that same eternal force of justice now compels must be matched by another act of undeserved forgiveness. Because I have been forgiven freely, I feel that I must forgive another freely.
And just like that, the self-destructive cycle of the world applies to us no more. It is not that it has been broken, it is that it has been fulfilled (Matthew 5:17).

Knit Our Hearts- Matthew 5:23-24, Doctrine and Covenants 64:9

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.

COMMENTARY

First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift
I have been speaking about the need to forgive those that have wronged us, but I also wanted to make a point about our need to seek forgiveness as well. I find very interesting the order that is established in this particular verse. First be reconciled, then offer thy gift. If I try my utmost to serve God, but yet remain guilty of having wronged a brother, then all my efforts are in vain. My offerings are hypocritical. I am like Cain who made sacrifice to God while seething with hatred against his brother.
And that word “reconcile” is pretty meaningful, too. Jesus did not teach us to “apologize” to our brother. He did not say to “express regret” to our brother. If he had said those things, we could say a few words of remorse and if they were not accepted we would still be off the hook.
But instead he said “reconcile,” and that means to return to a peaceful and friendly state. So if my initial apology lands on deaf ears my obligation is not absolved. An apology only requires words, whereas reconciliation might mean a long period of owning one’s mistake, sharing a burden, and making restitution.

For he that forgiveth not his brother, there remaineth in him the greater sin
Of course there must come a point where one is released from this obligation. When a brother continually refuses to accept the reconciliation that is offered, the offender should not remain condemned. In these cases God will have to judge between them and absolve the offender when He feels their penance is sufficient. When exactly He will do that is between the individual and Him.

Knit Our Hearts- Colossians 3:13, Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-10

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

COMMENTARY

Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye
Of you it is required to forgive all men
Thus far I have examined the need for companionship in our faith, and how two disciples improve one another when they are united in a cause. I have also discussed that when a brother or sister wrongs us we can lovingly invite them to make amends. That is the first of our obligations, and the second is to forgive.
But of course, doing either of these tasks is easier said than done, especially when we are still in pain. If it was an accidental hurt followed by an immediate apology, those can often be dismissed right away. But an intentional wounding, or one brought about by gross negligence? And one where our so-called “brother” or “sister” denies having done any wrong?
In those situations we feel inseparable from our righteous indignation. Thus it doesn’t feel like we are being asked to “let go” of our anger, it feels like we would have to tear it right out of our core.
I have felt that way myself. Sometimes I still feel it. From my experience I believe that forgiveness is a muscle that can be exercised, a skill that can be developed. Thus I can acknowledge that “I am bad at forgiving…. But I can get better at it.” To that end I have established for myself a daily ritual of letting go of all the offenses I have felt. I hope to cultivate a spirit of forgiving, one that can let go of the bigger things as well.

Knit Our Hearts- Question

I have found a lot of personal value in these last couple studies. I guess I needed some reminders of service and brotherly love. I can certainly say from my own heart that the soul truly does crave unity, and we are meant to be bound together.

But with all of that, I have one question remaining. Having a desire to be united to all mankind is good and well, but to build bridges you need to work with people on an individual basis, not just as some nebulous “all mankind.” And working with individuals can be messy. It is a very easy temptation to say “well I don’t want a connection with you, I’ll wait for someone better.”

I think we are meant to be grateful for the relationships that come easily and naturally, but to persevere for the relationships that don’t. With this next study I’d like to take a smaller scope and find answers to questions like how do I clear the barriers between me and someone else? How do I forgive past wrongs? What actions build unity? How do people start working for some united goal? How do two strangers become friends?

I’m excited to do this research, and hope it will be as valuable for you as I expect it to be for me. In the meanwhile I would love to hear about your own experiences building bridges with others. What ways have you found to set aside differences? What miracles have you seen when you decided to try?

The Family of God- 1 John 4:7-8, 11

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

COMMENTARY

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love
I think we all know that we are supposed to love each of God’s children…but sometimes we just don’t. How can we make ourselves feel things for those that we don’t know, or for those that irritate or even offend us? It seems an impossible requirement.
But then, when I look at my young son I realize that most of us were once able to love so freely, when we were still children. Children are able to love others as soon as they meet them, children are able to forgive and restore love instantly. But while growing up we become jaded and cynical, we start making stipulations to limit the affection we show our fellow man.
That does not have to be the end of the story though. The maker of all things is also the re-maker of the heart.
We must never forget that we did not invent love. We are not the authors of how it works. We are not the ones that set the rules for when it comes into the heart. All we have power over is whether we keep it out.
God is the gatekeeper of love, and the closer we get to Him the more love He gives us for His children, the more He restores our natural affection for all mankind, the more He binds us to them. Perhaps you cannot make yourself love another, but God can.

The Family of God- Matthew 18:20-22

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

COMMENTARY

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them
Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

Before today I was already quite familiar with both of these accounts: the one where Jesus promises to be in the midst of a group gathered in his name, and the other where Peter wonders how many times he is expected to forgive another. But until now I had never contemplated that these moments are placed one immediately after the another.
It makes for a fascinating contrast, one where Christ is calling for unity, and then we have Peter trying to find out when he is allowed to create a division. It is as if Peter is asking “at what point can I not be expected to gather with a particular other?”
And Jesus’s answer is, essentially, never. We must not forget that Christ made his own company among sinners. Not only repentant sinners either, remember that he did some of his most beautiful work shoulder-to-shoulder with the man that would ultimately betray him. The world around him was rotten at times, but he still stayed a part of it.
In the end, we are all we have. God isn’t giving you a backup planet with new brothers and sisters if you can’t work things out with the current set. As such, we should stop looking for opportunities to write off a particular brother or sister as a lost cause, and instead start gathering together.