Do I Even Have an Addiction? -Part Three

A Social Shame)

I’ve already talked about our tendency to minimize our addictions, and I have encouraged all to bring their full resolve to addressing these “minimal” issues, so that they may quickly ascertain how “minimal” they really are. At the end of my last post, I suggested that even if one discovers that their vices are not a matter of choice, but of compulsion, they might still be reluctant to call their situation an addiction.

There are a few reasons why this might be, let us first consider that the person might have an aversion to that label due to social pressure. Most of us are blind to just how much we are molded by the society around us, so our addict-in-denial probably doesn’t even recognize this factor in his life at first. Through introspection, he may realize that he has always heard of addicts in association with murderers, liars, the homeless, and thieves. He has considered anyone with that title to be hopeless, broken, and perverse. In short, he views the label “addict” prejudicially.

He might express a fear of how others will view him if he labels himself as an addict. He knows that the label is stigmatized, for he has held that same stigma, and he is terrified that others will assume all manner of perversions about him that are inaccurate. He, himself, remains suspicious of addicts as a whole. He views them as an unpredictable group, and he only meets with them while inwardly pinching his nose. Frankly he believes that he is better than them. Thus, he would rather find a term that tells gives people a more favorable view of his problems.

And while that may sound terrible and judgmental, it is a completely understandable place for one to begin their journey. So many of the very people in the twelve steps started in just the same way. We have all had many years to reinforce the stereotypes of what an “addict” is, and it is going to take some time for us to broaden our perspective. We have to learn to let go of our bias and see things with more honesty and nuance.

Not That Bad)

But ignorance and bias are not the only possible reasons why one might be averse to calling himself an addict. Another reason might be that our one genuinely doesn’t think his problem qualifies under the category of addiction. Most of us feel that only certain sorts of actions can belong to an addiction. And maybe this is accurate, and maybe it isn’t, really this is merely a matter of semantics.

Some, for example, feel that an addiction must involve some sort of foreign chemicals. Thus, they would say that one could not be addicted to overeating. Others say that it doesn’t have to be a chemical, but the taking in of some substance must be involved, which would rule out being addicted to pornography or gambling.

There are also many different opinions as to how afflicted one must be before their situation can be considered an addiction. There is a sense that there is a quota of suffering and senseless behavior that must be met before the addiction is official.

But frankly, in this case arguing semantics isn’t very meaningful. So long as one realizes when and where they are powerless over their behavior, and acknowledges that they need drastic changes and external help, then who cares what they call it?

I have my own issues that fall into this gray area. One of them is my seeming refusal to get to bed on time. Every day I tell myself that I’m going to, I know that I am going to suffer if I don’t, yet night after night I find myself making the same unhealthy choice to stay up too late. Does that really qualify as an addiction? Even by the most broad and inclusive definition of the term, it seems a bit of a stretch. But I don’t care. If someone decided to call this problem of mine an addiction, I would feel absolutely no need to correct them. My addictions and my compulsive negative behaviors still live under the same umbrella, and I still need to work on each of them in the same way. In all cases I need to identify my triggers, discover my underlying mental and emotional states, seek support from understanding friends, and surrender my failings to my Higher Power.

“Addiction” or “compulsive negative behavior?” It just doesn’t matter. That which we call a thorn, by any other name, would pierce just as painfully. So long as we are no longer in denial about our affliction and our powerlessness, we may call it whatever we will. If you feel reluctant about labeling yourself an addict, I would simply encourage you to consider what the reason for that is. Is it due to some social bias, or have you become hung up on semantics? In either case, can you set aside the periphery and deal with the problem honestly and wholeheartedly? Are you humble enough to get the help you need?

Layers of Man- Summary

For the last week we have been exploring the different layers that make a person up, which ones we mistakenly identify with, and the one true identity that we should define ourselves by. We made this journey by moving from the outside in, first examining the external falsehoods, moving to the interior ones, and finally settling on the truth. This inward journey tends to be the pattern that the reawakened soul follows, digging through the layers to get back to who they once were. But, of course, all of these layers come upon the soul in reverse order. So, let’s take a minute to start at the core and work our way back out, just to make sure the picture is complete.

The Divine)

First and foremost, we have the divine. Our true identity, present in us from before our birth. We do not have to work for it, we do not have to earn it, it is just inherent in our innocent, infant state. Artists have long recognized the natural divinity of children, rendering them as angels and cherubs, holy souls under the direct purview of God, Himself.

The divine core is present in us from the beginning, though it should be noted that it can grow and expand throughout our lives. When we are living from this authentic core, we are able to develop and attach other virtues to our character. If we attempt to attach these virtues at any other level of being, they will never stick. Thus, the great prerequisite to real change in our lives is for that change to be able to communicate with this most intimate layer. If you really want to make lasting changes in your life, then you need to stay in this place.

The Wound)

Tragically, though, at some point the divine self is assaulted and taken from us. Though we are naturally bright, someone tells us that we are stupid. Though we are effortlessly kind, someone tells us that we are hurtful. Though we are inherently innocent, someone tells us that we are guilty. We accept these messages as true, because we are young and vulnerable, and they come from someone that we love and trust.

Part of the reason why childhood wounds hurt us the most is because they cut at the truest part of us. If we accept that at our core we are foolish and selfish and worthless, then there is nowhere else to go for reassurance. We see ourselves as fundamentally broken, and by definition, fundamentally broken means unfixable.

The Shame)

The pain brought on by this wounding cannot be overstated. It is entirely appropriate to say that these are the greatest assaults our souls will ever face in life. Being struck to our core, our survival instincts will almost certainly kick in. These instincts are simple and powerful, designed to find the quickest, most efficient way to remove oneself from the pain.

And all too often, the quickest, most efficient anesthesia is some sort of carnal pleasure. Whether the pleasure of sexual gratification, or of consumption, or of entertainment, or of mind-altering chemicals, or of getting new things, or of establishing control over another. All of these alleviate pain in the moment, but they do so at the terrible cost of tearing our conscience and hurting the hearts of others. We will hate ourselves for doing these things, but that hatred will only inspire the survival instincts to do them yet again to numb that pain also! A vicious cycle of self-hurt and hurt to others thus begins.

The Façade)

The pain of a broken heart and of a guilty conscience, the two most terrible burdens to live with. The instinct-based survival mechanism has tried to save us in its own way and utterly failed, so now our higher reasoning takes a crack at it, but its attempt is hardly any better.

We mistakenly conclude that we must create a new layer outside of the others, one that covers the shame so that no one else can see it and one that overcompensates for the part of our divine soul that was assaulted by the wound. So, if we were told that we were selfish, and if our shameful addictions have reinforced that belief, then we will likely create a façade of exaggerated niceness, straining to put on a show of compassion and consideration, not motivated by genuine love for other people, but by fear of having our ugly side seen.

Because the façade totally ignores the underlying issue, it is trying to erect a beautiful building on top of a fractured foundation, and it is doomed to fail miserably. Sometimes this failure is a sudden and public collapse, sometimes it is hidden from the world as we slowly erode from the inside out. In either case, its scope is all-reaching, shattering every branch and relationship in our lives.

Hope)

And thank God that it does. Thank God that our efforts to put a band-aid over a gaping laceration don’t work. Thank God that we will never find a workable solution without Him. And I literally mean “thank God,” because He is often the one who topples our house of cards to the floor.

Sometimes, when we are in the midst of trying so hard to cover our mistakes and wounds, we feel like divine intervention is tripping us up. Often that makes us incredibly mad! “God, I’m trying to make myself good enough, I’m trying to make this house beautiful enough, so why do you keep sending earthquakes to knock it down?!”

God breaks apart everything that we build so that we can finally give up. Routed and cut off from support, our marshalling ruined and our hopes in retreat, finally we throw our hands up and say “I surrender! Go ahead. Punish me! Break me! I deserve it!”

And then we see what a liberating captor God is.

One layer after another, God then breaks through the façade, the shame, and the wound. He blasts all of it away and reveals to us our shining, divine spark, long forgotten but never faded.

“I don’t care about the wrongs,” He tells us. “I don’t care about the lies. I don’t care about the shame. And I’m not here to condemn you, break you, or punish you. I’m only here for this!”

He takes that divine spark and puts it back into our hands. He gives ourselves back to ourselves.

“Now let’s try this again,” He says.

And now, with our true self restored back to us, we miraculously find ourselves effortlessly able to be the person that we could never make ourselves be by force. Where once we felt cursed in all that we did, now we are blessed. Certain defeat is replaced with already-won victory. Real change and real happiness come over us, and we are amazed to find that all this was ready and waiting for us at any moment.

Unveiling our shame and our wounds may seem a terrible ordeal. Our anxiety might seem sure that to do so will kill us! But this is the only way to get them out of the way and then unveil the divine, and once we have done this, then all the hard journey will have been worth it. At last, we are our ourself again, and we need never go back to playing pretend.

Layers of Man- Shame

And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. - Genesis 3:10

The story of Adam and Eve is strange and fantastic, and at first glance it may seem difficult to relate to. Or at least, it seems difficult until Adam and Eve discover shame. When we hear of them scrambling to hide from God the story suddenly becomes all too familiar. Each of us knows that moment of uncomfortable exposure when we wish we could sink into the floor and disappear from the disapproving glare of another.

Like Adam and Eve, shame is a developed emotion within us. Infants and babies do not exhibit it to any degree but starting around the age of two or three they start to recognize when they have been caught in bad situation and will cry because of it. Though shame is not present at the beginning it is inevitable. Like sexual feelings, the fact that it isn’t present from birth does not mean that it is any less real or certain.

Shame is an essential, if unpleasant, part of learning how to conduct oneself within a society. Every child develops it alongside of their need for friends and social identity. When properly handled, it will guide is into becoming a healthy, well-adjusted individual. But that requires us to embrace its pain, and too often try to find ways to short-circuit it instead. This, of course, means hiding our shame and crafting the façade to cover it, and this means splitting ourselves into two realities.

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. - Romans 7:19

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. - Matthew 26:41

Literature and theater have long been fascinated with the dual nature of man. The Phantom of the Opera shows us a man both hideous and beautiful. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde features a man who is one part kind and one part violent. The Brothers Karamazov is full of characters who believe they are one way but then discover another side to themselves.

Yesterday we discussed the part of our personality that we wear like a mask, a façade that we use to cover the shameful way we feel inside. Many the addict has confessed to a dual life, trying to sustain two completely opposite existences. If the façade is intended to attract the people that we want to like us, then the inner shame tends to be all the qualities that we think would repulse those same people. Addicts express sentiments such as “people think I’m so great, but if they knew who I really was, they’d run for the hills.” Thus, shame represents all the qualities that we think make us unlovable.

And this makes our shame very difficult to expose. It is literally the things that we feel will make people abhor us and reject us, so how are we to willingly unveil those very parts to other people? It feels like an act of suicide!

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! - Isaiah 5:20

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; - 2 Timothy 4:3

Of course, there is not only shame, but shamelessness. There are those whose answer to unpleasant feelings of embarrassment and exposure is to reject those feelings and put gross excess and inappropriate behavior on a pedestal.

Perhaps some feelings of shame are nurtured in us by society, and perhaps some of those things we ought not to feel ashamed about, but just as excessive heat and sharpness should cause pain, excessive indulgence and immorality should cause shame. Those that live shamelessly may think they are living a truer existence because they have thrown away the phony outer layer of the façade, but in reality they have made their shame into their façade. Being accepting of the unacceptable is not authentic, it is just as much a fraud as the person trying to live a dual life.

There are also those who admit to their shameful deeds, and admit that they are shameful, but pitifully conclude that there is nothing they can do about it. They are just no good, and that’s how it is.

Thus, just as how those who self-identify with their façade stunt themselves by living a lie, so too do those who self-identify with their shame. Because while shame is a deeper layer of our psyche, it is still not the true us. Stopping our progression at this level will still prevent us from living with fulness and joy.

***

Yesterday I explained my own façade, the way I try to put on an intelligent and kind face to everyone I meet. But what is beneath that layer? What is my shame? What are the secret behaviors I have always felt rendered me completely unlovable?

Well, as one might expect, they tend to be the opposite of the façade that I try project. They are my lack of intelligence and my selfishness.

For lack of intelligence, I have always felt that I am lagging behind the curve. I have always been terrified to have my knowledge tested, and for the first several years of college I cheated in every test that I could. Eventually I was caught and brought before a school counselor. I thought I was going to try to lie my way out of it right up until the moment I opened my mouth. Admitting to my stupidity and immoral behavior would be social suicide after all. But something came over me in that moment, and I peeled back the façade and showed my shame instead. I admitted that the accusation was completely true, that I had cheated, and that I had been doing so for quite some while. And, most unexpectedly, I actually felt relieved to have finally been discovered.

Fortunately for me, the school showed mercy. I did not die socially, I was not expelled, and from that moment on I never cheated on a test again. But the temptation to do so was always there. I still dreaded having my knowledge measured, because I was never able to shake the feeling that my intelligence on its own would never be enough. But a change had finally occurred, where I was willing to accept failure and embarrassment rather than pretend to something false.

For selfishness, I have my addictions. Compulsive behaviors that are based around getting what instantaneous pleasure I want, with no regard for whoever is harmed as a result. My addictions are primarily in the form of lust, overeating, and excessive media use.

Of these three, lust is certainly the one that has brought me the most shame. I have felt absolutely disgusted with myself for how I would use women for my own gratification, viewing pornography and typing away in chat rooms, all the while pretending to be a loving husband and an attentive father. I told myself for years that I could not break the façade, that I could not ruin the image of a shining knight that my wife and son had for me. As with the cheating in school, I really believed that I could never tell the truth, and unlike with school, I knew how to cover my tracks well enough that I would likely never be caught. I lived the lie and I never let the mask slip.

Until, one day, I did. One day I had had enough, and I wrote my wife a letter and left it on our doorstep. In the next two days I met with my ecclesiastical leader and scheduled an appointment with an addiction recovery program. Since that moment, my secret shame has been out in the open, as I have shared all my worst moments with therapy and twelve step groups. Much to my surprise, revealing my shame has not made me fundamentally unlovable. In fact, it has drawn people closer.

However, accepting that we have this layer of shame and bringing it to the light is still not the end of the road. There is a reason why we do the things that we are ashamed of, and that reason emanates from another layer further down. Tomorrow we will approach the layer of our wounds, and we will do so gingerly and carefully. We will come to understand their pain and how we mishandle them with shame and façade.

Layers of Man- Overview

But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. - 1 Kings 16:7

In his excellent series Restoring the Shack, author William Paul Young discusses the different layers that there are to a person. He points out that what most of us present to the world is nothing more than a façade, a carefully-constructed window dressing that reveals how we want to be seen, but which is far removed from who we actually are inside. He explains that behind the façade there is an inner layer which may appear more like a broken-down shack. And while we may feel that it would kill us to reveal that part to another person, we will never have any true connection until we do.

John Eldredge also speaks of this idea of layers in his book Wild at Heart. He illustrated how we create a “poser,” a carefully crafted image, whose primary function to is protect an inner wound. The poser prevents anyone from getting to a place that is vulnerable and tender, but as William Paul Young suggests, this again means never having any true connection.

Both Young and Eldredge identify a fake, outer layer, and also a sensitive inner one. Personally I feel that they identify two different inner layers, though. There is the shame, that William Paul Young discusses at great length, and there is the wound, which Eldredge focuses on. But these inner layers cannot represent the entire self either. There must still be a deeper layer, the one that feels hurt by the wound, the one that feels ashamed of the misbehavior.

As I have examined my own life I have found this notion of layers to be absolutely true, and I have recognized the hierarchy that they organize themselves into. Within my life, and I suspect many others, there is

  1. Façade
  2. Shame
  3. Wound
  4. Divine

This sequence of these layers is not random, either. I have presented them in order of intimacy and truth. The deeper you go into the layers, the more secret and sacred of a space you come into.

Over the next few days I will explore each of these layers in turn, and what each specifically represents for me. I will consider how these layers are formed, how they help or hurt us, and how we return to our core self after we recognize the falsehoods of the others. If these notions are new to you they may bring up some difficult realizations. I can understand anyone that doesn’t want to see these intimate parts uncovered, I certainly did not want to go to these places for the first few decades of my life. And for good reason.

But I can also attest that one will never be fully alive until this work is gone through. This is the most important work any of us can do for ourselves, the work of discovering our true, divine heart. Make no mistake, there are dragons ahead, but dragons must be faced!

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 38:24-26

24 And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.

25 When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.

26 And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more.

The hypocrisy in Judah is incredible. Three months prior he crept into the tent of a prostitute, but when he hears that his daughter-in-law has herself been a prostitute, he demands that she be burned! Not only is Judah hypocritical in this matter, but also in how he has done nothing but shirk his responsibilities to his daughter-in-law for years, yet once he believes her to be in infraction of her contract also, he immediately seeks justice against her!

Then, at last, the moment of revelation comes. Tamar has shrewdly held onto the signet, bracelets, and staff that she was given by Judah. They are clear markers of his identity and there is no question that she was the prostitute he met along the road, and he is the man who is the father of her child.

I do not know whether levirate law permitted for a widow to be given to his father, but it is worth noting that rather than go to some stranger Tamar had kept the whole affair within the family, and she only did what she did after Judah was a widower, with no other lawful wife. It may still be a shocking course of action, but Tamar deliberately chose to operate within the very limited restrictions that she had, rather than totally abandon her commitments.

All these matters turn Judah’s anger in an instant. He has been found out in front of others, and at last he admits his own unrighteousness. He has lived an unholy and lustful life, which has borne him a most awkward fruit, and at last he owns that shame. “She hath been more righteous than I.”

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 38:19-23

19 And she arose, and went away, and laid by her veil from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. 

20 And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman’s hand: but he found her not.

21 Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place.

22 And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place.

23 And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her.

Judah attempted to make good on his deal with the unknown prostitute, but he sent a friend to bring her the promised kid instead of going himself. I can’t help but suspect he was anxious to not associate with the woman any longer than what it took to get what he wanted from her. In verse 23 he admits that he does admit that he has some shame in this area.

Judah’s desire to pay off the woman and get back his things is reminiscent of his attempts to offload Tamar on her father. In each case he was trying to wash his hands of a problem, trying to clear himself of responsibility, but without actually resolving it.

Which, of course, is something that we can all relate to as well. We do something selfish or lustful or conniving, and we quickly try to flee the scene, concerned only that we not be caught in association. It is a desire to live without consequence, to reap the benefits as if we had chosen rightly, but dodge the punishments for having actually chosen wrong.

Which, ironically enough, is the very same freedom that the gospel of Jesus Christ offers us! We can have the burden of our sins placed on another and live freely, as if we had never done the wrong. But the first step towards receiving that freedom is not to run from our mistakes, it is to wholeheartedly own them. Only when we make space to hold our failings do we have the option to then hand them over to a willing Savior. We run from God so we won’t have to face consequences, but He has been trying to take them from us all along!

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 9:20-23

20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:

21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.

22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.

23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.

Each of us have our personal low point, our “naked shame” that reveals us at our absolute worst. As with Moses, it is often our family who get to see us at those low points. Sometimes they get to see the best of us, but they also get to see the worst. Here we read that Noah was drunk and passed out, certainly not the most honorable of situations to be found in, and the different reactions of his three sons is very telling.

Shem and Japheth keep themselves turned away from their father’s shame and cover him. They are clearly retaining a reverence and respect for the man, even at his low point. And by that I don’t mean to suggest that we should just sweep the failings of our family members under the rug, but if confrontation and boundaries are needed, we can still establish those from a place of love and respect.

Ham, on the other hand, has no excuse for his behavior. Glorying in another’s shame and ridiculing them is never acceptable. By trying to expose his father’s wrong, Ham was also revealing his own.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 3:21

21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

When Adam and Eve discovered their naked shame they tried to hide it behind an apron of fig leaves, and we all do the same thing. We create all manner of guises to try and conceal the things that we are ashamed of. We might assume a persona of just not caring whether we’re a good person. We might try to overcompensate with a show of false piety. We might become depressed and define ourselves entirely by our wrong. We might try to distract from the pain with media or busyness. There are many ways that we make fig leaves, masks that are different from the authentic self we were born to be, anything that prevents others from seeing the wound inside.

But fig leaves are very inadequate clothes, and God provided to Adam, to Eve, and to us a different solution. The skin that He offered to our first parents is symbolic of the body of Christ. He invites us to surrender our mask, and replaces our shame with the purity of the Lamb. And this new vestiture isn’t about hiding our shame, it is about replacing it. Those that have been washed clean have a sense of being given a new and once-more-innocent soul. And one of the best analogues to that fresh feeling is pulling on a clean set of clothes, just like God gave to Adam and Eve.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 3:7-8

7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

8 And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

Yesterday I mentioned how Satan uses techniques that are uniquely suited against each individual. We all have our secret weaknesses, and many times they are secret even from our own selves. We feel bold and confident, believing there is no chink in our armor, right up until the moment that he pierces us with his arrow.

Then our weakness is exposed and we are ashamed to discover this part that is so willing to trade all our principles for temporary gratification. We lose trust in ourselves, and we feel naked. Having seen this bare side we hurry to craft a persona to conceal it behind, an apron of fig leaves to prevent anyone else from seeing what we truly are. We hide.