Do I Even Have an Addiction? -Part Two

Try Breaking the Shackles)

In my last post I said that if are unsure whether your negative behavior qualifies as an “addiction,” simply make a sincere commitment to stop doing it. I’ll further add that when you do, be sure to consider the usual excuses people give for giving up their resolutions and promise yourself that you won’t give in to any of those pitfalls. Promise yourself that you won’t ever say “well this next time will be the last time.” Commit to never say “I’ll make the change when I hit this next milestone in my life.” Assure yourself that you won’t be dissuaded by situations or friends. Acknowledge that the desire to do this behavior will rise again and resolve that you won’t give in to it even so.

And if you feel like you don’t agree with one of these commitments, then have an honest conversation with yourself about why not. Perhaps you want to stop overdrinking but not drinking altogether. Perhaps you want to commit to eating healthy when on your own but also want to leave the door open to getting a burger with friends. Perhaps you don’t want to keep viewing pornography after you’re married, but you figure in the meantime it isn’t hurting anyone.

If you find yourself making such concessions, then I would advise still making the commitment to cut the behavior out entirely, but you can make it temporary if you’d like. Say that you won’t do the behavior, not even for any of your usual exceptions, for three months. After that, after you’ve proven whether you can have your indulgence or leave it entirely at your own whim, then you’ll know whether you’re in control of the situation or not.

Many people attempt to do exactly this and are shocked to find that the future version of themselves goes entirely off rails from what they had previously decided. They come to realize that there are two persons living inside of them, one who is calm, in control, and rational, and another who throws all that out the window in a moment of impulse. We often make the mistake that addicts are always addicts. Sometimes that is the case, but more often I would say that addicts are only addicts some of the time. Because of this fact, the majority of addicts actually don’t know that they are ones until they try the sort of test that I described above. Nothing proves whether you are a prisoner than when you see if you can open the door to get out. It is sincerely trying to stop, and utterly failing to do so, that one becomes convinced that they really have an addiction.

Or, at least, this is the point where some become convinced that they have an addiction. Even after all this, some will try to write off their failure as a fluke, as a result of improper commitment or methodology. They remain convinced that they really are their own master, they just need to have the right approach in swearing off their troublesome behavior.

Very well, let them try again and again, by all manner of different methodologies. Let them read and employ every self-help book that promises to give them full control of self. Let them have as many failures as is required to finally surrender and say that they are a lost cause.

If at any point they do manage to break free, and permanently, then well enough. They have proven something to themself and they have managed to right their ship. But in my experience, it is very much the minority of people that will ever achieve this. Most often, by the time one even begins to wonder whether they have an addiction or not, the shackles are already thick and heavy.

Your Common humanity)

It might seem a shameful and discouraging thing to learn that you are a slave to your behavior. You might feel that that classifies you as the very worst of humanity, but nothing could be further from the truth. If you felt so sure that your vices were only minor indiscretions, and then discovered that they were addictions run amuck, you can be sure that there are untold billions for whom this pattern holds as well. In fact, you are in a more elevated minority simply by having come to accept the truth of yourself. Most people choose to remain completely self-deluded.

The fact is none of us get a free pass in this life. Either some tremendous hardship, or addiction, or both will take us all. We each will be broken by something that we cannot control. The fact that you don’t have the power over your own behaviors only means that you are human. Along with learning that you are no better than the rest of us, also be sure that you are no worse.

Or, perhaps, even after testing your resolve and finding it lacking you still feel anxious about the label of “addict.” Perhaps you acknowledge that you have a problem, that is it out of your control, but you still have some bias that prevents you from describing that problem as an addiction. Tomorrow we will begin examining the semantics of it, and the social influences that cause us to shun these labels.

Do I Even Have an Addiction? -Part One

Is it a Problem?)

For the last year I’ve been attending a 12-step group for lust and pornography addiction. Every couple weeks we will have a new attendee who feels embarrassed about being present. Quite frequently they’ll introduce themselves with something like “Hey, so…I don’t really know if I have an ‘addiction,’ per se, but I just figured I ought to come here and see if it feels like it might be beneficial for me…”

Let’s take a closer look at one of these individuals. We’ll make up one called Pete. Now Pete knows that his behavior isn’t what he wants it to be, but he’s uncomfortable with the notion that he is chronically or perpetually enslaved to that behavior. Pete’s willing to admit that he has a “problem,” but it seems a stretch to classify it as an addiction.

When Pete thinks of the word “addict” he imagines a grizzled man sleeping on a park bench, or a nervous kid hawking his mother’s jewelry in a back alley, or a young woman selling her body for drugs. He imagines people who are ruining themselves mind, body, and soul, who are completely out-of-control, who have severed all ties to anyone that used to love them. Those are all clearly addicts, but surely Peter, who goes to church, has a family, and pays his bills couldn’t be an addict…could he?

Choice vs Compulsion)

Another key element that keeps Pete from identifying as an addict is the matter of choice. An addict is defined by his inability to choose, he his compelled to act, even to his own destruction. But while Pete doesn’t like all of the things that he does, he still feels that it is a choice when he does them. His behavior is problematic, but he doesn’t believe it is out-of-control. He does these things because he wants to do them. Granted, he doesn’t always want to do them, sometimes he very much wishes that he didn’t do them at all, but sometimes he does want to do them and that’s when he “makes the choice” to do so. He’s not saying that that’s a good thing, but he does say that he isn’t being forced against his will.

One might ask Pete that if he still retains free choice in this area, then why doesn’t he make a firm and final decision that he isn’t going back to that behavior anymore? If at all possible, try to catch Pete when he is feeling a strong desire to act out and ask him then if he is still in control.

“Yes,” Pete answers us. “I really am in control. I can choose to do this, and I can choose not to. In fact, I think I’ll make both choices here and now. I’ll choose to go ahead and do this just one more time, and then I’ll choose that I’m done for good!”

“Could you choose to be done before this last time instead of after?”

“Of course…but I don’t want to. I want to choose to do it this one time for the last time, and then be done forever.”

“You say that you do not want to choose to stop just yet. In general, are you able to choose to do things that you do not want to?”

“Yes, of course. I choose to do unpleasant things when I have to all the time. I go to work when I don’t feel like it, I help my neighbor shovel his driveway, I skip the dessert line if I’ve had too much to eat. I can choose to do things that I don’t want.”

“Then choose to do this thing that you don’t want. Choose that the last time you acted out was the last time. Choose that you won’t act out again now even though you want to.”

“I…don’t want to.”

“But you have just said that you can, even if you don’t want to. You’ve already claimed that you are in control, but what does that even mean unless you can choose in spite of what you want? That’s what control means. So choose to stop now, even though you do not want to, and that is the only way to prove that you really are in control here.”

How Pete squirms! For as unsure and out-of-place as he felt at his first twelve-step meeting, he soon starts to realize that he’s just as crazy as all the “real” addicts there. Usually by a newcomer’s third or fourth meeting he’s willing to throw in the towel and admit that his “little problem” is actually his slave driver!

A Needed Perspective)

And frankly, that’s why we need to go to a twelve-step group. It provides just this sort of well-meaning confrontation which shows us our own inconsistency. The sooner we go to group, the sooner we feel pushed to give up our pet vice. The sooner we try to give up our vice, the sooner our illusion of self-control is dismantled. It is only when we try to resist against our vices that we feel the hooks they already have in us. We only ever felt we were in control because we had never tried to make a choice that went against the script.

Overwhelming Stress: Part Two

Frantic Lunges)

A sure sign that a person is losing a fight is when they give up on precision and strategy, to instead swing and lunge wildly at their foe, hoping to get a lucky connection. Unfortunately, this is very often the same manner in which we fight the problem areas of our lives, taking passionate, wild swings at our trouble, but consistently missing our mark.

I have been guilty many times of panicking at a bank statement, or a number on the scale, or a new mess in the house, and then I lunge at the problem with everything I have. I want to subdue the issue quickly and permanently, and so I try to take the biggest steps that I can towards doing so.

And, if I were able to sustain this, I probably would see real and rampant improvement in the area. But the fact is, none of us are able to maintain this sort of frantic behavior for long. We quickly lose our stamina and then aren’t able to do any work at all. Not only that, but while we’re obsessively working on one area of life, we tend to ignore all the others, and the lost ground in those areas can easily outweigh the gained footing in the one we are focused on.

Thus, our desperate efforts are doomed to failure and frustration. We’ll wind up right back where we before, and probably even worse off.

The Tortoise and the Hare)

We’re all familiar with the famous story of the tortoise and the hare, and with its moral that “slow and steady wins the race.” It might be in our nature to react to stress and fear in dramatic ways, but we need to suppress that urge and instead approach the issue with thoughtfulness and consideration, and then we need to act in a calm and deliberate manner.

If you only make mild progress towards accomplishing your goal, you won’t exhaust yourself prematurely like the hare did. A mild effort is sustainable for the rest of your life. Even better, you can only really perform one desperate lunge at a time, but you can maintain multiple mild efforts in different areas simultaneously.

As discussed in my last post, we need to shift our focus from “what is the massive gap between where I am now and where I want to be,” and instead consider “how much effort is it going to take to just get things moving in the right direction?

A Recipe for Improvement)

There is a practice I have implemented in my own life to help me keep my efforts grounded and reasonable. First, I make a list of all the areas in life that I feel I am losing ground in. Then, I try to make my best judgment for how much effort would be enough to overcome the daily entropy in each of those areas. So, for example, in the matter of cleaning the house, I don’t have to make everything spick-and-span in one weekend. I need to figure out how much mess is made in a day, and I need to clean up that much mess, plus just a little more, so that over time the house will reach the state I want it to be in.

Once I have quantified this for each area, then I have my daily to-do list. I know what my financial budget is, how many calories I’m allowed to eat, and how many messes need to be cleaned. Anytime I find myself with a spare moment in a day, I consult my list and take care of the next thing on it. Once the list has been accounted for I can spend the rest of my day on whatever projects or leisure I want with a clean conscience.

A Foundation to Build On)

You may find that your to-do list isn’t very demanding. You might be able to do all of your maintenance and improvements in just a small section of your day and still have hours leftover. It might be tempting to immediately raise your daily goals to something more ambitious, but I would recommend giving yourself a couple weeks at this lower capacity to see whether the pattern holds.

I have had times where the first week of following my plan was a breeze, because I was still highly motivated and the week did not have much else scheduled for it. After a little while, though, excitement for the new program cooled down and I had the occasional unusually busy week. This was the real test for whether my plans were sustainable or not.

If the pattern does hold for you, though, then you can incrementally raise your expectations for each day, resulting in you reaching all of your goals even more quickly. What’s important is that the goals still remain sustainable, though. You want to be able to meet them every day with rare exception.

Insufficient Resources)

Finding that you have extra time and resources is, of course, the happy outcome. The other possibility is realizing that you don’t have the capacity to even do the bare minimum in each area. Going through this process has helped us identify that our life is fundamentally unsustainable and to what degree. While this may be a depressing realization, it is crucial information to obtain. It is better to know where the realities are and react accordingly than to keep plowing ahead in vain behaviors.

This brings us to our options. Difficult options, to be sure, but now we can intelligently choose them. Tomorrow we’ll dive into those difficult choices and how we can determine the best ones for our situation.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 44:3-6

3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their asses.

4 And when they were gone out of the city, and not yet far off, Joseph said unto his steward, Up, follow after the men; and when thou dost overtake them, say unto them, Wherefore have ye rewarded evil for good?

5 Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing.

6 And he overtook them, and he spake unto them these same words.

This time Joseph does not leave his brothers to find the money on their own. Shortly after they leave, he sends his steward to apprehend them. The steward is instructed to overtake them, accuse them, and then reveal the incriminating evidence.

Of course, the steward knows that this accusation is false, as he was the same one Joseph used to plant the evidence to begin with. But evidently the steward is someone that Joseph trusts to obey and be discrete. Whether he understands Joseph’s full plan or not, he will humbly obey.

Also, it may seem harsh how Joseph is treating his brothers, but it is frankly far less brutal than what they deserve, and he is doing it to ultimately bless their lives. The test is a hard one, but a joyful reunion is going to be the end result.

Whether we find ourselves in the position of the steward or the brothers, there is a lesson for us to learn from this story. Like the steward we might at times be directed to do things that don’t make sense, like the brothers we might feel our trials cannot have a happy end. But if we will trust the Master, somehow everything will become what it should be in the end.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 44:1-2

1 And he commanded the steward of his house, saying, Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put every man’s money in his sack’s mouth. 

2 And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack’s mouth of the youngest, and his corn money. And he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken.

Joseph moves directly into the next phase of his plan. First, he continues his gracious streak by instructing the steward to stuff his brothers’ sacks with as much grain as they can possibly carry. But then two barbs are also hidden inside the great bounty.

First, he repeats the trick of putting their money back in the mouth of the sack. Once again, they will likely be afraid to see it there. After Joseph had shown them such graciousness, how would they expect him to react if they once again appeared to be thieves?

Then, he also has his own personal cup hidden in the sack of Benjamin. Here will be the real test. When the men find themselves in trouble, and Benjamin especially so, will they try to shift blame to the youth? Will they say that he must be the one guilty party, the sole thief among them, just to save their skins? They had sold Joseph off once before with far less motivation!

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 43:33-34

33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marvelled one at another.

34 And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin’s mess was five times so much as any of theirs. And they drank, and were merry with him.

Joseph sends portions of food to his brothers, but the portion to Benjamin is vastly larger than what is given to all the other brothers. It is so much more that I feel it could not have gone overlooked. What did Benjamin and the others think by this clear display of favoritism?

And for Joseph’s part, was this really just favoritism towards his blood brother, or was he conducting a calculated experiment on his older brothers? Showing preference towards a son of Rachel may have been meant as a callback to the preference Jacob had had for Joseph. Would the other brothers be made jealous of Benjamin just as they had been of Joseph? And when Joseph moved into the next part of his plan, in which there would be an opportunity for the other brothers to get rid of this “golden child,” would they happily take it?

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 42:25-28

25 Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man’s money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way: and thus did he unto them.

26 And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.

27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it was in his sack’s mouth.

28 And he said unto his brethren, My money is restored; and, lo, it is even in my sack: and their heart failed them, and they were afraid, saying one to another, What is this that God hath done unto us?

Joseph had given a strict command to his brothers. Either they could return with Benjamin, or they would never see Simeon again or be welcome back in Egypt. These facts give them a strong incentive to return with their youngest brother.

Now, though, Joseph tips the scales the other way. By putting the money back in their sacks, he gives himself a reason to accuse them of being thieves. Now, even if the brothers follow Joseph’s instructions to the letter, they can expect to still be in hot water. Thus, they are strongly incentivized to not return.

It seems likely to me that Joseph’s reasoning is to fully test their commitment to Simeon. Are they willing to come back for their brother, even when it is to their own peril, or will they abandon him for their own self-interest, just as they did with Joseph all those years ago? Do they regret what they did in the past, and have they changed so that they would not do it again? As it turns out, Joseph will have to wait a little while longer to get the answers to those questions.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 24:10-14

10 And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; for all the goods of his master were in his hand: and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor.

11 And he made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water.

12 And he said, O Lord God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and shew kindness unto my master Abraham.

13 Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water:

14 And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master.

Abraham’s servant takes an impressive show of wealth with him, including ten camels and, as we will find out later, precious gifts and jewelry. He travels to Nahor, which was both the name of Abraham’s brother and his grandfather. So perhaps this city is named after one of these individuals. Perhaps the brother, given that his son Bethuel and grand-daughter Rebekah now live there.

And when the servant arrives at the outskirts of the city he comes up with a test. He petitions God, asking that the first woman to follow a certain procedure will also be the one who is meant to marry Isaac. The procedure is not random, though, it is a way meant to identify a good and worthy woman.

For starters he is looking for a woman who is diligently serving the needs of her household, coming down to the well to draw water. Then he is looking for one who is kind, willing to give water to him when he asks. Finally he is looking for one who is generous and industrious, who goes the extra mile by offering to also draw water for each of his camels. And while I’m not an expert on camels, it said that he brought ten of them, which sounds like an exorbitant amount of large animals to be drawing water for!

A woman who has each of these qualities would make a wonderful companion indeed, but then there would be the matter of whether she was an eligible member of Abraham’s kin. The servant’s prayer is that she would be.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Daniel 1:11-16

Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,
Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.
Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.
So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.
And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.
Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.

COMMENTARY

I have previously discussed the impasse between Daniel and the prince of the eunuchs in this story, but also the devoted relationship that existed between them. Today I will consider the test that Daniel proposed to resolve their disagreement.

And as thou seest, deal with thy servants
I want to begin with the very tail end of Daniel’s proposal. This statement, ‘as thou seest, deal with thy servants’ is extremely submissive. If the prince allows for this test to run its course, then Daniel will abide by whatever decision that man makes, even if it is to not honor Daniel’s diet. No more argument from Daniel on the matter, no rebellion, the prince will have whatever he thinks is best.
And this shows that Daniel truly cares for the prince’s priorities, too. His reason for recommending a clean diet is not only because it is Daniel’s own preference, but also because it will fit the prince’s own interests better than the meat and wine. Daniel genuinely believes that the Lord’s law of health is the better solution for both of them.
So yes, Daniel is being submissive, but also extremely confident. The two are not mutually exclusive. Daniel can afford to be submissive because of his enormous confidence that God’s wisdom will be better than any prescription of man.

Prove thy servants, and give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat
Because at the end of the day, Daniel knows that he is in the right. Not just the right for being a good Hebrew, but the right for being the best and healthiest person that he can be, even in the qualities that the prince of the eunuchs is valuing.
It is important for us to recognize that when we are in the moral right it will be self-evident. Truth is self-proving. When we are established on true principles, then we do not have to argue to convince anyone of it. The only argument necessary is to have the other look at us, and it will be written into our faces, written into our demeanor, written into every part of who we are and what we do.

Calloused Hearts- Enos 1:2-5

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

COMMENTARY

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God
My soul hungered
I cried unto him in mighty prayer
All the day long did I cry unto him
I did raise my voice high that it reached the heavens

Look at what powerful earnestness is in these verses from Enos. Look at how much he wanted this absolution from sin. Look at how long he worked before finding the voice of the Lord.
And he put in this much effort because that was how much effort it took. He didn’t put in only an hour, because he hadn’t found God yet after an hour. And he didn’t call it quits after a half day, because he hadn’t found God in half a day. He kept with it until he found his way through. And I am inclined to believe that God was not simply waiting for some arbitrary amount of time to elapse before reaching out, but rather He was simply waiting on Enos to be ready to receive Him. God spoke after a day because after a day Enos was in the right place.
So, too, when my own heart feels covered in moss and disconnected from God. If I want that connection restored I have to ask myself whether I am willing to pursue that connection for as far as it has to be pursued. Am I willing to ask for what I need to ask? Am I willing to give up what I need to give up? Am I willing to become what I need to become? And if the answers to any of those is “not yet,” then am I willing to keep wrestling with it until I am willing?