catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 15 :: 2006.07.28 — 2006.09.08


Late night thoughts on addiction as symptom

In a well-intentioned effort to avoid blaming victims for their suffering, our culture tends to understand addiction as an illness with which a person is afflicted. Alcoholism, for example, is helpfully understood not as a failure of will power, but as an illness, a disease.  Sufferers are spared a measure of guilt for merely being weak willed.  As well, there is evidence that phenomena like alcoholism and obesity have underlying genetic predispositions.  Sufferers from many addictions are thus encouraged to come out about their problems and to seek appropriate support and treatment.

Other addictions, such as that of seeking notoriety or financial security, are positively encouraged by the culture.  Think reality shows on television.  Plato understood the soul as having three components: reason, desire, and the need for recognition.  Overdevelopment to the point of addiction of the last of these three is epidemic in, and encouraged by, our culture.  Likewise financial security.  Few would see an acquaintance who uses his or her computer to check her net worth several times a day as addicted, simply because such an attachment is culturally acceptable and encouraged.

But what if we were to see addictions—which I understand to mean a relationship to an object over which we are not able to exercise appropriate control—to alcohol, drugs, money, food, shopping, reputation or any other object as a symptom, rather than a disease?  Not doing so leads us to focus enormous energy on managing the object rather than on the development of the soul.  Think of the time and money devoted to diets, for example.

When Jesus encountered the one named 'the rich young ruler,' he moved quickly beneath the fellow's obvious good morality, seeking to touch his deeper self.  Gazing with the eyes that cannot be deceived, Jesus saw that his attachment to financial security impeded his spiritual growth.   The invitation is to release his fear of financial insecurity that he might begin the journey to healing and wholeness which a deep and true part of him knows is his most profound need.

What if we accepted the problematic nature of the relationship to an addicting object as a symptom of a deeper question that is being ignored because it is so painful to face?  Our addiction then becomes a way to avoid naming the sickness, the ache, the fear that is waiting to be addressed.  And further, that the One "Risen with Healing in His Wings," is waiting in deep longing to touch.  Instead we try to feed the unnamable hunger for acceptance.  We anesthetize the pain of rejection. We cultivate shallow relationships to quiet the aching need to be seen (but perhaps not truly known).  And the beast within grows more and more hungry, more and more demanding.  And evil, that which is opposed to transformation and new life, is pleased when we devote our energy not to naming and confronting our pain, but only to managing its symptoms.

"Perfect love casts our fear," and perhaps through prayer we are granted the courage needed to face into the wound that is ours, that longs for healing.  We are freed from trying to live by our will power, which is little more than a form of unbelief.  Perhaps it is not too much to say that the addiction/symptom can finally be seen as the gift that leads us to pray for the courage we most essentially need, if ever we are to look beneath it.

And then will be born compassion not only towards those who suffer addictions, but even unto ourselves. Thanks be to God.

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