May 31

Idolatry:  I don’t want to stop

       Something inside of me wanted to accept (passively) but could not accept (aggressively) the party line as I was growing up.  I was just a kid and the adults knew better than I.  But I had needs that were not being met that left me empty and wanting.

       When I was old enough to understand, I came to realize I (secretly) believed that:

  • God was no fun
  • God withholds
  • God can’t be trusted (God is fickle)

        As a young adult I discovered I could meet some of my needs by fantasizing and looking at pornography.  The psychological rush seemed to fill up my emotional needs for a while, but the hunger soon returned.  As the addiction took hold I discovered how hungry and needy an idol can be.

       This idolatry was not the boldfaced kind of the pagan “Gentile” nations.  This idolatry was more like the nation of Israel’s propensity to add other gods along with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The Israelites fell into idolatry and kept images from other pagan religions in their houses.  Prophets would speak out against their rampant idolatry and warn them of looming war and possible slavery.

       And just as the Israelites resisted these messages and ignored the warnings, I too had fallen into a rigid mid-set that resisted the warnings from God. 

       But I had a better idea.  I had a method of “worship” that left me feeling more in control.  I felt more self-reliant.  Relying on God made me feel weak, and I wanted a God that made me feel stronger.  I guess you could say that I was ‘hell-bent’ on fulfilling these needs myself.  And as I continued to try to fill this hole in my heart, I fell deeper and deeper into a hell of my own making. 

       But I had dug in my heels as I continued to resist the voice of God.  Once in a while I would receive – by pure grace – a clear message of what it could be like for me.  But I was already in captivity.  My mind was trapped; my heart was hard; my will had been kidnapped and taken to an unfamiliar place.

       Eventually, I started to accept the duplicity and my idolatrous style of religion.  Lightning didn’t strike me when I stepped over the line initially, so I just kept going in my determined waywardness.  Secretly, I had said to myself and God, “I don’t want to stop.”

 Tomorrow’s topic –  Idolatry:  Coping with powerlessness

 

May 30

Idolatry:  The absence of gratitude

       When you hear the word “idolatry” what do you think of?  Natives from some isolated tribe bowing down to a wooden statue?  Or perhaps an ancient civilization that sacrifices their babies to a ‘god’ made of stone by throwing them into a blazing fire high on a mountain at midnight… with drums beating in the background?

       The kind of idolatry that I want to address is not about statues of wood or images of stone, but things that become substitutes for the real thing.  Like a graven image these idols represent the real thing and are in a very real sense a substitute for the real thing.

       An idol is a god made in our own image; a god that we can manipulate and control.  We as humans have ways and means by which we create things that we can use to give us a sense of control.  These “lesser deities” cause us to abort the journey toward reality and take a shorter path into fantasy.  An idol can be any idea or thing to which we become attached.

       Idolatry is a lack of gratitude.  In Romans chapter one it is written, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”

       Their ungrateful hearts led them into idolatry.  That is why I say that idolatry is an absence of gratitude.  The following is a comparison of idolatry and gratitude:

Idolatry                                    Gratitude

a)      Resistance                               Acceptance

b)      Substitutes                             Genuine (real)

c)      Rebellion                                 Submission

d)     Control                                     Trust

e)      Double-minded                      Single-minded

       The heart that is ungrateful resists what is.  It is unable and unwilling to accept what is.  The ungrateful heart believes that it has a free will to create its own reality.  It sets out to recreate the wheel, if you like.  The original story isn’t enough or good enough.  And it wants to rewrite the scriptures.  It has dug in its heels.

       Idolatry is rooted in rebellion.  The rebellious heart will not submit to reality.  It cannot trust in a higher power that has all power.  The rebellious heart wants to rule.  It trusts only in its own ideas of reality.  But the ungrateful heart is forever double-minded.  It cannot stop wrestling with God’s will and its own will.  It thinks that its will is free.  And it is not.

Tomorrow’s topic:  I don’t want to stop

May 27

Left on the Island of Idolatry and Isolation”

       When you hear the word “idolatry” what do you think of?  Natives from some isolated tribe bowing down to a wooden statue?  Or perhaps an ancient civilization that sacrifices their babies to a gigantic god carved out of stone, throwing them into a blazing fire high on a mountain at midnight… with drums beating in the background?

       The kind of idolatry that I want to address is not about statues of wood or images of stone, but things that become substitutes for the real thing.  Like a graven image, these idols represent our idea of ‘God’ and are, in a very real sense, a substitution for the real thing.

       There are numerous stories recorded in the Old Testament about the Israelites, how they had been warned about the false gods of the pagan nations around them, and how –  even though they’d  been warned – opened their homes to the demigods of wood and stone.  And just as the Israelites resisted these messages and ignored the warnings, I too had fallen into a rigid mid-set that resisted the warnings from God. 

       I had a better idea. I had a method of “worship” that left me feeling more in control.  I felt more self-reliant.  I needed to feel this way because as a child I felt deprived.  My basic need for food and shelter had been met; but my psychological and spiritual needs had not been met.  I guess you could say that I was ‘hell-bent’ on fulfilling these needs myself.  And as I continued to try to fill this hole in my heart, I fell deeper and deeper into a hell of my own making. 

       It takes great humility to be able to face the reality of who we are.  Arrogance and pride lead to an inflated idea of self:  I am divine; I am in control; I am all powerful…

       But humility is the character trait that marks a truly spiritual person:  Someone who accepts their imperfection, their humanity and their limitations (we are not limitless).  Humility is the ability to see accurately where we are in this universe.  It acknowledges our relationship to our Creator. 

       The addict has spent his/her whole life trying to control and manipulate.  The world is an insane and scary place where no one can be trusted.  ‘Acting out’ (or ‘using’) is a way of controlling how the addict feels; it is mood-altering behavior.  When an addict joins a twelve-step group he/she is introduced to the 12-Step recovery program.  Many addicts balk at the notion of “God” or “Higher Power.”  But that’s because they must deal with the issue of control.

 Tomorrow’s topic – Idolatry: The absence of gratitude

May 26

Addiction:  I need to escape

       Shame also leads to isolation.  The overwhelming sense of unworthiness and undeserving prevent the addict from seeking out meaningful relationships.  The fear of rejection and abandonment are strong motivators, and push the addict further into isolation and loneliness.  If they have any friends it’s other addicts who fear connection and intimacy.

       Using and manipulating others gets confused with love and connection.  Other people become a means to get what we want – the ‘drug’ that we so desperately need.  If the person we’ve hooked up with no longer is useful we move on to someone else. 

       A parent who is an addict is never around.  Even when they are there, it’s only in body not in mind.  They are somewhere far, far away.  A business partner who is an addict is forever late and unprepared for business meetings.  They get angry quickly and lose their patience with colleagues and clients alike.

       Addicts go through the motions of existence all the while planning for the next fix.  An addict is forever trying to get away, leave early, late for supper, forgetting important things and breaking promises.  The addict is happiest when he/she is alone with their drug getting their fix.  It’s a life of disconnect and loneliness.  Other people are too demanding and don’t understand their need to be alone. 

       A marriage where one partner is an addict is doomed to fail.  A good relationship needs intimacy; and intimacy demands rigorous honesty.  Whether with a spouse, a business partner, or a friend, there needs to be honesty and integrity.  No relationship will last very long without intimacy.

       The addict fears intimacy and closeness.  Self-loathing actually prevents any kind of openness or vulnerability.  And it’s shame that is responsible for the addict’s fear of others.  Other people can’t be trusted; in order to control, the addict cannot hand any part of his/her life over the care of another.  The more interference the addict perceives from others the deeper into the dungeon of isolation they go. 

       I went to therapy in order to please my spouse.  But I didn’t offer up the truth – not completely.  I withheld because I didn’t really want to participate in the therapy program.  I was wasting my hard earned money, but it bought me some time; and I learned to fly well below the radar so I wouldn’t be noticed.  There was no intimacy, no connection, but lots of words and promises – and lies.  As an addict I had no connection with myself, or God.  You could say that I was completely disconnected socially, psychologically and spiritually.

 Tomorrow’s topic – “Left on the island of idolatry and isolation

May 25

Addiction:  The illusion of self

       One of the first things the addict must deal with is powerlessness.  The first step of the 12 steps of AA is:  “We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction.”

       But admitting to the problem is difficult.  The addict is convinced that he/she is in control.  That’s why they ‘act out.’  It’s an effort to remain in control.  And this illusion of control is strong because the addict is convinced that they can stop any time.  Denying the problem continues until their lives are so out of control – completely unmanageable – that the evidence forces them into program.  This often called bottoming out.  An addict is ready to begin recovery after they have “hit bottom.”

       The illusion of self-control is so strong that it takes years to convince the addict of their powerlessness.  The most convincing evidence of powerlessness is their inability to stop.  The trail of broken promises has everyone who knows the addict convinced that there is a problem.

       Along with the inability to stop there are tell-tale signs of powerlessness and unmanageability.  One of them is the willingness to take risks.  These risks involve not only their own safety, but also the health and safety of their loved ones.  Love for husband or wife or even children cannot stop an addict from giving in to the addiction.  A run-in with the law will merely slow the addict down momentarily.  But once their freedom is restored, its business as usual.  The addict just tries harder to fly beneath the radar.  More precautions are taken, but carelessness soon takes over and the addict finds himself back in prison.

       Personal loss will not stop the addict.  Loss of a job, a house, family, friends and health are the things that eventually lead to hitting bottom.  But with each individual the “bottom” is different.  For some their bottom is death; they are terminal.

  1.  “How do you know that an addict is lying?”
  2. “Their lips are moving!”

       The addict has lost all sense of integrity and common sense.  They live for one thing, and one thing only:  Their drug of choice.  And most addicts are pathological liars by necessity.  To get and keep their ‘drugs’ and plan their escape involves a complex string of lies. 

       It is shame that fuels the addiction keeping the addict hopelessly addicted.  The habitual nature of addiction is commonly known as the “cycle of shame.”  The addict begins the cycle with feelings of self loathing, plans to use, uses and returns to self-loathing. 

Tomorrow’s topic – Addiction: I need to escape

May 24

Addiction:  Coping with shame

       “Shame and addiction are like Siamese twins.  One rarely exists without the other.  You cannot find an addict without shame, or a shame-based person without an addiction.  Both exist behind walls of denial, growing like cancer, sucking out life.”       

       Shame is a bottomless pit that only a fool would want to fall into.  Any intelligent human being would do anything to keep out of this dark, lonely place.  And addiction is a survival mechanism that instantly controls the mood of any shame-based person.

       Shame’s most important objective is not to be exposed.  Most shame-based people don’t know what it is because it is often disguised as what it is not:  irrational white rage, indifference, the overwhelming need to control, depression, confusion, flightiness, the obsession to ‘use,’ numbness, panic, and the need to run.

       But even though our addictions may have – in some cases – actually saved our lives by helping us through some very difficult circumstances they no longer serve that purpose.  And there comes a time when the addict must lay them down and learn to cope with shame in healthier ways.

       As shame takes hold of our lives we begin trying to be “perfect.”  The illusion of perfection begins when shame takes over; no mistakes are tolerated for with them come shame.  While yet children, our small mistakes were treated like felonies – anger over spilled milk – and the punishment was often very shaming and abusive.    

       Shame is what keeps the addict isolated and alone.  It is the nature of shame to defend itself.  You can never expect to have an addict open up about their shame.  The shame-based person will conceal their shame; admitting to their powerlessness would leave them feeling vulnerable and out of control.

       Guilt and shame are not the same.  Guilt thinks: “I didn’t do enough.”  And shame thinks: “I am not enough.”  Guilt is how we feel about what we’ve done – cheating at cards, cheating on our spouse – while shame is how we feel about who we are.  Shame is that loathsome feeling we have toward others and ourselves.  We act in inappropriate ways because we feel worthless and stupid, and project that on to others. 

       Shame doesn’t require that we do anything wrong; it’s often prompted by involuntary things.  Shame charges us with being inadequate as a person; it comes up when we feel we’ve fallen short of some imaginary mark set up to measure our worth as a person.  Worthlessness and powerlessness are two companions that the addict lives with every single day.  Addiction is the way an addict tries to take control.  It’s how we cope with shame. 

 Tomorrow’s topic – Addiction: The illusion of self

May 23

Addiction:  “I don’t want to feel”

       A big contributing factor in the development of an addiction is childhood trauma.  Trauma can range from anything like physical abuse to abandonment.  It could be as significant as losing a parent or seemingly insignificant as being humiliated by an adult. 

       Children are left with serious emotional scars that are often minimized because these scars aren’t always visible.  But it is these scars that cause emotional immaturity.  A child’s emotional development can be halted by an event in the child’s life that left him/her emotionally stuck. 

       I know someone who is constantly looking for attention.  Her parents split up when she was a child, and she ended up living on her own.  She is now ‘forever’ looking for love and approval – and attention.  But her constant complaints and “illness” is actually creating the opposite effect leaving her with less and less attention.

       One thing that childhood trauma creates in the child is a low threshold for pain.  You can usually tell when someone has a low tolerance for pain: They complain all the time; they rage at the slightest upset; they are constantly trying to manipulate and control their circumstances; they cry at the drop of a hat.

       Sometimes the childhood trauma victim resorts to addiction.  Unable to cope with life’s ups and downs the person uses chemicals or certain addictive behaviors to escape the suffering.  In trying to find a ‘happy place’ the child within the adult becomes attached to these things and uses them to self medicate.

       Addiction to pornography met a need that I felt since childhood.  My childhood needs were minimized by an authoritarian parent who saw himself as the decision maker for his family.  I didn’t dare defy his authority.  To stand up to him meant war and possible death. 

       So I learned not to feel or care about what I wanted.  I later became a passive-aggressive when it came to obeying God.  I latched on to pornography in my mid teens and kept it well hidden for thirty years. 

       I didn’t really know what I was doing until as a middle-aged adult (my therapist) pointed out to me that addiction – particularly sexual addiction – was a way to numb the emotions.  All the bad feelings and personal hollowness could be ‘filled’ with this mood altering ‘drug.’  All of the negative emotions can be numbed.  But in doing so, the positive emotions were also drugged up, and I was left unable to feel anything.

       I had become a total narcissist!   

 Tomorrow’s topic – Addiction:  Coping with shame

May 20

Addiction:  The absence of emotional sobriety

       When I was in therapy for depression and addiction to pornography, my therapist explained to me what addiction really was, and why I was addicted.  I understood (I thought) about alcoholism and drug addiction, but sexual addiction was new to me.  He explained to me the real issue I was struggling with:  My emotions.

       According to him my addiction had very little to do with sex or porn.  It had more to do with deep-seated emotional needs, self-loathing and shame.  Sexual addiction was my drug of choice.  I “used” sex and pornography the same way an alcoholic used alcohol – to numb my self so I wouldn’t feel any negative emotions.

       The problem, he said, with addiction is that it not only soothes a whole host of bad feelings, it also covers up a lot of good ones.  Like an alcoholic or drug addict I didn’t want to feel anything.  And when I did I would “use.”

       I define this mood altering “drug” the absence of emotion.  Below I have compared addiction and emotional sobriety: 

Addiction                                      Emotional sobriety

a)      Fantasy                                   Reality

b)      Narcissism                              Maturity

c)      Shame                                      Worth

d)     Powerlessness                         Empowerment

e)      Bondage                                  Freedom

f)       Isolation                                  Connection

         Addiction thrives on fantasy and is fed by shame.  Emotional sobriety has a good grasp of reality and is strengthened by self-worth.    Remove the shame and you remove the addiction.

         An addict suffers from the worst kind of narcissism.  That explains why a mother who is a heroine addict would risk her children’s health and safety in pursuit of her drug.  She would risk it all for the heroine. 

      We’ll begin by examining four factors that support addiction:

  • Fantasy
  • Shame
  • Powerlessness
  • Isolation

      The hope is that we’ll begin to see how addition begins as a means of gaining control and ends up running the show.  The ‘savior’ turns into a dictator from hell.

 Tomorrow’s topic – Addiction:  “I don’t want to feel”

May 19

Addiction:  Locked in the dungeon of addiction

       When I was in therapy for depression and addiction, my therapist explained to me what it really was, and why I was addicted.  I understood (I thought) about alcoholism and drug addiction, but sexual addiction was new to me.  He explained to me the real issue I was struggling with:  My emotions.  What I needed most was emotional sobriety.

       A big contributing factor in the development of an addiction is childhood trauma.  Trauma can range from anything like physical abuse to abandonment.  It could be as significant as losing a parent or seemingly insignificant as being humiliated.  Whatever the trauma, it prevents emotional growth and development.  Somewhere along the line the addict decides not to feel, and the addiction becomes a drug that numbs the bad feelings. 

       Another contributing factor – the fuel that propels addiction – is shame.  Addiction is how we cope with shame.

       “Shame and addiction are like Siamese twins.  One rarely exists without the other.  You cannot find an addict without shame, or a shame-based person without an addiction.  Both exist behind walls of denial, growing like cancer, sucking out life.”  Anonymous           

       Shame is a bottomless pit that only a fool would want to fall into.  But dealing with shame is difficult without the ability to recognize it for what it is; even an intelligent human being can be vulnerable to visiting this dark, lonely place.  That’s because addiction is a survival mechanism that instantly controls the mood of any shame-based person.  Addiction is the dungeon and shame is the lock that prevents the addict from ever leaving.

       One of the first things the addict must deal with is powerlessness.  The first step of the 12 steps of AA is:  “We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction.” There’s an illusion that addiction provides:  The illusion of control.  The addict feels like they’re in control – that is the illusion.  Admitting to the problem is difficult because the addict is convinced that he/she is in control.  That’s why they ‘act out.’  It’s an effort to gain a sense of control. 

       And this illusion of control is strong because the addict is convinced that they can stop any time.  Denial is a big part of addiction; it’s what prevents the mind from thinking clearly about what’s going on.  You could say that denial allows the ego to protect the self and continue in the illusion.

       Shame also leads to isolation.  The overwhelming sense of unworthiness (I don’t deserve good things) prevents the addict from seeking out meaningful relationships and causes settling for much less.  The fear of rejection and abandonment are strong motivators, push the addict further into isolation and loneliness. 

 Tomorrow’s topic – Addiction: The absence of emotional sobriety

May 18

Deception:  I need to hide

       Did you happen to watch the movie “A Few Good Men” with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson?  Do you remember the famous one-liner that Jack delivers in the course of an investigation?  When asked for the truth, he replies:

 “You can’t handle the truth!”

         I also remember a time when I really could not handle the truth.  If you wanted to ruin my day all you had to do was remind me about myself.  I remember having an argument with my eldest daughter one evening several years ago.  She reminded me of my own weakness and pathetic course in life:  I had lost a business and a house.  When she spoke the truth I remember seeing red and raging like I’d never raged before.  It was not one of my prouder moments.

         When I was in business and things weren’t going well for me financially I would avoid looking at the monthly statements for fear that I would feel stressed and plunge into depression.  Not knowing kept me emotionlly ‘buoyant’ for a while until I got the dreaded phone call from the bank informing me that I was seriously overdrawn and checks were starting to bounce.  Sticking my head in the sand didn’t make the trouble go away; it just prolonged the inevitable.  

         A lot of friends had joined me in the lie about why I had failed at business and my financial life.  We blamed the government, the economy, my cutthroat customers in construction and advertising… “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” they would say in an attempt to make me feel better.

        “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  I suppose there is some truth to that statement.  It wasn’t my truth, however.  When the going got tough, I went to sleep.  The truth scared the hell out of me.  I suppose I was afraid that what I believed about myself would actually come true.  And so I looked for a fantasy – even sleep – to fall into like a big, soft chair with comfortable arm rests.

         It is becoming clearer and clearer how I lie to myself when I accept the counterfeit pleasures and joys in life.  I can see how I ‘doop’ myself into believing that real enjoyment comes from things that don’t exist. 

           Tomorrow’s topic – “Locked in the dungeon of addiction”