Lays Potato Chips – you can’t eat just one! I can stop anytime I want to – right now I don’t want to. I’m in pain and I need this. I know I’m going to hit it big – I have a fool-proof system. I just need a little more money and time. I can’t get through the day without chocolate/caffeine/sugar, etc. At least I’m not addicted to drugs.
What is an addiction? How do we know for sure if we are addicted to something? What does the Bible have to say about addictions? What can we do for our friends or family members who are showing signs of addiction? We are going to work to answer some of these questions, recognizing we are merely scratching the surface of this topic of addiction. Know that statistics are a bit scary when you look at the prevalence of certain types of addictions. “County Executive Steve Schuh [recently] announced an executive order declaring a county-wide heroin public health emergency, directing county agencies to use ‘all best efforts’ to eradicate the use of heroin in Anne Arundel County.” [Source: CapitalGazette.com]
The statistics for alcohol abuse are also alarming. In 2012 it was estimated that 17 million adults in this country were addicted to alcohol with only 1.4 million receiving treatment. Men outnumbered women 2 to one; however the numbers are reversed for youth. While 855K youth were considered addicted, and the girls outnumbered the boys. Less than 10% received treatment; however boys were more likely to receive treatment than girls. Nearly 88K people die from alcohol related causes annually, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the US. [Source: niaaa.nih.gov]
Other forms of addictions continue to surface; from gambling, to porn, to sugar, to gaming the list goes on and on. For a lot of us we just don’t want to think about it. We look at our families and friends, perhaps seeing the faces they want us to see, and we often pretend the problems with addictions are non-existent – at least not in our world. Yet temptation has abounded since the beginning of time. For Adam and Eve it was a fruit from one of many trees from which they were not supposed to eat. For King David, it was an affair with Bathsheba which led him to commit adultery as well as murder when he ordered the hit on Bathsheba’s husband. For Jesus, the devil tempted him at his lowest points in time. In Jesus, we find an example to follow when we too are tempted or driven by our addiction.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is characterized by the inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death. [Source: www.asam.org]
Our society is teaching a lifestyle that demands we rely only on ourselves. We are so driven to do everything without relying on others. We are completely convinced that we don’t need God – because to rely on God would be a sign of weakness. I present to you the reversal in the Kingdom of God. I present to you that we are only complete when we accept the outstretched hand of unconditional love from our Creator. I present to you that admitting we cannot do everything on our own is a sign of strength not weakness. Jesus challenges us to not live as the world lives, but to fully trust in God, casting our burdens on the one who cared so much for us that he willingly suffered death on a cross for all humankind. That is real love.
In your bulletin you will notice a handout that includes what Alcoholics Anonymous refers to as the twelve steps. Take a look at step one – those of us who suffer from addictions must first recognize our own limitations. We cannot do everything on our own. There are certain temptations that are controlling us and we have willingly given up our self-control to sugar, or porn, or alcohol, or drugs. We have maintained a falsehood that we can quit anytime we want to, all the while knowing we are powerless to control our cravings. When we finally acknowledge that we are in essence not perfect but broken, only then can we recognize that God has been there all the time nudging us toward a relationship with our Maker. In the Methodist Church we call that prevenient grace – God’s hand of grace extended to us even before we recognize the need for it.
I speak in the first person today because I am in fact addicted as well. I was raised in a strict household in which my siblings rebelled through various ways but I did not. I never smoked. I never drank alcohol. I never watched questionable programs on television. The internet was not invented yet so I wasn’t seeing anything I shouldn’t and my parents were pretty good censures. Gaming included the tennis game on Atari which was the little line and a square you would bat back and forth!
My drug of choice has been food. I was the heavy kid when everyone else wasn’t. My mother learned to sew because clothes for big girls didn’t exist. My entire life has been spent bouncing from one diet to another. Both my parents suffer from Type 2 diabetes – my wake-up call per say happened when my mother we recently diagnosed. With the health issues I have, I did not want to add this one yet I have been borderline ever since I delivered my son Nick who clocked in at a whopping 11 lbs. 4 oz.
It was only recently when we held the Daniel Plan group that I realized just how addicted to sugar I am. When you start reading labels you realize a major cause of the expanding waistlines of our nation – sugar is in practically everything. It is difficult to conquer an addiction to sugar when you are constantly feeding it. I realize my addiction may not fall into the realm of substance abuse addictions or other devastating addictions, but obesity is becoming a serious health epidemic in our country leading us down the road of numerous health issues and shortened life spans.
That is my reality. When I finally faced my attraction to sugar as an addiction I think I can better understand what others go through in trying to conquer their addictions. It is a long hard road to follow, but extremely rewarding in the end. The scripture read for us from Philippians reminds us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. When the friends fall away because the party money has run out, the one who stands with us is Jesus. When we feel as if we have failed once again, the one who stands with us is Jesus. When we feel the pull of our addiction so strong we have absolutely no control, the one who stands with us is Jesus. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Many of us have family members or friends who are suffering from addictions. We have watched them literally destroy themselves and it is killing us. We have reached out, offered all kinds of support, yet the person fails to recognize his/her addiction and therefore refuses help in this area. He/she are often more than willing to accept other forms of help – money, a place to stay, a ride to buy more alcohol, sugar, drugs. We come to the crossroads of our Christian faith which tells us to love unconditionally, and our recognition of being used by an addicted person to continue his/her destructive behavior.
Once again we can look to the example Jesus set for us. Love has many forms. When Jesus tells us to lay aside our burdens, take up our cross, and follow him we are in fact setting aside what is hindering us from a closer walk with Jesus. Part of that hindrance may be our enabling actions toward addicts. In Luke 18, Jesus was approached by a rich young ruler who wanted to know how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus’ reply seemed harsh – sell all you have and give it to the poor, then take up your cross and follow me. Jesus had compassion for this young man. He recognized what was hindering him – not money or riches, but his love of money and riches.
When we love someone who is addicted, sometimes our actions may actually impede a person’s recovery. On the back side of your handout are some tips for loving an addicted person. For many of us we need to recognize when we have crossed the line from helping to enabling. We may need to take a harsh stance that is the equivalent of telling our loved one it is time to put God first. We will love this person no matter what their behavior, but we do not have to succumb to the temptation that as long as we are helping our loved ones at least they are safe. Satan will come at us when we are at our weakest. Evil exists in our world in order to keep us as slaves. We can love someone without adding to their addiction or falling into their destructive spiral.
Make no mistake, we need God and we need each other. Research is clear that often the difference between an addict and a recovering addict is community. We as the church need to stand in the void created for recovering addicts whose drinking and drug buddies have fallen away. Jesus said to take us your cross and follow me. But we are also given the promise that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) – let that be your mantra this day and always. Amen.