Addiction: The agony of being human
I am an addict. That is, a person who is uncomfortable in his own skin and wants to take a shortcut to heaven without the pain of growing up. He finds a substance that will lift him onto a supposedly higher plane of being. In drink, I become grandiose, sneeringly superior. But here is the madness: because I despise myself for not being perfect, I project my disgust onto others, and so I get myself into a state of phariseeism; despising others for not being perfect. This is the insanity of the addictive mentality: that even after years of sobriety I can become what we call ‘a dry drunk’. I still need the practice of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to restore my sanity. The madness of addiction for me is more an affective dysfunction than a dysfunction of the mind.
The agony of being human
We trade in our freedom for a panacea that we think will alleviate the agony of being human. In doing so we trade in God for the father of lies who hates us because we remind him of God, his mortal enemy. God gave us freedom; like the prodigal son, we squandered it, and God could not take back His gift. He had lost us. How could He lure us back, seduce us into changing our allegiance? The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Freedom of choice
My experience is that God rules our lives in all respects except in the matter of our free will. He respects us so much that He tiptoes around that freedom of choice without which we could not become like Him, and by exercising that freedom I fell into a vacuum; there was no sense of liberation, no momentum to my life, which had become empty, purposeless. Yet I knew God was there.
The very core of who I am
This is how I resolve the apparent contradiction between my negative attitude and a more profound belief in a loving God: my faith is given to me by God; it is far more profound than an attitude; it is part of the very core of who I am; the underlying foundation of my being, my very soul, a state of being that no one can access but God alone, and He always resides there.
Through me, He could reach others like me
For someone who had come to the inescapable conclusion that he was ‘bad’, it was a curious state to be in, called to holiness and condemned to be unholy. I despised myself and I felt very vulnerable. Maybe this was where God wanted me to be, my uselessness made me more available to Him. Through me, He could reach others like me who were drawn to my vulnerability as a person, one who was not a threat to them in their vulnerability. I am reminded of what John Henry Newman wrote: ‘I shall do good, I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it…’ He can transform good from bad; transform all things to His divine purpose.
The gift of being loved
Now I have the leisure to look back on my life and contemplate its mysteries. Through breaks in the clouds of my attitude, through the suit of armour I wear that I am special and haughty, through that ugly phariseeism I have already mentioned, I am beginning to get glimpses of my true littleness. I have been graced with the gift of music and poetry and the gift of the gab that accompanies them so that I can engage my listeners when I speak. But in myself if I am without that self-respect that only comes with the gift of being loved, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. All my life I had deflected praise and affection, thinking that if people realised who I really was and what I was really like, they would see me as I saw myself and be appalled. But I eventually began to hear, through the noise, the love of those around me.
Accepting God’s love
The habits of a lifetime are not going to go away immediately, and accepting God’s love is slow, intermittent and painful. It is like a leg that has had its blood supply cut off; when the flow returns it is a bit painful at first. Beginning to experience the life-giving presence of Jesus Christ liberates and gives wings. My haughty refusal to believe He could love me was an attitude whose clouds are giving way and giving me back my self-respect. Gradually the human Christ is taking on a new dimension for me; He is becoming a friend who does not need to be told what I think because He is on my wavelength. He has become my companion. It is worth all the pain and loneliness to have arrived at a destination I never thought I could reach, or was it He who had journeyed?
This is part of a series for Mental Health Awareness Week. Read the others:
14-20 May 2018 is Mental Health Awareness Week, an initiative to encourage discussion about and reduce stigma around mental health issues. The Jesuits in Britain want to take this opportunity to help our readers and listeners to pray, think, learn and talk about life’s uphill struggles, whether they are associated with diagnosed mental health conditions or other circumstances.
Across our online platforms, there are a number of different resources about situations in which people struggle to find peace of mind and heart. Our written and audio content will explore some of the causes, effects and manifestations of anxiety, and look particularly at the dynamic between faith and mental health.
We will be considering ideas, offering prayerful support and sharing experiences. However, please seek professional help if you are concerned about yourself or somebody else.