Every time we tragically lose a valued celebrity to a self-destructive habit arguments rage about addiction.
Is it a disease or just a self-centered lack of self-control?
But however it’s classified it’s devastating to live through. When you find yourself in that particular hole called “addiction,” the behavior seems to define you, to become you.
I speak from experience. My addiction was the gambler’s roller-coaster ride of thrilling highs and crushing lows that I never imagined I could resist. Yet I was finally pulled back from the brink, and not just temporarily. Three decades later I’ve never once looked back.
How did that happen? Through a change of perspective. I came to understand the limits of a reality defined by what we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste and realized that a gravitational pull toward self-destructive behavior rests within such a materialistic sense of ourselves. I also saw the freeing possibilities of entertaining a more spiritual sense of identity. As that became clearer to me, I felt the pull lessen.
My addiction robbed me of my weekly wages, drained away my time, hijacked my thought, and immersed me in less than salubrious company. Yet even the “heyday” of my habit might seem tame compared to some of the celebrity tales that hit the headlines. For instance, comedian and actor Russell Brand has movingly described his compulsion this way: “Drugs and alcohol are not my problem, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solution” (“Russell Brand: my life without drugs,” The Guardian, March 8, 2013).
Leaning on a network of fellow addicts who have found some way to live “drug-and-alcohol-free lives,” Mr. Brand manages to keep the ever-assertive desire to indulge at bay. He espouses a “simple” formula for recovering addicts, although he acknowledges it “isn’t easy.”
“They must not pick up a drink or drug, one day at a time. Just don’t pick up, that’s all,” he adds.
Yet I vividly recall just how unrealistic a “just don’t” edict can feel from the addict’s viewpoint. Resisting the temptation just through personal will and a support network wouldn’t have cut it for me. I needed something that could reach deeper and change me from the inside out. That’s what a new, spiritual view of myself gave me.
This wasn’t about some single eureka moment liberating me. It was a step-by-step emergence, resulting from my study of Christian Science, into a clearer consciousness of myself and others as made of better stuff than often seems apparent on the surface. It was a whole series of inner (mental) and outer (behavioral) shifts that brought me to a new vantage point at which I no longer thought of myself as an addict. Instead I glimpsed a different perspective of everyone, including me, as the loved child of an ever-forgiving, divine Father-Mother.
The fog of needing “my fix” lifted as it was replaced by the more deeply satisfying activity of seeing and taking opportunities to unselfishly “love your neighbor as yourself,” as Jesus put it (Mark 12:31, Revised Standard Version). The sense of freedom that embraced me, and has stayed with me, has been beautifully described by liberated alcoholic and TV presenter Carrie Armstrong as the ability to “live back in the world again. Joyfully!” So true.
So is addiction a disease or a lack of self-control?
Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s neither. Perhaps it varies from person to person. I’m no expert, just a grateful survivor. But looking back from the vantage point of freedom, it doesn’t really matter to me what it was. What really counts is what it wasn’t.
It wasn’t the final verdict on who I am.
Indeed, I had glimpsed that in God’s eyes I’d never truly fallen from grace, as Mary Baker Eddy explains in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “When speaking of God’s children, not the children of men, Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of God is within you;’ that is, Truth and Love reign in the real man, showing that man in God’s image is unfallen and eternal” (p. 476).
“Once an addict always an addict” has become a compelling and sometimes tragic narrative. But “once a child of the divine, always a child of the divine” can be a transformative perception of our enduring reality, which – when persistently, prayerfully understood and enacted in a more loving life – can bring a happier end to our story: namely, the end of the addiction.
This was first published in The Christian Science Monitor as “Reversing addictions: Is it possible?”