Tracy can’t stay out of stores. Three to four times a week she’s at the shopping centre. She has maxed out two credit cards and is loading up a third. “I’m never happier than when I’m shopping,” she says. Tracy is a shopping addict.
Adam’s favourite pastime is watching sports. He turns the TV onto a sports channel the moment he gets home in the evening, and in the morning he catches the sports news from the previous night. He subscribes to six sports magazines, and he often flies interstate to attend sporting events. He spends several thousand dollars a year on sports. “The thrill of the competition relieves my anxiety,” he says. Adam is addicted to the excitement of sports.
Pastor Gerald is a favourite with his parishioners. Whatever the need, when they call, he’s there to help. Recently he changed his mobile phone plan so that he could make unlimited phone calls to check up on the needs of his parishioners. “I love helping people,” Gerald says. “I can forget my own problems when I’m helping others with theirs.” Gerald doesn’t realise that he’s addicted to caretaking.
While each of the above activities is normal in itself, if you could talk to these people, you’d soon realise that something isn’t quite right. There’s a drive to their activities that consumes their every waking moment. The word for this is obsession. When the opportunity to engage in their favourite activity comes around, they can’t say No. It sucks them in like a whirlpool.
This obsessive-compulsive thinking and behaviour lies at the foundation of all addiction. The question is, How can Tracy, Adam and Gerald get out of this nightmare? How can you get out of yours?
1. Recognise the problem
The first step is to recognise that you have a problem. We tend to deny that anything is wrong. We “enjoy” the addictive behaviour and we don’t want to give it up. Often, in fact, we’re terrified of giving it up. But until we acknowledge the problem, it will keep sucking us in deeper and deeper—and closer and closer to destruction. It’s the very same reason why people who attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting introduce themselves as alcoholics. They have to own the addiction.
How can you acknowledge the problem when you’re in the middle of denial? God will help you to do that. He has promised to convict you of sin and guide you into all truth (John 16:8, 13), and that includes the truth about yourself.
So, when you recognise one of those moments in your life, just say, “God, if You’re trying to tell me something about myself, lead me into a willingness to accept the truth.”
You may be able to stop the destructive behaviour at that point, but you may have to “hit bottom” first. Hitting bottom means reaching a crisis—such as a health problem, loss of a job or the prospect of a divorce—that forces you to face your addiction honestly.
The question you must ask yourself is, How bad am I going to let it get before I finally admit the truth about my life? That’s why asking God to lead you out of denial is so important. He can help you to hit bottom before the consequences become catastrophic.
2. Acknowledge your powerlessness
Step one of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” This truth applies to all addiction.
The emotions driving our addiction are so powerful that we’re incapable of shutting them off in our own strength. Alcoholics Anonymous says it well: “We were the victims of a mental obsession so subtly powerful that no amount of human willpower could break it.”
3. Seek God’s help
To break out of our obsession, we need help. And two kinds of help are available.
The most important is God’s help. People with experience in Alcoholics Anonymous say, “We have warped our minds into such an obsession for destructive drinking [you can insert your own addictive behaviour here] that only an act of Providence can remove it from us.” And “Providence,” of course, means God.
So I suggest saying this prayer: “God, I’m powerless over this obsession [name it]. Please remove the desire for it and give me instead a desire for what’s right.” From personal experience, I can assure you that God will do that. Most of the time He doesn’t remove the desire instantly, but if you keep asking for His help and if you cooperate with Him in other ways, you will discover that, as time goes by, the obsession gets weaker and weaker.
4. Seek help from others
The other source of help is people who’ve struggled successfully with addiction. Twelve-step meetings are extremely helpful in this regard, especially if you can find a group that deals with the same issue you’re struggling with. Make a commitment to attend regularly for a period of years—perhaps the rest of your life. If this sounds difficult, remember that you’ll make friends that you’ll cherish the rest of your life, too.
It’s also a good idea to get what AA calls a “sponsor.” The sponsor should be someone with whom you can be totally honest. Often, this will be someone you meet in the group you attend.
If your sponsor has had experience with the Twelve Steps, ask them to guide you in working through them. These steps are entirely biblical and they have helped millions of people to break free of addiction.
5. Offer praise and thanksgiving
One of your most powerful tools for conquering addiction is praise and thanksgiving. Try these prayers:
- “Thank You, God, for Your power that is breaking the hold this addiction has had over my life.”
- “I praise You, Jesus, for dying on the cross so that I can be forgiven for the times I’ve yielded to this addiction.”
- “God, I thank You for accepting me right where I am.”
The more you thank God for the victory—even before you have achieved it—the more you are strengthening your faith that the stranglehold the addiction has had over your life will be broken.
I want to assure you that, regardless of the nature of your addiction, there is a way out. Hold on to that belief, and then go in search of the answer.
God will guide you, often through other people.
You can be free!
Addiction and sin
Some people object that the concept of addiction denies the biblical teaching about sin. Sin implies a moral flaw, they say, whereas addiction suggests a disease of the mind and/or body that is free of moral implications. People who claim to be addicts do so to excuse their sin.
While we must never excuse our sin, sometimes we are so oppressed with guilt for our shortcomings that the guilt itself gets in the way of our effort to overcome. Temporarily viewing the problem apart from its moral implications can help to break the obsessive guilt. This can be an aid to recovery—which is the same thing as victory over sin.
However, those who are serious about recovery from addiction will admit the moral implications of their behaviour. One of the major objectives of the Twelve Steps is to help addicts take responsibility for the damage their addiction has caused themselves and other people.
Furthermore, the Bible sometimes refers to sin as a disease. Speaking of the sin of Israel, Isaiah said, “Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores” (Isaiah 1:5, 6). And the New Testament Greek word for salvation also means healing. So when you are saved from sin, you are healed of it.
Surrender (Steps 1–3): These steps bring the addict to a relationship with their Higher Power by recognising that they are unable to continue an unmanageable life, but that there is hope in surrender.
Confession and Repentance (Steps 4–7): By self-examination, the addict recognises where they have harmed themselves and others. They acknowledge their own defects of character, making them real. Then they decide to turn these specific problems over to their Higher Power and ask God to take control to remove them.
Reconciliation and Restoration (Steps 8–9): In these steps, the addict begins to relate honestly and appropriately to others and to rebuild the human relationships that have been broken by addiction.
Continual Growth (Steps 10–11): By a daily program of applying the Twelve Steps, emotional balance is maintained, a crucial requirement for maintaining sobriety. As this “one day at a time” program is lived, power is drawn from feeding the spiritual self through improving conscious contact with God.
Sharing and Serving (Step 12): As a result of the spiritual awakening occurring in steps 1–11, the addict seeks to share what has been learned with others.