Healing Addictions

A Study of the Christian Healing of Addiction
by Rev. Robert B. Boutwell

A. Define Addiction

Addiction is a fatal disease. Addictions are forces that controls our lives, direct our decisions and lead us to our death. An addiction is any process over which we believe we are powerless. I will not be speaking about specific addictions such as Alcoholism, Chemical Dependencies, or pathological eating disorders. These require specific professional therapy. However, in all forms of addiction the same evil powers are confronted and the same addictive processes apply. Anne Wilson Schaef in her book Co-Dependence defines the addictive process as "an unhealthy and abnormal disease process, whose assumptions, beliefs, behaviors, and lack of spirituality lead to a process of nonliving that is progressively death-oriented." To the extent that our lives are addiction-centered rather than God-centered they become idolatrous and that leads to spiritual death. Addiction is about temptation, demons, Satan, and death.

There are two primary addictions: Powerlessness and Nonliving. The first step in the AA 12 step recovery program is to admit that one is powerless over alcohol and that life has become unmanageable. Admitting this is the first step toward recovery from the addiction. Powerlessness over alcohol, or anything else, becomes an addiction when we allow it to dominate our lives.

In his book The Return of the Prodigal Henri Nouwen identified the core of his spiritual struggle to be "the struggle against self-rejection, self-contempt, and self-loathing. It is a very fierce battle because the world and its demons conspire to make me think about myself as worthless, useless, and negligible. Many consumerist economies stay afloat by manipulating the low self-esteem of their consumers and by creating spiritual expectations through material means." He goes on to say that as long as we are kept 'small,' we can easily be seduced to buy things, meet people, or go places that promise to improve our self-concept. But every time we allow ourselves to be manipulated or seduced, we will have still more reasons for putting ourselves down. Do you ever feel manipulated? What are some of the things that make you feel powerless? How might these things come to dominate our lives?

The second primary addiction is "Nonliving". Jean Bloomquist in the Jan. - Feb. 1993 issue of Weavings wrote, "To choose life is to choose healing in a world that all too often chooses death. Healing means coming in touch with something that will create and sustain instead of tear down and destroy. Healing moves us into the fullness of life toward that deep gladness which only comes when our hearts dwell in the Holy. Each time we choose life, we open our eyes a bit further to the presence of God in the world and assist in the birthing of a new creation."

Healing begins when we reclaim our power and choose life. Schaef in her book, When Society Becomes as Addict, tells us that the first step toward recovery from Nonliving is when the addict chooses not to die. But choosing not to die is not the same as choosing to live. There are three combinations of choices possible. First, to choose (1) not to live and (2) to die. The result of this combination is usually suicide. Second, to choose (1) not to die and (2) to live, results in a total reorientation of life with healing from and resistance to the addictive system. Third, is to choose (1) not to die and (2) not to live. This result is accommodation to the addictive system.

One of the ways addictions derive their power over us is from the lies we choose to believe and live. When I choose to live a lie, it is no longer I who live but the lie. The Ultimate Addiction occurs when everything I believe I am and everything I live for are all lies. When one recognizes and relinquishes the lie then they are set free to live the truth of who they are; the truth of who God intends them to be. In my work with Hospice patients I have seen dying people set free to claim and experience the fullness of life by discovering that they are not victims of terminal cancer, but children of God living with cancer.

B. Identifying Addictions:

I began smoking tobacco when I was 13. After smoking for 10 years, tobacco had taken control of my life. I was convinced that I was not addicted and that I could quit any time I wanted to. I bet my brother-in-law that I could stay off tobacco longer than he could. When I won the bet I thought that I had proved that I could quit. I went back to smoking believing that lie. One night at 2 AM when I was trying to finish a seminary term paper I ran out of cigarettes so I went out rummaging through the trash and looked along the street for cigarette butts from which I could salvage enough tobacco to roll another cigarette. Not long after that God helped me see that my addiction to tobacco was ruling my life and I chose to give control of my life back to God. When God revealed the lie I had believed about tobacco being a harmless form of recreation, and when I saw how my money was going to support an exploitative industry, I was really angry and that ended my smoking for good. Anger is an important part of who we are. My anger helped me overcome that addiction to tobacco but when anger gets isolated from our wholeness can become addictive also.

One day a vagrant, who appeared to be young, strong, and healthy, came to the parsonage asking for a hand-out. I said that I would be glad to give him food and some gasoline for his truck if he would help me by mowing the lawn. He refused and I sent him away. I was angry all day and I told everyone I saw that day how angry I was. Late that afternoon a wise deacon of the church patiently listened to my story then said, "Is your anger so important that you should allow it to take control and ruin this whole day which God has given you? Your anger has not changed that man, but it has hurt you and a lot of other people, and it has wasted much of your time and energy." The truth was startling. To recover my sanity I needed to give up my anger and forgive myself for thinking my anger would accomplish anything or would make me feel any better. The truth is it just made me feel worse.

Through the years I have discovered many lies I believed about myself. I found that fear was controlling many of my decisions. I was afraid of what other people would think of me. My fear of rejection directed much of my life. Then I went to a healing conference led by Francis MacNutt entitled, The Power to be Set Free. That conference, the Holy Spirit and a lot of love and prayer helped to set me free to discover myself. Then I could see that trying to be the self I thought other people wanted me to be, or didn't want me to be, was living a lie.

Another area where I needed help was with my understanding of my sexuality. I had believed a lie about myself as a sexual being. I saw myself as a potential rapist and I looked at every female fearfully as a sex object. My sex education came from my mother who told me over and over how she feared that I would become just like her brother. I suspect that he had molested her when she was young. A week with Morton Kelsey at Kirkridge conference center helped me undo the results of that lie. Now I know that my sexuality is a beautiful gift from God and that I will never use it to take advantage of another person.

Were you ever told that you were a "bad child" or that you would never amount to anything or would turn out just like . . . ? Have you ever thought that what went wrong in your family was all your fault? How have you been manipulated and made to feel powerless? How much do any of the following control your life: anger, fear, money, your work, your house, your car, your hobby, your recreation, your need to be loved, your need to be in control, your need for pleasure, your idea of what others expect of you? What are some of the lies that you have allowed to control your life? Identifying and naming these things which you have allowed to gain control over your life is a first step toward being healed and set free.

C. Healing Addictions

We need to be clear that what we are seeking is deep inner healing by the Holy Spirit, and not exorcism. The church has always considered exorcism a last resort to only be carried out by someone trained and qualified in discernment. Walter Wink in his book, Unmasking the Powers, makes this very clear. He distinguishes three types of domination: 1. Outer personal possession which is "frequently the consequence of dabbling with the occult or deliberately playing host to alien spirits." Once invited in they may be difficult to remove. 2. Collective possession involves demonic systems which, for example: create unfair labor practices, put a "Glass ceiling" on promotions, engage in price fixing, require unpaid overtime, expect rewards for sexual favors, perpetuate various kinds of segregation, etc. These require different kinds of exorcists such as social activists and whistle-blowers. 3. Inner personal Demonic possession occurs when part of us; an attitude or an emotion habitually disregards the rest of us. We may be so consumed by anger, that our anger is all that remains visible. We may become so dominated by our attitude about an illness that the rest of our personality disappears. These are situations which require re-integration and healing, not exorcism. If I become a chocoholic, I don't want to exorcise my desire to eat, I just need to integrate my desire for chocolate into a healthier diet.

Tilden Edwards in his book Living in the Presence wrote: ( see p. 85 ) "Jesus spent a lot of time drawing together what was separated from the reality of God's nature in and among us. God was in Christ reconciling us who were lost through the power of sin. The power of sin includes our sometimes willful , sometimes helpless attachments to images of self that separate us from our true nature in God."

"In the ego empire building and protecting that comes from the separating identity, we create further separations of mind, body, feelings, and will. With others we reverberate that brokenness. Fragmentation, personally and socially proceed apace. Our memories and bodies are pocked with the results: many hurts and injustices given and received; many residues of fear, resentment, defense, and sickness. In the midst of all this, we desperately need healing. Healing begins with a trust that wholeness exists and that it is available for us in our turning to God."

When we have become fragmented into all these addictions it takes love to put us back together. In his book ,People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck says "Healing of evil. . . can be accomplished only by the love of individuals." Perhaps we in the church can offer that love. Jesus shut the skeptics and the mourners out when he went into that room to heal Jairus' daughter. Perhaps we in the church can provide a safe atmosphere, and a community of loving individuals, who will listen to people who are suffering from this kind of addiction. There we can pray for them and with them for healing, and encourage their spiritual growth into the wholeness which God intends.

If you think you need this kind of healing, here is something you can do. Find two or more trusted prayer partners to help you. Take a few moments to think about how to reorient your life from being centered on an addiction to being centered on God. Join hands and let God's love and spiritual strength flow through your hands to each other. Be aware of the presence of Jesus' living spirit adding love and spiritual strength to your circle. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the lies you have been living. Ask Jesus to help you get all the alienated parts of your being back into unity and harmony so that they may cease from acting demonic. Thank the Holy Spirit for whatever healing may already be taking place and thank each other for their sharing, love, and prayers. Once healing has taken place it needs to be protected.

D. Protecting the Healing.

Demons and addictions don't give up easily. We are creatures of habit, and attitudes and thought processes are hard to change. We keep getting reminded, tempted, and tested. Remember Jesus has given you the authority to say "No" to these temptations, and "Yes" to inviting Christ's love to dominate. As we cultivate an awareness of Christ's presence always with us and Christ's love always surrounding us it becomes easier. We can also pray that we be surrounded by guardian angels. After Jesus' temptation angels came to minister to him.

They will come to us too. It helps to establish some kind of spiritual discipline such as daily prayer, Bible study, and devotional reading. Ask someone to be a spiritual friend. Join a prayer group. Worship regularly, and take communion. These are all ways to build spiritual protection around yourself. Surround yourself with the love of Christ and the love and prayers of your friends and family. When you are surrounded with this kind of protection it won't be necessary to return to using the old familiar addictive process for self preservation. In your prayer group symbolically wrap one another in a protective cloak of love after each healing session.