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,
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
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
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