Being Okay Being Me

I am who I am.

Talking about addiction is not easy. While I am comfortable discussing it, it’s not really something I relish. But part of my recovery is sharing what I have learned about what ails me so that maybe it helps you. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re either grappling to understand a loved one who is an addict or you yourself are trying to overcome your addiction.  Is addiction really a disease or am I just a selfish degenerate? The recovery process involves worrying less about what others think of us. I do not control other people’s thoughts. I must be okay with me. I am who I am.

Disease?

While progress has occurred, as it has in many areas of life that challenge society, the world still struggles to grasp that addiction is a disease. Is it?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes Alcohol Use Disorder as a chronic relapsing brain disease marked by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a state of negative emotional state during non-use.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease resulting in compulsive drug hunting and use, despite harmful consequences to the addict and to all those around them.

However, a current wave of psychologists are now arguing that addiction is not a disease. In his article, “Is Addiction Really a Disease?” former Harvard professor of psychiatry, Lance Dodes, points out that addiction is not like tuberculosis (not an infectious agent), or like diabetes (not a pathological biological process), or like Alzheimer’s (not a biologically degenerative condition).

Former addict and author Steven Slate, curator of the website Clean Slate, argues that substance use is a choice, not a compulsion. Substance abuse is not a disease or illness but a habit. He points out a disease involves physiological malfunction and changes in the brain. Slate contends that this is not shown in addict’s brains. You can read more about his thoughts on addiction on his website, Clean Slate.

So, is addiction a disease or not?

Shocker. I don’t know that it matters. Or does it?

“I have found that the process of discovering who I really am begins with knowing who I really don’t want to be.” Alcoholics Anonymous

Immoral Degenerate?

Most practicing addicts do not want to get help. Under the influence, we are sick, irrational, and incapable of giving up our addictions. Short of a life-transforming event, we do not want to stop. Truth be told, we cannot. Not on our own. Most of us are forced to get help against our will. We must hit rock bottom and get sick and tired of being sick and tired before we can straighten out the train wreck we call our life. We do not begin to understand something is haywire in our programming until we string together a number clean and sober days.

I certainly did things under the influence that I do not believe I would have done had I not been drunk or high. Was I an immoral degenerate before I took a drink or did drugs, or after? Is my behavior a problem if it does not affect you? Is a heavy substance user bad or immoral if they stay in control of their situation and are freely choosing to use, rather than acting under compulsion? Who am I to say what’s right for you? I can only tell you that for me, living a life free from alcohol and substance use is much better than it was when my world was spinning out of control.

Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)
“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” 

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

For me, addiction is symptomatic of a bigger, deeper issue. Staying clean and sober is not a matter of being mentally, physically, or spiritually strong enough. It is not simply a matter of will power and being determined enough to not get drunk or high. At the end of the day, I am accountable for my life, my actions, my words, my deeds. I am responsible for me. For me, the first step in accepting that accountability and living up to that responsibility calls for living an alcohol and drug-free lifestyle.

Recovery begins with me being okay with being me.

1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 

My Life Long Journey

The process of recovery is a life long journey. No matter how long you have been in recovery, you never seem to reach the end. At least not on this side of Heaven. Changes occur day after day, but I find myself continually tweaking this and that. By the grace of God, I have lived in recovery for over 20 years. I am still learning. Every day. Recovery demands taking responsibility for my life. Our daily walk centers on a recovery absent of self-pity and free from resentment. That is not easy for non-addicts to carry out. For those of us with hurts, habits, and hang-ups it can be even more challenging.

To make the most of my recovery, my life must have routines. Doing certain things, like making my bed in the morning, help me stay focused and oriented in the right direction. Upsetting the routines risks opening the way for darkness to creep in, usually beginning with a benign fog stealthily sneaking up on me and throwing me a curveball when I least expect it. Other times, a lack of routines results in an immediate smack in the head, quickly signaling that something is off-kilter.

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He heals the brokenhearted

    and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3 (ESV)

Recovery means forgiving freely and quickly. It means praying readily and in the moment. Letting stuff simmer leads to the pot boiling over, making a mess of what was an otherwise good situation. Problems do not go away; solutions do. Addiction is a chronic disease. It does not let go easily. Untreated, it will kill you. Co-dependence, addiction’s nasty sister, is a life long condition that rears its ugly head when you least expect it.

Both addiction and co-dependence have recognizable symptoms. For me, the addict, resentment is locked in a battle with feelings of inferiority. It’s a 12 round heavyweight cage match between anger and pity. Getting back at people does not do us any good. Sitting on our pity pot crying “woe is me” does not get us anywhere. Unchecked, anger turns to hate and our hate leads to frustration, inner turmoil, outer conflict, and neurosis. Anxiety disrupts peace. Obsession and compulsiveness creep in to the picture. Indecisiveness dominates the day. Not a pretty picture.

Co-dependency is a beast all its own marked with the need to make other people happy and having a hard time saying “no”.  Guilt, shame, inadequacy, and the obsession for perfection create a formula for disaster. Combined and untreated, the addict and co-dependent can create a world teetering at DEFCON 1 (Maximum readiness; all forces ready for combat; nuclear war imminent or likely).

It can be hard to remember that your job is to drain the pond when you are standing knee-deep in alligators. Keeping the monsters at bay calls for vigilance. Guarding my heart, my mind, and my soul are constant duties. Recovery means living a life of faithful obedience and doing for others. Helping others helps me stay in tune with what matters and keeps out those things seeking to do me harm.

He has told you, O man, what is good;

    and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

    and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (ESV)

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When we find ourselves in seasons of struggle, which in this life are inevitable, we can act by seeking our God in prayer. Prayer is an activity affording us an audience with the Creator of all things. Prayer is powerful. It is both a tool and a weapon. Prayer is an action. Working through what has been a difficult Summer 2017, my wife Terri developed a prayer that she keeps close to her heart and on her mind. It has helped her tremendously. I wanted to share it here with you. Are you struggling today? Is your world spinning out of control? May this prayer, written by my beautiful bride, give you the comfort the Lord has shown us through Terri’s prayer.

Terri’s Prayer

One day at a time,

One foot in front of the other;

Focus on God.

Don’t forget to breathe;

This too shall pass.

Be kind with your words;

No one is guaranteed tomorrow.

Terri Walker Bantau ©2017

The Road

Images courtesy of Pixabay.