Might as well face it... you're addicted

I spent some time last weekend reading Sharon’s online book about her son Tyler, who died as an infant... at http://my.homewithgod.com/tyler/ . I must warn you before you begin however... I’d advise arranging a snack and a thermos flask by your side before you begin. It is a story that sucked me right in... initially (I think) because my eldest son was born prematurely, weighing 2 ½ pounds... so the first part of Sharon’s story evoked all that weirdness and helplessness of having your own child in a humidicrib kept alive by the wonders of technology... and the strangeness of changing nurses and changing hospitals and changing hormones... and the empty feeling of arriving home from hospital minus a baby.

I think I was drawn in even more so, however, by the wonderful candour of Sharon’s writing... it is a raw, almost painfully honest account of grief and loss and struggle and the grace of God. Anyone who has suffered a profound loss, or a difficult relationship, or a sick child, or a prolonged hospital vigil, or a complex grieving process, will find some points of resonance in her account.

Late in the story, Sharon describes how she was drawn into the world of the internet... an addiction fuelled by the need to find solace and escape in her struggles and grief... and redeemed by a ministry of grace unique to the “wounded healers” of this world.

I confess I laughed when I read how Sharon would find herself “still in her nightie mid-morning on the internet”... for I read this at 11 am on Anzac day in my dressing gown and pyjamas. (I guess I have a problem.)

Addictions are really habits of a sort. If you do anything over and over it forms a kind of groove in the psyche. Some of these habits can be very healthy; indeed, without habits and life rhythms life becomes impossible. If every decision we make needed to be made afresh from a hundred options, we would end up impossibly stressed, and probably paralysed with indecision. Instead, much of our daily ritual happens on a form of autopilot: we shower and make a drink and get breakfast (etc., etc.) without any agonising decision-making process (in fact, we manage this even in an overtired stupor). The formation of good habits (spiritual disciplines, healthy eating, exercise, balanced rhythms of work and recreation, genuinely civil patterns of relationship) is probably one of the most important tasks of a human life. Good habits lead to spiritual, physical, relational and emotional health... they are the foundation of a fruitful life.

Just as it is possible to develop good habits so they become our natural “autopilot”, it is possible... indeed far easier... to develop bad habits as our natural “autopilot”.

We do not need to look far to see lives utterly shipwrecked by bad habits... relationships destroyed through patterns of aggression or manipulation or deceit or emotional withdrawal or jealousy or distrust... careers destroyed by laziness or dishonesty or refusal to work cooperatively... health destroyed by poor lifestyle patterns.

Genuine addictions are strongly related to habits, but they have even deeper roots. They are fuelled by a compulsion to escape: to escape from pain or grief or anxiety or boredom or emotional numbness or worry... a means to flee from discomfort of all kinds.

A couple of years ago I found myself emotionally crushed with pain and anxiety... and the internet for me was a form of escape into a different world. Looking back on some of the archives of the now dormant Signposts ( http://www.signposts.org.au/ ) reminds me just how much time I spent blogging back then. This was a world where relationships were safe. This was a world where I could switch off from my deeply painful “real world”. I think the capacity to escape (both to work, and to the cyber world) probably rescued me from clinical depression... the body can only cope with so much stress and anxiety before going into a form of “shut down”. As addictions go, it was relatively benign. As my emotional health has improved, my cyber addiction has lessened.

While all addictions create life balance problems, some are intrinsically more dangerous. Gambling addictions destroy a person financially. Sexual addictions destroy the possibility of real intimacy, ruining marriages. The most toxic addictions of all are those related to legal and illegal drugs. For in these cases, more than the “normal” psychic groove of habit, and the dysfunctional impetus of escapism are involved. Chemical dependency is a third layer of addiction, creating a bondage that is extraordinarily difficult to break. Any attempt to resist the lure of the addiction is punished by the aches of withdrawal; succumbing to the lure of the addiction is rewarded with relief and pleasure.

Replacing bad habits with good ones is a slow but necessary process toward wholeness. Where genuine addictions are involved, deep inner work must be done to resolve the discomfort that compels one toward escapism. Where physical addictions are involved, medical assistance is also helpful to help break the hold of the physical habit.

I’d be interested to hear your insights on forming healthy habits... what has helped you to do this? I’d be interested too in your thoughts on addictions and healing and wholeness... what has helped you to resolve any unhealthy habits, and the inner discomfort that drives one to escapism?

As for me, I think I might go and eat some chocolate. (“No, Janet no... don’t do it” “One piece won’t hurt... bwha, ha ha!!!”)


Sharon said…
Wow what a beautiful post :) Thank you for your spirit.. and the kindness of your writing.. God works despite our weaknessess.. to His glory.. He used Moses when Moses would rather not have.. and Gideon the weakest of the clan.. and David the youngest and "just the shepherd boy".. Praise God He does not look at the outer but the inner.. He looks at our heart..

God bless.. You do have a beautiful spirit.. and you made me smile and laugh the way you wrote about me.. and the story..
Janet Woodlock said…
Thank you Sharon... you have a lovely spirit too, and an open heart that God uses in amazing ways. Some Christians seem to think we need to do "public relations" for God... actually, God is quite content to do His own P.R., asking that we simply be authentic and open... witnesses to our actual life experiences, and to the work of God's Spirit through good times and bad.

I hope you had (or are having) a lovely mother's day... no doubt this day is always tinged with thoughts of Tyler, while enjoyed because of your lovely 5 children on earth. What a privilege to be a mother...

Happy mothers' day to all.

Love Janet
Sharon said…
Hi Janet, I did have a lovely Mother's Day!! I hope you did too!! Today is our oldest son's birthday he turns 17 years old!! My the time has flown.. I have been going back remembering all that went on back then.. I was only 21 when he was born!! My husband and I knew absolutely nothing about babies.. Ha..

God bless you.. have a good weekend which is coming up very fast..

Love from Sharon
Janet Woodlock said…
Yes, time does fly. My 2 1/2 pound baby is approaching puberty and is almost as tall as me... how did that happen? Scary stuff!

I'm glad you had a nice mother's day. I had a lovely time catching up with family.

I'm looking forward to next weekend... it will be great!

Love Janet

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