Conquering Addiction: Hope and a Higher Power

Leah promised that she would not smoke cigarettes anymore. This was going to be the last one, absolutely, no doubt about it. She was done. She knew the smokes were killing her and they were terrible for her family. She didn’t want to have her daughter see her smoke, ever again. So this was the last one.

An hour later when she found herself with another cigarette in her mouth, she felt so discouraged as she had many times before, she hardly knew what to do. She hadn’t even thought about it. The habit was so automatic, so unconscious. She felt like she had tried everything to quit, and it made her feel totally hopeless.

These days some young people may not know anybody who has gone through the agony of trying to quit smoking, of leaving behind such a powerful addiction. But most all of us have had personal experience with addictive behavior – either through our own struggle with an addiction or through a close loved one – trying to support them to quit, nagging them to quit, or just wishing they would quit some kind of addiction.

It can be really painful watching someone we love live in addiction, harming their health, shortening their life, and finding it impossible to do anything about it. How do we support them? How do we support ourselves? That is what we want to think about over the next few weeks in this sermon series on addictions. I invite you to give me your questions and concerns, insights or successes so that this sermon series can be tailored to the lives of people in our congregation.

I am not an expert in this area, so there may be others here who can help me understand more about how some addictions and recovery processes work.

My understanding of how addiction happens is that, though it may start as a pleasurable experience, it does not become an addiction because of pleasure, but because of deep, primary emotional wounds, for which the addictive substance – whether drugs and alcohol, cigarettes, food or whatever, are used to numb the pain. People who are addicted, then, are covering over some deep-seated pain. There is also some evidence that a neurological change happens in the body, that makes a person physically sick, and makes it really hard to change.

With all that going on, you can end up feeling pretty hopeless about ever being able to end the addiction, or handle the pain. It’s no wonder then that folk often feel hopeless about feeling any connection to a higher power. Often, when we’re caught up in an addiction, we can’t imagine God’s presence – can’t remember that God had anything to do with us.

To believe in God means to hope. Hope means to feel the hurt and own the responsibility to change. Who wants to do that? It’s easier to blame or deny God, be angry and to justify the addiction and feel hopeless about doing anything about it.

So, because of this basic hopelessness and probably because of the physical or chemical changes in one’s body, the first step in getting better is honesty, admitting the scope of the problem, the depth of the hole, the impossibility of turning things around by yourself.

The second step in faith terms is to find hope. The 12 step program is pretty clear about where that hope comes from. They say you have to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.

The third step is faith, in 12 step language “to make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to God as we understand God.” The fourth step is courage – the courage to really look at ourselves, as they say, to make an honest assessment, a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

The fifth step is integrity, to own up to our shortcomings as well as our assets; to be open and honest about our past behaviors. Then the sixth step we can call willingness – being ready to have God remove our shortcomings and weaknesses, all of them; being willing to let go of old behaviors.

The seventh step is humility; not just being willing to change behavior, but asking God for help in actually letting go of old ways and old patterns, learning to forgive ourselves as we go. The eighth step is discipline and action – making a list of all those people we have harmed intentionally or unintentionally and being willing to make amends to them all. This step has become a butt of jokes on TV, but when you have experienced this step you can feel how powerful it is.

The ninth step is forgiveness – asking for forgiveness, making direct amends wherever possible, wherever it would not result in hurt or harm. This takes guidance and help because it is hard to navigate what to do and not do. The tenth step is acceptance, to start living with imperfection and be able to admit mistakes, learning not to be judgmental.

The eleventh step is knowledge and awareness, being aware of our purpose in life, what God wants from us, praying and meditating to get clearer about our lives. And twelfth is service and gratitude, to practice all these principles in daily life and help others who need the help and understanding.

Responsive Hymn: 2080 All I Need Is You