Conquering Addiction: Creation Set Free

Kate, at her local grocery store, put some items into her cart — and some under her shirt. She continued shopping and went to check out the few things that were in her cart. A security guard stopped her, however, and asked her to remove the things from under her shirt. Humiliated and anxious, she gave the items she had shoplifted to the guard and waited for the police. This time she just had to pay for the items and get treatment, but her record was getting longer, she was having trouble hiding her problem from her family, and she knew she was in trouble.

Kate reached out for some help and ended up forming a support group with other people who were addicted to shoplifting. The courts don’t necessarily recognize shoplifting as an addiction, and certainly most of society considers it as something within anyone’s control, but Kate has felt the power and relief of confessing to her support group that she is powerless over her addiction and that her life has become unmanageable. She checks in with somebody from the group every day through e-mail, and before she goes to the store. She has begun to recognize that she is more likely to shoplift when she is under stress, because stealing is her way to get back at the world over the ways she has felt cheated in her life.

I read about Kate’s story this week in a book called America Anonymous. The book details the lives of 8 addicts — a young man addicted to heroin, an older man addicted to alcohol, a youngish man addicted to crytal meth and steroids, a middle aged woman addicted to food, a college student addicted to sex and pornography, a middle aged woman addicted to crack cocaine, a 32 year old man who says he’s addicted to “everything” — heroin, crack, alcohol, gambling, prescription drugs, and nicotine, and Kate, a 32 year old stay-at-home mom addicted to shoplifting.

This book, obviously, defines addiction quite broadly. His stated definition is “The use of a substance or activity for the purpose of lessening pain or augmenting pleasure, by a person who has lost control over the rate, frequency or duration of use, and whose life has become progressively unmanageable as a result. “ He believes that there is a syndrome of addiction that results in the likelihood that someone who stops one addiction will pick up another.

Some people believe that syndrome or tendency toward addiction is inherited, but it is exacerbated by trauma and suffering in a person’s life. Kate, for instance, was ignored by her mother, and molested for years by a family member. Several others of the 8 in America Anonymous had similar stories of alcoholic parents, though not all could remember such abuse or neglect. Most people think there is a combination of physical and psychological factors that cause and exacerbate addiction.

There might in fact be more unanimity around the cure for addiction than for the cause. Paul, as we have seen, was very insightful about addiction, without talking about it specifically. In these passages we have been reading, Paul distinguishes between living in the flesh and living in the spirit. By life in the flesh, Paul refers to a life lived in rebellion and idolatry, in which a person becomes totally self-centered, answering to one’s own desires above all else.

Life in the Spirit is life set free from bondage to self and sin. Life in the Spirit is a life newly bound to the Creator, to one’s Higher Power, freely acknowledging a relationship with the Living God. Paul calls this relationship being adopted by God, claimed as God’s child. Paul is also clear that this new freedom in relationship with God does not end suffering, but involves voluntary suffering, taking up one’s own cross, suffering with Christ in order to inherit a better world, a healing of all of Creation.

That’s the goal and vision that Paul finally has in mind — the healing of all Creation, Creation set free. He believes that God is claiming each one of God’s children, re-claiming them one by one through the power of the witness and love of Jesus, and that the pain that we experience in the process of claiming our sobriety, renewing our relationship to God, that pain comes from the birth-pangs of the deliverance of this new Creation, this new time that Christ has set in motion.

This is God’s good news.

Responsive Hymn: 2117 Spirit of God