Addiction conjures up many pictures that allow us to see it as someone else’s problem or a malady that strikes home for other people. The reality is that addiction is pervasive. It is the most dominant influence in the culture of America—in the secular and religious culture, the urban and rural culture, in the professional world and in the blue-collar world. (See the blog The Emotional and Relational Cost of Addiction.)
Our full lives are lived between the poles of grief and celebration.
Addiction is an impaired attempt to experience a full life without having to pay the price of feeling fully. To live fully we have to be able to process the emotional and spiritual experiences of life. Doing so entails our ability to grieve the multiple losses that are inevitable in living, on one end of experiencing full life. And on the other end of the continuum, being able to celebrate all that life offers us that is wonderful and rich. Our full lives are lived between the poles of grief and celebration.
To live fully requires the courage of vulnerability. My son was seven, looking forward to playing in a Saturday baseball game. He had pictures of the joy of playing and achieving the dream hits and catches. We arrived at the ballpark in a rain shower that resulted in the game cancellation. His picture of celebration turned into the grief of cancellation. He cried, was angry at life on life’s terms, and suffered the pain that vulnerability can bring. Like a normal human being, he expressed his experience of life on life’s terms. He imagined, reached out, and received loss instead of celebration this time.
Years later at the end of his college playing days, he celebrated with his teammates all the experiences they had getting to play a sport that had great ups and downs. As he walked away from the ballpark for the last time, the gratitude was palpable to him. And after the wonderful celebration, which everyone desires, he also knew that an ending had occurred, as is true to all of life’s celebration.
Again, living fully is the ability to experience life emotionally and spiritually, all of which requires the risk of imagining, reaching out, and taking into our selves the experience of living. He had experienced the downs of grief and the ups of celebration, dreams fulfilled and dreams dashed, fears addressed, angers processed, joys enjoyed, envies experienced and life-long friendships formed, relationships gained and ended, that is, the experiences of living between grief and celebration.
Addiction is the attempt to avoid and squelch the anxiety that occurs when we desire something that we were born to desire.
Had he not left himself available to vulnerability, he would have missed the full experience of what he had. Addiction is the reactive avoidance of living and processing life on its own terms. It is the attempt to avoid and squelch the anxiety that occurs when we desire something that we were born to desire. The avoidance occurs because anxiety has become a trigger of anticipating the experiences of unwanted feelings, even the pain of anticipating celebration that might not occur as one hopes.
To stop the anxiety of vulnerability, we seek forms of overcoming that anxiety. We use mechanisms of control to ignore, numb, or change the normal emotional experiences of living that we do not know how to process or are ashamed of having. The solution that allows one to block the feelings of living temporarily solve the problem of anxiety that comes with living. The self-cure, however, can become a way to defend one against living the continuum. The self-cure becomes the addictive process.
Addictive processes work to stop anxiety and create a sense of well-being for a period of time—until the mood altering experience wears off. When the mood altering experience wears off, life is continuing to occur, which recreates anxiety. The return of anxiety, in turn, recreates a need to escape the anxiety. This cycle is what begins to develop a repetition or reenactment of behaviors that have fostered mood alteration. The cycle, whether it be exercise, food, or alcohol, is what develops into addictive processes. The cycle stymies the growth of emotional and spiritual resilience. That is, we do not grow through facing, feeling, and learning how to live fully life on life’s terms.
Vulnerability, ironically, is the doorway into well-being.
Repeating the cycle is not a “badness”; rather, it is a way to attempt to have a sense of well-being without having to pay the price of “feeling” one’s way into well-being. Vulnerability, ironically, is the doorway into well-being. Vulnerability allows us to be open to learn more than how to defend ourselves. By connecting with others who know how to live, those capable of being vulnerable, we develop a sense of well-being. Well-being is the sense of confidence one has in being able to live life on life’s terms. It requires us to live in relationship with our own hearts, others, and God.
Vulnerability is the heart’s call towards admitting our need of relationship instead of an escape from it. Addiction, said another way, is the attempt to escape the needs that vulnerability brings us to. “From where will come my help?” is the question, and the answer is feel, ask, receive, not figure, avoid, isolate from the heart. The real addiction cure is in our tolerance for vulnerability. Addiction is the intolerance of vulnerability.