When a child is born, the medical professionals do the Apgar, a test to quickly acquire an overall assessment of the newborn’s well being. As much as it is a biological-physiological assessment of need for emergency care, it is also a check to assess the emotional and spiritual capacity for normality.
There are three essential movements the child needs to express for normality: 1) Does the child cry out, express fear of not having security and the need for the comfort of care? 2) Will the child reach out to experience the touch of another human, the reflex response of connection? 3) Will the child grasp for food, sucking in nurturance for growth? Does the child cry out, reach out, and take in, are the essential variables that mark the child as normal, i.e., capable of connection.
If the three essentials are evident, the child is ready to begin the long journey of living as they are created to live: 1) Never leaving behind the capacity to cry out, which becomes the ability to express feelings, needs, desire, longings, and hope, 2) Never leaving behind the capacity to reach out for connection to relationship that allows us to experience fulfillment in living, 3) Never leaving behind the craving for fulfillment that strengthens us, and allows us to receive and give out of that fulfillment.
In summary, never leaving behind the capability of vulnerability (communicating one’s heart, reaching for connection that feeds the heart, and willingness to admit craving for life) allows one to have the normal human experience of being fully alive. “Normal” is living as we are created. You and I are created as emotional and spiritual creatures, created to do one thing—live fully. We do so by living fully in relationship with our selves, others, and God.
“Normal” is living as we are created.
Living fully does not ever mean or require that we become invulnerable to how we are created. We are meant to grow through our vulnerability, which is the capability of knowing that we will experience wounds and being able to contend with the wounds without foreclosing on how we are created. That is, we do not attempt to become invulnerable. We do not shut down and forsake our birthright.
Remaining vulnerable to how we are created, based in the three essentials of birth, marks the difference between a life well-lived and one that slides into the morass of attempting to escape how we are created. It marks the difference between liberty, remaining connected to how we are created, and enslavement, addictive processes that are our attempts to find life without having to live how we are created to live. Running from normal becomes addiction.
Addiction has several definitions, which I will mention. It also has many faces, the obvious ones in the alleys, and deeply covert ones in the dens of suburban comfort. All in all, though, addiction is an enslavement that occurs through our intolerance for how we are created—made to cry out, reach out and take in—i.e., vulnerable. It is the process that overtakes our emotional and spiritual makeup because of our intolerance for vulnerability.
Addiction begins as the conflict between our desire to live fully and toleration for how we must live to experience full life. Intolerance pushes a person to attempt to have full life without having to pay the price of feeling fully. We lose the capacity to express our internal experience, the cry out. We foreclose on our capacity to reach out for the connections that feed our hearts. We take our craving away from relationship and seek some source of sustenance that does not entail needing others or God.
Vulnerability marks the difference between liberty and enslavement.
Addiction proper is the resulting sickness that occurs because of our intolerance. It starts as an escape from the oppression of our vulnerability, becomes an obsession on maintaining security through being in control, and finally becomes a possession that locks us into the death spiral of never being fully alive or literally dying from its consequences.
Addiction operates as a tragic counterfeit substitute for living connected to one’s self, others, and God. The great tragedy of a counterfeit substitute is that it mimics the experience of the authentic. It can seem like the real thing, and yet our participation requires denial of our internal experience. Denial of our original internal experience allows addiction to have such successful seductive allure.
We get the sense of being fully alive when we manipulate someone to take away our rejection-anxiety through approval seeking or people pleasing. We get the sense of being fully alive when alcohol takes away our social-inhibition-anxiety through its chemical effects. We can be in denial of our internal motivations because of our anxiety around vulnerability. Our agenda is to stop vulnerability to live fully, rather than be able to process our vulnerability through authentic relationship. Mood-altering seeking behaviors of addiction work temporarily to stop the struggle of vulnerability.
The astute medical professional refers to addiction as a disease. They clearly see the possession as a morbid process that has a characteristic chain of symptoms, of known or unknown causes, that are progressive, chronic, with potential acute episodes, and often fatal. They recognize that the disease process renders the patient powerless without help, and that without treatment the patient’s life will become unmanageable. They identify stress as much a part of the disease process as they do white blood cell count.
In the psychological field addiction is the obsessive and compulsive set of actions one takes to stop the way they feel, a set of behaviors over which the person is powerless to change because the experience of vulnerability to one’s inner world is intolerable. It is identified as a sickness when the person experiences unwanted consequences and yet the person continues the behavior.
We have to return to where we started to have the lives we are created to have.
In the field of addiction recovery, addiction is defined as the things we do to change the way we feel, and in spite of negative consequences, we continue to repeat the actions. The addiction is supported and repeated through denial, dissociation, and projection. Denial is “blindness” to ones own feelings and needs. Dissociation is “numbness” to one’s feelings and needs. Projection is “disowning” one’s feelings and needs. Only through admitting powerlessness over addiction and that one’s life has become unmanageable does the person move into recovery. The same solution remains true for successful treatment by the medical and psychological professional. Underneath all three treatments is the reality of coming to grips with vulnerability. We have to return to where we started to have the lives we are created to have.