When HuffPost published an article last fall entitled “It’s OK That I Don’t Drink. It’s Not OK That You Ask Why”, the free world lost its mind as we all realized at once that it’s more socially acceptable to drink than it is to be sober. It seems we’d rather our friends, coworkers, and love interests drink freely and happily than to admit an alcohol addiction. Alcoholism comes with connotations that are not positive. Anonymous meetings, sponsors, chips, late-night trips to the liquor store, and … risk. It is risky to get up close and personal with an alcoholic. You probably know someone who struggles with alcoholism whether you know they do or not. If you know them well enough, you may have been burned by them–maybe more than once.
There is a reason addiction is frowned upon. There’s a reason that an employer might choose the equally-qualified job applicant over the one that had a year of their work history in a recovery program. There is a reason that even reading this now, you know it’s true, but hesitate to admit it. We look at addicts differently than we do everyone else.
Sometimes the addict we’re looking at isn’t on the street asking for quarters. Sometimes they’re staring back at us from the mirror.
Scroll through your Facebook newsfeed and just try to count how many instances you find of dependency. How many funny memes are there just about coffee and wine alone? I mean, if people are joking about it they must not be addicted, right? Forget chemical addictions. We’re deep into November and Christmas shopping season. Shopping is an addiction that leads to financial ruin and can destroy families and marriages just as easily as gambling or adultery.
Somehow, though, we are blind to addictions that look alright to us. When a stay-at-home mom reads seven novels in a week, that might be a problem. No one would care about a reading addiction, though, unless the material is questionable. When we sit and watch episode after episode of the newest series on Netflix or Hulu (or the newest Disney+) no one will mind unless the content is a problem. Eventually, the housework will go undone and then the children or a spouse will take note, but it won’t be an intervention because television is not a serious problem. It’s not like… alcohol or meth. It’s not part of the opioid crisis in America. If I drink a whole lot of coffee, that’s okay. If I shop until I max out all of my credit cards and then take out a second mortgage to buy the groceries, that’s somehow acceptable. Staring at my phone for 7 hours out of the day is the norm. Putting my children in front of the tv or handing them a tablet is convenient. No one sees it as a problem.
Then there are other things. There’s pornography which my husband said I have to mention because although it’s not “acceptable” by most women, it is accepted among men. Men who have struggled with a pornography addiction, however, might liken it to alcoholism or gambling. Pornography ruins marriages, it ruins intimacy, it ruins joy. Women addicted to romance novels can experience diminished joy in their marriage. Children addicted to social media can experience boredom and depression in everyday life. Adults and children addicted to sugar often experience weight gain and weight-related health conditions. Adults and children addicted to television and screentime whether on phones, computers, or tablets can experience difficulty sleeping, attention deficits, and a drop in productivity. These are not things I’m making up. There are studies, stats, and common sense that supports what I’m telling you right now–what I’m telling my self as well.
Checking the Mirror
I think it’s hilarious to watch people at the gym (mostly men) pull up their shorts and flex their legs or their sleeves and flex their arms in front of the big mirror. They strut around the weight-training area like peacocks spreading their feathers, clucking at each other. I’m not sure peacocks actually cluck at each other, but it does seem to fit. We stand in front of mirrors in order to look our best and also to evaluate progress. We check our hair, check our waistline, and check our outfit.
In this same way, we can also check a figurative mirror to identify dependencies in our life.
Try following these steps to identify problem areas of your own.
- Eliminate [fill in the black] for 21 days. If you struggle to reach the third week of elimination, you probably have an unhealthy dependency. Try this with social media, television, soda, coffee, sleeping aids, or whatever you suspect may be a problem for you. For serious suspected addictions like substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, pornography, nicotine, etc.) you may need to seek a support system to succeed in a cold-turkey elimination.
- Attempt a habit-change. Many people can watch less television by keeping the remote out of reach or avoiding switching the tv set on until far into the day. Keep your phone in a different room two hours before bedtime. Stop eating two hours before bed by getting everything done in your kitchen and shutting off the lights two hours before bed. Carry water bottles so that you don’t stop at the drive-thru for a fountain drink. If you struggle to change a habit you may need to try eliminating cold-turkey.
- Begin your morning in prayer, Bible study, and journaling. Reflect on where your mind and heart go in the early hours. What is the first thing you think of when you wake up and the last thing when you’re going to sleep?
Reach out for help when you need it. OnTheWagon.org has an extensive list of free, non-profit based addiction hotlines, including hotlines that focus solely on food addiction, sex, internet, video games, gambling, specific drugs, and more.
Reach out to your church family. Call your pastor. Call your mother. Hold yourself accountable by turning the mirror around–let others see the real you the way that God has seen you all along.
The same God who made your innermost parts and knows your name and the number of hairs on your head also sees your struggle. He knew David’s struggle even as the prayer left his lips, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You” (Psalm 51: 10-13).
David wasn’t addicted to his cell phone. He wasn’t demonstrating an obsession with fitness or sex. He was literally pleading with God to cleanse his hands of all the bloodshed he had inflicted. This is a serious prayer for serious sin, but it is as honest as anyone pleading with a loved one. He’s as broken as anyone in need of grace and intervention. Do you need grace and intervention today? Strength to give up something that is hurting you, something that’s hurting your family, your relationships, your job?
I know a Savior with enough strength for us all.