SLAVES OF ADDICTION
The Wisdom of a Wounded Healer
Yago: John, you are welcome to this blog that celebrates the 125th anniversary of Charles Lavigerie Anti-slavery Campaign. Lavigerie said that "Missionaries must above all be deeply convinced of their powerlessness and nothingness. They must have recourse to God in all things, for they will be able to do nothing without His grace, and indeed His extraordinary grace." This quote reminds me of the AA's twelve step spiritual program. I would like to interview you on the issue of addiction and slavery. So, let me begin with the following question: can you consider
addiction as a form of slavery?
John: I believe that it is
a form of slavery in that it takes away freedom of choice within the
individual. When one is driven to act by anything that is taking away freedom
of choice, then I think it is appropriate to speak of it as a form of slavery.
When people are addicted to over eating, taking pills or drugs or alcohol and
simply cannot by their own will power stop, then I think they are slaves to
that particular form of addiction. Most people can enjoy social drinking but
for some, there is a moment when they cross the line from that experience into
a form of pathological addiction of, for instance, drinking it might be appropriate to test out by asking
some perhaps painful or difficult questions such as what is an alcoholic?; Am I an alcoholic?, and try to answer these questions honestly it means – a
willingness to learn and openness in mind as well as complete honesty with
self. There are different guides and questions which may be used to help
determine whether or not a person is addicted, for instance in the John Hopkins
University Hospital list there are about 35 questions and if your answer “yes”
to three or four of these questions, then you are definitely alcoholic. There
may be very many different reasons why someone has to pick up a drink it might
be a question of escapism, it may be a maladjusted personality defect, or it
could be an escape from intense physical pain. At other times people may be a addicted
or having to pick up alcohol in order to cope with a vague uneasiness. Taking a
drink for instance may temporarily meet the need of feeling self-confident,
helping the person to be calm, and more able to face a difficult threatening
situation. If a person admits to some of the questions they may have moved from
the sociological into the pathological form of drinking and can never again -
be a controlled drinker.
escape the compulsive urge to drink there is the challenge to change a way of
thinking. Again to illustrate this, there might be the craving for a drink in
order to meet the inner demand for continuous happiness or excitement. It may
be to boost the feeling of self-confidence, so in my opinion, a person who is
addicted to alcohol or to food or to drugs or any other form, he or she is
suffering from lack of freedom not only in the physical sense of the disease , but
in the mental attitude as well.
Yago: Why is it so
difficult to speak about addiction?
John: I think perhaps
addiction to substances in one form or another or to certain patterns of
behavior leads to lack of freedom, and generally speaking, it is a combination
of being ill at ease, in the emotional or physical, or habitual way of acting,
in which you are really no longer free to make choices. I know that over the
last 30 years or so there has been a change in perspective and the possibility
of openly speaking about alcoholism as an illness, rather than a moral choice,
and this has allowed more people to speak openly about it. In contrast I think
many others would find it very difficult to speak about sexual problems, or
their dependency on medications.
Yago: According to
your life experience in pastoral ministry what kind of addictions are more prevalent
John: There are many
types of addiction prevalent in Western society today, different programs are used to help withdraw
from their usage. One of the most effective and successful has been the 12 step
programs, which have emerged or used the basic suggested 12 steps of “Alcoholics
In my opinion one of the most prevalent addictions at the present
time is that of abuse of the Internet in regard to pornographic images. Many
people in search of happiness or to avoid loneliness, search the Internet.
Advertising in the mass media presents medications in one form or another which
portray a quick release from pain. In one sense it is like a magic pill or a
magic cure in which the underlying attitude is; "never should I have any pain" and if you only take a certain pill, or present a certain style of dress you
will be free; but in fact that is not the case and I think in regard to younger
people very often they are addicted to keeping up with the ever-changing
fashions, we see a proliferation of magazines and articles depicting a
particular form of dress for the time being. And many people are slaves to the
fashions of the moment
Yago: Why does it take so
long to admit addiction?
John: I do not think
anyone wishes readily to admit that in a physiological or psychological
dimension he or she is dependent and their dependency is beyond voluntary
control. Denial of having a particular problem impedes or complicates the
Yago: How does addiction affect a person?
John: Takes away or
diminishes freedom. No one wishes to say or admit that they are on free or
else not in total control. We hear echoed in our society, an addicted society: "Nobody but nobody tells me what to do," while at the same time they are
overeating, or popping pills, or taking alcohol or other drugs in order simply
to appear to function. But they cannot in and of themselves, for the most part,
change or stop that form of behavior and dependency.
Yago: In the context of religious people what are the main obstacles to overcome addiction?
John: One of the things I
think which impedes religious people from overcoming a dependency or addiction,
is the thought that, if I only pray harder I will be able to overcome it.
Factually, many people who are deeply religious try this method of praying but
are usually not successful in controlling the urge to drink or to take the pill,
which brings the form of relief or to meet their anxiety etc. Fundamentally,
there will be no change until the person is willing to admit that they are not
in charge, they are not in total control of themselves and in the way they have
to stop, “Playing God” to themselves and turn it over to the Care of God of their understanding or belief
Yago: What is the wisdom
that has made the AA program so successful?
John: The wisdom which has
made the AA program so successful across Continental or Country borders is the
fact that it came out of the lived experience of people who finally had to accept, admit, and ultimately surrender to
the reality that they were no longer in charge of their own well-being. Those
who come to the AA program have to come for their own sake, not to please
others and being able to share weakness or dependency or other troubles along
with others, and find that they are accepted, not judged is a tremendous boon.
The only Authority is some higher power
or force outside of self as the individual understands that power! In another way, it is saying;” I am not the center of the
world, I am not in control of the whole world nor even of myself.” “My way
didn’t work!”. The 12 steps of the AA program are not imposed from outside, they are suggested steps of
well-being, which the individual may work in his or her own particular way,
while listening to the lived experience of people, who have been tested and
tried, and have admitted and then moved on to surrender to the fact of
addiction. In the paradox of surrendering to win they then find a true freedom!
This is worked on a 24-hour basis and above all the invitation to live in the “now”
Yago: Are we living in an
John: I believe that we
are living in an addictive Society. In many ways the very highly competitive
attitude and atmosphere in which we live day by day in which the individual as
well as different groups expect us to function, in fact takes away a great deal
of freedom. In the past in some cultures one of the big questions was: ”what
will the neighbors think of me” what will the boss think of me? What will my
fellow workers think of me?”…. if they knew what was going on inside of me? And
so most people individually and groups, put up protective walls! A sort of façade to
hide what is really happening inside the heart of the person. So in this regard
we are all slaves to expectations of individuals or groups, and this diminishes
Yago: What can we learn
from the essentials of AA?
John: So often in
religious circles and ways of presenting theological ideas we get caught into
moralizing or observation of rules and regulations. I think one of the great
freeing options discovered and
promulgated in AA is the fact that the only Authority in AA is Higher Power, as
you understand it. In religious terms we would say The only Authority is a God,
as you understand Him. There is no moralizing, but respect and acceptance of
the other, even if you personally don’t agree with the other.
Yago: What insights do you
have to people living with the difficult task of accompanying addicted people?
John: I think the most
important aspect is respect and acceptance. When another dares to share their
innermost struggles, then I must accept and respect them… no judgment, no
condemnation. Perhaps for instance when someone would share their account of the 5th step:
God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs”
response is respect and acceptance. Perhaps the only response would be: "Thank
DO NOT JUDGE!
“Pray don’t find fault with the man who limps
Or stumbles along the road,
unless you have worn the shoes he wears
Or struggled beneath his load.
There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt,
though hidden away from view,
Or the burdens he bears
placed on your back
Might cause you to stagger, too.
Don’t sneer at the man who‘s down today
Unless you have felt the blow
That caused his fall, or felt the shame
That only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, if dealt to
In the self same way at the
Might cause you to stagger, too.
Don’t, be too harsh with a man who sins
Or pelt him with words or stones
Unless you are sure, yes doubly sure,
That you have not sins of your own.
For you know, perhaps, if the tempter’s voice,
Should whisper as soft to you
As did it to him when he went astray,
‘Twould cause you to falter, too.
Yago: What does it men "the preferential option for the poor" in AA. How is it related
to love, forgiveness, and embracing the wounded
part of self?
John: In the writing of
Jesus and reading of the 12 steps both say:
We give it away to keep it.
I think the AA
suggested steps calls for ownership, both the light and the shadow. It accepts
its own brokenness, yet seeks to establish wholeness. I can recognize my gifts
as well as defects and come to readiness for my “Higher Power” (God) to remove
the latter. In this regard it is the invitation to accept reality . In the
program of AA in the healing process one might say: "dry up the drunken skunk,
and you are left with the skunk!" The
basic characteristics remain:
we remember, it is our character we are working on, not that of the
other! This invites the letting go of
any attitude of superiority. It is the invitation to turn our will over to God,
and let His Will direct us how to patiently remove our defects.
Yago: Spirituality is the
journey towards wholeness. A sense of wholeness
occurs once we are able to surrender to the Living God. What is the
contribution of AA spirituality in the journey to become whole?
John: Spirituality is the
challenge to admit our total dependence on God. Over a period of time we come
to new insights as to defects of character and our shortcomings. As one works
and re-works the steps of the AA program or similar twelve-step programs we become more aware of
who we are, in our strengths and in our
weaknesses, and rather than try to earn healing and forgiveness, it is the call
to ultimately surrender to the care of the “Higher Power” or God, if we prefer
to call it in that term. In using the word “turning it over to the care of” is
important rather than just turning it over to God and hoping that something
will happen. As we admit our dependence on God as grace or gift we also have to
work at the healing process recognizing the shadow and the light and accepting
both as present within self.
Yago: What does it mean
for an addicted person to feel forgiven?
John: In AA we do not
speak in the language of sin but rather in the acceptance of defects as well as
gifts. The quest for a vibrant relationship with God and others is a long and
deeply rooted quest. On the one hand, I often wrestle with self-reliance,
intermingling with insecurity and egoism at times even now as well as in the
past, the person can react often out of the presumption that, “I make myself right”
then I will be good enough for God and others. In fact it is the struggle to
trust God, and direct access to the
compassion of a nurturing and ever creating God; and accepting the genuineness
of others around me. It is only when I can feel reasonably trusting of another,
that I can offer a supporting hand. Very often it is like being caught up in
the whirlwind of a storm being drawn into the eye of the storm and yet the
struggle to let go! It is the effort to let go and come to the still-center of
my inner hurricane and appreciate that there are huge and healthy insights and
energy even in the center. I struggle to accept myself and to rely on God and
others. There is a pride in me that wants to do it alone and in my way. There
is a sick proud voice within that often accuses me: “how could you let yourself
fall down so low in so far?. I rebel within at being a weak, human and fallible
person. So side-by-side there is a battle royal going on within me between
grandiosity on one side and self abnegation or self depreciation, on the other.
It is the acceptance of the reality that at the same time I am both gifted and
inadequate, a familiar pattern of pride and fear often hold the addicted person
letting go of the old familiar patterns is like clinging in apparent paralysis
of fear and self-doubt, it’s easier sometimes to stay stuck in prison than to
take responsibility to be free in some ways. I want to be free and yet old
patterns keep arising from within. Ultimately it is the honesty, the openness,
and the willingness to accept and to trust the Higher Power and the goodness of
those with whom I would choose to share.
I think it is
when the addicted person is willing to accept himself or herself, as is- both
with the gifts and the inadequacies which interact day by day, that the journey
to wholeness comes about.
Yago: The addicted person
is characterized by an amorphous personality, lack of sense of identity and ego
boundaries. How does an addicted person recovers his/her dignity and sense of
John: The person who is
trapped by addiction may well have lost a sense of identity… Knowing within
that all is not well and much seems lost and yet fear of sharing that with
other people. I think it is through the lived experience day by day of people
sharing in a group with others their vulnerability, and inner struggles, and
finding that people accept and simply say "Thank you for sharing… Keep coming
back". Gradually that acceptance and trust is deepened and those who were so
afraid to peel off different layers of the onion skin, find that they can do so
without judgment or condemnation and the fear of being empty at the core
diminishes. The wonderful freedom would be when one says: “what you see is what
Yago: Richard Rohr says that we thought we got holy by doing right. In
fact the journey starts by doing it wrong, by doing it utterly wrong, and
grieving it, and morning it, and suffering it, and eating it, and tasting it,
until you are sick and tired of being sick and tired. What can you say about this?
John: The person who has been spiritually, emotionally, physically
drained, and in being rejected by others comes to new life through faith and
trust. The fundamental acceptance is the recognition that he or she is not God,
I am not the center of the universe. When this is accepted, the gradual
deflation of the ego and the recognition of my limited, of my being not
different, from but the same as, other broken people, allows me to move out of
the "I" versus "them" and slowly
through faith and trust to recognize is a question of being part of humanity.
When I can get deflation of the ego and allow a better perspective in
relationship to the Higher Power, in relationship to others and in honest
relationship with self, that humility grows. In the distortion of the addiction
the person over inflates his importance or puts himself down to the lowest
level, conceiving thoughts that he or she is no good is the worst person in the
world etc. The truth being, that neither perspective is correct, both ways are
a distortion of reality.
Yago: To confess something is to name it, to put it in the lips, this is
what I am so that our own ears hear it. It is the journey of accepting the
exact nature of our wrong. How fundamental is the naming of the wrong for the
John: It is the ongoing perspective and new insights of reworking
the steps day by day that one comes to him with more realistic self perception,
diminishment of distortion, and a willingness to be the same as other people.
The addicted person may be accused or misjudged by other people and yet in
truth and in reality, when the addicted person says, "Yes, that was true, but it
is not like that today, I was wrong but today I am trying to do something about
it." When the addict accepts this and tries to make it real day by day, the fear
of what others will say or do diminishes, and in so doing brings new birth, new
growth, but it will not destroy the inner strength and the acceptance of a
flawed self, who no longer is the center of the universe, but is willing to
trust to believe others. In that regard faith is the acceptance of the word of
somebody else, and I believe that this is so on the human as well as the divine
level. It might be expressed in religious terms of saying, "God I believe,
help my unbelief to diminish". As progress is made, because it is a program of
progress, rather than perfection, that faith and trust increases, when that
happens the possibility of loving others as well as self is greater. This is
achieved by consciously letting go, & letting God!
Yago: We can be really addicted to power, prestige and possessions. These
are mechanism to escape from our fragile humanity. This is what Jesus
challenges. He calls us to own our own defects and limitations and not to cover
them and therefore to project them to the other. What is the contribution of AA
in this regard?
John: On the personal as well as the political and social dimension there
is the constant struggle and temptation to power, prestige and possessions.
These are in fact our temptations, which we can put aside as Jesus himself did.
I think He did so because He was sure of his relationship with "His Heavenly
Father", He models for us commitment and surrender. In the AA program
constantly we are asked to take our own inventory not that of a neighbor or
someone else: I think most of the time that we judge other people, we
misperceive because we do not know what is going on in their heart nor what
their past lived experience has been to bring them to that point.
In the recovery process we are invited to
accept a person as is and not judge them because of some failure of what they
did that may not be pleasing to me. In the 12 step program of AA the only
desire that is necessary is to desire not to drink! While at the same time
ultimately being willing to go to any length, to achieve sobriety, and in
reality, that means taking this suggested steps off the wall, trying to live
them within the heart. This is the counterbalance to the addiction of alcohol
is which can be defined in many ways: but the one which I use here is: “self
will run riot”, we no longer judge or condemn another person, for in many ways
we have been, where they are, and we are willing to suffer with them as we face
our own darkness. In accepting our own brokenness we become more willing “to
suffer with, rather than because of”, the faults of the other.. It is a
recognition of the phrase: “There but for the grace of God go I, All is gift !”
Yago: How important is to
live in the now as the addict person journeys towards recovery?
John: In the 12 step
program we have acceptance on the personal, and social dynamic level. The lived
experience of people from different backgrounds, personalities, language or
country have found that when they go through the door of any AA meeting, they
can feel at home and feel accepted as they try to listen to the shared
experience of people who have been, where they are. Communities who come
together simply to share their experience, strength, and hope. One of the most
fundamental attitudes is keeping the suggested steps of the program in
perspective and is a priority in day to day living. It is a challenge to let go
the past, to let go the projection of the future, and to live in the present.
In a way whether on the personal or communitarian basis, it is the challenge to
let go the faults of yesterday, the mistakes that we made, to stop the inner
racing of the mind in projecting ahead, with such thoughts such as “what if”
and staying in the reality of the present. The future is only a promissory
note, the present as it were is the cash in. It is living in the now moment.
reality there is “no gain without pain”. The only constant in our lives is
change. When the addict recognizes the addiction and is willing to accept it
and try to live in the present moment seeking in faith and trust in the higher
power, he or she can honestly live as “a wounded healer”, seeking each day
honesty, openness and willingness, which are the essentials of recovery.
“God grant me
serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I
can, and the wisdom to know the difference”
Yago: John, I appreciate very much your contribution to this blog. Thanks for sharing with us your wisdom. We have been strengthen in our vocation as wounded healers.
John: Thanks to you, Yago!