On addiction and the holidays: Are we missing something?
Ah, the holidays. Sinatra sang, It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And for many, it is. It is a time to reflect with joy, to give gifts with cheer, and to celebrate with family and friends,
For others, however, the holidays can serve as a glaring reminder of the dysfunction in our lives. In the place of glad tidings, some of us find ourselves ensnared by bouts of depression and hopelessness, which in certain cases has been made worse by the current economic landscape. For a growing number, this season can inflame an increasingly common issue in our culture: addiction.
It is a problem which has reached epic proportions. Everywhere we turn, someone is battling a deadly habit. Addiction has infiltrated all aspects of culture, from the media and music to sports, from Mel Gibson to Tiger Woods. Television shows like Intervention and Celebrity Rehab have become popular fare. And for every Robert Downey, Jr. there is an Amy Winehouse, a Michael Jackson, or a Kurt Cobain.
Addiction is not just a problem for the famous, however. There are over seven million drug and alcohol addicts in the US at present, according to the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And recently, the medical establishment has expanded the term “addict” to include any compulsive behavior–not just substance abuse. Culture as a whole has embraced this expanded definition as well. This means that individuals can be labeled addicts if they overindulge in sex, if they drink too much coffee, or even if they play too much XBOX.
We are a society which has become defined by our vices, and by the term “addiction” itself.
The problem has even infiltrated the walls of the church. As a professional musician, author, and speaker who has traversed Christian culture extensively, I have encountered hundreds of “believing addicts.” The leading Christian addiction recovery program–Celebrate Recovery-boasts nearly a million members. With numbers such as these, it is obvious that evangelicals are following the trends of the secular mainstream.
Subsequently, there are millions in treatment and recovery programs. The walls of AA, NA and Celebrate Recovery are bursting with those desperately fighting to end the cycle. Steps are worked and meetings are attended, yet relapse abounds. And here is a staggering fact: Most recovery programs have a success rate of less than twenty-five percent.
Having witnessed so many caught in the cycle of attempted recovery and tragic relapse, I can’t help but wonder if our culture-and more specifically the church-is missing something important in all of this.
Is addiction a disease that afflicts certain unlucky people, or is it a symptom of something greater that occurs in every human soul? And should the goal of recovery be to simply eliminate destructive habits, or should the end be something deeper?
Jesus taught that humans are born incomplete, with an emptiness that is a consequence of living in a world that is imperfect, painful, and sinful. Therefore life, for each of us, is an attempt to fill this void; We are each “coping,” in a sense, with living a broken existence, separated from God by evil–both around us and inside of us. We each cope in our own way: some with benign outlets such as working, studying, family, or creativity, and others with more self-destructive activities such as alcohol abuse or compulsive gambling.
But Jesus proclaimed there is no way to quench the thirst inside us for peace, no way to properly “cope” with living this broken existence but one:
Perhaps an incomplete diagnosis of the problem has left us emphasizing the symptoms. Perhaps labeling those caught in a destructive cycle as addicts neglects the fact that we all have the same need: to find our soul’s satisfaction in God alone. And maybe this has made recovery more difficult in the process.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Perhaps addiction, then, in light of this, is a symptom of every person’s need for spiritual renewal. Maybe recovery, then, is more than just the elimination of our deadly habits, but the reconciliation of our souls with our creator. In this sense, perhaps we are all addicts in need of recovery, afflicted with the disease of sin. And if so, we must look at the prevalence of addiction in our culture as a signpost for the spiritual bankruptcy of our society, the need for a return to faith.
If you find yourself feeling empty, depressed, or alone this holiday season, perhaps instead of running from those emotions, it is time to sit in them. If your wounds are reopened at the sound of carols or the smell of pine, instead of running to your deadly habits, listen to the cry of your heart.
The fact that there is a void inside should remind us why the holiday exists. It is a celebration of His entrance into our world, of His desire to bring us back to Him, and most importantly, of His desire to heal our pain and make us whole again.
And in this realization, it is possible that true, lasting recovery can be found.