Addiction – A form of spiritual slavery?

Addiction means that when you crave something, you engage in habitual self-destructive activity driven by obsessive thought. This happens in drug dependency, alcoholism, compulsive gambling, and compulsive eating. We can extend this idea to include any activity that we have repeatedly failed to eliminate from our lives and that is detrimental to inner well-being – both our own and those around us. There are many hidden and subtle forms of addiction. We can become driven by a compulsion in just about any area of life. Examples include watching porn when you crave sexual excitement, verbal cruelty when you crave expressing resentment, or when you crave power or success at any cost.

External force in addiction

We subjectively sense these patterns of thought and behaviour as aspects of our own being. However they can also be seen as learned behaviours due to external events. For example if we receive abuse, we are likely to become abusive or associate ourselves with an abuser. If we experience sarcasm, we are likely to become sarcastic or associate with those who are. None of us can escape the results of negative life experience.

“We don’t want to eat that second piece of pie. We don’t want to snipe at our children or spouse with snide comments. We don’t want to work overtime every day, leaving us with no family time…. But these good impulses to escape the addiction are dwarfed by the power of the possessing forces.” (E. Kent Rogers, Co-Founder of the Loving Arms Mission)

addictionAnd so a key element of addictive craving is when one’s desire has become a slave to something external to oneself. If things have got as bad as this then it amounts to enslavement: a dependency which is often so subtle that we fail to distinguish our own will from that of the external force.

Steps to Freedom from addiction

According to this idea that external forces are wedded to one’s sense of self and will, there is no chance of getting rid of them without a great deal of help.

After many failed attempts to free yourself from your craving, you probably have come to realise that you have no power over your addiction. If your own will has been hijacked you have no chance of yourself of making any change.

According to the Twelve Steps Recovery Program, the first crucial step towards freedom is to admit you are powerless over the force of the addiction and that as a result your life has become unmanageable.

The divine spirit of healing for addiction

We need somehow to access something pretty powerful to rescue us from the habits which have taken over our life causing us such misery. This is where a spiritual approach may be said to come in. It encourages a belief that a power greater than oneself can restore one to sanity and asks us to decide to turn our will and our lives over to the care of what we understand to be the divine spirit of healing.

Lies in addiction

In his book “12 Miracles Of Spiritual Growth”, E. Kent Rogers suggests that the addictive force tells us lies in which we come to believe.

“I don’t have a problem”

“The addiction or habit is who I am”

“I can overpower the addiction on my own”

“I cannot change”

He points out that the lies can be seen to be unreasonable. The first two are mutually exclusive and the second two also contradict one another.

Alternative ways of thinking might be to say that you do have a problem in so far as you have given your life over to destructive forces within you, but you yourself are not the problem. Only with the help of the power of the divine spirit of healing which is greater than yourself, can you be set free.

Depiction of addiction

In the book, Rogers recounts the biblical story about a man called Legion, someone not in his right mind who lived alone among the tombs. He had often been chained hand and foot but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. Night and day he would cry out and, against his own will and better judgement, cut himself with stones. This man was enslaved to an evil force; a pawn to their destructive whims. There could be no better depiction of addiction as a living hell. When he saw Jesus Christ from a distance he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. And was healed of the evil spirits said to possess him.

In our current era, where scientific thought is the dominant way of thinking, it is difficult for us to relate to the idea of evil spirits, let alone demonic possession. However, are there not spirits of the past living within and animating us? Are these not the external forces that take over the will of the addict?

According to this way of thinking the spirits caused the man to abuse himself with stones even as he moaned and cried out in agony. Likewise, we moan with anguish as we watch ourselves sink further into self-destructive behaviour. Like Legion we live as if alone even when in the presence of others, feeling isolated from them and not making meaningful connections. Like Legion, who lived among the tombs, we also are amongst the dead in the sense that we when are possessed by addiction, we experience our own spiritual death and decay.

But like Legion, can we not find healing from spiritual slavery by asking for help from a divine healing power greater than ourselves?

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems