October 22nd, 2010

I ordered this book to help someone else.  I didn’t expect it to deal with me.

“No one is truly free from attachment,” Gerald May writes on page 40.  His list of addictions is in two parts. 

First, attraction addictions include the obvious – drinking, drugs, sex.  But what about addictions to friends, humor, neatness, pets, or winning.  Oh, and there’s one of mine on the list – “soft drinks.”  It’s an addiction I’m currently trying to free myself from.

Second, there are aversion addictions.  Aversions of airplanes, spiders, and public speaking are well-known.  But what about aversions to being alone, to conflict, to guilt, to people who are addicted?

Addictions are everywhere and belong to everyone.  Our willingness to confess them is the first key to freedom.  Freedom is how God created us to function.

Gerald May’s definition of addiction is “any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human desire” (24).  God created us with the freedom to love him and love others, but our sin nature chooses addiction.  Addiction and Grace does a thorough job of explaining the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of addiction.  (The physical, the chapter on the “mind,” is the most technical and difficult to wade through for the non-medical person.)

May’s insight on “Spirit” (chapter 5) was one of the most insightful to me, perhaps not surprisingly since I live much of my life specializing in the God-side of life.  I was a little skeptical coming to this chapter, since this book does not purport to be an explicitly Christian book.  The author finds some parallel insights in various religions.  But in this chapter he admits that the Christian faith is his primary point of reference, and it’s obvious to me that the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures have most powerfully shaped his understanding of addiction and freedom.

For example, May wrestles on page 94 with why God seems hidden to us in our struggle to make sense of life.  He asks,

What would happen to our freedom if God, our perfect lover, were to appear before us with such objective clarity that all our doubts disappeared?  We would experience a kind of love, to be sure, but it would be love like a reflex.  Almost without thought, we would fix all our desires upon this Divine Object, try to grasp and possess it, addict ourselves to it.  I think God refused to be an object for attachment because God desires full love, not addiction.

That’s very Christian.  So is May’s ultimate reliance on “grace” as the means to overcome addiction.  While faith is our part, “Faith is empowered by grace and built on trust” (131). It is only when we recognize our addictions for what they are – substitutes for God (idols), that we strip our “usual props and handholds” and open ourselves to what only God can do.  “In this vulnerability we are also more dependent upon and open to grace than at any other time” (133).

May brings this book home with a very practical chapter on some tools for “homecoming” – discernment, honesty, dignity, community, and responsibility.  He is very realistic about our failures in our attempts to deal with our addictions.  “Any authentic struggle with attachment must involve deprivation.  We have to go hungry and unsatisfied; we have to ache for something.  It hurts” (179).

Our addictions, May says, actually expose what St. Augustine named as our soul-restlessness that is in search for God.  As such, they have power to lead us to him.

I really would like for this book to lead more directly to the cross of Christ as the power over addiction.  But its insights are definitely worth the time for anyone you might know who is battling addictions. 

That “anyone” includes you.  And me.

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