Addicted to (Self-)Love

Life gets overwhelming sometimes.  We start feeling too much, thinking too much.  We sometimes feel like we don’t have the strength for the pain of this life.  We just want the hurting to stop, if only for a minute.  So we retreat to our old comforts, habits, self-medication in order to deal with the hurts.  We develop addictions.  And once we realize we have an addiction, we can get caught up in our struggle with it, allowing that one area to define us and our focus of growth to the exclusion of everything else.  We’re told that if we’re strong enough or believe hard enough, we can beat it.  So you do all the things you’re supposed to: worked the programs, read the Bible, pray really hard, but nothing helps.  Such that when we have setbacks, when our addictions get the better of us, we feel so totally defeated that we just want to give up on everything, including faith, because it let you down too.

It can be difficult walking through the addictions of others.  It can be difficult being the one with the addictions, not wanting to foist your issues on another in a noble attempt to spare others from the burden of being in relationship with you.  That’s part of the trickiness of addictions:  they are not simple and easily understood, but rather there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle.  And in our misunderstanding of addictions/addictive behaviors, we can inadvertently heap burning coals on the heads of those we wish to help.

Because at the core of addiction there is a nest of lies, there is often a lot of truth that has to be poured into the addict’s life.  An addict already dealing with issues of shame and feeling stuck.  They are already buried in lies to themselves much less how they have lied to others, so part of moving to a place of honesty and transparency involves overcoming the lies in their head.  “My emotions are too much for other people” or “My problems are too much for other people” or “People will just leave me if they knew the real me.”

A lot of our need for self-protection involves relational pain.  First off we have to deal with the idolatrous perspective that we’re supposed to go through things alone.  Let me break it down as simply as possible for you:  independence is bad; interdependence is good.  We weren’t meant to be alone.  If you don’t have people to share things with, to help carry some of the burdens of the hurts of this life, that pain (and the need to treat it somehow) will go somewhere.

People tend to have many fantasies built up about romance.  As if you have to be “fixed” or baggage free in order to enter into a relationship.  If that were the case, no one would ever be with anyone in any sort of relationship, from friendship on up.  We all have issues, so it’s best to be honest about them in a relationship.  No one relationship is going to be the entire support.  It’s best to have an outside support system, a network of friends, so that no one person feels the full weight of things.  But if you are truly in relationship with someone, if you’re real and can communicate, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.  Sharing one another’s burdens and muddling through this life together.

In our battle with our respective “thorns in our flesh”, our focus shouldn’t be on the addiction or behavior otherwise you miss out on what you really need to overcome it.  Addiction is symptomatic of a heart issue.  As we work through issues of the heart, peeling back layer after lay, we try to discover when the behavior started, what is the motivation behind it, and what is it a comfort mechanism from.  We’re never completely free from our bodies and their biochemical attachments, but we can learn how to comfort ourselves in a good way.

The attitude of being lone wolves and independence is glorified in American culture and runs contrary to us being relational beings.  Asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness.  Addictions start with our self-reliance and our obsessive cultural need/belief system that we’re to handle things on our own.  So we pull away from others when we should be finding the strength to seek out support and encouragement.  And be able to vent whatever we feel to friends who can handle it.  On the flip side, it’s incumbent on the others in our lives to not just let the addict, the person in pain, sit alone.  We’re supposed to be about comforting others.

We get so tired.  Tired of fighting, tired of struggling, tired of being.  Tired of hurting.  We want to disappear, to hide, and in the still corners of our soul we wonder can/does God still love us when we screw up?  It’s so difficult to find our own way back home when the love we’ve been taught/experienced has often been so conditional.  So while we still have questions and still experience pain, we still have to walk and feel in healthy ways.  We love ourselves and want to spare ourselves the hurt, but we have to figure out other ways to deal with the pain of this life because our self-medications wear off.  Relationships are scary, two-way, propositions.  We have to learn how to confront each other in a good way, learn how to be loving in a good way, learn how to be humble in a good way.  In the same way, we want people who will fight for us, push into our lives; people who love recklessly, fearlessly, and boldly and point us to Christ.

I’m not going to add to the pile of lies and tell you that you will beat your addiction.  You might.  You might not.  But the struggle to not be a slave to it is worthwhile in and of itself.  And it’s a battle you don’t and shouldn’t have to do alone.  And that might be the ultimate point.

Walls

I hear so many things from this tower where I live,
there is no door to let you in, from here I see your world.
There is no lock for you to find, I keep my walls secure.
I do not wish to be alone, that is I mean with you..
I like to keep you at a length, for you I do not touch.
I like my cave that I have made, it serves me when you push.
How can I show my walls to you, when all you do is search?
You try to find a way around, to be my shining knight,
When all it is I want from you is a “thanks a bunch! Goodnight!”

Space by Larissa Johnson

You don’t know me. I take that back, you know me better than most, Gentle Reader. Personally, I’ve rather enjoyed my demons. I’ve embraced them and funneled them into my art. Ironically, it’s easy as an artist to splay our souls for public consumption, to bleed for our readers. But, like with my stories, it’s easy to be vulnerable to anonymous masses: to me, from my keyboard vantage point, you are little more than a collection of electrons. In relationship, face-to-face, it’s harder. You don’t know me, you can’t know me, because I live within walls.

Our walls can take a variety of forms. We construct a life where we re-define what love is to match how we are treated that ultimately end up with us going into ourselves. Exalting our intellect, control emotions, living in/retreating to our imaginations, whatever it takes to cut ourselves off from having to deal with others (and the potential pain they bring). Living with the fear that if we expose ourselves, show people who we really are, they will no longer like or outright abandon us. Pre-emptively, we become convinced that we would rather be alone and unhurt rather than risk others in our lives. Slowly, our lives become about avoiding pain.

Self-protection isn’t all bad. It’s great at shielding us from the very real hurts in life and there are times we need to be shielded from pain. But we get used to and strive to live life on our own strength and terms. Pain avoidance, numbing ourselves from the everyday agonies of life, lays at the root of many addictions. Alcohol, drugs, movies, sex, internet, video games, many are the ways we continue to numb us from the pain of life. Life becomes about self-gratification without the complication of relationship or knowing; keeping us from dealing with life and what’s going on. But no numbing agent is perfect, no wall as solid as it seems, as our anguish may play out in other ways, seeping out of our carefully maintained pressure cookers as anger, depression, moodiness, anxiety, loneliness, or self-hate.

We grow pretty comfortable being safe and unknown. The core of your life is under a microscope with the knob adjusting the focus on it being vulnerability and transparency. Risking letting people in means when they look in your life and all they see is you. Love is a threat to our self-protection. Love reveals the lie, the reality that the scaffolding is the lie and we have to take it down.

Self-protection is easy as it is selfish. It’s easy to stay hidden. People are relationally lazy, so naturally self-focused it’s hard for them to see others in the first place. Self-protection sets the bar low into how well we can love others. There’s a well known verse in the Bible often used to discuss hypocrisy: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthrew 7:3-5). What if the overall point of the story is not so much about the hypocrisy, but about loving our brother better? That the point IS to take the speck out of our brother’s eye, but to do that, we have to first remove the plank from our own eye. And what if self-protection, our walls, are a plank in our eye?

Walls are about control. Faith and control don’t exist well together. Control asks “what do I need to do to make this situation work?” Faith asks “God, what you going to do make this work and how do I get involved with that?” We don’t see ourselves as God sees us, but rather, we come to believe a lie about ourselves. That we’re worthless, broken, and twisted in our soul; Villains in God’s story rather than created in his image. We leave out the fact that brokenness can be redeemed. When loved well, we’re taught about God. We can model for our children what God is like. We can just as easily teach things that aren’t true. And we don’t want to pass the lessons of self-protection down to our children.

The thing about walls is that you can’t live behind walls and love as you should. Feel loved like we should. People can’t experience you loving them from inside your walls. You can’t living behind them grow closer to God. But you have to come to that conclusion on your own and decide that you want to risk living life in a broken and fallen world that could hurt you. You have to risk experiencing the pain that comes with that world. And that’s a scary proposition. You have to risk knowing and being known. And the more you experience someone who knows you, especially in your sinfulness, it exposes the lie. And that’s a scary proposition.

Real love risks and offers redemption. Real love can’t operate from a place of fear. Real love can’t operate from behind walls. And loving people well is the point of why we’re here.