On Addiction by Dale Ryan
from: STEPS Volume 2, Issue 1, Winter
In a recent Time magazine essay, Lance Morrow writes that 'the mentality
of addiction, of alcoholism, prevails in zones of American life even
when no drugs are involved'. How true! This means, of course, that no
'war on drugs', no 'drug czar' will be able to solve our problems with
addictions because drugs are not the problem. When one addictive
substance or behavior is not available to us, we can surely choose
another. A long list of socially acceptable addictive behaviors and
processes (work, shopping, religion etc.) are available for those who
are not attracted to chemicals. Anesthetics for the emotional pain of
life are, and will always be, cheap and readily available.
Because of this we need to remind ourselves regularly that switching
addictions is not the same thing as recovery. I reflected on this
recently while watching an old movie on TV. Not that long ago alcoholism
was a popular motif in comedy. Inebriated characters like those
portrayed by Dean Martin were funny. There was a kind of bizarre
lovableness to drunken characters. There was a laughable, likable,
sociableness to alcoholism. Today, I think most of us look back on these
movies in astonishment and wonder: "How could people have laughed
at something this painful?".
But, have things changed? Two of the most popular comedies on television
today feature addicted characters. Sam Malone on 'Cheers', who we are
told is a 'recovering' alcoholic, runs a friendly neighborhood bar.
Alcohol does not seem to be a problem at Cheers - no one is ever
inebriated. But, the dramatic foundation of the Malone character is
completely wrapped around his compulsive sexual quest. In exactly the
same way that Dean Martin was funny because he was an alcohol addict,
Sam Malone is funny because he is a sex addict. The Dan Fielding
character on 'Night Court' is another example of a humorous portrayal of
a sex addict. We laugh at his antics, his complicated sexual intrigues.
We laugh in spite of the terror and self-loathing that lie just beneath
the surface and in spite of the enormous social and personal costs of
Because switching addictions is such a common pitfall in recovery, we
need to be clear that sobriety is not achieved by merely avoiding our
preferred 'drug'. When Sam Malone traded alcohol for sex he did not
suddenly become a healthy person, he merely switched addictions.
Sobriety is, rather, the process of living a completely new and
non-compulsive kind of life. In this new way of life, we abandon all of
our varied attempts to anesthetize ourselves to the emotional realities
of life. In the process we learn that with God's help and with the daily
disciplines of recovery we can grow into physical, psychological, social
and spiritual health.
May God grant you the courage today to recognize what is real, the daily
strength to choose life and the fellowship you need on your journey. May
your roots sink deeply in the soil of his love.
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