Growing up, my dad would often say, “Moderation in all things.” I apparently utterly misunderstood him, and decided that I would try the lifestyle of moderation in ‘nothing.’
I recently had a discussion with a gentlemen at a meeting who was visiting as a nursing student. The hospital training system sends them from time to time to meetings to understand what the program is about and ‘how it works.’ The nursing student remarked that he assumed a lot of things when it came to recovery and active addiction. He assumed that most of the people that were in recovery were a certain economic class, a certain race, and a certain ‘type’ of person. What he found at the meetings that he was attending for the completion of his program was very different than his assumptions.
Working the steps in AA is a difficult process and one that is truly for those that want to confront their past, their character flaws, or their mistakes. The more addicts that I meet, the more convinced I am that we are people that are addicted to perfectionism, to a commonality, known as self judgement. We are generally people who work hard, love our families, and desire the best for our kids. Most addicts that I have come in contact with, including myself, never wanted to find themselves where they are at today, but for whatever reason, they did. In active recovery, the character flaws are chipped away. They are continually challenged and broken down to the point that one is forced to say that they are not perfect, either in their own eyes or the eyes of others. Discovering what addicts do to ‘show perfect’ or even ‘be perfect’ may lead to discovery of one’s self. And as the famous line goes, “Know Thyself” may be applicable here. Addicts can begin to know themselves, and are oftentimes shameful or guilty about their own past actions or current realities. In active addiction, before recovery begins addicts attempt to cover that shame and guilt by medicating and that can take a lot of different forms, described in summary below.
A true addict can be a person with a huge personality. In some ways, one does not get to experience the full personality of the addict, until they are encapsulated in their addiction. You hear people talk regularly about feeling good when they drink, or how they can be social when they drink something, or maybe that someone has a better day when they drink a cup of coffee. I continue to learn that the addiction to whatever it is that is my vice is only a suppression to my personality. We all have a personality, and it is made to be seen, enjoyed, and interacted by with others. It’s not something to hide, and in and of itself is amoral. Suppression of a personality is probably rooted in the human desire to show others that they are not as bad as they know that they are. Regardless of how you think the world was created, there is an early story from a tradition that says that God told his creation to not eat one fruit…and that creation (Adam and Eve) at of the fruit. Then they hid. In the world of addiction, we hide. We hide our actions, our personalities, our relationships, our assets, the fissures in our character, and we are unwilling to let anyone step in and declare that maybe we are wrong. Adam and Eve certainly weren’t willing. As God was walking in the garden, he asked why the hid. They immediately played the blame game, which is too easy to do as an addict.
Being addicted to one’s image can take on alot of forms. It can take on the form of physical perfection which results in someone managing their physical attributes in a way that becomes unhealthy. I’ve been there. I lost a bunch of weight in college, due to running and eating right, but when I stopped doing those things, I gained weight. I wanted to control the weight, so I would be seen as perfect and so would manage my weight in unhealthy ways. This caused me to self judge even more, causing more guilt and shame in the background of an already clouded life and perception.
Addiction to self image (because of low self esteem) can take the form of working hard, and minimizing mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but when I am minimizing them or placing blame on someone or something else for MY mistake, I am reinforcing the idea that somehow I need to show as perfect for others. I need to be clearly performing at a high level for those around me, and so the addict will tend to highlight the positive parts of their character traits (and there are plenty of those, within each human being.) I have been learning to simply own the mistakes that I make and move forward. At my job, in my home, with my relationships, and even in conversations with myself, I have to own things that I don’t do correctly, perfectly, or just simply make a poor decision.
Overworking, or becoming addicted to perfectionism in the workplace can lead to unhealthy lifestyle management, lack of balance, and a general burnout with people that continue down this road. Growing up, my dad would often quote the bible when he would say, “Moderation in all things.” I think I may have misunderstood him completely, and decided that I would try the lifestyle of moderation in ‘nothing.’
Addicts wrestle with the age of social media image. I have found that they tend to show what is happening that is positive and uplifting and celebrated in their social media accounts, giving the illusion that all is well. As a Pastor, there was even pressure to make sure that I posted certain types of posts, kept certain types of posts hidden, and to make sure that the image of the church was never in doubt. This led me personally to a false dichotomy of my own life. I wanted so badly for the church to be a place where authenticity and transparency thrived, but the very entity in which I sought honesty within became the entity that controlled the thought and verbal process by which I could express my pain. When one works for an organization, it is probably best to monitor what is placed on social media to reflect well on the organization, but the temptation of the addict is to overexert energy into painting a picture that is simply an illusion of life. There have been multiple instances where I posted something to a social media account, believing that others would develop a positive perception of me. Instead of being honest with myself and reality, I needed others to affirm my dilusion.
Addicts become dependent. On others, on alcohol, drugs, narcotics, opioids. But the part that is least talked about when it comes to dependency is the idea that someone is dependent upon another for human satisfaction and fulfillment. This is often termed ‘co-dependency’ in the psychoanalysis world and people that have far bigger brains than I, have study it religiously. When someone maintains and inappropriate bond with a person because it causes them pleasure, they are not living in a human relationship that is healthy. When one person takes and the other person constantly gives, it’s not a relationship that is worth continuing. There is give and take in relationship, and then there is a unique place for grace, when someone messes up. An addict tends to do most of the taking (personally, I did), because of the selfishness that I lived in and the ‘me only’ thinking that landed me squarely in trouble.
The addict often takes on a false humility. This is hard to describe, because generally we think of humility as a good trait. Motives matter within humility, but there is not a single person who can judge the motives of another. We don’t understand or know what all of the motivations of an action or an attitude of another person are. And that’s probably a good thing, or we would be set to the point of total pessimism, because of the nature of humanity. False humility happens because an individual is good at what they do and they receive honor and praises for it. When they realize that if they deflect the honor and praise, more of the ‘feel goods’ come, they begin to deflect with the motivation to receive more. This can lead to an internal pride, at the very least, and can become full blown narcissistic in a mature stage.
The addict may take on a sense of self righteousness. This also didn’t mix well with being a Pastor at a local church. Generally speaking, Christians are fairly judgemental in their approach to others. I was judgemental with people that weren’t Christians, even though they didn’t need to act like Christians (as they were not) and therefore became conceited and thinking of myself above others. This led to lost opportunity for relationship and an arrogance within me that ultimately leads to disaster. Often, the worst judgement of others is actually the addicts core character flaw. It’s easy to see in others what you know true in your own life. Jesus describes taking the log out of your own eye before removing the speck from your own. Maybe there is some truth to that. When I can see the speck in another’s human character, there may be a more looming issue in my own life that I am either unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge. I believe that this happens a lot with Pastors who have ‘moral failures’ (Which is a dumb term, because all pastors have moral failings…They are human). As a story begins to develop about a Pastor caught in an affair or sexual misconduct, a Pastor wrapped up on alcoholism, or a Pastor unwilling to acknowledge plurality of leadership, we often look back and see with our 20/20 vision that the Pastor was often verbally judgemental regarding the issue that they struggled with and failed to overcome. The only antidote to removing the log from one’s eye is to invite others to chip away at that log, before it becomes a solid barrier between yourself and the rest of the world.
Like most articles that I read that declare that “You may be a _______ if you _______, “ You may have thought to yourself as you read the above statements about an addict, that maybe you yourself are an addict. Addicts aren’t special people, they are regular people dealing with life on life’s terms over and over again, just like a non addict. Or maybe it’s just that humanity was birthed in addiction, and at some level, all of us are addicts in our own way. Regardless, character flaws can be chipped away at, with visibility of the reality that exists below the illusion that we tend to try and create for ourselves and others.