“You know you’re gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to…”
Yes, I admit it: I am or have been addicted to many things including some of the things mentioned in this blog. I’ll leave you to guess which ones.
“To be alive is to be addicted”.1
But “addicted to love?” Definitely not. That’s the craziest contradiction in terms, the most obtuse oxymoron.
It’s like saying “strangled by the air”. Or “drowning in happiness”. Only more so.
Sorry, Mr Palmer, but you were very confused when you wrote that song some 27 years ago (and we won’t mention the terrible video…). Hopefully, as in Johnny English, with age has come wisdom!
Sorry too to Mr Ferry, but love is never the drug.
Because love is the ONE thing we can’t be addicted to. Love is in fact the antidote to our addictions.
But we can be addicted to many things that masquerade as love, such as…
Relationships. Romance. Lust. Infatuation. Or sex.
Or a particular person.
Or that fleeting experience of being ‘in love’ – those feelings designed to draw us into a relationship with someone.
Or to the need to be needed (co-dependency).
Of course it’s normal for pop songs to confuse lust or infatuation with love. In fact, in music, it’s rare for love to be called love.
So, to quote an age-old question from another song: What is love?
Crucially, love seeks the best for the other person.
Love also sees the best in the other person.
Love is loyal, standing by the other person when inner voices and external pressures tempt you to stray.
Love gives the other person freedom to make his or her own choices. Love imposes no chains or demands, even when the other person’s choices cause you distress and sorrow.
Love is sacrificial – the person who loves will ultimately give his/her life for the other person.
Love is not an emotion – it goes beyond emotions. And yet it can be felt.
Love goes the extra mile and is not limited by lust, guilt, fear or other temporal feelings.
Love forgives unconditionally.
Love is a choice made by a heart that is free.
To be loved like this is the ultimate cure for addictions. To be loved with this kind of love sets us free from the shame that perpetuates the vicious circle of addiction.
To be loved like this inspires and motivates us to live for the one who loves us2.
But who can love like this?
Yes, human love like this does exist – to a degree. When it does, healing from addictions begins.
When human love fails, the fallout is fertile ground for addictions to thrive in.
For example, something like 50% of people with drug & alcohol addictions were sexually abused as children3. A former colleague of mine estimated from his experience with Narcotics Anonymous that the percentage amongst people addicted to drugs as opposed to alcohol was more like 75%. One reason for this may be that they take substances in an attempt to anaesthetise their inner trauma.
Most of the homeless people I work with missed out on parental love. They grew up in care, or were abused, or both. Many have become dependent on alcohol or heroin – to become “comfortably numb”.
For them, it seems too late. Can they ever find unconditional human love that will show them how to be free and inspire them to something better? They seem more likely to remain in the revolving door of dependency and self-seeking relationships.
Perhaps, like me, you believe that God is love? Perhaps you believe that where human love fails, there is a higher power, a higher hope, who loves perfectly.
I’d been a Christian for a couple of years when I experienced what is sometimes called being baptised (= immersed) in the Holy Spirit. I’d been hungry for a greater experience of God’s love, and one evening in my room it happened! A drenching in love. Overwhelming sense of forgiveness. Such powerful mercy, that I found myself both crying and laughing. Tears of sorrow that I’d saddened my Father with my unfaithfulness to him. Laughter at the joy of sins forgiven. There was no sense of judgment.
Feel free to write me off as a religious nutcase (I can take it!) but that experience effected lasting change, the most overt of which was the eradication of my cannabis dependency: I never wanted or touched the stuff again. For 2 years my conscience had alternated between thinking it was ok and this niggling feeling that my dope smoking was standing in the way of knowing God better. But now his tangible love had set me free, not just from my addiction, but for loving him back. I couldn’t stop praising him.
OK, so cannabis doesn’t have the same capacity for physical addiction as alcohol, heroin or nicotine, but physical addictions can be treated (or at least substituted) with physical medications. Unfortunately, clinicians and support workers aren’t able to provide the one antidote to psychological addictions – unconditional, sacrificial love, also known as ‘grace’.
“Although addiction is natural, it severely impedes human freedom…and makes us slaves to our compulsions. Grace, the freely flowing power of divine love in human life, is the only hope for true freedom from this enslavement.” 4
But let’s make one thing clear – religion is not the cure. In fact, religious practices are a common source of addictions5. We can be addicted, for example, to…
Or “Christianity”, whatever that is.
To religious guilt.
Over-busy church activity.
Or even to prayer.
To the approval of others for our good deeds.
And the need to be needed by those we care for (co-dependency again).
Or to our own false image of God as harsh judge.
Addiction to religion is liable to produce the same cycle of guilt and shame in us, and hurt to the people around us, as any other addiction.
Religious addiction, like addiction to heroin or alcohol, sets impossible demands and enslaves the user. Whatever we do – for our religion or substance – is never enough.
But if God is love, if Jesus is love, we cannot be addicted to him. All we can do is love him back – with love that spills out to our neighbour. Freely. Without fear of reprisals. Without demands. With a willing heart.
Love says, “It is enough”. Or, as on the cross, “It is finished”.
Is there hope for the individuals I know, with their heroin and alcohol addictions?
Is there hope for me and you, with our addictions?
Well, I believe in a Love that doesn’t hold back, that reaches out to those who need it most – to those who will embrace it (i.e. him). I’ve known people and heard about others who have experienced miraculous liberation from powerful addictions, by embracing the person and message of Jesus.
So I, for one, am full of hope, with prayer.
In describing love, Robert Palmer in the ‘80s may have got it incredibly wrong. But more recently, Marcus Mumford, drawing on his Christian roots, nailed it on the head:
“Love that will not betray, dismay or enslave you
It will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be.” 6
- Gerald May, Addiction and Grace. May is a psychiatrist who brings spirituality and psychiatry together in this masterpiece of a book.
- Titus 2: 11-12, The Bible (NIV).
- Research from the University of Brighton by Darren Britt – sorry, I can no longer find a full reference or link for this.
- Gerald May, Addiction and Grace.
- Don Williams’ Jesus and Addiction is an excellent book on the dysfunctional church, which I thoroughly recommend. Anyone reading this who lives near me is welcome to borrow my copy!
- Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More.