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The Burden of Addiction

How the Steps Toward Recovery Lead to Our Merciful Lord

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By Fr. Walter Dziordz, MIC (Dec 1, 2007)
As a Marian priest, I hear a lot of amazing stories about how people who are hurting discover the mercy of God and then see their lives turned around for the better. The Lord promises as much. "When you seek Me with all your heart you will find Me … and I will change your lot" (Jer 29:13-14).

The mercy of God is not just some pie-in-the-sky cure for a select few. It's for everyone!

With this in mind, I'd like to talk about addiction. Why? Because addicts — whether they are addicted to drugs, drink, sex, whatever — all have a way out of their misery through our Merciful Lord.

Don't just take my word for it. The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), "Bill" Wilson, understood this. The philosophy of AA, the international movement that works to lessen the destructive force of alcohol addiction in people's lives, is so powerful that it has branched out to target other forms of addiction, including overeating, drugs, and sex. All these groups use as their foundation the 12-step program originally formulated by AA. These 12 steps are as follows:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater then ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Whenever I read these steps, I am reminded of the dire importance of having spirituality as a foundation in our lives. Without it, we open ourselves up to self-destructive behavior. Such behavior often spirals out to affect relatives and friends like a violent storm that can destroy everything in its path. You need only ask a member of AA to understand this.

The term "self-destruction" is admittedly strong, but it's fitting. The lack of spirituality leaves one feeling "empty," as it were, and especially vulnerable to the hurts and pains that are a normal part of life. Without a foundation in God, these hurts can carry the illusion of being more than they are; they can become magnified and distorted and far more harmful than they really should.

Addiction, whatever it may be, then becomes a false medicine — used to salve the hurt. Such "medicine," of course, does not work. At best, it merely masks the hurt. But without God, no other realistic choice seems available. And when the pull of addiction is strong, the person in question cannot see anything else.

I have heard it said that people will spend more time avoiding pain than looking for pleasure. If true, doesn't this statement really add to our understanding of such pain? Addictions are ways to avoid pain. The pain is so great that even the illusion is acceptable! Still, each addiction carries a "warning label." That is to say, each addiction equally lessens the desire to search for God, thus increasing the dull emptiness one started out with. That, in turn, only intensifies the desire to get rid of the pain. It is as if one has no choice but to try whatever medicine is available, even if, in reality, it is only a mirage that is so attractive.

How can one escape such a downward spiral? The answer is simple enough. It is through the mercy of God. God showed His mercy by eliciting from AA's founder, Bill Wilson, an insight, an idea, that goes a long way toward countering addictive behavior. Wilson understood that God was with him. Such understanding effectively rid him of the illusion of emptiness, which is all it was anyway. Even when Bill felt horribly empty, God was closer to him than ever. But Bill needed to recognize this truth for himself. And, thankfully, for him and the millions who have benefited from AA, he did realize this.

It became evident to Bill that only reliance on God can remove the illusion of emptiness from each person. Who else but God can flood such inner darkness with such brilliant light?

Jesus, in modern times — in the 1930s when He appeared to St. Faustina — again promised that when we turn in trust to Him, He will change our lots for the better. "My daughter," He told St. Faustina, "write that the greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy" (Diary of St. Faustina, 1182).

Our Merciful Lord awaits us with outstretched hands. As any recovering addict understands, we are powerless without Him.

Father Walter Dziordz, MIC, is a pastor at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Darien, Ill.

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