self control

In active addiction, our loss of control becomes apparent to us sooner or later.  One helpful image is that of balancing a golf ball on top of a basketball.  Keep it on top and all is well.  Correct it immediately and with appropriate counter action, and a fall is avoided.  But once it gets a certain distance from the top, the action required to stop it from falling off is effectively superhuman.  This is precisely how addiction is experienced.  We are perfect storms of Obsession and Compulsion.  The thought of ‘doing it again’ takes root and grows (with our continued permission, it must be said) and fantasy gives way to subconscious ‘planning’ to do it, which eventually leads to ‘close calls’ or more often just going ahead with it.  And irony of ironies, having ‘done it again’, we look back in disbelief, wondering how it happened…  It’s as though our free will is eroded or better yet imprisoned or shackled, and to our shame, we have to admit that we have hidden the key from ourselves….  Self control is practically non-existent, and we have to admit complete and total powerlessness (step 1) to stop the behaviour…

As we grow in recovery, we gradually regain the self-control we lost.  Or better yet, we gain a new kind of self control.  Before we had attempted a kind of self control which was weakened by qualities such as entitlement, anger, blame and basically a thousand forms of fear.  Now, in recovery, the programme teaches us to stay away from the behaviour, and the “stinking thinking” that gets us doing it.  It’s not as though we get ‘cured’ and no longer want to do it, but rather the sobriety that comes with recovery gives us new eyes to see through the shoddy thinking and selfish justifications that accompanied our one-way trips to addictive behaviour.  We get street wise.  We safeguard ourselves.  To add an awkward addition to the ball metaphor above, it’s like we don’t even try to balance the golf ball on the basketball, but we grow wise enough to use a doughnut to keep the ball securely on top.  Without needing to do a ‘geographical’ to another job, marriage, town or country, we learn to ‘stay away’ from those places, venues, people or fantasies that we have continually allowed ourselves to be tripped up by.  In a Christian key, this sounds like Paul saying that when he is weak he is very strong.  This is self-control not from the flesh, but as a fruit of the Spirit who leads us into the wisdom we need to keep ourselves safe.

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a better question

The story of the good Samaritan is Jesus’ answer to the rich young ruler’s question, “Who is my neighbour?”  But crucially, Jesus changes the question from that of being “who is my neighbour?” to “which one was a neighbour to the man”?  One question is about justifying who you do and don’t have to love, and the other is about recognizing the activity of loving like a good neighbour.

In addiction, we often can tempt ourselves with the question, “how much will one more time really matter?”  It’s like the serpent saying, “Did God really say that?”

Recovery, powered by Grace, teaches us to live soberly.  Using the same style of wisdom that Jesus uses with the rich young ruler, we change the question around.  We don’t ask “will this action change much?”, but we ask “how will I act, swiftly, simply and surely, to change this situation, right now!”   One question assumes the addiction to be in charge, and the other puts us back in the seat of self-control.