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Friday, April 20, 2012

The Making of an Addict

In most cases, setting the foundation of addiction is pretty easy.  I believe that it is only by the sheer goodness of humanity that it is not omnipresent, though the problem is growing due to the high level of abuse we see not only in alcohol and drugs, but 'digital media' and the disintegration of families.  All of these are opportunities for addiction to take hold.

Allow me to explain: the bedrock of addiction is selfishness.  The disease of addiction in all its forms wreaks havoc on relationships because selfishness and other people are the classic 'oil and water' combination.  Addicts recover when they turn the selfishness around and learn to become more 'selfless' by being cured of the pains that they flee.

Now, let's think about it: what makes a person selfish?  As I see it, there are three general causes of selfishness.

1. Pain - when we experience pain, we 'retract' into ourselves like a turtle goes into his shell.  The more we hurt, the more we retract.  The experience of pain makes us think only of ourselves.  This is the natural inclination of pain and its primary function; to get us to examine ourselves.  However, pain without change becomes unnecessary suffering and leads to passions.

2. Fear - just the threat of pain, once experienced, is enough to trigger that retraction reflex.  Fear is not the pain itself, but a trained response to an initial experience.  It is memory-driven, and thus very dangerous because it is subject to alteration and thus one experience can be morphed into a thousand fears with ten-thousand circumstances.

3. Training - the last source of selfishness is one that is educated.  We see this in the classic 'spoiled child' that believes that he is entitled to think only of himself.  We especially see this in advertising and politics.  Nowadays, it is seen as perfectly acceptable to ask what a politician will do for 'me' rather than all people, even the people we don't like!  I am amazed at how much politics has become about people voting for someone just to get something for themselves, usually at the expense of someone else having to play the role of the bogeyman.

Thus we can be trained either to hate others, which is a type of fear, the fear of 'bad people' taking your stuff, or simply disregard them altogether.

Modern religion has not been able to address addiction in large part because the messages have either been ones of fear (the classic 'hellfire and brimstone' preaching) or entitlement (come to us and we'll give you whatever you want).  Our suffering comes from that inward orientation towards selfishness and the self, and so more self-interested 'ministry' is not going to help.

This isn't just in the West: Eastern nations that have long traditions of meditation and inward-oriented approaches to spirituality are full of all the same problems you find anywhere else on the planet.  Occasionally, a study like this pops up:

Deep breathing and contemplating nothing has short-term benefits: it can make you a calmer narcissist.

But, in the West, our primary problem is that we are told only to think of ourselves.  We teach our children the value of 'self-esteem' or '_____ Pride,' then wonder why they are violent and rude.  We tell ourselves that the government is supposed to take care of us, from courts to pensions, or that the government interferes with us getting the things we want.

Virtues are lost on this generation because virtues are about how we behave towards others, and that is just simply not in the cards.  Even mandatory 'etiquette' like political correctness is still fear-based and so it never deals with the problem of human hatred.  In fact, it makes it worse when the people fighting the hatred in fact themselves hate the people they see as hateful.  Then it becomes like a fireman coming to a house-fire with a pumper full of gasoline.

Christianity is not about self in the exclusive sense, and neither does addiction focus solely on the addict's self.  Both share a strong communal element, one that, through communion with God we see others in a new light.

No longer do we come to get, but rather find ways to give of what we ourselves have received.  By being relieved of our pain and fears, we see the uselessness of selfishness.  This is how addiction is overcome.

But, when we leave people to suffer, refusing to give them real hope, and tell them to rely only on themselves for happiness... then we have pour the founnation of addiction.

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