Admirable Addictions

A Sunday Gathering Message from New Unity

We gather together here surrounded by the warmth of compassion

We gather from lives that challenge and delight, that bring both disappointment and joy

We gather knowing that we are greater together than we can ever be alone

We gather with a yearning in our hearts for that magic we call community - a power that fuels the flames of goodness and love within all hearts

May this flame show us our great dreams as they may become real

May this flame show us the power of being together


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond

Out of the Shadows by Patrick Carnes

All addicts face the same task in recovery: understanding their belief systems and finding alternatives. Each person must unravel the contributions of culture and family to his or her core beliefs.

To disrupt the addictive system, each person must enter a process which replaces faulty beliefs with healthy ones. Such a process needs to parallel the life-giving dynamics of healthy family and culture.

Therefore, the recovery process must be one which:

    •    Builds relationships
    •    Separates the behavior from the person
    •    Establishes clear guidelines for behavior
    •    Promotes learning from mistakes
    •    Relieves shame about past behavior
    •    Allows for amends to be made
    •    Supplies ongoing support and affirmation
    •    Creates a positive sense of self
    •    Acknowledges the human need for help and nurturing…
    •    Is a method for “checking reality”

Message, by Andy Pakula

I have been here for nine and a half years.  That’s nine and half years times something like 46 gatherings per year - that’s more than 400 messages like this one.

I’ve talked about lots of things in those messages. Love, of course. Sorrow, of course. Hope and justice and compassion and generosity and gratitude and Passover and Easter and Ramadan, of course.

And I realise that, in all that time, I’ve never focused on addiction. Not once. And that’s odd because addiction is something that - even when it’s narrowly defined - affects most of us. Surveys show again and again that the majority of people in our society have been affected by their own addictions or the addictions of parents or partners or children or other loved ones, friends, or colleagues.

It’s very likely that most of you have been impacted by addiction - either directly or indirectly because of a friend or relation who is addicted.

As always, it is helpful and even healing when we learn that we are not alone. Would you please raise your hand if addiction has impacted your life.

When I asked that question, some of you probably felt uneasy. Despite the flourishing of 12-step groups and the increasing frequency with which the rich and famous admit to addictions, that admission still comes with no small amount of shame.

There is a sense that addiction means weakness - that it is somehow the sign of a moral failing. In fact, you can be a good person and be addicted.

You may also have been unsure how to answer my question. You wondered whether some particular situation can fairly be described as an addiction - whether it is bad enough or physiological enough or harmful enough.

Addiction is a word that now spans a very wide range of issues. We use the word addiction so broadly that it can be hard to know what we’re even talking about. We might say addiction in a joking way - saying we’re addicted to chocolate or to a new series on Netflix.

And we also know that there are addictions that have a physiological component. If you are addicted to nicotine or alcohol or heroin and stop suddenly. There is a physical withdrawal reaction that can be very severe. With alcohol and tranquilizers, withdrawal can be life-threatening.

Other addictions cause harm but are not related to drugs - like addictions to  overeating, pornography, television, spending, gambling or sex. These addictions can change your life for the worse - impoverishing you, putting you in danger, stealing your time, or slowly destroying your health.

And then, finally, there are addictions that we take as normal or even as admirable behaviour. Addiction to work. Addiction to the email. Addiction to smartphones. Addiction to exercise.
This wide range of behaviours may seem too diverse to all fit in the same category. Can alcoholism and overwork really both be called addictions? Yes they are very different. Among other things, alcoholism is looked upon as shameful and overwork is often worn as a badge of honour! But alcoholism and overwork - and indeed all of the behaviours we’ve listed - do have something important in common. They are all ways we avoid dealing with difficult things in our lives.

We heard Rumi’s poem, the Guest House, earlier. I imagine the proprietor of that lodging place with his attention fixed on his new iPhone. He texts, and plays a game, and listens to music all at the same time. He doesn’t even notice the guests ringing the bell and, frustrated, walking away.

And those guests - although some of them brought discomfort and woe - were each sent as a guide. The proprietor - working on level 3 of his smart-phone game, listening to tunes, and texting his mates - didn’t even notice them arrive or leave.

And that’s the initial appeal of all of these behaviours, whether they will eventually kill you or just rob you of time and experience. They allow us to avoid feeling and experiencing the difficult challenges that arise in every life.

They guard us from pain and discomfort. Unfortunately, those are the exact experiences that we need to grow more whole and happy.

Scott Peck wrote “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

He could have added that it is only when we are sobre, have put away the smartphone, turned off the TV, took off the headphones, and stopped working that we can be aware and present enough to feel that discomfort - the discomfort that prods us toward growth.

Whether we call them addictions or distractions or dedications, most of us have the things we do that keep us from wrestling with our challenges and therefore keep us from growing.

At times, I’ve wondered if addiction model is being applied too broadly when it is used for things like overworking. In this light though - where addiction can include anything we do habitually as a way to avoid discomfort - maybe the addiction model and the methodologies of addiction treatment - should be applied even more broadly.

The addiction treatment model most of us know best is the 12-step program originally created as alcoholics anonymous. There are now some 35 different 12-step programs. They offer help with challenges including overeating, overworking, clutter, debt, narcotics, sex addiction, and underearning.

In these programmes, recovery happens in groups - in meetings - in communities. It is not something that happens alone. The original AA program, which continues more or less as it has since 1939, creates independent, self-leading communities of mutual help. Those communities are organised according to another list of 12 - the 12 traditions - which provides guidance for the creation and running of groups, from who can join to leadership to public relations and, of course, anonymity.

The 12 steps themselves are the central work of recovery. AA was very much a religion-based program, and the language of the steps as written then is very much God-oriented. And there have been many adaptations as well, by humanists, agnostics, pagans, wiccans and others.
At the core of those steps - regardless of which belief system they are written in - is some very basic and universal wisdom. I would offer these boiled down to just three points:

Interdependence: We can’t do it on our own - whether our immediate issue is addiction or not - the notion that we can entirely control our own lives and that we are thoroughly self-sufficient is an illusion. We need other sources of strength. For some, that may be religious or supernatural. For others, it is very much natural and is about our dependence on one another.

Relationship: We must be in relationship and in community. It is in community that we can find the support we need and the healing, strengthening opportunity to support others. We must also seek to restore damaged relationships, by offering and seeking forgiveness.

Openness: We need to be open and honest with ourselves and with others. We must work to know ourselves increasingly well and strive to address the challenges we find within. In AA, it is said, wisely, “You are only as sick as your secrets.” It should be noted that the secrets we keep from ourselves may be the most damaging of all.

The millions of people who participate in 12-step programmes around the world may have been driven their by the addictions that began to destroy their lives, but what they found in those programmes is more than a way to address a dependence on substances or harmful habits.
They found a powerful way of living that helps to address the deeper challenges we all face - the challenges of isolation, disconnection, illusion, and sorrow.

The found a way of living that we all need, and one which helps us to live lives that are held in connection, robust with growth, and enriched by the opportunity to help others.

This community too offers such opportunities. This too can be a place of connection and honesty and interdependence. It can be a place of healing and wholeness.  We have what we need to grow and change and learn and love. Let us embark upon that journey.

May it be so