They say that’s when you’re most certain to fall – when you think you can’t.
I can definitely vouch for that.
I’d escaped from multiple addictions over the years – cigarettes, the need for approval, self-pity, shopping, guilt, complaining, fear – so I knew some pits to avoid. I wasn’t about to start any of that again. I had freedom. I was good.
What I didn’t realize – what I had completely forgotten – was that addiction doesn’t leap out from the bushes and grab you. It doesn’t wave its arms and yell, “Danger! Danger!!” It’s neither sudden nor obvious.
At least until it’s too late. Addiction is more like… a magician.
The magician points to his assistant who dazzles you. He promises a good time, loads of laughs and good feelings – and even delivers! – and you drink it all in, determined to watch every move and not miss a thing.
But while your awestruck and amused eye is on his assistant, he slyly slips his ropes around your feet and wrists so loosely you don’t even feel them. The assistant dazzles more and more to keep your attention, and the magician slowly… gently … oh, so carefully, tightens those ropes around you lest you notice. If you’re really sharp, you might notice the occasional nudge from the magician’s misplaced hand, but you ignore it. After all, the assistant is so spectacular you don’t want to look away for even a second.
Finally the show is over, the assistant bows and leaves, and you’re left alone face to face with the magician. He towers over you, smiling dreadfully and shows you the rope in his hand. You shrug. Wow. A rope. So? …What a dumb trick. He just keeps smiling like holding a rope is the most brilliant thing ever.
Bored with his stupidity, and seeing the amusement is obviously over, you try to walk away. Instead, you collapse in a heap, having tripped on your tied-together feet.
Laying there, all bound up and hopelessly wriggling in ropes that won’t loosen, you wonder how the heck he pulled one over on you. After all, you were watching so carefully!
Finally, it dawns on you; that was the real trick.
But it’s too late. You’re stuck and you can’t get yourself out.
The magician wound his ropes around me this year.
Aching with sorrow and grief, I was happy to be distracted by his assistant.
One of the ways this manifested was to hide away from my family, indulging in too much TV and food. Sometimes I ate so much my stomach ached and felt like it would burst. Even then, I would pack more in.
Maybe I was punishing myself for not dealing as well as I felt I should.
Mostly I ached not to ache anymore.
To feel the physical piercing pain of a body swollen from binging was less painful than the deep sorrow
I couldn’t escape.
Or maybe it wasn’t that the pain was less, but that it was just a different kind.
They say a change is as good as a rest…
Sometimes I felt like a cutter – lacerating my flesh to feel just a short relief from an even deeper pain. And I didn’t know how to stop.
I mean, I knew how. Just don’t do that. Obviously. But I was powerless to resist it. I couldn’t stop myself. I was tied and bound and could not break free. This is the death grip of addiction.
(By the way – if you’re shocked or bothered that a believer in Jesus could suffer with addiction, welcome to reality. Believers are human, and following Jesus doesn’t make people perfect or their little lives rosy. It makes inevitable struggles liveable, gives us hope in the hard stuff, and the strength to do (over time) what is not in our power to do. Like forgive our abusers. Or love someone who’s downright impossible to love. Or escape addiction.)
Anyway. As a follower of Jesus I was sometimes able to push aside the guilt and shame of my struggle and pray. Rescue me! Forgive me! Please don’t give up on me! I believe – help my unbelief!
The biggest cry of my heart was that God would change my desires. I mean, He says he does. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” Phil. 2:13.
Great! Yes! Please change my desire, Lord, because I don’t actually want to stop.
But I want to want to. And you can work with that.
You’re in the business of changing hearts. Please change mine before it’s too late.
Over months and months, Jesus continued to assured me time and again that I was “on the right track”. I thought that sounded crazy. I clearly was not headed anywhere healthy. I continued to shake off His assurances as something I made up, and He continued to assure me. He would also warn me to repent and call me back, but also assured me. More and more, I believed Him – that He saw my future release. That there was hope.
One day when I was especially exasperated with myself, I cried out to God about it. Why am I so SLOW at this? I HATE me!! My life is a stain on your name!!! Ugh!!! …Ever been there?
His reply was clear and simple. “Growth takes time. And I am patient.”
Please let this encourage you. If you’re struggling and wish you could just stop disappointing God for once, THIS is how He sees you.
He’s not the one pointing a finger at you and shaking His head. That’s you. You’re doing that.
He’s saying, ‘come to me’, ‘let me be strong for you’, and ‘growth takes time, and I am patient.’
Don’t give up. He’s on your side. Seek Him. Trust that He loves you like crazy and is cheering you on as you try, fall, and try again. He’s the dad cheering on his toddler. He never kicks the baby.
He cheers every wobbly attempt to step closer to Him.
So just keep walking.
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