I can stop any time I like.
One day – not today of course – but soon, I’ll stop drinking. I’ll start eating. I’ll stop binging. I’ll forsake those websites and delete those images. I’ll cut up the credit cards and walk past the bookies.
When this happens, you tell yourself, everything will return to “normal.” You’ll leave behind your old shameful self and begin afresh. Quick and painless. A new start, with no guilt, no recriminations and no consequences.
Of course, this underestimates how addictions (and people) work. No-one makes a list of pros and cons and decides to become an addict. We’re swept off our feet. Decisions are involved, but it’s desires that really get hold of us. Before we know it, our behaviours develop a momentum of their own and no amount of will-power can counter them.
We’re weighed down – not just by our addictions, but their consequences too. Our past lives on in our present, no matter how fast we try to run. It’s in the people we’ve let down. The debts we’ve accrued. The relationships we’ve fractured. The body we decimate.
So where do we find hope?
One of the most powerful movements in combating addiction is that of Alcoholics Anonymous. What’s the first of their 12 steps?
Step ONE: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Step TWO: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
This power is not increased will-power or self-control.
It’s not guilt or shame or carrots or sticks.
It’s a Person.
You see, what is our slavery? Is it circumscribed behaviours, carried out occasionally and in secret ? Or something far deeper – ‘ the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind’. (Ephesians 2:2-3). If it’s the former, then maybe we can save ourselves. But if it’s the latter, then we really do need a “higher power” – the grace that comes from outside ourselves.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6).
Will-power won’t get us out. Christ already has.