MEMO: Getting Past Your Past

Have you ever felt really stuck? I don’t mean you’re simply at a loss for words when writing a business proposal or a school assignment. I mean something big has its claws in your brain and you feel like you just can’t move. No matter how hard you try you can’t get rid of the baggage that is weighing you down and holding you back.

That “something big” could be any number of things. It might be:

  • a troubled or abusive childhood
  • domestic violence
  • a history of mental illness
  • an addiction to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or gambling
  • a series of failed relationships
  • sexual indiscretions
  • a divorce
  • a business failure
  • an abortion
  • the death of a loved one

As Patrick Dempsey says to Reece Witherspoon in the movie Sweet Home Alabama, “So you have a past. Who doesn’t?”

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Healing From The Bondage Of Addiction

RecoveryThe numbers concerning addiction are truly staggering. Nearly 25 million Americans used illegal drugs last year. And another 15 million abuse prescription drugs. Some research indicates 30% of people will experience an alcohol-related disorder at some point in their lives. In the US 2.8 billion dollars is spent every year on pornography. One third of all internet downloads are pornographic.

And the problem is huge in the Christian church as well. 80% of churched young people report having tried alcohol, and 38% have tried marijuana. 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women report being “addicted” to pornography. These numbers should sober us as individuals, as a society, and as a church.

But even those numbers tell little of the personal devastation caused by addiction. Children going without food, innocent people killed by drunk drivers, homes, businesses, and careers lost, men, women, and children abused physically, sexually, and mentally, families and lives devastated because of addiction.

And the most devastating cost of all is to the soul of the person held in bondage by an addiction. That may involve overwhelming guilt, separation from God and others, fear of hell, and a sense of powerlessness to do anything to break free.

Yes, addiction is powerful. It changes one’s body and brain, robs one’s finances, destroys one’s relationships, and wreaks havoc on one’s soul. It’s one of the enemy’s most successful tools to bring pain and destruction to God’s children.

But as powerful as addiction is, there is ONE who is more powerful.

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A Big Enough Reason

Recovery ButtonMaking a change is hard. Habit, routine, addiction, convenience, or a thousand other reasons keep us doing the same thing over and over again, even if it’s terribly unhealthy. Or dangerous. Or even deadly.

It takes a big enough reason to endure the anxiety, setbacks, difficulty, or even pain that may be involved in making a lifestyle change. Sometimes that reason is positive, where the outcome you desire is enticing enough to work hard for. Sometimes that reason is negative, where the pain of remaining where you are is big enough to force a change.

We usually respond better to positive reasons for change. But when severe enough, sometimes a negative reason will do.

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Wisdom to Know the Difference

Praying HandsSeptember is Recovery Month. That means something to millions of people who have been or are part of a 12-Step program of recovery from some type of addiction/dysfunction, or many related programs. If you’re one of them, it’s almost certain you know – and probably can recite – the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”

Don’t we get into trouble when we neglect any of those three points? When we fight against those things we cannot change we only wear ourselves out. We become miserable to be around. We become frustrated, anxious, and often angry and bitter. Getting into a negative emotional rut is almost certain. And if you’re fighting an addiction, all that misery certainly sets one up for a relapse.

When we shrink from doing what is within our power to change we are no less miserable. Waiting for anyone, even God, to do for us what we CAN do for ourselves leaves us feeling hopeless and powerless, while becoming weaker all the time. You wonder why things seem to work out for everyone else but not for you. And again, if you’re fighting an addiction it’s a setup for a relapse.

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Doctor, Doctor: Are You Addicted?

PillsAlcohol. Drugs – legal and illegal. Tobacco. Those are the “usual suspects.”

But there are a whole lot more: food, pornography, sex, gambling, internet/tech use, exercise, and more.

Is addiction a physical problem? A mental health issue? A spiritual matter?

Yes, yes, and yes. It’s all those. And if you struggle with any addiction and you don’t address each one of these areas, you are very unlikely to experience any real healing or relief. As with most things, it’s a matter of body, mind, and soul.

A whole movement has come about convinced that addiction is a disease. Calling addiction a disease does emphasize some things that are true about any addiction.

Being addicted is not a matter of weakness.

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