Addiction: It’s Not About the “What”

So many different thoughts and arguments exist when the topic of addiction comes up. Most people automatically associate drugs and alcohol when the word “addiction” is mentioned. They get pained looks on their faces because the family member or former friend who has fallen into the using or drinking lifestyle is sad at best. There are no easy or simple answers to the problem of addiction. Pointing fingers at druggies and alcoholics as the basis of the problem is counterproductive.

Recovering-addict-turned-comedian, Mark Lundholm, explains addiction in possibly the best, most simplistic way I’ve heard. He says what someone is addicted to isn’t the problem. Caffeine, marijuana, cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, heroin, alcohol, food, porn, sex, relationships, gambling, video games, attention – it’s all the same. It’s not the “what.” The foundation of any addiction is “now.” We are addicted to now. Our fast-paced, have-it-now society has pushed and promoted this behavior. We want food now? There is a microwave or a fast-food restaurant to make it happen. Nevermind the question of health. We want creativity? We want nearly instant relief from pain? We want to get past grief or trauma now? We yearn for intimacy? Anyone of those chemical or non-chemical remedies are at our fingertips. Is any one of those choices worse than another? Obviously, chemical use might get you dead faster. However, the others can be just as devastating to your mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, and physical health. The mere fact that the fast-food drive-thru exists confirms this have-it-now-no-matter-the-cost attitude.

In reality, addiction is the evidence of life being out of balance. The NOW attitude leads our human nature to engage in whatever gives us relief from pain or stress. Once respite has been achieved, our brains have locked into memory all the related sensory information, causing a craving that is virtually irresistible. Those of us with coffee or sugar (aka sweet tooth) addictions can smell a Dunkin Donuts within a mile and begin to salivate. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but you get the point.

We can write-off the addict/alcoholic as the scum of society, but until we teach people to take the time to deal with the get-it-now attitude, to learn that achieving anything of value (pain relief, weight loss, fitness, inner satisfaction, creativity, etc.) takes time, very little progress will be made. When instant gratification isn’t the goal, when grief is a process to work through, when a relationship is worth the time and effort to repair – that is when recovery begins. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a small part of experiencing “aha” moments of people who struggle with addiction. And in those moments, I find the inspiration to overcome my own challenges.

“Village” Moms

We’ve all heard the age old proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” (That title got you, didn’t it. You thought I meant The Village People!) In the last week preceding Mother’s Day, my thoughts have been repeatedly thinking specifically of the women who have contributed to my life. There have been many, and I found myself feeling the need to acknowledge and share just how meaningful some of those relationships have been before writing about the one who birthed me.

The first years of my life, my family resided in an apartment building where three other families lived. Whether verbal or unspoken, those three moms were given permission to discipline on the spot or report misbehavior back to my own parents. I’m sure there were times when I balked at their apparent intrusion into my doings, but no one was about to allow me to be irresponsible. I don’t remember a thought process that led me to believe it created a safe environment at that time, but when I look back, I clearly felt safe. I knew if anything were wrong – if I got hurt, if anything scary happened – I could count on those ladies to help me. They hold a special place in my heart, remembering all the times we celebrated holidays together, or shared some fresh-baked cookies and iced tea. I can still hear their unique laughs in my head when I recall old memories. Janet, Faith, and Ruby were good “village” moms.

When my family moved to a new home, many more moms were added to my “village” on a regular basis, whether they had their own children or not. My K-3rd teacher suctioned her hand to my bloody forehead and lead me to the school nurse when I fell and hit the concrete step. She also spanked me when I defied her authority or set me in the corner until I apologized to another student. She comforted me when I reached the school building crying because the below-freezing air burned my lungs while crossing the swinging bridge and walking up the hill to school. Patsy was a good “village” mom.

My 4th-7th grade teachers also needed to discipline me on occasion. I was expected to do my homework, to be respectful in class and on the playground, and to talk only at the appropriate times (which seemed to be PRETTY difficult for me). I remember having a level of fear of them, but it was a fear born of respect. When we were read to, allowed to listen to basketball games, or acknowledged for following the rules, I knew we were loved. Agnes and Mary were good “village” moms.

Several ladies had significant impact during my high school years. One noted that I might be feeling lost and out of sorts when my own parents were spending much of their time at an ICU 85 miles away, watching hopefully over my unconscious brother. She sent her daughter to ask me to stay in their home, which felt more like family. One realized her young hurting cousin needed a comforting mentor and repeatedly showed up to take a walk in the pasture. One, who already had a houseful of seven (I guess one more is not a big deal, and I was expected to contribute, which I appreciated), invited me to spend spring break in her home, far away from painful reminders of loss. I’m not sure she will ever understand just how much I needed that week of not feeling the pain of becoming an only child. One of my teachers, also a class sponsor, lent me her ear plenty of times. She expected me to “get” Great Expectations, various other literature, and exceptional grammar skills, but she also spoke words of understanding and encouragement, and still does. Another, also the mother of my from-birth-friend, challenged me to create a personal written story that simultaneously created some healing of the deep wound in my heart. Carlene, Bethany, Ruth, Martha, and Ruth were good “village” moms.

Even in my adult life, “village” women have mothered me in a time of need. When I first left home and lived far away from family, one lectured or loved me in my “greenness” of marriage. Later, when that marriage was over, even further away from family, one accepted, loved, and encouraged this single, struggling mom by graciously giving me sewing work to do and generously paying me. Another claimed me as her fourth daughter. Before my own parents moved closer, she always invited me to her holiday family gatherings, making sure I wasn’t alone. More than once, a warm handshake with her included the passing of money to pay overdue bills. Allene, Dee, and Earlene have been good “village” moms.

I also count Aunt Ruth, Aunt Beth, another Aunt Ruth, Grandma Mae, and Grandma Ava. When I add all these “village” moms to the mom who birthed me, I feel overwhelming gratitude for the contribution of the “village” in my life. My mother took that proverb to heart, providing for me a “village” of godly women and modeling the kind of woman who effectively and constructively molds young people to be the best they can be. I only hope I can be half the mom these moms have been to me.