You Might As Well Face It, You’re Addicted to ________

freedom statue in Philadelphia

freedom statue in Philadelphia

It’s amazing how much of the New Testament is concerned for our freedom.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1).

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).

On the other hand, we perhaps shouldn’t be so surprised at this concern for freedom.  It’s a core human characteristic that distinguishes us from other form of life. I assume that higher spiritual beings than ourselves exist, and part of what makes them “higher” is their capacity for freedom. Stated negatively, life in the Spirit is meant to be free from compulsion. The more we act from compulsion, the more the future is simply a repeat of the past. In evolutionary theology, the greater our degree of freedom, the greater is our capacity to align with the Spirit-infused evolutionary process to bring forth the “new thing” G_d is doing. Or, stated differently, we want to exercise maximum freedom as the personified presence of the Spirit-infused evolutionary process in order to bring forth the unique future that needs us in order to be realized.

Whew! Which leads me to the subject of this post. Addiction. It’s my experience that it’s not until I exit the throes of addiction that I can even see that I’m addicted. Sometimes, when we’re really deep into addiction, we need others to see on our behalf what we refuse to see. When we’re hooked the mind of addiction doesn’t want us to believe it, or come off the substance, process, or behaviour to which we’re addicted. Our rationalizations are endless.

To get personal for just a bit, one of the opportunities afforded me by my chosen path of changing just

Artist: Cat Beringer

Artist: Cat Beringer

about everything in my life in this past year, has been the examination of my addictive tendencies. For example, I’ve always known that I actually loved the feeling of being drunk. I never got anywhere near to full-blown alcoholism, but I sure did love my demon rum in my 20’s and 30’s, and then my wine.  I’ve since realized that I used booze to compensate for social awkwardness. I “came out of my shell” after a few. There was even a spiritual dimension to the drunken state for me. I felt strangely reunited with the world—what it was like to be in the world without fear, and what it was like was blissful. I actually regretted the turning in my life, when I found that even the slightest amount of booze left me with a head-ache. I started drinking less and less, deeming that the avoidance of pain was worth the diminishing amount of pleasure I received from a couple glasses of wine.

So today, I virtually don’t drink. But being off alcohol made me realize that I also got addicted to the social rituals associated with the addiction itself.  I became an amateur connoisseur of wine. It’s not like I could tell the difference between a ’65 and a ’82 Merlot, but enough so that I enjoyed the banter with my local fine wine guy. So that social ritual is gone. And after a movie it’s just not the same to go for a drink and have a cranberry soda, or watch the Superbowl while drinking Perrier. The upshot is that when you start removing the addictive substance and possibly the social rituals which occasioned the use of booze, you come face to face with deeper questions, like,what does the booze do for me? How would I use my time if I’m not doing this? And most importantly what are these nasty feelings and thoughts that arise when I drop the addictive substance?

I regard addiction as any substance, behaviour, or process around which I organize my life compulsively. I remember driving for miles looking for decent coffee before I set out early on a car trip, or organizing my day so that I’d end up near the place that roasted their beans fresh and didn’t over-roast like Starbucks. Here again, separate and apart from the addictive nature of caffeine, the loss of the social rituals of getting high at my favourite coffee place (49th Parallel in Vancouver), or brewing it just right first thing in the morning, leaves me feeling empty, disoriented, and with a lot of time on my hands. When you start using that time to obsess about the latte you are going without, chances are you are dealing with an addiction.

starbucksAs for caffeine itself, it’s a tougher nut to crack than alcohol for me. I haven’t quite come off it. Once a week or so, I’ll have a Chai or a black tea. (Did you catch the “or so” — that’s the addictive mind). My primary motivation for coming off caffeine is that I have trouble sleeping. But once you start coming off a substance, it’s a great spiritual practice to simply observe all of the other side “benefits”. For example, I got dependent on caffeine in order to write. Whether it’s true or not, I came to associate the free flow of ideas with a shot or four of the chemical. Another “benefit”?  A caffeine-induced high leaves me feeling totally self-sufficient and independent. I walk around in a bubble of isolation. Since coming off of it, I notice that I need more direct connection with my partner. Caffeine was compensating for my fears of intimacy. It was supporting my illusion that I could live without intimacy, and helping me to avoid all the historic, underlying issues related to intimate connection.

It’s not until you start coming off of some of these things that you are able to see the societal context of addiction.  What’s the impact of a city like Vancouver, which may be the coffee capital of the world, consisting of a citizenship that is addicted to caffeine? I wonder the same about booze. I’m not riding a high horse here, because as you have read, the reasons I’m trying to come off these substances, are not all that virtuous. It was driven by selfish avoidance of pain. But it’s difficult to understand how our policy-makers, voters, mothers and fathers are able to make decisions that are grounded in what life wants when these substances keep us from knowing what that is—because we’re not dealing with the underlying trauma that these substances often compensate for.

The list of things I’m coming off on also include sugar, television, and my Iphone and computer. Did you know that research has shown that rats will prefer sugar to cocaine? Try coming off it some time—even for a day. Have you ever noticed the relationship between the need for sweetness in our relationships and the consumption of sugar?  How about a quick stop for one of those Lucky’s apple fritters with bacon bits? (Sounds gross, I know, but try it. No don’t). When you stop sugar, you may begin to notice that you turn to friends and your partner to get your sweetness. Or, more ominously, you begin to notice that it’s not actually  available in your relationships, and then you are into some pretty real stuff. What the hell, what’s one more cookie?

As for television, I found that I had vast amounts of time, especially in the evening, that initially felt like a gaping void in my life. I miss the big sporting events, (like the Australian Open), but overall this has been a surprisingly easy ritual to let go of. Still, the removal of such a ritual leaves you with more time—more solitude—and it’s a great opportunity to find out exactly why it’s so difficult spending quality time with oneself. And how are you doing with your cellphone? Love my cell phone. I’m pretty sure that next email or text is absolutely going to change my life. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to get into the habit of clustering my emails and text into a couple of periods of the day. If you are at a dinner party and you can’t put the damned thing down, you are mainlining, face it. And face what you are not facing. Are you bored?

I’m thinking that most of us spiritual-minded folks need to back up a step when it comes to spiritual practice. Meditation is great, but if our bio-spiritual systems are perpetually wired, good luck quieting your mind. These ancient masters simply didn’t have to cope with number of addictive possibilities back then. If Christ has really set us free for freedom, what this means in the 21st century is being willing to look at how, by the time we’re adults, our society is mainlining us. There isn’t time in this post to go into the concept of supernormal stimuli, but check out this youtube video featuring psychologist Dierdre Barrett, (Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose” 2010). Our earliest evolutionary instincts are being exploited at every turn by advertising to keep us hooked. Like it or not, it’s spiritual battle. Or at least it’s gritty spiritual practice, if we are going to realize our gift of freedom.

The practice isn’t one of exercising willpower to come off all of our addictions all at once, though you’refreedom1 free to give it a shot. It’s a matter in the first place of witnessing and being honest.  Just choose one, say caffeine, give it up for one day, and watch your cravings. Then try two days a week without  it. Then start in on alcohol, etc. Keep a journal. Pay attention to whatever thoughts, feelings, and behaviours come up or want to come up. These constitute our work. They form the basis of what our practice needs to be in preparation for other spiritual practices like meditation. You can’t do an end run around them. Why would we want to? They’re gold, because in the process of coming off of them, all your compulsions, fears, unresolved trauma, etc. are being presented to you on a silver platter. Here then is the key to your freedom.








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  1. R. Garth Kidd says

    Hi Bruce,

    Through the good offices of Jeff Crittenden, our vigorous young minister here at Metropolitan United where I sing in the senior choir each Sunday morning, I obtained your contact information. The theme this year for the Great Books series in our annual Time Out program is “Seeking the Divine”; and last week I talked about Fritz Schumacher’s book “A Guide for the Perplexed”. After reading your article on the ‘is-ishness’ (i.e. the ontology) of God in the latest UC Observer.I was struck by how you, I, and Schumacher come out at roughly the same place on the nature of Christian Divinity. In my estimation it is a place far too seldom articulated from United Church pulpits.

    The Bible tells us a lot about what God does, but very little about what God is. It is the opening line of John’s Gospel that speaks most powerfully to me, but it took me a long time to understand what John was saying. It was only after I realized that (i) John was a poet and a mystic; (ii) that John wrote in Greek; and (iii) the Greek term that became “Word” in the King James Bible is “Logos” . . . a term that includes the rational thinking that precedes its articulation in language. My reading of John suggests that God is Rational Thinking (a uniquely human capability) transcending or raised beyond the capability of any human being; i.e. Divine Omniscience.

    I developed this idea at some length in my PowerPoint presentation on Schumacher’s book. If you’re interested, and if you let me have your e-mail address, I will send it to you.


  2. Eric B. says

    Bruce. Thank you for the essay. I related in many ways to what you wrote about working with one’s addictive behavior(s). Big topic. I particularly appreciated the way you worded the following: “Pay attention to whatever thoughts, feelings, and behaviours come up or want to come up. These constitute our work. They form the basis of what our practice needs to be in preparation for other spiritual practices like meditation. You can’t do an end run around them. Why would we want to? They’re gold, because in the process of coming off of them, all your compulsions, fears, unresolved trauma, etc. are being presented to you on a silver platter. Here then is the key to your freedom.” Wonderful description. The two words that came up for me to describe the process are: Liberating. Challenging. Thanks again. EB

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Eric, yes, big topic. As I started writing I realized that one could write a series of blogs about the challenge and gift of addiction. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Darryl says

    Great stuff Bruce ! Perhaps its the much more personal touch, or the admirable halo-lowering honesty this requires, but more likely I simply relate more strongly to this post due to our common ground of addictions / experimental withdrawal, and the associated investigations of who am I really ? why am i hiding under all this stuff ? what’s with all this fear ? etc….. which has precluded my many attempts to get addicted to God-ness instead, and why I keep retreating back to unhealthy addictions and selfish distractions rather than accept and assimilate my ghostly and gristly ‘fears of God’ that are offered up to me on my slippery ‘silver platter’ of freedom ? ……Freedom……..what does it mean really ? ………the experiment continues……….. well done !

  4. Toni Pieroni says

    Hey Bruce, Does the fact that I got totally irritated even by the title of your post, let alone the rest of it say anything about this issue for me?!! Sheesh! I remember beginning to read St. John of the Cross, and the first part was essentially all about addiction, though that wouldn’t be the word he would use. I put it down and haven’t picked it up again. So, thanks alot friend – as I sit hear enjoying my first cup of tea that I can’t wait to get up to in the morning and that there would be no point in getting up if I couldn’t have it . . . freedom, shreedom!

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Lol. I’ll have to get back to St. John of the Cross. I think he called them “demons” didn’t he? Thanks Toni.

  5. Carol A. says

    Wonderful post. The You Tube link was enlightening, for sure. I’ve long been aware of manipulative advertising, but it was interesting to see this aspect of it. One of the things I’ve particularly noted over the years, is how advertising uses every new advance in knowledge or wisdom and twists it to its own advantage.

    Still, I remain “manipulable.” I’m currently working on my addiction to sugar, fairly successfully, but trying to rationalize my mounting addiction to the net: I need all that information, don’t I? :)

  6. Nathanael says

    Great post, Bruce. I love your honesty. I can’t remember when I’ve heard a minister say that he loved the feeling of being drunk! But I can certainly relate to that! I struggle with various addictive/compulsive behaviors and the list of things we can be addicted to seems endless. As soon as you kick one habit you either replace it with something else or become aware of another addiction (or ten) that was there all along. It can be discouraging. But it seems that the more I turn toward what’s really going on inside–the fear, the shame, the anger–and do the work of self-acceptance, of discovering and owning the shadow, the more freedom I have to choose. Challenging work, but so worth it!

      • says

        It means a lot to me to hear you say that, Bruce. I do have a website, although there are only a couple of pages on it right now. It’s My intention is to explore spiritual growth, especially contemplative Christianity. I’m still working through a lot of baggage from a fundamentalist, charismatic Christian upbringing–it’s hard to shake the fear of an angry God that could punish me for stepping outside the bounds of mythic traditionalist belief–but my spiritual and intellectual life has been growing tremendously since I discovered Ken Wilber and the Integral movement about a year ago. I’m actually working on a book right now about evolution and Christian faith, since that is such a huge hurdle for those of us who were steeped in conservative evangelical thinking. I really appreciate the insight you are bringing to this discussion, even though at times it still sounds like a foreign language to me!

  7. Darryl says

    “Consider the pettiness of men’s minds. They ask for that which injureth them, and cast away the thing
    that profiteth them. They are, indeed, of those that are far astray. We find some men desiring liberty, and
    priding themselves therein. Such men are in the depths of ignorance. Liberty must, in the end, lead to sedition, whose flames none can quench. Thus warneth you He Who is the Reckoner, the All-Knowing. Know ye that the
    embodiment of liberty and its symbol is the animal.That which beseemeth man is submission unto such
    restraints as will protect him from his own ignorance, and guard him against the harm of the mischief-maker.
    Liberty causeth man to overstep the bounds of propriety, and to infringe on the dignity of his station.
    It debaseth him to the level of extreme depravity and wickedness.”

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Who are you quoting Darryl? I’d like to know where this person is coming from before I respond. Not sure how the animal is the embodiment and symbol of liberty.

      • Darryl says

        This is a quote from Baha’u’llah, Founder of the Baha’i Faith. I guess the ‘animal’ reference is to do with the appetite of our ego-self or lower nature. Cheers

        • Bruce Sanguin says

          Thanks Darryl, So in this passage, he has a negative take on the pursuit of freedom, I gather when that pursuit is driven by our base instincts.

          • Darryl says

            I think He is saying that without following God’s Guidance/Guides we will end up up following our ego-self and our pursuit of ‘liberty’ will lead to captivity and self-delusion……EG Addictions…..EG the rebel who wants freedom from rules/laws and makes “no rules” his rule of life……. Or….. without the guidance of true humility, the proud sheep breaks away from the flock to become a Shepherd, and ends up unemployed, depressed, or working in a wolf’s clothing store or an abattoir with delusions of grandeur and an identity crisis…… Or……”Man cannot free himself from the rage of the carnal passions except by the help of the Holy Spirit. That is why He says baptism with the spirit, with water and with fire is necessary, and that it is essential — that is to say, the spirit of divine bounty, the water of knowledge and life, and the fire of the love of God.”…….(Abdu’l-Baha – Son of Baha’u’llah)

  8. Daniel says

    This, this, a thousand times this.

    Addiction is so very much more than a simple question of do I or don’t I (drink this coffee, drink this alcohol, smoke this cigarette, whatever). It suffuses and quickly and quietly becomes an unremarkably normal, integral part of one’s life. It took me over a decade’s worth of (many) tries to get off caffeine. I’m much better off without it—I wake up much more quickly and easily each morning, I don’t hit that brick wall in the early afternoon any more, my gut’s a whole lot less cranky—but I was much better off without it every time during that decade-plus that I started back up again, too! But the last time I had a half-scoop of coffee gelato (the good stuff at Dolce Amore on Commercial Drive, BTW), the resultant gutflutters, sleep disruption, and draggy-pants wakeup routine the next morning vastly outweighed the deliciousness. I’m not sure what flipped the switch; before it was always the other way around.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Daniel, Yeah, not sure what did it for me, but I don’t crave coffee any more. I do, however, like a cup of darjeeling. Not as acidic, and don’t get as wired.

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