The Gift of Addiction

I should probably copyright that phrase so I can use it for a book one day. For now, I will give credit where credit is due to a woman whom I work with and who gave me permission to use her words for this post.

Sounds like a gross paradox, doesn’t it? If you struggle with addiction or have ever been in relationship with someone who does, you know there are few “gifts” in the process. What you do receive is unpredictability, fear, constant anxiety, sadness, grief, pain, betrayal, moments of clarity, and days upon months upon years of confusion.

With the recent Huffington Post article going viral, a lot of people are questioning the very pulse of addiction – where it begins and how it can be stopped. I work with addicts and their families on a daily basis, and they all want the answer to the same question: How do I fix this?

I get a plethora of responses when I tell them the truth: You can’t. Addiction, and addicts, are not broken furniture on the side of the road that just need to be reassembled or thrown away.

To steal a metaphor from my graduate school supervisors, people who are battling with addiction look more like this: the Kintsugi bowl from Japan. Kintsugi is “the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer resin dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.”

In Japanese culture, the repaired bowls actually have more value now because of the treatment they receive. What a concept! My friend who referred to the “gift of addiction” was struggling with her own lack of understanding of addicts and the battles they face. She admitted to having little compassion because she didn’t understand and she had never experienced it. She then began to reflect on the First Step in AA – “We admitted we were powerless and and that our lives had become unmanageable.” The “gift” she referred to was the ability to completely surrender out of absolute humility and brokenness. She admitted she had never done this because she never felt like she needed to surrender. She felt like she pretty much had it all together. Nothing had ever rendered her totally powerless. She wondered, out loud, what it must be like to see God in such a way that He is one’s only hope – to give God the glory He deserves from a place of total humility. She questioned what addicts need and how they heal, but she also began to wonder the same for her own heart. She began to see the power of Kintsugi without knowing it.

When the author of the Huffington Post article writes, “When I returned from my long journey, I looked at my ex-boyfriend, in withdrawal, trembling on my spare bed, I thought about him differently. For a century now, we have been singing way songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.”

The love songs are the gilded powder. Does that mean we do away with recovery, sobriety, meetings, and therapy? No! Those are all part of the love songs as well. Rather than banishing addicts to dark alleys and mental wards, we need to hear their stories, apply the balm of empathy to their wounds, and set boundaries which allow them to live life differently. Boundaries, when applied well, don’t put up walls. They offer freedom in relationships where there has been a lot of pain. They teach us how to love well. They give us freedom to heal and grow new roots.

We Americans have a lot to learn from Eastern methods of healing. Rather than wiping away the past of those who suffer, what if we “treat the breakage and repair as part of the history” of a person rather than with shame? What if we all believed that we have never locked eyes with someone who doesn’t matter to God (I stole that my my pastor)? What if we adopted Kintsugi and applied gilded love songs to the wounds of the broken rather than the black tar of shame?

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