[Almost everyone knows someone affected by addiction. I have, over the course of my life, been close to quite a few people in bondage to a number of different destructive addictions. Many of those people I love and care about deeply. It is because of that deep love that I was motivated to write this letter. It is written from the perspective of a person who is heavily affected by someone else’s addiction. And these feelings are not just conjecture. They were forged in the fiery furnace of personal experience. And while I certainly had particular people in mind while composing this letter, it was written vaguely enough to apply to anyone facing similar struggles. If you are someone battling addiction or are close to someone caught in their own conflict with addiction, this letter is for you.]
A Letter to the Addicted:
Let’s get one thing straight right out of the gate: I love you. Read that again. I love you. When the darkness of your shame and guilt creeps back in, return to that truth. I love you. There is nothing you can say or do that will change that fact. I know you messed up. I know you feel like you ruined everything. But there was at least one thing you didn’t ruin. I still love you.
But let’s also be honest. You did mess up. You messed up pretty big. And while that doesn’t change my love for you, it does change some things. It changes your life. Your actions bear consequences that will affect you for the rest of your days. I hate that, but it’s true.
And whether you are willing to admit or not, your actions also bear consequences for others. You may think that it’s your life to do with as you please, but you’re only fooling yourself if you believe that your life isn’t intricately intertwined with those around you. Many of those people care about you very much. Several of those people depend on you. A few of them even need you.
But you’re not there for them and you’re not there for me. At least, not like you could (or should) be. Our lives will be forever affected by your actions, just as your life will. That’s the unfortunate yet beautiful truth of this communal society in which we live: Everyone is connected. Those closest to you will feel the weight of your decisions through the consequences those decisions bring. So one way or another, you’re not alone in this.
Let’s continue down this path of honesty: I don’t understand addiction. I don’t know what makes a person choose a substance over a life without it. I don’t know what draws that person back to that substance despite the far-reaching consequences. I don’t understand how that substance can make an otherwise rational person throw reason out the window, all the while ignoring the consequences. I don’t know what it is in a person that makes them scream, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” rushing headlong into what is surely to be a horrible demise. I just don’t understand addiction.
But I do have a pretty good understanding of people, having spent a good deal of time as one myself. I get it. You screwed up. And now you have inside you a darkness that you can’t explain despite your familiarity with addiction. And you carry around the weight of that darkness and its consequent shame and guilt every moment of every day of your life.
But I’m going to let you in on a little-known secret: I carry in me a darkness too. Go ahead, roll your eyes and accuse me of having no clue what darkness is. The truth of the matter is that you have no clue what darkness I struggle with each day my feet hit the floor. Sure, my darkness may take a different shape than yours. Mine may be limned from a different words or painted in different hues, but it is at its root the same darkness. I may carry my darkness less publicly than you do, but that doesn’t make mine permissible. I have to deal with my darkness the same as you. We all do.
Since we’re being so honest, let’s dive headlong into the deep end and swim around in this pool of honesty for a bit. I hate to dumb down the truth with euphemistic language. So let’s go ahead and call that darkness what it is: It’s sin. We both have in us a natural propensity to spit in the face of God. Now we’re getting a little closer to the real culprit. Because language like this really keeps you and me from using even more damaging language when referring to our sin: language that passes the blame.
I know how you think, at least in some areas of life. I know it’s hard to ever place a finger on the exact location deserving the blunt force of the blame for the addiction in your life. So now I’m going to be as brutally honest as I can in order to help us get to the bottom of this. I know your natural inclination is to place the blame elsewhere. It was this person, or that situation, or this occurrence, that drove you back to your addiction. With that mentality, it is always someone or something else’s fault that you decided to get high again. But here’s the truth:
If you need to pinpoint the culprit truly deserving of the blame for this situation, look no further than the mirror in front of you.
You chose this. I know you think you can’t help but make that choice, and maybe that’s true, but you still choose it every single time. Not only did you choose it, but you chose it instead of so many other wonderful things that could take its place. You chose your addiction over your job, your opportunities, your loved ones, and your future. You chose it, and it has ruined so much of what might have been.
That’s why I’m so mad at you right now. I saw what you could have been (I still see it). Yet despite your great potential, you tossed it aside like a sack of rancid garbage in order to go back to your momentary highs. You had everything you could have hoped for handed to you. You’ve been given opportunity after opportunity. But still you chose your addiction, and here we find ourselves once again, wallowing in the consequences of those choices. That makes me so incredibly angry.
But right now I have wrestling around in me an emotion that dwarfs the anger I’m feeling. More than anything, I feel a deep, abiding sadness for you. Don’t get mad at that or offended by it. I’m not calling you sad. But your situation saddens me more than I know how to process. It makes me so incredibly broken-hearted to think of the potential you have squandered.
That probably hurts you to hear. But that’s how I see it. I see you as the Prodigal of the Bible, prematurely demanding your inheritance, only to discover that it wasn’t enough to fill the deep void in your life. You thought you could feel that sense of fulfillment if only ___________. Feel free to fill in that blank. If only you could get out of the situation, then things would turn around. If only you could be around your family, things would be different. If only you could reestablish some sense of identity away from the addiction, then things would change and everything would be alright. If only you could demand your inheritance…
But now, like the Prodigal of the Bible, you’ve been given all those things and found them wanting. You had everything you ever hoped for handed to you, yet it still wasn’t enough. And now you’ve found yourself in the hog-pen of despair, wallowing in your own self-pity, ashamed by the guilt you bear, because, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to kick this sinful darkness of addiction.
And in that pig-trough full of the slop of shame, surrounded by the mud of guilt, you discover the major difference between your darkness and mine. I once found myself eating the same slop, surrounded by the same mud. My understanding of my sin drove me to the same shame and that shame tormented me with the same guilt. And that’s when I realized that I had a Father in heaven waiting to forgive me and receive me home with open arms. Instead of passing the blame for my darkness, I passed the consequences.
My darkness has been carried and paid for by another. And amazingly, when I returned to my Father, I found Him not staring contemptuously in judgment. I found my Father waiting with loving forgiveness extended through the open arms of Jesus on the cross.
I know you would probably add Christianity into that long list of things you thought would bring you happiness but failed. I would caution you not be too quick to jump to such a conclusion. I say this because I’m not sure you tried true Christianity. I’m sorry if this hurts, but I’m still riding the honesty train, and my station has yet to arrive. Let me explain why I feel the need to be so blunt.
A Christian author by the name of G.K. Chesterton once wrote,
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
I think that’s you. I remember the times you wanted to try. You asked what you should do to be a better Christian, and I gave you some suggestions. You listened attentively and even agreed wholeheartedly. “That’s exactly what I need!” you would say. I believe you genuinely wanted to give yourself to Christ. But then when it came time to apply those suggestions in your life, because they were so difficult, you only halfheartedly gave yourself to them. And that leads me to believe that you only halfheartedly gave yourself to Him. If you’re honest with yourself, I would bet that you would agree with me. And that’s the biggest difference between your darkness and mine. Mine has been taken and paid for by the one who bought me. I now belong to Him. But I fear that you still belong to you.
Please don’t read into this statement something that it’s not. I’m not saying in any way that I’m better than you. One man described Christian evangelism as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” That’s what I hope to do for you. I want you to know why we’re different. It’s not because of me. I didn’t have some great goodness in me that overcame my darkness. I just have Jesus. I overcame my darkness because of Jesus in me. Let me rephrase that: He overcame my darkness. And He can overcome yours too. Take the advice of one beggar to another: Jesus is the only place to find that kind of forgiveness and peace.
I hope that your shame and your guilt will serve as your “bottom of the barrel” moment in life. God knows you have had a number of good opportunities in the past! But right now, I pray that you will allow your shame and your guilt and your anger at yourself to remind you that, like the Prodigal, you have a Father anxiously awaiting you with open arms.
He doesn’t expect you to be perfect. He only expects you to be His.
And I don’t expect you to be perfect either. The truth of the matter is that I expect you will probably fail again. But as I said at the outset of this letter, I still love you and I will continue to do just that. I’m not saying that I don’t care about your addiction or that it doesn’t bother me. I do care about it because it affects me and your other loved ones so severely. But I care about you more than I’m worried about beating you down because of your addiction.
So what I’m going to do is try my best to show you Jesus in me. I’m not perfect, and I expect that I will fail a lot too. But I’m going to try to show you what true love and grace really are. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to enable you by giving you things you want or ask for. In fact, I’ll probably not give you much of anything in the near future. I will not be your enabling doormat, and I won’t allow you to use the other people around me either. But one day I hope you will come to see that as love. Tough love, but love nonetheless.
I do love you. Remember that. You are loved. Not just by me. You are loved by a Father in heaven who wants you to turn to Him. He’s waiting to run to you with open arms. Turn from you addiction, and turn to Him. I’ll be there waiting right behind Him.