Addressing Addiction Myths (Part 3 of 6)

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Myth #8: “I can’t stand to suffer”

Many people think that they cannot give up the things they are addicted to because withdrawal involves suffering. Most people don’t like to suffer! This is where a spiritual perspective on both CBT and addictions can be extremely helpful. Indeed, it can be the pivotal point that helps otherwise hopeless addicts “over the top”.

Consider the death of Christ on the cross for a few moments, if you will. If He did indeed have to pay the penalty for sin, and that penalty was death, why could He not have died by lethal injection? It would have been a lot less painful, and it could have been done in heaven.

Even if He had to come to this world to die, why did He suffer so? The sacrificial lambs in Jerusalem, which symbolized Christ, died quickly and easily. Why could it not have been so with Him?

Why did He suffer not just rejection, but layers of rejection? He begged His three best earthly friends to stay up and pray with Him for just one hour, and they couldn’t even do that. Why did that have to happen?

Some of us know what it is like to be betrayed by a spouse, child, or business partner who walks off with our assets or even part of our heart.

But one of Jesus’ twelve best friends essentially “walked off” with His life, betraying Him to be killed. Why did that have to happen?

Then there was the physical abuse He suffered, which was totally eclipsed by the mental abuse of an entire crowd chanting that He should die, for literally hours. Add a heaping helping of spiritual abuse and you are starting to get the picture. The priests who were supposed to offer spiritual leadership and nourishment abandoned their trust and railed on him—why did this have to happen? He was falsely accused, falsely tried, flogged twice, and sentenced to the most gruesome, torturous death that humans could invent. He felt totally abandoned by God. He knows what it is like to be shamed: He was stripped naked and viewed for hours. He knows what it is like to feel trapped. How much more trapped can you be than being nailed to a tree?

The movie “The Passion of Christ” was an attempt to depict the physical agony of Christ, and even exaggerate it. But even with over-the-top distortions, this movie could not come close to depicting Christ’s real pain. The mental, emotional, and spiritual pain, which the movie could not depict, was so much greater than the physical!

Yet in spite of the pain, when given an opportunity to numb the torture, He refused to take that opportunity. In His extreme hour of agony, He was offered a mixture of alcohol and vinegar. But when He realized what it was, He refused to voluntarily make His mind less effective. He spit it out and refused to numb His pain!

Why did Christ go through this incredible round of agony, and in the very end—at the cross—give an example of self-restraint never before seen on earth? It was so every addict, in the light of the cross, could gain the courage to refuse to numb their pain. When the body is crying out for an addictive substance or behavior that we know in our hearts is not good, we can, like Christ, simply say “No and endure the pain.”

Many details of Christ’s suffering, right down to the offered alcohol, were predicted centuries before his death in Psalm 69. That passage shows that it was God’s plan that Christ not only be our substitute in suffering the penalty of death for sin, but our example in how He died while refusing to numb the pain. That example is for us, to give us strength to say no to habits that hurt, even though saying no may bring us pain for awhile.

Myth #9: If we pray, God will take our cravings and addictions away.

It is true that, after heartfelt prayer, the addictive desires of a number of individuals have miraculously vanished. Such individuals lose their cravings, and don’t even go through withdrawal. They have made a heartfelt commitment to God, and He has honored the Bible promise that He will “not allow us to be tempted above that we are able, but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that we may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13-KJV). Perhaps God sees that the individual in withdrawal, and removes that burden from them. I’ve worked with people who actually have had that happen. But God doesn’t usually do for us what we can do for ourselves. Most people are able, so for the vast majority of individuals struggling with addiction, God doesn’t just “take it away”. That should actually be an encouragement to anyone who suffering with continued desires, because they are actually at a higher level. They are able!

God gives us the power to intelligently go against our own distorted desires. The Bible does not promise people that God will perform psychological surgery so that they’ll never have the desire for evil. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand this. One smoker told me “I haven’t given up cigarettes because the Lord hasn’t taken away the desire. If I were to give them up and I still had the desire, I’d be a hypocrite and a legalist.” This is rather strange reasoning.

Myth #10: God is Very Restrictive

God is all about freedom—in fact, freedom of choice is one of the foundational principles of His government. If God didn’t value liberty, He would never have allowed man to choose to sin in the first place. In addition to giving us the freedom to choose, God also wants us to be free of addictions. No doubt this is why none of the good things God originally packaged for us are addictive by nature.

I have seen a lot of addictions in my work, but in my entire medical career, I have yet to see one person addicted to mangoes or broccoli! If I were to tell a patient that they should never eat cheese or chocolate again, or should give up ice cream, coffee, or beer, they are likely to break right into a sweat.

“How am I supposed to do that?” they ask incredulously. But when a person is allergic to broccoli and I have to inform them that they should not eat it anymore, there isn’t much of a reaction. They may be sorry that they will never have broccoli quiche again, but they won’t have to go through withdrawal. The same thing is true for all of God’s natural food creations. If we are a slave to our cravings, we cannot enjoy the freedom and victory we could experience in life.