A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Down but not out for the count – addiction and grace

Bill Farrelly

by Bill Farrelly

I AM not competitive. Sometimes I wish I had been. But recently a demon has beaten me and I am fighting mad and I am determined to get the upper hand again.boxing

You may remember, though it was quite a while ago, I mentioned that an addiction may have cost me my marriage – a marriage that I continue to pray will one day be resurrected. It will help neither you nor me to go into further detail but what I did share with you back then was that I had finally taken control of my life.It made a vast difference to my self-esteem.

Then I came a cropper. A real bruiser. Afterwards, I was disappointed, angry and frustrated and railed against God for not helping me to be stronger. It does indeed seem at times that God is not there when you most need him, doesn’t it?

When I am rational, which is most of the time, I know that God is not to blame. I also know that I am human and humans fail.

I asked myself whether pride may have played a part but in all honesty I believe the answer is no. I had been deeply grateful that for so many months – well over a year – I was free of the demon but though I occasionally felt pride in my perseverance I allowed that emotion only to keep depression in check, to remind myself that I was doing well, that I could become the person I wanted to be.

In my original disclosure I referred readers to a wonderful book called  Addiction & Grace, published by HarperOne and written by the late Gerald G May. When I went head-first into the dust recently I made a bee-line for that book and its fountain of wisdomAddiction and Grace

If this is all new to you, or you have forgotten, allow me to remind you of some of the extraordinary range of addictions identified by May. He grouped them into Attraction addictions (things to which we become compulsively attached) and Aversion addictions (things for which we feel repulsion).

The former included obvious things such as gambling, drinking, pornography, chocolate, and less obvious examples such as neatness, popularity, punctuality, sports, causes, being right, being good. Among the aversion addictions he listed being alone, being fat, doctors, needles, germs, intimacy, birds, darkness, conflict, people of  different beliefs, class or politics.

There is no-one, according to May, who is free of addiction which he defines as habitual behaviour that limits the freedom of human desire. He says the hallmarks of addiction are tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, self-deception, loss of willpower and distortion of attention.

In my own case, I had made numerous attempts over decades to unchain myself - though many of them were very half-hearted indeed. For the last two attempts, however, I was very committed. The first of these came to a sad end after many months when I felt that I wasn’t being rewarded enough for all the effort I was making. Those of you with serious addictions will understand what I mean here, and I think others can make an educated guess. On the most recent attempt I determined that, with God’s help, I would succeed come what may. And for a long while I did.

In fact, I am going to rephrase that last sentence. And for a long while I have.

OK, I fell. It felt like defeat. But I did not, I will not, stay down for the count. I am on my feet again, I am moving around the ring. I don’t know how many rounds I will have to go, nor do I know how long each round will be. But I promise myself this: when that final bell rings I will be on my feet. So, God, please make sure you stay in my corner.

As I reflect on the manner my knees hit the canvas, I suppose that, more than anything else, I gave in temporarily to self-pity. Almost nothing seemed to be going my way and I felt overwhelmed by loneliness.

Both of these episodes are bound to ensnare me again. I must be more alert. I ask for your prayers as you have mine.

A FOOTNOTE. A couple of months ago I joined a 12-step program and I have not a shadow of doubt that the inspiration to do so came from the Holy Spirit. It has been a Godsend.

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