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Inch Worms on the Plateau of Realism

I feel very sure just about everyone has blind spots or crazy spots in their personality. They come with the territory of being a human. I think they come with everyone’s DNA, but often, if not always, are intensified by experiences or lack of experiences in our impressionable youth.

One of my particular personality type’s blind spots is idealism, which is not bad if balanced with enough common sense. But unfortunately that seems to come to some of us very late in life. So, we develop survival mechanisms to minimize the pain of constant disappointment and frustration with the world, including with ourselves.

Some of us pick an idealistic goal in a particular area and simply focus on it with total tunnel vision while pouring all our energies into it. Unfortunately, eventually most of us either burn out or catch on that we can only inch toward ideals in this flawed and very unfinished world.

Others of us latch on pretty early to the pleasure principle….pleasures block pain…..so we eat, drink and make out with Mary or Harry. Eventually this either kills us, destroys our relationships or gets us run out of town, so we too are challenged to face the pitiful little realities of human existence.

So down deep many of us fear that what is actually driving us is congenital insanity. Naturally, we’d rather cling to an addiction, which we assure ourselves is either a virtue or else something that we could always get over, than face our fear that we are crazy. Because being crazy might not be something we are able to do anything about. Maybe all the world’s pills and all the world’s doctors couldn’t put our tiny cracked selves together again.

If we are lucky enough (or blessed) to find a source of love –  just as we are, we  can become able to bear the pain of disillusionment about ourselves and thus the rest of the world. Then most of us, after settling only temporarily in the valley of cynicism, will find our way to a reasonably satisfying existence as inch worms on the plateau of realism.

Anatomy of Addiction

Why do some people choose self-destructive addictions?

Some people are just born unsettled, ill at ease with themselves, expecting so much that eventually they just throw in the towel. The pain of failure is too great.

Any addiction in some way lessens our sense of inadequacy. Extreme-housecleaning or obsession with becoming the absolute best in a sport to the detriment of the rest of our lives gives temporary relief; pleasure such as food, drink, sex, escapist reading or watching TV all can deflect us from facing our fears about ourselves. Some of us become addicted to drama by overreacting emotionally to anything even slightly alarming as an excuse to curl up emotionally in a fetal position and expect others to rescue us from any real or imagined dangers.  And any of these can move from just a way to relieve stress or feel better about ourselves to a need, an automatic response to unease or pain or fear: an addiction.

Some psychological addictions can be as hard to break as ones that develop a physical component. Some of us simply have addictive tendencies and may just have to work to find one that has the least self-destructive side effects and has the least negative fallout for others.
We can find relief in many acceptable ways to keep our demons at bay. I simply don’t know if we can get perfectly free of them.

One thing I have realized is that some of us not only feel basically inadequate, we fear that we are literally broken and live with a sense that we may at any time fall into the pit of despair or insanity.

Even alcoholism seems preferable to that, because there’s always a hope that you can manage to quit drinking, but you are not sure that you can quit being crazy once you get too out of control. Sometimes the only way to get past that is to go down into your inner bottomless pit and survive. Then instead of Jell-O at your center, you find a rock to stand on. Some of us call that God.

Fatty, Fatty, Five Foot Four – Can’t Get Through the Kitchen Door ( or I’m Heavy from All Those Stones I’ve Already Thrown at Myself)

With some hesitation, I am entering the fray started recently by someone’s criticism of an overweight television personality.

A couple of years ago, I lost about twelve pounds, because of knee problems, surgery, and a slow recovery due to my pain being prolonged by Fibromyalgia.  The simple fact was, I was bed-ridden, sleeping a lot, and couldn’t get to the refrigerator on my own.  Encouraged by this, I went on the Adkins diet and lost thirty-three more pounds.  I looked so much better that some people didn’t recognize me.  I felt so much better that my whole pattern of life changed.

But I’m still addicted to food.  It’s just that since I like meat, fish, eggs, cheese, leafy green vegetables, and nuts, I can now pretty much eat all the time and gain weight slowly enough to have some control over it. (However, my husband dislikes most meat and all green leafy vegetables, so my grocery bill has almost doubled.)

Goodies and baddies.  Baddies and Goodies.   A reality of life: there are no unmixed blessings or troubles.

Long ago, I recognized that I have a tendency to become addicted to pleasures, because pleasure temporarily deadens emotional pain.  God helped me recognize this in time to head off serious alcoholism in my late twenties, avoid temptations to adultery in my thirties, and finally stop smoking three packs a day at age forty-eight.

Unfortunately, by fifty-five I ended up in physical pain and in a wheelchair,( but fortunately allergic to most pain killers.)  Friends, grace, and prayer helped me get through about six or seven years of this, but the delight of good food also played a significant part.   When not able to exercise, while dulling both physical and emotional pain with the only pleasure left, I gained eighty pounds. I jokingly, but truthfully, say that I didn’t quit smoking, I just switched to smoking food. I am actually five foot- two inches tall and after my fourth child weighed one hundred and four pounds.  Do the math.  I became seriously obese in my sixties.  I am still overweight for my small frame and height, just not grossly so.  But, the need for the pain killer of food is still my current challenge.

Certain personalities are susceptible to emotional stresses in different ways than many others are. They are not only over-sensitive to slights or criticisms of themselves, but imagine others are also, and take on everyone else’s presumed pain.  I remember getting stomach cramps every time a teacher got onto any pupil.

 Also, some people’s ability to visualize wonderful possibilities, makes them idealistic and inclined to judge themselves and others as falling short.

The positive side of this is that when they have enough talent and brains, to actually gain influence, they can make a difference and make life better for many.  But, the need to make a major difference in the world, produces a chronic sense of failure for many, while also tending to make them unsatisfied with the lack of vision and achievements of organizations they are involved in. Thus alienating them from others and creating an even greater sense of failure.  Some of us “do not work and play well” with others in organizations or even religious institutions.

There are obvious addictions, some more destructive than others.  But many go unrecognized or appear harmless.  An addiction to shopping doesn’t do much harm, if you are rich, but can destroy solvency and relationships, if you are not.  An addiction to judging others can pass as righteousness, when it actually simply serves to distract us from our own unrecognized pain over our failure to be the person God has created us to be.

 Not only is nobody perfect, but nobody ever manages to become perfect.  We are all different. And the areas, that we each are being called to grow free in, will not be on the same life schedule as someone else’s. In the gospel of Matthew we are called to be perfect only in forgiveness, of ourselves and others, which requires ongoing admission of failure and repentance on our part, until our last breath.  And paradoxically, I believe that takes knowing we are loved totally.

An addiction to cleaning house can seem virtuous, unless it makes life miserable for everyone else, or requires time that is needed for something else God is calling us to do or be.  Workaholics frequently end up divorced.  Addiction to affirmation leads people to be chameleons, who then have a difficult time discovering whom God has created them to be.  The list goes on and on.  Whatever need controls us, no matter how positive the results may seem, is an addiction and will keep us from becoming the person God created us to be.

Working with the elderly, it’s become obvious that many are unable to accept help and can’t find peace, when they can no longer do for others.  That may sound virtuous, but it’s not, when that is no longer whom God is calling us to be.  When we are being called to be still and not only KNOW that He is God, but to be empty enough to be filled with Him, to become one with Him, then even just hating not being able to do for others, will defeat finding that which is actually the pearl of great price we all seek.

We cannot get rid of our addictions by ourselves and we can’t get rid of them all at once.  There are seasons of life and there are times we are called to new freedom in specific areas. It takes recognizing our own addictions, however subtle or harmless seeming, so that we can accept the grace to get free.  In other words, we have to work to cast the log out of our own eye, before we even think about judging someone else.  Self-awareness is the basic need for ongoing conversion, for letting Jesus truly become Lord of our whole selves.

I am still finding that is a full time job at seventy-five, even though I accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord at thirty.  Letting Him be Lord of our whole self, even the parts we don’t want to see, is a lifetime job and only He will know when we’ve become the unique, loved, but still imperfect person, that He created us to be, so we get to go home.