I went to a retreat a few years back for codependency, and they said that addiction is an intimacy disorder. I believe that. If I can’t get intimate with others, I can’t get intimate with God. And, I believe addiction is a spiritual problem. Our culture has an intimacy disorder. It is more acceptable to put on a perfect face, hide your problems and stay disconnected than it is to be real about your struggles and problems.
“Don’t air your dirty laundry.”
“What will the neighbors think?”
“Other people have it worse than you. You should be grateful for what you have.”
“Keep your chin up.”
“Don’t let them see you sweat.”
I tried to conform to what I thought others wanted me to be for most of my life. The problem with that is:
- I can’t read minds.
- Others are trying to conform, too.
So, we’re all trying to conform to some standard that nobody sets. Nobody even REALLY knows what it is. It is impossible to follow, so we’re all failures at it but don’t show it. The invisible standard is taught by osmosis and is reinforced by covert rewards. Since no one ever talks about it, I never knew that everyone else struggled with it, too. They showed their happy face, so I thought I was the only one that was miserable and lonely in my imperfect condition.
When I really got involved in recovery and came to a point that I knew I had to do something different, I learned the truth about the Emperor’s Clothes. I got involved in support groups. When I first got into my first 12 step group, I had a lot of shame come up. I told that to my sponsor Irene. “Well,” she said, “you are starting to open up and tell the truth about yourself. Of course, you will feel some shame about that since you were taught not to do that.” Ahhhhh…..that made perfect sense. All of a sudden, I was telling groups of people private things about myself. I was talking about my struggles, my pain, my fears and even my hopes and dreams.
At the time, I struggled with God. I thought he was some judgmental, demanding God that wanted me to abide by a bunch of rules that I knew I couldn’t follow. I thought they were pretty good rules, but how the hell would I get there from here? I just couldn’t stand to live in shame about who I was with my limitations and faults. Why would I want to be intimate with a God like that? So, I didn’t.
My ex-husband introduced me to a radio show called New Life Live. It’s a Christian Counseling call in show. People call in with their issues and questions, and the counselors give on the spot “next steps” they can take. This show was talking about a Jesus that I didn’t know. It was a Jesus that loved addicts and crazy people like me. He was one that reached out to people like me and gave them tiny steps to try to make their lives better. I decided to see a Christian Counselor. I told her about my issues with the Bible. I couldn’t read it because it made me feel so guilty. “That’s Satan,” she said. “Besides, the Bible is a guide to living. If you do those things, your life will be easier. If you don’t, you just might have a more difficult time. You’re not being judged on whether you follow it or not.” Now, that was something I could accept! I could accept a God like that.
I was only able to open my heart to God when I finally opened my heart to other people. I believe that somehow we put characteristics on God that we see in other people. So, when I got connected with caring, open-minded, loving and struggling people, I could connect with God. And, I found out that there are all kinds of ways to get connected. Churches have small groups. 12 step groups are an obvious connection point. There are retreats and workshops and support groups for all kinds of mental health issues, life change issues and lifestyle choices. The key for me was to find a group that accepted me where I was. I also needed some structure that taught me a new way to live and stay connected but that didn’t cram it down my throat.
It took years for real, dramatic change to take place inside me. But, I always had the support and forgiveness I needed to try new things and make mistakes. I still make all kinds of mistakes. So does everybody else in my support group. How funny is that? I’m not the only that is imperfect. I will never again “do” this life alone. And, I will definitely never keep secrets about who I am. When I share my deepest, darkest secrets, someone always comes up to me and says, “Thank you for telling my story. I needed to hear that.” We all need to hear our stories told by other people. It’s the way God hugs us and tells us we are not alone on this difficult journey. I, for one, am not giving that up. I hope you feel hugged.