The Heartbeat of Addiction

When reading C.S. Lewis, I don’t normally expect to stumble upon much of anything to do with the topic of addiction. Like many, somehow I have got it in my head that addiction is a modern phenomena.

Movies, television and the increased sensationalization of epidemics – such as we are seeing with the current devastation of the northeastern United States by a ready supply of potent, inexpensive heroin – have contributed to a vague notion that addiction must not have been much of a “big deal” prior to the late 1960s.

Of course, this is an ill-informed notion, and it only takes a few minutes of serious digging to see that wars have been fought by sovereign nations competing in the opium trade, let alone the widepsread alcoholism that led to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, popularly known as Prohibition. Rather, I would bet that there really has only been an increased awareness of addictive patterns in the lives of others; Facebook and other social media outlets are routinely employed to let everyone know how wasted we got over the weekend, a phenomena that Lewis no doubt would have found baffling.

The Screwtape Letters“Is that all?”

Inside the heart of every addict I’ve ever met, read or listened to, the underlying fear seems to live somewhere in the neighborhood of the idea that this life is all we have; once our heart stops beating, there is only the eternal Black Void of Nothingness. The Apostle Paul addresses this fear quite well in 1 Corinthians 15:32 by agreeing with those who promote the logical outcome of denying the resurrection of the dead. Roughly speaking, Paul affirms that if this life is all we have, well, getting hammered every night makes all the sense in the world. (Author’s translation.)

Anyone familiar at all with The Screwtape Letters knows that it is an apologetic work by Lewis which takes the form of a series of letters from a senior devil, Screwtape, written to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter. This amusing reversal posits the God of the Bible simply as “The Enemy” and the man that Wormwood is trying to destroy as The Patient. In Chapter 9 of Screwtape, I would venture that Lewis does more in five short pages to promote a right view of addictive sin patterns than almost anyone else does with an entire textbook. Those who may not be inclined to read an entire book by Lewis but feel like they need more insight would do well just to read this one short chapter.

While acknowledging that Satan cannot create pleasure, but only distort it, Lewis moves solidly toward the Law of Diminishing Returns, a simple way of demonstrating that addicts continually need “more and more” but are surprised to discover that they actually destroy their ability to experience authentic pleasure at all by allowing it to become a controlling force in their lives:

“[God] made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return – that is what really gladdens Our Father’s heart.”

What has been of most use to me in battling my own addictions is precisely the opposite of seeking pleasure for its own sake. Rather, I find it is most helpful to begin my days reciting all the ways by which God has blessed my life and work outward from there.

By holding off on the pursuit of pleasure and dwelling on the great things that have already taken place in my life, it seems as though gratitude is the single best method for short-circuiting an addicitve desire to move from thing-to-thing-to-thing in a crazed desperation for something – anything! – which will dull the pain of life and make me forget all lingering fears of The Great Black Nothingness. (It also reminds me, not incidentally, that The Great Black Nothingness is a lie, a false conjuring of smoke and mirrors by Our Shared Enemy Below.)

"Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin and an antiseptic." John Henry Jowett (1863–1923)

John Henry Jowett (1863–1923)

In my earlier days of recovery, there was a lot of white-knuckle obedience that simply had to be accepted and processed. For some time, my mind was captivated by a fear that I would be forced to white-knuckle my way to the grave and, honestly, I knew that I would never make it more than a few years…at best. But it was right about this time that something even more interesting occurred.

Christ mercifully restored my ability to enjoy simple pleasures, in the form and context that were most pleasing to me and most glorifying to Him: a child’s wide smile when I enter the room; our horrible dog Calvin messing up the bed that I just finished making; the ability to put my feet on the floor and start yet another (undeserved) day; the fresh smell of the early-morning air rushing in when I open the garage door.

To the thrill-seeking addict mindset, all of those simple pleasures must sound terribly “boring.” There was a time in my life when a settled air of ingratitude would have caused me to respond in a similar manner. To those who would deny the mercy and blessing of God in the everyday, I would simply say, “You really must stop listening to whomever has been assigned to facilitate your destruction.”

John 8:42-45 (ESV)
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”

2 Corinthians 11:14-15
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

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