When you hear stories about alcoholics and their problems, do you find yourself thinking, “I’m glad I don’t have their compulsive need for a drink”?
That’s what went through my head when as a young pastor back in the 1970s I began to work with recovering alcoholics. That is, until a few years later when my wife told me, “I feel like you are having an affair. You spend so much time and energy doing your church work that when you are at home, you don’t have any energy left for me.”
That’s when my eyes began to open and I started to realize that alcoholics aren’t the only human beings afflicted with addictions. Anne Wilson Schaef in When Society Becomes an Addict, defines addiction as “any process over which we are powerless. It takes control of us, causing us to do and think things that are inconsistent with our personal values and leading us to become progressively more compulsive and obsessive.”
Addictions, she says, keep us from being aware of our real feelings, prevent us from perceiving reality accurately, cause us to blame others for that which we are responsible and therefore absolve us from having to take responsibility for our own lives. Addictions, according to Schaef can be with substances like alcohol, drugs, nicotine, caffeine or food. Or, they can be with what she calls processes like accumulating money, gambling, sex, work, religion or worry.
“In short,” she writes, “almost anything, substance or process, can become additive.” The key to discerning whether you are hooked is to ask, “Does it have control over me?”
Take a look at these addictions and ask yourself whether you might be a candidate for any of them.
Alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse estimates that approximately 7.2 percent or 17 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older had what they call Alcohol Use Disorder in 2012.
“But that’s not me,” you say, “I can quit whenever I want to.”
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The American Psychiatric Association believes that some 2.2 million Americans suffer from OCD.
“I feel sorry for them,” you say, “but that’s not my problem.”
Binge eating disorder. Cynthia Bulik Ph.D. in Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop writes that 7 million Americans struggle with binge eating disorder.
“But I’m at the normal weight for my height,” you protest. “I push my chair away from the table when I’m full.”
Obsession with youth. In 2013 Dale Archer M.D. wrote, “Today’s culture is so obsessed with looking/acting young, it’s difficult to believe that our founding fathers powdered their wigs gray in order to appear older and wiser. That’s right—being old was in. No more! From hair dyes to Botox to Viagra to wrinkle creams to a plethora of surgical procedures, the race is on to remain forever young.”
“Not me,” you protest?
Social media. Have you ever been in the middle of a heart to heart talk with a good friend or your spouse and you feel the iPhone vibrating in your pocket? You know that it would be rude to check the message, but, but you just can’t help but take a peek? You say you don’t have a mobile device?
Obsession with cleanliness. Do you use hand wipes when you enter the Jewel even though they are anti-bacterial and don’t do anything about viruses? A New York Times articles states, “Compared with the rest of the world, Americans take personal hygiene and general disinfection to another level.
“But I’m not one of those nuts who is constantly washing their hands,” you say.
OBSESSION WITH WEALTH, FAME, POWER, AND PERFECTION. “Why are one in three American adults pervasively dissatisfied with their lives?” asks Jim Rubens in his book Oversuccess. “Why is major depression seven times more likely among those born after 1970 than their grandparents? Why are one in four of us addicted to at least one substance or behavior? Why is America drowning in record personal and public debt? Why did over 100,000 people humiliate themselves this year auditioning for Fox’s American Idol? Why are 80 percent of women unhappy with their bodies? What is it about contemporary America that connects the swelling incidence of depression, behavioral addictions, eating disorders, debt, materialism, sleep deprivation, family breakdown, rudeness, fame fixation, ethical collapse, mistrust, and monstrous acts of personal violence?”
Do you still say, “That’s not my problem”?
In my next column I’m going to talk about how our friends, neighbors and family members working AA’s 12 Step program may have something to teach us about getting out from under whatever it is that is controlling us and making our lives less joyful and free than they could be.