Besides the deadly habits derailing our New Year’s resolutions, something else to consider is the strength of the behavior with which we are dealing. Wanting to eat differently is a common New Year’s goal, and on the surface that goal seems simple enough, but our eating habits often revolve around much deeper issues in our lives than simply taking food and swallowing it. Behaviors can become forms of self-medication. We want to feel good and over time we discover behaviors that satisfy our needs. We don’t refer to certain kinds of food as comfort food for nothing.
Some self-medicating behaviors, like gambling or use of illicit drugs, are inherently destructive, while many others, like shopping or eating or even sex, are not necessarily bad in themselves, yet they can become destructive as we give them more power than they deserve. Self-medicating is by nature an addictive process, a complex process that involves nature, nurture, and choice factors. Engaging in a particular activity, or even thinking about the activity, bathes our brain cells in a way that results in either pleasure or a at least a release from the pain.
The power of addictive behaviors can be incredibly strong, leading us to do things that leave us incredulous at our own weakness and disgusted with our self-imprisonment. A book that compassionately, yet firmly and candidly describes the comprehensive and compelling power of addiction, especially drug and alcohol addiction, is titled In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (2010), by Gabor Mate. Describing the lives of drug addicts in Vancouver, British Columbia, Mate persuasively explains why the current war on drugs does nothing to curb the addict’s drive for a fleeting moment of satisfaction. The book also makes a case for all addictions basically being the same. Whether we are a hardcore drug addict or a housewife desperate to do some online shopping, addiction is addiction. Behaviors that weaken us and lessen our ability to have control over our lives are negative addictions. It is possible, though, according to William Glasser, for certain habits (e.g.- exercising, devotional meditations, creative hobbies, etc.) to add strength and self-control to our lives, to literally be positive addictions. For more on Glasser’s views check out Positive Addiction, which was published in 1976.
At a New Year’s Eve gathering we got to talking about New Year’s resolutions and a friend shared that he had heard that as of June each calendar year, that of the people who had made resolutions, 40% of them were still keeping their new commitment. I felt that number was way high, but I do agree that a percentage of us are able to make and keep behavior change commitments. For some of us we know that we aren’t exercising enough and we start exercising; for some of us we know that we are eating to much sugar and we cut back; and for some of us we know that we’re spending too much time playing video games and we stop. For others of us, though, it isn’t that simple. Some of us are in a battle for our lives.
If a behavior has become a self-medicating behavior, then we need to acknowledge and respect it for what it has become. We made choices that invited that behavior into our lives. It felt right or important enough at the moment. And we have repeatedly affirmed that choice, sometimes for many years. The behavior has become a “friend” that we can count on. True, this “friend” is a bully and cares nothing for our real happiness. But we prefer a terrible friend we can count on over other options that seem out of our reach. If this kind of self-medicating behavior has become a part of your life, be aware that a simple resolution sometime around the end of December or beginning of January isn’t going to cut it. The cause of the challenge lies deeper than a New Year’s promise can affect.
Self-medicating, addictive behaviors can be dealt with! There is most definitely hope! To begin to gain the victory over behavior that weaken and trap, I recommend the following:
1) Take an honest personal inventory and admit the largeness of your addiction. Recognize that the behavior has become a thief of your power and your joy.
2) Bring your inventory to the Holy Spirit, admit your inability to effectively deal with the behavior, and seek His cleansing and strengthening might. He is anxious to share His insight and muscle with you.
3) Begin to learn about how our brains actually work. Seek to understand the source of your own motivation. For me, choice theory offered the best explanation of human psychology and provided details into how God created us a free will beings. (My goal is to write a follow-up book to Soul Shapers that will describe choice theory, along with how it shows up in our lives.)
Just remember that real change, lasting change occurs from the inside-out, and that not even pressure we afflict on ourselves from the outside-in, also known as the deadly habits, will make a positive difference. I am so glad that Romans 8:1, 2 comes right after Romans 7:18-25.
“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.* I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power* within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to Him, the power of life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 7:18 – 8:2.