What about our addictions?

Question: How would the Course address addictions and ways that we can heal them?

Short answer: The Course aims at restoring to us the awareness of God's Love, the only thing we truly desire. Addictions are simply distorted ways of searching for God's Love. They are the ego's substitutes for that Love, its attempt to keep us from finding God's Love through getting us to seek for it where it is not. We can heal addictions by applying the Course's program specifically to those addictions (alongside whatever other recovery program may be appropriate), thus undoing them and ultimately restoring our awareness of God's Love.

The topic of how to use the Course to heal addictions is a huge one, and an important one, since addictions are a life-or-death matter for many people. This brief answer will only scratch the surface of a topic that I think really deserves a fuller treatment. It is my hope that this topic will be more fully explored in the future, as I believe the Course has great potential for healing addictions, if used wisely. The following is a broad overview of how I believe the Course sees addictions, and how it might be successfully applied to them.

The Course heals addictions by restoring to us the awareness of God's Love, our only real desire.

Broadly speaking, "addiction" can be defined as a continual craving for something which we believe will fill a perceived lack. We seem to have many lacks, and so addiction takes many forms. Yet the Course tells us that "a sense of separation from God is the only lack you really need correct" (T-1.VI.2:1). The only thing really lacking in our lives is awareness of God's everlasting Love for us. Thus I believe that the Course offers us an excellent program for dealing with addictions, because it aims to restore to us the awareness of God's Love. If this, our only real desire, is fulfilled, then all of our addictions, which are simply distorted forms of that desire, will be healed.

The various addictions we experience—everything from drugs to sex to food to watching TV—are simply misguided attempts to attain the happiness that only God's Love can really give us. They reflect our striving for what the Course calls idols, worldly things that the ego offers us as substitutes for God's Love. The ego provides these substitutes precisely because it doesn't want us to find God's Love, since if we did, the ego would be no more. In the words of the old country song, it has us "lookin' for love in all the wrong places." This is in keeping with the ego's central dictum: "Seek but do not find" (T-16.V.6:5). It wants us to be permanently distracted by intensely seeking for happiness, but never finding it.

The Course material presents us with a number of specific examples of idols that we seek as substitutes for God's Love. Here are just a few of them (thanks to Robert Perry for this list): human love, being liked, status, prestige, power, influence, knowing the right people, fame, money, material things, going shopping, clothes, physical pleasure, physical protection, physical beauty, pills, other people's bodies, intelligence, finding your special gift in the world, and desired places/situations/ circumstances. That's quite a list. I think all of us can find something on it that we have sought at one time or another.

For me, the whole idea of seeking but never finding describes perfectly the entire process of addiction. We don't have to be heroin addicts to see this process at work in our lives; since virtually all of us are seeking a number of the things on the above list, we are all addicts of one sort or another. Think for a moment of all the various things you have sought after eagerly in your life. They promised you happiness, did they not? Some you probably didn't attain, and if you are like most of us, you were probably bitterly disappointed. But what of those you did attain? Perhaps you had the realization that the Course describes in the following passage:

You must have noticed an outstanding characteristic of every end that the ego has accepted as its own. When you have achieved it, it has not satisfied you. (T-8.VIII.2:5-6)

I know this is practically the story of my life. Some particular thing—in my case, athletic prowess, finding the right romantic partner, or being a great writer, just to name a few—seemed to promise happiness. I sought it diligently, and all too often, I didn't get it. When that happened, I was devastated. But even when I did get it, I found that it didn't satisfy me. It didn't deliver the happiness that it seemed to promise; as a good friend of mine once said, "The pizza never delivers." And so I would seek for something else, hoping that would do the trick. It is really no different than a drug addict seeking hit after hit, hoping to find satisfaction in it, yet sinking further and further into despair. Drug addicts and alcoholics are simply more extreme examples of a dynamic that runs most human lives every day. We are all addicted to seeking happiness from a world which cannot give it. And it is this very dynamic of addiction—our adherence to the ego's program of "seek but do not find"—that the Course aims to undo.

How would the Course have us heal addictions? By applying its program to our specific addictions, thus undoing them and restoring our awareness of God's Love.

As I've said, the Course is aimed at restoring our awareness of God's Love. How does this restoration come about? As every Course student knows, the Course's means for accomplishing this is "removing the blocks to the awareness of love's presence" (T-In.1:7). Our addictions are those blocks, since our addictions are our egoic substitutes for love. The Course's prescription for healing, then, is for us to apply its program to those addictions, so that they can be undone and our awareness of God's Love restored. As the introduction to the Workbook says, we are to apply its lessons with "great specificity" (W-In.6:1) to the circumstances of our individual lives. Thus whatever form our particular addiction takes, that is the form we are to practice with.

What specific Course practices can we use? There are literally hundreds to choose from, and if we work the program, each of us will undoubtedly develop a "problem-solving repertoire" (W-pI.194.6:2) of practices that are particularly effective for us. But one example that comes immediately to mind is a practice from Chapter 30 of the Text. As mentioned above, what we call "addictions" the Course calls "idols." This practice, which I have put into the first person, is one that Jesus gives us to use whenever we are tempted by idols (for instance, if I am an alcoholic and I am tempted to take that first drink):

There never was a time an idol brought me anything except the 'gift' of guilt. Not one was bought except at cost of pain, nor was it ever paid by me alone. (T-30.V.10:3-4)

This, I think, would be a great line to memorize and apply to situations when we are tempted by our addictions. In addition, I think any Course practice that helps us seek and find an experience of God's Love (like the prayer at the end of this article) would be helpful.

What about the various treatments available for more serious addictions, like drug addiction and alcoholism? What about things like medical intervention, inpatient or outpatient drug rehab, psychotherapy, or Twelve Step support groups? I believe that such things are probably absolutely necessary for the majority of people with substance abuse problems (as well as for many who have other serious addictions). I think that each person should be advised by someone trained in substance abuse diagnosis and treatment as to what treatment options are best for him or her. Alcoholism and addiction to drugs like heroin or cocaine are very serious matters. They wreak havoc on the lives of those afflicted and their loved ones. A wrong move in their treatment can lead to devastating consequences, even death. Most of us, especially those who are on the downward spiral of substance abuse, aren't anywhere near ready to heal such a serious and intense illness with Course practices alone. Addicts need help, and they are best off turning to those who are truly qualified to provide it.

Thus when I say that we should apply the Course to our specific addictions, I don't mean that we should use it in place of other treatments. What I am saying is that, as Course students, we would do well to use the Course along with whatever other treatments may be needed, and to view those other treatments from the perspective of the Course's thought system. So as we seek medical intervention, we can remind ourselves that material means of treatment are simply useful temporary expedients as we work on healing our minds. As we work through the Twelve Steps, we can view them through the lens of the Course and adapt them if necessary; personally, I believe that the Twelve Steps are extremely compatible with the Course, and I know a number of people who have combined the two programs successfully. We can enter into psychotherapy with the intention of confronting the ego within us honestly and unflinchingly, so that we can allow it to be undone through forgiveness. (According to Psychotherapy: Purpose, Process, and Practice, a supplement to the Course dictated by Jesus to Helen Schucman, forgiveness is the true purpose of psychotherapy.) The key is that as we go through these other treatments, we would also be doing the Course's own program: studying its teaching, doing its practice, and extending love and forgiveness to others. The program of the Course would serve as the larger framework into which all of our other treatments would fit.

Crucial to this success of this, I think, is getting support. The Course tells us that "salvation is a collaborative venture" (T-4.VI.8:2). In saying this, the Course is very much in agreement with virtually everyone involved in the field of addiction recovery: No one can do it alone. As I reflect on this, it doesn't surprise me that this is the case. If our root problem is separation, what other cure for it could there be than joining? Thus in joining together to heal our various addictions, we strike right at the heart of the ego's program of idolatry, and uproot our addictions at their source.

Above all, I think that we cannot remind ourselves often enough that our addictions are simply egoic distortions of a truly healthy desire: our desire for God's Love: "For still deeper than the ego's foundation, and much stronger than it will ever be, is your intense and burning love of God, and His for you" (T-13.III.2:8). As we walk the path of addiction recovery, we can hasten our steps by continually reminding ourselves of that which we truly seek:

What can I seek for, Father, but Your Love? Perhaps I think I seek for something else; a something I have called by many names. Yet is Your Love the only thing I seek, or ever sought. For there is nothing else that I could ever really want to find. Let me remember You. What else could I desire but the truth about myself? (W-pII.231.1:1-6)

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