Portrait of an Addiction
by Pastor Dan White
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Marcy glanced one more time into the rear view mirror checking her hair. She had to make sure her appearance looked normal. There could be no evidence to indicate the rendezvous that she had had with her forbidden lover that day.
Satisfied, she glanced at the clock on the dash and sighed in relief. She could make it home a few minutes before her two children arrived from school. Everything was perfect. The last thing she wanted was questions from them or anyone.
Her husband showed little interest in how her day went and what all she did during the day. She could brush him off easily. He didn’t have a clue about her secret life that she had had for years. No one knew, and that was the way she wanted it.
Marcy was well-respected in the community. She was active in church, taught Sunday School, and was a member of the powerful finance committee. She involved herself in numerous civic and school activities. They were members of the country club. She had a good heart and by all indications, she had it made. It looked like she lived in “Perfectville.”
But, Marcy had a hole in her heart. Her active life masked the enormous pain that she had blocked out and hidden from everyone.
She knew what she had done that day was wrong. She knew her waywardness over the years was wrong. Strong conviction would come over her, and she vowed she would quit and be the faithful wife she promised in her wedding vows. But try as she might, she couldn’t break free from her sexual addiction.
She lived in the fear of being discovered. She lived in shame and guilt. The only relief was in the arms of another.
It was a vicious cycle that spun faster and faster. Shame led to romantic fantasies and pre-occupation that were fueled by romance novels, super market gossip magazines, and racy love stories on television. She found herself hooked on internet pornography for the release it brought to her and hooked on internet chat rooms for the emotional intimacy she craved but never found.
Marcy is one of about ten million women who regularly access adult sites. Thirteen percent of women admit to downloading “adult” images and videos at work.
So, it is no wonder that her fantasies dominated her thinking. She could pass a handsome man in the grocery store and suddenly dream about lunch and a day together in each other’s arms.
Marcy, like all addicts, had her ritual. Her clothing was provocative and turned the head of most every male she passed in public. She thrilled at the power she had over them. She stretched the boundaries between vulgar and decency in what she wore.
Next came the casual conversation with a stranger or someone in the chat room. A get-to- know you lunch followed. If sparks flew during lunch, touching, and the illicit kiss were not far behind.
How could something that made her feel affirmed and accepted be so wrong? Like Scarlett O’Hara, “She’d think about that tomorrow.”
A power Marcy could not control would sweep over her. Throwing off all restraints, she and he arranged time together. It was bliss and release for her.
But the truth is that her life had become unmanageable.
She was as addicted as an alcoholic or a person on crack cocaine. The flood of adrenalin, serotonin, and dopamine released by the brain during sex gave her a high like a drug or alcohol. The brain is equipped with its own ”happy feeling” drug lab.
With her brain’s releasing these chemicals like a downpour of rain into her system, all of Marcy’s pain, shame, and fear melted away into one euphoric rush.
Further, like a drug addict, Marcy had to have her fix on a regular basis and have more and more of it to reach the feeling of ecstasy.
It’s like alcohol. An addict builds a tolerance to the effects of alcohol. What once took a few strong drinks to reach the high grows into the need to have more and more and more to reach the same high.
After Marcy acted out her addiction once again, the ruthless cycle of addiction took her into the place of almost unbearable shame, depression, and despair. Her depressive states, which is anger turned inward, caused her to lash out at those she loved. Any little incident could send her into a rage.
In spite of her best intentions, Marcy had failed again to keep her promises to her husband, to God, to her children, and to herself.
At home that evening, she put on a good front like she always did as if nothing had happened - as if everything was OK.
Marcy was relieved when her husband finally went to bed. Her addiction had long destroyed any kind of marital relationship. Her husband lived for his kids and immersed himself in his work as substitutes for a healthy husband-wife relationship.
Further, Marcy had beaten-up her husband, David, emotionally. He could do nothing right. She nagged him. She complained incessantly. No matter how hard David tried, he could not make her happy.
After some time, he gave up and withdrew. “It’s better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (Proverbs 21:9).
When Marcy slid into one of her moods, David instructed the children not to do anything that would upset their mother. Marcy’s angst caused her to explode without warning or reason. They walked on eggshells.
Marcy made David out to be a villain, while in reality, he and their children were victims of her addiction.
Thus, she justified her affairs. Morally and mentally, she knew her secret life was wrong, but emotionally, she denied that her behavior was wrong. After all, David was not there for her. She had made sure of that!
After another evening of icy silence with David in bed asleep, Marcy took out her Bible, went to the dining room table, and prayed and sobbed and asked for forgiveness. “Oh God, I’m a horrible person. A slut. I’m like the woman they brought to Jesus to be stoned. Please help me! Forgive me.”
Fears invaded her thoughts. What if I’m caught? What if someone finds out? Unresolved guilt weighed her down like the Rock of Gibraltar. Her stomach churned. She walked to the cabinet and reached for the antacid. She seemed to be living on pills in order to function.
She resolved to change as she had resolved countless times before. She had to change. Tomorrow’s another day. She vowed to spend time with her kids after they came home and to go shopping which always made her feel better. She even vowed to clean the house and do the laundry. She couldn’t remember the last time that she changed the children’s bed linens.
Marcy’s changed life lasted but a few days and then came the fantasizing stage again set off by a “trigger.” She was watching television one night. An advertisement for cosmetics triggered her addictive behavior. The commercial showed a handsome man being drawn to the woman in the commercial because of her fingernail polish that she wore being promoted by the cosmetic company. The man and woman embraced, and Marcy’s trigger had been pulled by something as innocent and forgettable as a commercial. But, that is the way of addiction.
Marcy checked to make sure David was in bed. The bedroom door was closed, and she heard him snoring through the closed door. She hurried to the computer and engaged with a man on her “friend list” who also happened to be online that night.
She found herself helpless and powerless again driven by the crushing power of her addiction. The cycle would be played out again just as it had numerous times before.
There is no better description of the grip of addiction on the soul than in Romans 7.
"I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate. I am not really the one who is doing these hated things; it is sin living in me that does them. Yes, I know that nothing good lives in me—I mean nothing good lives in the part of me that is earthly and sinful. I want to do the things that are good, but I do not do them. I do not do the good things I want to do, but I do the bad things I do not want to do. So if I do things I do not want to do, then I am not the one doing them. It is sin living in me that does those things."
Marcy had blocked out the problems experienced in her family of origin. In its place, she had built an imaginary family. She was raised in a good home. Her dad was a pastor and well-known in the community. Church was their life. He provided well for the family.
Her mother was a dedicated housewife. The house was always spic and span. Home-cooked meals were always waiting for the man of the house when he got home.
Marcy’s childhood home looked normal, orderly and religious. She could not grasp that anything was wrong with her childhood home. But like many homes, there was a lot going on that affected her deeply and left a hole in her heart that had grown into a large sink-hole sucking her very life down into it.
One memory that wouldn’t go away in spite of her efforts to block it was the Saturday her dad had promised to spend with her. She was daddy’s girl.
One week in March when she was fourteen, her father told her that he would take her to the park and fly a kite. He had even bought one, and they had put it together one evening. They had not done that since she was in elementary school. She loved any activity with her dad.
The sun rose on a beautiful blue sky Saturday morning. She woke up in anticipation of an uninterrupted day with her busy dad. After the park, they would go to lunch and then take in a movie matinee.
But, the phone rang. Mr. Walker had been rushed to the hospital with a possible life-threatening heart attack. Her dad took off his casual clothes and put on his suit. He apologized to Marcy and took off to minister to the church member and his family. He would be gone until late afternoon.
Marcy felt abandoned again. Her dad was in meetings almost every night of the week. She never saw him on Sundays except for dinner after church.
Her dad buried himself in his work. It was all for the noble cause of Christ and ministering to his growing congregation. Marcy received only the left-over crumbs of his time.
Marcy’s mother had her own set of problems too. She tried to keep the family together. But, her absentee husband left her feeling lonely and unloved.
When Marcy’s father was very late coming home from church committee meetings, her mother would sometimes slip into her bedroom and lay down with her just to have the comfort of another person. Often, she fell asleep with her daughter next to her. By the time Marcy was twelve, her mother began using Marcy for a counselor.
Her mother vented her frustration about her marriage to her daughter. She went into detail about their lack of an intimate relationship. She leaned heavily on Marcy and in her needy state received some level of comfort, support, and understanding from Marcy.
Marcy was robbed of her childhood. Instead of being nurtured by her mother, Marcy became her mother’s care-giver at a young age. It was a heavy burden.
Her mother had instituted a ‘no-talk’ rule. “Please don’t mention this to anyone else especially your father. I don’t want to upset him. People in the church must not know about our problems.”
Appearances to others were always paramount in their home. They had to put up a good front, It wouldn’t do for anyone to have an inclination that all was not well in the pastor’s home.
Marcy and her mom became enmeshed like a plate of spaghetti. Boundary lines blurred between mother and daughter, parent and child.
Mother clung to daughter for support and help. She made Marcy grow up too fast. Consequences fell with a thud on their neurotic relationship. Back-to-school shopping had always been a pleasurable experience for both of them. But as Marcy prepared to enter high school, she pitched a fit to buy inappropriate, almost vulgar outfits. Marcy was in full rebellion.
Her mother insisted on other more modest and appropriate attire. Marcy would have none of it. Because Marcy had her mother over a barrel and knew secrets she shouldn’t know, her mother reluctantly gave into her demands.
Feeling confident and assured, she tested her father to the limits by wearing low-cut, tight blouses to church and school. Her dad, at first, made her change before leaving the house. After a while, he gave up. Marcy became the object of gossip among the little old church ladies. The boys at church and school took notice of the preacher’s daughter. Marcy delighted in being the center of controversy and the focus of attention. Her new found power was intoxicating.
A young man in the church, a nineteen year old freshman at the local college, asked Marcy for a date. Her father objected. He was too old. She was too young.
Marcy flew into a rage. She had learned how to manipulate her parents with her temper. Her mother couldn’t say a word to Marcy having given over to her the dark places of her heart. Her father gave in and set an early Friday night curfew.
Richard knew exactly what he wanted to get from Marcy and set out to accomplish his goal. He made her feel special, accepted, and loved. His loving words were not sincere. It was all part of the game that he well knew how to play with this young, vulnerable girl.
After several weeks of dating, Marcy stretched the curfew week after week. Her dad kept moving the curfew to later and later eventually allowing her to come home after midnight.
Marcy’s thoughts constantly dwelt on Richard. She was the princess; he was her prince. It was true love - love like she had always dreamed. They would date until she graduated high school and then marry and live happily ever after.
Richard soon had his way with a willing and eager Marcy. Her heart had been captured. Her happiness and bliss knew no bounds. She rushed home from school each day and called him talking at length with her knight in shining armor.
The girls at school were jealous which made Marcy gloat. It was a mark of prestige to date an upper classman, and she had a college student!
After a few months, ugly rumors circulated. Richard was seeing other girls. “No, No! It can’t be true,” Marcy objected. “He is true and loyal to me!”
Marcy clung to Richard all the more. She became possessive and desperate. One Saturday at the mall, she spotted Richard with another girl. The rumors were true. Crestfallen, tears coursed down her cheeks. She told her friend to immediately take her home.
That evening, she reached Richard on the phone and became demanding and confrontational. She wanted answers. Richard re-assured her and said they would go out for a burger after Sunday night church. Marcy felt relieved.
Eventually, Richard grew cold and distant. He broke off the relationship.
Feelings of abandonment, anger, betrayal, and hopelessness rocked her world. Marcy told a few close friends her secrets, and they shared her pain. One person she could never tell was her father. His image of Marcy was of the ideal Christian girl. Marcy couldn’t and wouldn’t do nothing to mar that image. Nor could she tell her mother who would go straight to her father and not only ruin his mirage of her but probably put her on restriction for life.
The “no-talk” rule about problems in her family shut down all meaningful communication and relationship between them. She was left to fend for herself with the help of friends who themselves were inexperienced in dealing with such profound issues.
It wasn’t long before other boys knew she was available after Richard broke-up with her. Calls came in for dates. She picked and chose from the pool of candidates.
The power she felt from all of the attention satisfied a deep need for affirmation and relationship. What Marcy was doing to satisfy her deep need was like a bass in Clark’s Hill Lake fooled by a plastic worm. Thinking it real, he strikes it to satisfy his hunger only to find a hook in it.
By the time Marcy graduated from high school she was known among the boys as “easy wild, and a good time.” The seed of addiction had found soft soil to grow. Like a weed, it began to choke her soul and grow like a kudzu vine in the South taking over everything.
Marcy lost her self-hood by looking to others for her happiness. She merged her identity into others much like her mother had merged her identity into Marcy.
Marriage to a fine, decent man, two children, the accouterments of an upper middle class lifestyle, church, community acclaim, and repeated episodes of heart-rending repentance couldn’t tame the beast inside of her.
A day after yet another tryst, the phone rang. “Hello, is this Marcy?”
“This is Dr. Blalock’s nurse. Hold on. The doctor needs to speak to you.”
Marcy felt a chill of dread. Her heart began to race. Her hands grew clammy. She could hardly swallow.
“Hello, Marcy. Dr. Blalock here. I’m terrible sorry. Your test results came back positive. You have HPV, and I need to do a cancer screening,” he said rather matter of fact. “If you can hold on for a moment, I’ll put you in touch with our appointment secretary.”
“OK,” Marcy meekly mumbled.
Shocked and numbed, she managed to keep her composure enough to make the appointment.
Then, the tears came. Her life past and present fast-forwarded in front of her. The lies, the regret, the guilt ,and shame stormed into her mind. She felt dizzy and faint.
The diagnosis of HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cancer, shook Marcy to the core. She had hit bottom.
Her chest felt like it would burst. She had to talk and talk now.
Marcy called her closest friend who knew nothing about her hidden life. “Amy, this is Marcy. I’ve got to come over and talk to you,” she sobbed.
“Marcy, are you OK. What’s the matter? I’m here for you.”
“I’ve got to see you, Amy. No, I’m not OK. I don’t want to talk about it on the phone. I need you Amy. I’ve got to talk.”
With Marcy’s disclosure and confession of her secret life, her long, arduous journey into sobriety began. It wouldn’t be easy, but then again, her life had been anything but pleasant and fulfilling. Immediately ahead was surgery for the cervical cancer that had developed from the HPV and was found in the follow-up test.
She couldn’t hide any longer. Disclosure, humiliation, judgment and rejection from the self-righteous were around the next curve. Would David stay or file for divorce? What about the children? Her reputation? Her physical health? Would she have a relapse and her addiction abduct her again once she recovered from surgery?
Every day was a fight. Just about the time she got up from the canvas, another blow would send her back down.
If Marcy decided to beat her addiction by going “cold-turkey,” she faced a time of withdrawal from the drugs her brain manufactured and dumped into her system. It would be the same type of withdrawal a drug addict or alcoholic experiences. Withdrawal would make her ill, nervous, and anxious from the cravings her body had from the flood of adrenalin, serotonin, and dopamine. She could expect a tidal wave of emotional, physical, and spiritual pain rush over her until her body adjusted to normal levels of the "feel good" chemicals released by her brain.
She would have to grieve the loss of her affair partner and maybe even her husband if he decided to throw in the towel. Her mind will replay the old tape she made after years of her addiction. “Who am I without a man? Am I worthy? Will anyone ever love me again? Maybe I deserve this pain?”
As an adult, Marcy alone is responsible for her addiction, and she will be responsible for recovery. She can’t blame her parents, Richard, or anyone else for her compulsive and destructive urges. True, she was culpable as a teen-ager, but as she grew into adulthood, she consciously made the decisions. Her series of bad decisions evolved into an addiction that controlled her. Breaking free would not be easy, but it could be done.
Hopefully, Marcy had friends who would love, accept and affirm her with all of her scratches and dents. Hopefully, she could seek out and find a redemptive group of safe people that would incarnate the love of Christ to her.
And most of all, she needed release from the guilt and shame she suffered practically all of her life. She needed to feel, really feel like a person of worth and value.
That’s what the Lord came to do on the cross and offers His redemptive forgiveness, grace, and love to Marcy and all of us no matter how many times we fall just as he did to the adulterous woman who was brought to him by the self-righteous Pharisees ready to stone her to death.
The Gospel of John records this dramatic scene.
Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman,
where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:10-11).
Condemned no more, did this adulterous woman leave her life of sinful addiction? We don’t know whether she left her life of sin or not. The last chapter is waiting to be written by Marcy and by all of us.
Christ alone fills the aching hole in the soul. Desperate attempts to still the longings through addictions or compulsive activity will never satisfy. Only the Living Water will quench the thirst and heal the heart
Christ’s love through safe, redemptive people provides the healing touch, nurture, affirmation, honesty, and acceptance everyone needs. God created us for intimate relationships with Himself, with others, and with ourselves.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My breast."
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in Him a resting place,
And He has made me glad.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one,
Stoop down and drink, and live."
I came to Jesus , and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.
- Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)
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