Trading in Addiction for Space

Lost in Space
Originally uploaded by chezrump.
I recently re-read a book called Addiction and Grace by Gerald May. It’s been on my shelf for quite some time since I first picked it up. I didn’t think too much of it first go. His approach seemed a bit like he was trying too hard. But this time around, having started reading somewhere after the first quarter of the book, past the boring stuff, it clicked.

It wasn’t so much that he presented some new idea or way of thinking. It was more like someone had been reading my mail, hacking into my random thoughts, taking notes on my life experience. In short, I was reading affirmation. (Which of course then biases me about the book)

The particular concept that I’ve been mulling over since is the idea of how in dealing with our addictions, (because we are all addicted to something) we simply trade them for other addictions. The easiest example of this is a group of recovering Alcoholics after an AA meeting, standing around smoking cigarettes or draining coffee by the gallons. The lesser known would be giving up whatever addiction and saying, “Instead of (fill in the blank) I will go exercise;” or I will work more, or just be less critical, or take up this hobby, or just not be alone – the list is endless and as varied as there are people on the planet. What is so unnerving about living like this is however much “healthier” the change in behavior might be, it isn’t necessarily freeing, because I, you, we are still trading one set of chains for another.

Where May goes from here is what really hits home, and makes the most sense to my experience. In essence, if we desire to be free from addiction we must learn to be comfortable with spaciousness.(my paraphrase) His brilliant words are: ”become friends with spaciousness”. Instead of filling the space that has been left by no longer succumbing to the addiction, leaving the attachment I can learn to be comfortable with the space. Sounds simple enough, but ask around and most people are scared to touch that possibility.(And even then, we will make an addiction of trying manage space)

But it is in the space that we become who we were created to be.

May doesn’t see this as something we work hard at and someday achieve. He starts where every 12-step program starts – surrendering to higher power. Not so much religiously, but he does pose that even at the neurological level we have this inclination towards God. It is the state of our addictiveness that shields us from engaging God. And even when we do, we tend to be addicted to our created images of God, because our brains can’t handle the overload of the REAL One. At least on their own…

But even more so, the REAL can be a threat to our ideas of our self. ”Self-images have their rightful places in our lives, to be sure. They help us conceptualize and communicate about ourselves. But nearly always we use those images to fill the spacious mystery of who we really are. If we don’t like one of the images, we will try to break our addiction to it, but we are very sure to substitute another. The space left by any relinquished object of attachment can be threatening, but when it comes to our sense of ourselves, we are terrified. Perhaps in the journey towards freedom, this is the last addiction to go…there is no way we can make an image of our true nature. In the image of God, we ourselves are incomprehensible.”

Or as he says in a footnote: “We become so dependent upon our sense of who we are that we fear becoming anything more. In words from Hamlet, it makes us ‘rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.’”

In my attempt to tell about all the great stuff I read, I will lose my point and might already have. This much, though, has come into my breathing the past few weeks… I am very aware of how much I trade one attachment, addiction, behavior for nothing better than another; and this doesn’t work out for my good in the long run. In my experience of relationship with the REAL One, he is always inviting me into larger spaces, not so they can be filled, but so I can be free; out of the sandbox and onto the whole playground.

As to how much “progress” I am making in this area, well, if you’ve read this blog long enough you can see it isn’t quick and sudden. In fact, I’ve probably already written about this numerous times… and simply got caught up filling in the spaces between then and now.