There’s no getting away from it: I was an addict. I was an addict for 17 years. It started as an addiction to self-harm. It careered through an addiction to alcohol. It ended in an addiction to food. My compulsions changed over the years but they didn’t go away.
You see, I didn’t like being in pain. I didn’t like the world feeling out of control. So when bad things happened, I tried to cover them up. I tried to mute the suffering or do things that would make the world seem less scary, for just a little while.
When I was younger life hurt a lot. There was grief, there was bullying, there was illness, there was abuse. I didn’t know where to turn. I assumed that I deserved it. I presumed no-one would want to help, that I had to face the world alone. So I covered the pain in the only ways I could imagine – by relying on cutting to relieve the stress, by numbing the world in a bottle of vodka, by bringing order and control through the loss of just one more pound … and then just one more again.
I hid it for a while – I was ashamed of who I had become – but friends always notice in the end. The clothes that don’t fit, the unexplained scars, the meeting missed for implausible reasons, yet again. They thought rehab might help. And, to a certain extent, it did. Each time I went in, I learned new ways to re-orientate my thoughts – new ways to exercise self-control. But nothing changed my heart. Nothing made me want to be different on the inside. Even the professionals told me I’d probably have to battle for the rest of my life.
16 years ago that changed. 16 years ago I stopped calling myself an addict. 16 years ago, I started to make the connections between Scripture and my life.
“God’s word isn’t abstract, it isn’t just for others – it’s for me”
Oh I had known for a decade that Jesus had died for my sins. I had heard sermon after sermon on the way in which God loved me. I knew that every Christian was gifted and called to take part in God’s great rescue plan … But I didn’t let it in, I didn’t live it out. At the end of each song about grace, I would wallow in my guilt. At the end of each study on love, I would feel alone. At the end of each quiet time, I would tell myself yet again how useless I was.
That is until I saw, beyond any shadow of doubt, that God’s word isn’t abstract, it isn’t just for others – it’s for me and it makes a difference. It makes a difference to the really big struggles of life as well as the small.
I started to accept, I dared to believe, that there was hope for someone as wretched as I. I gradually saw that running towards God was so much wiser than running away. I learned to cry out to my heavenly Father instead of muddling through alone. I learned to see myself in the light of the cross – called, forgiven, loved and clean. I began to realise that I was a precious child who wasn’t trapped by my past. I could flee temptation, fight the devil. And, in the power of the Spirit and with some help from my friends, I could become the person that God was calling me to be. Free to follow him wherever he leads. Able to want what he wants for my life.
There were good days and bad. Strides ahead and relapses. But I came to experience that wonderful Pauline truth, that he who has begun a good work will bring it to completion … (Philippians 1:6). Each time I turned back to him, there was strength for the journey. God doesn’t give up. He doesn’t clock off. He is committed to making each of us more like Jesus. And the end results are far more beautiful than we could ever imagine.
He hasn’t completed me yet. My imperfections are still clear to see. But I’m not addicted to self-harm, alcohol or food. Not even close. Not even a hint.
The exciting news is that I am not unique. Other people too have changed where life and Scripture meet. There is gospel hope when addiction take root – for all who come to Jesus.
Lives are changing right now. More lives will be transformed in the years ahead. And you can be part of that change. Your heart can be re-orientated. Your words can spur someone on.
Do you want that for your life? For those you stand alongside? Then why not join us later this month …
The Addict in Us All. Saturday 30th April. All Souls Langham Place. 10.30am – 4pm.