Addiction, Pain, and Mercy

Reading Time: 4 mins

There is true help in the midst of our pain. Someone who suffered as we suffer, who embraced all our pain in his suffering and death on a cross.

Another relationship extinguished. Mom and dad get pushed aside. They're removed from his life. This isn't an argument they can win. There's no debate. The time for chit-chat ceased when the man took the bottle, and the bottle then took the man. Now the alcohol thinks, speaks, and acts for him. No remorse can be seen. No justification other than, "Because I like it," or, "It helps me," or, "You wouldn't understand anyway." Another relationship extinguished. Another obstacle removed. Another day in the life of an alcoholic.

Alcohol doesn't kill a man all at once. That's not the usual method. It steals life one drink at a time. Then, on day twenty-five or sometime during year twenty-five, the alcohol is done with him. The beast must be fed, but there's nothing left to consume. He's used up all his resources, relationships, and time in order to keep the monster satiated. He feeds the addiction day after day. He hates the addiction. He hates the job-like quality of addiction. Raising hell all over town doesn't offer the same rush. He just wants to touch down somewhere he can call home, but a home for him is wherever a drink is within reach.

Finally, there are no more nights out. Nothing gives the alcoholic's life meaning. That peaceful, easy feeling he used to get from alcohol is history. It's another piece of nostalgia from a life he used to recognize. His hair is uncombed. His eyes can't focus. Threats are unclear, so he waits for alcohol to give him the all-clear. People who claim to love him, who say they want to help him, are treated as enemies. They want to take away the one thing that always forgives him, encourages, understands, and can give him a respite from pain.

A worse reality he can't imagine. Pain. Life is pain. That can't be true. It must not be true. But it is, and there's no escaping pain without taking a drink. Then he takes another, and another, and another until the pain is anesthetized: out of sight, out of mind. Pain is his sin. Alcohol is his god. Addiction becomes his funeral hymn.

Then reality rushes in when God shows him his family, their love, and his slavery to alcohol. It's him, not them. He's not himself anymore. His identity has become inseparable from addiction. Guilty, sick, and ruined he's crushed by the revelation of what life has become because of his choices. He's crushed but he can't stop looking at them. If he does he'll relapse and go running back to cruel mistress alcohol.

Is anything he did while a slave to the drink justified? No. Does his addiction deserve sympathy or pity? No. Does he as a man deserve it? Yes. This creature of God is barely a man anymore because of alcohol. He doesn't have a home, but he prays for someone to open their doors to him. He believes God could never forgive him for what he's done, but he prays that God will show him a sign that that's not true. He's naked and exposed. In his estimation, he's the worst person he's ever known so why would anyone show kindness to him, especially God?

But, this is why God sends preachers. Left to ourselves, we tilt toward self-judgment. We pray God would forgive unforgivable us. We wear clothes of God-fearing believers, but our spirit is fragile and weak. Grief is often more present for us than joy. We're naked and exposed as we brace for the pain to come. We just hope it's something we can handle, and not something that will ruin our life.

Pain wounds us on all sides. We all choose in our own way how to manage the hurt. Some use pain to motivate them so they can seek a path to personal glory. Others try to flee from pain. They retreat from hurt and harm. They hope the pain will pass by them. Still, others self-medicate and get addicted to alcohol, pills, gambling, shopping, or religion.

We pass off our addictions so that we don't have to acknowledge the truth about ourselves. We're in pain and there's nothing ultimately we can do about it. If we're alive we're in pain. But, we love ourselves too much to admit defeat so we medicate the pain. Then we get addicted to pain relief. We demand that someone kill the pain then the pain killers eventually kill us.

The story of our pain is the subtext of every addiction. The more pain we're in the more we seek to anesthetize the pain. The more we self-medicate.

It's not our family's fault we're in pain. They're in pain too and hurting people hurt other people. It's not those who want to help us that cause us pain, except that they need relief from their pain too. It's not the addicts who have cornered the market on how to avoid confronting pain, and thereby reality. But they have turned the volume on their pain up to eleven, and so they seek an extreme solution.

But there is true help in the midst of our pain. Someone who suffered as we suffer, who embraced all our pain in his suffering and death on a cross. He can and does sympathize with us because he was tempted like us to retreat from the pain. Sin and Satan tried to seduce him as they do us, to escape the reality of pain by any means. But he turned his back to them and instead located himself with us in the midst of our pain. Instead of condemning us, he declared: "I did not come to judge the world but to save the world" (John 12:47). Instead of abandoning us in our fragility and weakness, he promises us grace and peace, especially when we choose to swallow the sugar-coated lies of alcohol and drugs.

Jesus is with us in our pain. He sympathizes with us no matter how we justify self-medicating away the hurt and harm. He picks us up when we fall into addiction. He sacrificed himself to the beastly monster, sin-birthed pain. And for this, there is grace and mercy for us, especially in the midst of our pain because Jesus is with us in our pain and weakness.