The Stigma of Addiction: A New Identity
A Georgia State State Trooper once did a traffic stop on a local redneck. He had been going well over the speed limit. The Trooper asked the redneck, “Son, you got any ID?” The redneck replied, “’Bout what?”
People who are in addiction have an ID problem. It is difficult for them to identify themselves as addicts. That is partly because it would mean they have to admit to a problem that needs solving and they may not be ready to address it. In addition, they know there is a stigma, a mark of disgrace, which comes with addiction. Addicts are ashamed of themselves and of the pain and loss they have brought to their families.
This stigma, though sometimes self-imposed, adds to the crippling impact of addiction. Self-hatred and criticism are hard to overcome when for so long a mind has been given over to one thing –“finding a way to get high”. Their minds are not disciplined to think accurately about themselves, the world around them or their relationship to a loving God who seeks to save rather than condemn.
Finding a means to overcome those painful thoughts and memories can be a futile endeavor if no basis for a new way of thinking is available. To grab positive thoughts and high opinions out of thin air has no lasting affect when you know the truth about your past and your present.
Denying the past under the cover of addiction and ignoring the present consequences is not fair to anyone and avoids the hope of making amends. Yet an honest appraisal of one’s past and a willingness to surrender to a new future gives hope for full recovery. How do you handle that cold, hard self-examination of your past? What is the future to which you need to surrender?
If self-examination leads to greater condemnation we all will avoid it. However, when that examination is based on the assurance that “whoever sinned much is forgiven much” another story emerges. No longer does an addict need to feel stigmatized for life. Now they can know that God fully forgives them by His grace. All of their sins and failures were paid for on the cross of Jesus Christ.
You may think this is unrelated, but a recovering addict knows that the mental, emotional and spiritual grip in which they are bound needs to be broken. Forgiveness, bought and paid for by Jesus, and freely granted by the Father in heaven, has the power to break every stronghold of shame for all who believe.
That is how one gets a new identity. No longer slaves to sin, fear and addiction; they are an addict in Christ who is overcoming. Theirs minds are being recovered as well as their lives. Give them room to recover. Help them to see themselves as redeemed addicts being made new; loved by God with a love that won’t quit.