Almost every time I hear the “D” word in a 12-step meeting, I cringe a little bit. Someone will mention the word disease, usually preceded by the words “our” or “my.” I guess I am never quite sure what they mean by “disease”—is it some condition that they have, or even inherited, that somehow lessens their responsibility for their actions? I am not comfortable even thinking about my addiction being a disease that I somehow caught and am not responsible for.
However, I am slowly coming to grips with the fact that my addictive behavior caused me to be very sick. It is probably because of my liberal use of the word “healing,” particularly in these posts. Strangely, it has taken a while for it to sink in, mainly because I want to be clear that I am accountable for my actions. But our Lord Jesus Christ did say that they that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick, referring to sinners needing repentance. And isn't it the disease of sin that Jesus came to heal?
Let me use an analogy to explain the shift in my thinking. Suppose that I am a long-time cigarette smoker and I have recently quit. My daily responsibilities require me to exert myself physically and I find it a great struggle. I have peers that also exert themselves, but they have never smoked and are able to accomplish much more without being winded.
Because of my breathing struggles, I decide to go to the doctor’s to be examined and diagnosed. He concludes that I am sick and have diseased lungs. He may know that the cause is smoking, even though I no longer smoke; he may even chide me for smoking, but he will not deny the fact that I am sick and that healing will take time.
And so I accept the fact that I am sick and will have some physical limitations because of it. Yes, it is ultimately my fault because I foolishly chose to smoke, but I don’t smoke anymore and now all I can do is to work hard to get myself back in shape. Healing won’t come overnight but if I work at it, I can improve immensely.
And so it is with my own addiction (which isn’t smoking, by the way): it made me a very sick man. It changed my brain chemistry in very unhealthy ways and limited me emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. It hindered my ability to correctly and appropriately relate to people, including those that I love. Ultimately, it destroyed my marriage and severed other relationships.
Yes, I chose my behavior and hung onto it much longer than I should have. I could have gotten help sooner, but I didn’t. I am responsible for my actions and must accept the consequences that I continue to reap.
But I was a very sick man and am still suffering the effects of the disease my actions caused. My health is much improved but I am still not fully recovered.
I say this more for myself than for anyone else. I am learning to practice more self-compassion and less self-condemnation. Yes, this sickness is my fault and I take responsibility for it, but sometimes I still have trouble in my relationships, my attitudes, and my thoughts about others. I have to recognize and acknowledge my limitations so I can work to overcome them.
Someone recently reminded me of something foolish I did shortly after being divorced. I was sober at the time but still doing some unwise things. Of course they were correct in their assessment and my immediate feeling was shame and regret. But then I remembered how sick I was back then and that I was very limited in my ability to do what was wisest and best.
I don’t expect others to understand; even when we know others are sick, can we really know what they are going through if we haven’t experienced it ourselves? Can a runner that never smoked really know how it feels for a recent smoker to be winded by just walking up a flight of stairs?
I am not looking for sympathy from others. I am not looking to excuse my past behavior. The Bible says that the reproach of the adulterer will not be wiped away and I accept and understand that. But part of wholeness and healing is not living in the past with its poisonous regret and shame. Instead, I need to acknowledge how sick I really was, regardless of what others may think.
Yes, I understand that I don’t have to stay sick and I can stay away from the things that make me sick. I have experienced healing that I never thought possible through God's mighty grace and power. I appreciate healing more now than I ever have.
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