Addiction

I hate the thought of addiction.  I find the idea of not being in control of myself very unsettling.

In some ways my personality puts me at risk for addiction.  I like routine and I dislike change. I’ve definitely got an OCD streak in me.  But in other ways my personality makes me less prone to addiction.  I’m blessed with the ability to quickly make very significant lifestyle changes once I’m convinced that I ought to do so.  In the past I’ve given up some things I really enjoyed and to which I devoted a lot of my life, cold turkey and without regret.

Although I’ve seen ugly consequences of addiction throughout my life, as we all have, it was from getting involved with our friends who live in intentional community in the inner city that I have come to most appreciate how destructive addiction can be.  A couple of winters ago I spent part of several days each week with some of my friends hanging around in some of the roughest neighborhoods in the city, getting to know the people who live there.  They are the desperately poor, usually homeless or near-homeless.  They are the poorest of the poor, struggling every day to get by.  Almost without exception the folks I got to know were dealing with mental illness, addiction or (often) both.  And while crack was certainly the demon for some of them, most were addicted to alcohol.  It had ruined their lives as much as any illegal drug could.

It’s been a joy and thrill to get to know a man who was living in the woods a couple of years ago when one of our friends met him, having been an alcoholic for 40 years.  He turned his life completely around and is now sober, employed, living in a house and devoting his life to helping those in his community who are still struggling.  He is a great inspiration and is now a leader in the group.

It hurts, though, to see people I’ve come to know and care for pull themselves out of the pit of addiction, only to fall back in.  It also hurts to come to know and care for people who are resigned, and unwilling to try to break free.

As I see our culture sinking deeper into an obesity epidemic that will diminish and shorten tens of millions of lives and that threatens to overwhelm our health care system, I find myself baffled and often infuriated.  It isn’t rocket science.  If a person consumes more calories than they burn, they will become obese and unhealthy.  That may not be universally true, but it’s dang-near so.  As a society we are literally killing ourselves with poor food choices.

I know that some folks are trapped in food deserts.  The folks we know in the inner city are.  I also know that some people can’t afford to eat healthy diets.

But the vast majority of the people who are ruining their health have the resources to eat a healthy diet (if there is any cost at all to doing so, it is minimal) and have plenty of food options. So why do they do it?

I wonder if we need to start thinking of this crisis as being, in part at least, a product of addiction.