I recently ran across an old TV clip from Two and a Half Men, back when Charlie Sheen still starred:
The character Jake is kneeling at the toilet, throwing up after drinking.
Charlie says, “You know, your body is sending you a message… that alcohol is poison.”
“Then why do you drink?” counters Jake.
“Because,” says Charlie, “I have things inside of me that I need to kill.”
Isn’t it amazing how profound truth can creep into something so banal as a TV sit-com?
Technically, alcohol is poison, which is why you can die from over-drinking. But I was even more struck by Charlie’s explanation for why we pursue self-destructive compulsions: “I have things inside of me that I need to kill.”
It’s one of the great paradoxes of addiction. On the one hand, it’s characterized by the pursuit of pleasure at any cost, and it reeks of self-love. On the other hand, every binge, bong hit, or burger bender proves nothing so much as that we hate—and want to hurt—some part of ourselves.
During my drinking days, I didn’t understand this. I knew that I hated myself because of the things alcohol made me do. But I couldn’t see how my drinking itself was a manifestation of the very self-loathing I drank to drown.
For years, I starred in my own sit-com rerun, except it wasn’t funny: See Heather hate herself. See Heather drink to feel better. See Heather hate herself even more…
How did I ever escape the vicious cycle?
I recently revisited this question when a desperate alcoholic pleaded with me in an email: “Heather, if you have the ANSWER, please share it!”
For a second there I actually racked my brain. Like there was a simple solution I forgot to mention.
But all I have is my story. All I know is that one ordinary morning back in 2007, hung-over and horrified by what my life had become, I fell sobbing to my knees by my bed and made my full surrender, something I’d genuinely tried—and failed—to do so many times before.
So what got me across the line this time? In some ways, it’s a still a mystery to me. But here’s what I know for sure. It wasn’t my enormous self-hate; if anything, it was an experience of God’s overwhelming love in the face of my shame.
We often remind each other in Christian circles, “It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.” But I’m not sure we really believe that it’s true. Instead, so many of us try to hate ourselves sober—only to experience the talons of addiction digging deeper into our souls.
If you’re one of those people who feels stuck in an endless cycle of trying harder and praying longer and repenting until you’re blue in the face—only to fall on your face again… you might try this. Instead of struggling to let go of your substance, see if you can’t let go of self-loathing.
If you can, get on your knees by your bed. And then in your mind crawl across those sharp rocks of shame to where a waterfall of God’s mercy thunders down without reason or measure, and put your head under it until nothing else makes sense.
Cry out for help like a person dying—because maybe you finally are.
Maybe this is what it takes to kill what you hate—not more hate, but an encounter with Love so great that you can’t receive it without letting go of everything else, including your life, your will, your way.
When you finally get up off your knees, let God wrap you in a towel and be quiet with him for a while.
Then go to a recovery meeting. Or check into treatment. Or tell a friend.
In a very real sense, your life has just begun.
P.S. If you’re one of those fortunate folks who is already in recovery, I have some something to say to you, too.
Self-hate can’t keep you sober any more than it can get you there. And nothing will drag you back into the ditch of addiction faster than listening to the voice that says you can’t change, you’re not doing it right, and you don’t deserve to be sober.
Resist that voice, friend.
Find the waterfall again. And let God’s kindness lead you forward on the path of grace.
Since this post is already way too long, I’ll close with this from the Psalm 145: 8-9
The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and great in mercy.
The Lord is good to all,
And His tender mercies are over all His works.
And this poem from the 13th century poet, Hafiz:
Once a young woman said to me, “Hafiz, what
is the sign of someone who knows God?”
I became very quiet, and looked deep into her
eyes, then replied
“My dear, they have dropped the knife. Someone
who knows God has dropped the cruel knife
that most so often use upon their tender self