By Gerald G. May
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Extra resources for Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions (Plus)
The humiliation, shame, and guilt that erode self-esteem also breed deviousness and manipulation. Severely addicted people feel unworthy and incapable of getting what they need in straightforward ways, no matter what masks of competence or grandiosity they may wear. It is true, then, that a particular kind of personality distortion occurs with addiction, not as its cause but as its effect. 2 If we cannot blame addiction on some preexisting personality problem, we must look elsewhere for its causes.
Sally says she will never use nose drops again. This example of a temporary chemical attachment can teach us a great deal about the characteristics of addiction. Let us begin with the physiology. Virtually all body functions take place as a result of shifting balances among chemicals that have opposing effects. The body makes chemicals that stimulate the activity of glands and organs, and opposing chemicals that inhibit that activity. What actually happens in the body at a given time depends upon these balances.
Addiction splits the will in two, one part desiring freedom and the other desiring only to continue the addictive behavior. This internal inconsistency begins to erode self-esteem. How much can I respect myself if I do not even know what I really want? The greatest damage to self-esteem, however, comes from repeated failures at trying to change addictive behavior. Even if I do feel clear about what I really want, I cannot make myself behave accordingly. I seem to be honestly out of control; yet, in all truth, I have only myself to blame.