Sunday, May 25, 2014

Repression, Addiction, and the Return to Love

Artist: Gary Wilson
I've been doing a slow re-read of clinical psychiatrist Gerald May's exquisite, helpful Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions.

May writes: "After twenty years of listening to the yearning of people's hearts, I am convinced that all human beings have an inborn desire for God. Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and our most precious treasure. It gives us meaning." (1)

The root of this deep longing "is a longing for love. It is a hunger to love, to be loved, and to mvoe closer to the Source of love. This yearning is the essence of the human spirit; it is the origin of our highest hopes and most noble dreams." (1)

This desire is God-given. God nourishes this desire. "But something gets in the way... The longing at the center of our hearts repeatedly disappears from our awareness, and its energy is usurped by forces that are not at all loving." (1) Persons give themselves over to things that, in their deepest honesty, they really do not want. What addict truly and deeply wants bondage?

The biblical-theological answer to what turns us away from love is: sin. Sin turns us from loving ourselves, loving others, and loving God. May writes: "When I look at this problem psychologically, I see two forces that are responsible: repression and addiction. We all suffer from both repression and addiction. Of the two, repression is by far the milder one." (2)

We often repress our desire for love because love makes us viulnerable to being hurt. "Along with bringing joy, love can make us suffer." When the latter happens we often repress our desire for love to lessen the suffering. "This happens after someone spurns our love; we stifle our desire, and it make take us a long time before we are ready to love again. It is a normal human response; we repress our longings when they hurt us too much."

I know this is true, as verfied by half the country western songs ever written (the other half being about alcohol).

Stuff that we repress does not go away. "It remains within us, skirting the edges of our consciousness. Every now and then it reminds us of its presence, as if to say, "Remember me?"" (2-3)

So that is "repression." And then there is "addiction." May says that "repression, in spite of its sinister reputation, is relatively flexible. It is workable. Addiction, the other force that turns us away from love, is much more vicious." This is because, while repression stifles desire, addiction attaches desire, bonds and enslaves the energy of desire to certain specific behaviors, things, or people. These objects of attachment then become preoccupations and obsessions; they come to rule our lives." (3)

May thinks all of us suffer from addiction. As I read May's book for a third time, I am certain of this.

This deeply insightful text is necessary reading for anyone longing for God and the love of God, others, and self.