“I have to do this for myself.” He was passionate about recovery, but convinced that any help would only jeopardize his process. For rehab to stick he had to be the one to do all the work, he had to keep himself afloat. He had to be independent and self-reliant. Of course, this is what got my friend into addiction in the first place. Unwilling to be needy or vulnerable, my friend had turned to drugs for self-medication and comfort. His resistance to relational dependency is not unique to him. We are all prone to self-reliance and as such are in solidarity with our addicted brothers and sisters.
Our culture applauds self-reliance. We hold up as icons the self-made man and the independent woman. One of our highest cultural ideals is autonomy and individuality, all which keep people and our need of them at a distance. We have defended the rights and desires of the individual over the all other ethical norms for a long time in American culture. The sexual revolution, the Gay revolution, and more recently the Transgender revolution are clear demonstrations of this. The self always trumps the other. In this view the self-wrought, self-taught, self-made individual is the crowning glory of our cultural value.
Yet, human beings were not made to be self-reliant. We were made for community. We were made dependent creatures. Most notably dependent upon God, but to a lesser degree dependent upon one another. We need relationships. We need assistance. We need accountability. The self-reliant person, however, will have none of it and will inevitably set themselves up for failure, despair, and possibly substance abuse.
Addictions develop often as a means of coping with life, finding comfort and escape. The self-reliant person is unwilling to seek help, comfort, or relational care from others. To be needy is to be weak, and they refuse to be weak. As a result they turn to whatever means they can find to medicate and deal with their neediness, loneliness, and brokenness. It is a means of denial, refusing to accept the reality of the weakness by suppressing it with alcohol and drugs.
We can all relate to this level of pride. We may not yet have turned to alcohol and drugs, but we are reluctant to admit our need for help. We are reluctant to admit our brokenness. We must be “strong,” we tell ourselves. Rather than admit they are afraid of rejection some men turn to porn to self-medicate. Rather than confess they are having trouble dealing with grief some people turn to shopping for stuff. The lists could go on. We deny our neediness by our behaviors, indeed we give in to various addictions – of greater or lesser social acceptability. Self-reliance, the refusal to seek help, be held accountable, and confess our weakness is a common pathway to addiction, for all of us.
The Scriptures, however, speak honestly about our weakness, frailty, and need. More than that, they speak about the importance of admitting our weakness in order that we might find strength. The classic example is the Apostle Paul. Writing to the Corinthians he says:
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7-10)
For Paul, his thorn in the flesh was a means of humbling him and increasing his dependence upon God. It is in that dependence upon God that he finds hope and strength. So, he even goes so far as to say he will “boast” in his weaknesses, for through them he finds strength. This ought to be our mentality. This is the means by which we can truly grow and progress and change.
For many an addict, the realm of self-reliance will continue to plague them in recovery. The refusal to admit that they are addicted and that they are out of control will keep them stuck. We can all relate to that same sentiment, as we refuse to seek help, ask for assistance, go to counseling, or confess our sins, struggles, and concerns. Self-reliance may not lead you to become an alcoholic, but it will likely lead you to some addiction. The more we embrace self-reliance the more addicted we are likely to become. Self-reliance plagues us all and as such we are all prone to addictions.