“Now, those who struggle with compulsive worry, perfectionism, and religious addictions, please sit down.”

“Okay,” I say. “Open your eyes.”

Someone yells out, “I can’t believe it!”

One man and one woman are still standing.

“Those still standing, please sit down,” I say. “We don’t know everyone’s story, but what is clearly apparent is that the vast majority of us face common, everyday addictions. We’re all in this boat together. Thankfully, we can experience freedom from addictions, and the first powerful step is coming out of the silent and secretive shadows of shame and into the light of grace, surrender, and acceptance.”

The Conspiracy of Silence

I’ve always wanted to conduct this kind of exercise. I believe it would do much to end the shame we have about our compulsive and addictive behaviors. What relief people would feel as they looked around and realized that everyone struggles with some addiction or compulsion. What a relief to know and admit that all of us are flawed and in need of God’s grace and tender care as well as the care of a supportive group of people who are struggling with the same issues.

But what about our imaginary scene of those two people left standing? Were they really free from addictive or compulsive thinking or behavior? I doubt it. I suspect they were caught in the throes of denial (Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying). For many people, coming clean with their problems is difficult. Many in our world won’t jump on the bandwagon to admit their problems, but this need not stop us from being open and honest about our problems.

We’re caught up in an amazing conspiracy of silence. We want to see the world neatly divided into those with addictions and those without. We don’t acknowledge that those who claim to be free from addictions merely appear normal and refuse to talk about their addictive and compulsive behaviors. This leaves them to suffer alone in shame. It also focuses even more attention on those who clearly struggle with addictions. This dichotomy is completely false. If we are honest, willing to shed the heavy cloak of denial, we notice addicts everywhere—even in our own home.

Only in recent years have we begun to offer legitimate treatment for some of the obvious addictions, such as alcohol and drug abuse. We even endorse such programs in our churches. However, we still don’t recognize the myriad other addictions, let alone help people deal with them.

Defining Addiction

The bottom line is that we’re all addicted to something. Although we have been taught to think of addict as a dirty word, it is an apt description for all of us relatively normal people.

Let’s consider several aspects of everyday addictions.

First, an addiction is a compulsive physical and psychological dependence on habit-forming substances, like nicotine, alcohol, or drugs, or on processes, such as shopping, eating, or sex. The substances give us a physiological high. Meanwhile, “process addictions,” where we engage compulsively in activities such as gambling, viewing pornography, video gaming, or shopping, also change our mood.

Second, we continue to engage in these mood-altering activities in spite of obvious negative consequences. We know that smoking is bad for our health, but we can’t seem to stop. We know that staying at the slot machines well past our determined curfew or beyond our self-imposed spending limit is destructive, but we can’t seem to pull ourselves away. We know that eating more than we need is detrimental to our health, but that doesn’t stop us.

Third, we often need more and more of the substance or behavior to get the desired high. In other words, our tolerance increases. We continue eating well beyond satiation. We spend more than we can afford, hoping to regain a good feeling. We continue to gamble in order to win back what we have lost or to hit “the big one.” We continue to drink until we literally cannot drink any more. And the more we drink, the more we need to drink to gain the desired effect.