Fourth, we lie about and deny our behavior because we are ashamed. Inside, we know our lives are out of control. We know someone will be displeased with our actions, and so, in an attempt to avoid negative consequences, we lie about them. We hide our alcohol use from others; we hide the new clothes we purchased and tell our mates that we bought them months ago; we are dishonest about our frequency of gambling and the losses we’ve incurred; we’re dishonest about the hours we spend working. This deception, of course, only compounds our problems.

Finally, we allow our lives to become unmanageable. At some point the wheels fall off the cart. Our mates say they can no longer tolerate our drinking. Our bosses fire us because of our repeated failure to get work done on time after the late-night poker parties. We hide in shame because of the 50 extra pounds we carry. We’re so tied to our cell phones that we begin to annoy our spouse, our friends, and even ourselves. We’re out of control. We’ve given up the power of our lives to a substance or behavior. We’ve lost our ability to make healthy choices.

Anesthetized

Having lost control of your life, you’re still stuck in denial. You still believe you can fly under the radar. You still have your job, your spouse, your home, your bank account, and your faith. You’re feeling a bit smug because you believe you’re still in complete control of your life. You’re certain you would have been one of those left standing when the roll was called.

Not so fast.

Is it possible that addiction and compulsion have struck your life as well, but you’ve anesthetized yourself so you don’t feel the pain? Are you vaguely aware of feeling distanced from others because of your particular compulsion or addiction? Do you feel stifled in your personal and spiritual growth? Do you feel hidden shame and guilt? Might you be harboring hidden problems you’ve never called addictions?

Consider these common scenarios:

Sheryl has had yo-yo weight problems her entire life. Now 40, she’s tried every gimmick diet and attended countless weight-loss programs, but she exceeds her ideal weight by 75 pounds. She’s learned to accommodate her problem. Although she hates being heavy, she’s rationalized the problem and works overtime to tell herself that she must be comfortable in her own skin. She’s anesthetized herself to the pain of her eating addiction and continues to gain more weight each year. Her health is in jeopardy, her self-esteem has been damaged, and her marriage suffers. Still, she’s quit calling her weight a problem because admitting the truth simply causes too much pain.

Jed is a 30-year-old workaholic, a Microsoft engineer who averages 60 hours a week. Like many of his coworkers, he carries a “CrackBerry” (BlackBerry) on his hip as a badge of admission into the hardworking, upwardly mobile society. He’s well-rewarded for his work and rarely thinks about the hours he puts in. His wife works equally hard as a financial analyst, and only rarely does either of them mention the possibility of slowing down. They have silently agreed not to talk about their problem. They’re anesthetized to the pain that comes from having too little time for friendships, leisure activities, and quality time with their children. They’re tired and irritable, and the luster is wearing off their marriage—but still they continue to push forward as if nothing were wrong.

Carl is a gambler. He can be found nightly at a local casino. He insists that he rarely spends more than what he can afford, though he acknowledges that he hides the true amount of his losses from his wife. She doesn’t confront him. In fact, she often joins him. Both are in their late forties and know their retirement monies are paying for blackjack and slots, but neither wants to change. Their working lives are boring, their marriage is boring, and the casino offers them a respite from the pain. They’ve anesthetized themselves to the problem by denying that it exists.