Addiction and Spirituality



“In my experience, nothing torments us more than longing.  Some people have been so violently shaken in their lives from the earliest days that they cannot now, so to speak, allow themselves any great longing or put up with a long period of tension, and they find compensation in short-lived pleasures that offer readier satisfaction.”  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer* was writing his family from his prison cell reconciling his anticipated release of December 17, 1943 was not to be.  The longing he was referencing was homesickness – but the message he conveyed was at the great human condition of substitutes being an ill-advised remedy for human relationships and spirituality.  In this five to six page letter he expresses his own struggles to remain whole, as much as he can be, without succumbing to despair and escapism:  “there is nothing worse in such times than to try to find a substitute for the irreplaceable.  It just does not work and leads to greater indiscipline, for the strength to overcome tension (such strength can only come from looking the longing in the face) is impaired and endurance becomes even more unbearable….

As far as I know Dietrich was not an addict, gambler, or alcoholic.  However, how much of addiction is driven by shattered lives and/or longing?  Many are aware of causality factors that increase the likelihood of addiction vulnerabilities like early childhood trauma (see ACE study) or genetic predispositions.  While these are not to be ignored many fall into the same trap without any evidence of these factors being present.  Look at the recently released story of news caster Elizabeth Vargas. (

How many substitutes do we have for meaningful human relationships?  How much time do we allow ourselves and others to nurture these relationships?  And assuming there is a God, humor me here if you are an atheist, how hollow must our existence be if we have walled off such an immense and unimaginable source of love, joy, mercy, hope, and peace? How much time do we allow ourselves to explore our higher being, our ethics, and our shared humanity?  Even without a higher power – surely we have higher human values that what we exhibit today.

It is abundantly clear the devastation of alcohol, drugs, gambling and other addictions is thunderously rampaging through our communities across the nation.  These devastated lives are further damaged by societal ignorance and denial, self-loathing and shame, and an absence of understanding existential longing and needs.  How many people have tried recovery and failed?  How many have supported loved ones only to be disappointed?

There is a place for professional help.  Get it.  There is a place for self-help. Get it.  These can be very effective bridges but are not a substitute for finding the answer to longing, to sitting with conflict and pain, and to connecting to the essence of what makes you whole.  Address little things and big things – no stone is too small to bring you happiness.

 “Let pass, dear brothers, every pain;

What you have missed I’ll bring again.”

Eph 1:10

Dietrich explores this passage in-depth in his letter.  He explains with faith in Jesus Christ he will be made whole again.  This gives him sustaining strength.  But note, this sustaining strength is after and above his actions:  he is paying attention to the details of his everyday discipline in thinking, reading, physical exercise, attention to detail, appreciation of loved ones, demonstration of kindness to others, forgiveness, and prayer.  Belief in God and Recovery are not passive activities.

I am at my best when I am open to love from others, open to spirituality and grace, accepting of the uncertainty of life, and humbly enjoying the present moment.  It is not easy for me and I venture to say it is not easy for most.  If you are open to God, find time with him.  If you are spiritually suffering find a spiritual advisor.   You need not have an addiction to enjoy a spirituality filled life!

If you are not open to God, find what you are open to that sustains you while “doing no harm to self or others.”  This motto is good for both the believer and unbeliever!

Here are some ideas that you can do while searching for your way down the path to wholeness:

  1. Give blood today.
  2. Sign up to be an organ donor.
  3. Go to the library.
  4. Volunteer at Habitat Humanity or other local organizations.
  5. If you need help – call someone.
  6. Smile with eye contact at people you pass – just briefly (don’t be creepy)!
  7. Reply to my post with ideas that people can do without any cost to feel good and seek peace, tranquility, wholeness, and happiness.
  8. Share with others if you think it will help.

God bless, and if you have read this post, may you find what you are looking for safely and with expediency.



*For more about who Dietrich Bonhoeffer was please visit this site for a start:


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