Have you seen the amazing series of photographs, “Faces of Addiction” by Chris Amade? Taken by Chris Arnade, a Citigroup foreign exchange trader who shares his photos on Flickr, the series has been picked up by newspapers and magazines.
The way he does his work and how he has added these people’s own words and stories to the photos seems to bring us all more in to connection as a human family. You can read the stories and see the photos here:
Seeing this photo essay in the midst of a recent food addiction bout was one of many converging factors that helped me through it.
Seeing in to the souls of these people who suffer from addiction I saw myself. The substances they use are more immediately damaging sometimes than food, both in terms of physical damage and also psychological damage. But the journeys of a drug addict, an alcoholic, or a food addict share many similarities.
There is shame in these faces. There is disappointment with self. There is blaming others. Or there is sometimes the pain of being in an abusive situation and not confronting, but enabling the abuser. There is shame then that one is too weak to do what is right. Guilt. Self-loathing. Defeat.
There is the part of the addiction-recovery-relapse process that is like a dance with God. For some of us, addiction becomes our way of interacting with God. We reach rock bottom, we pray, He lifts us up. We are somehow able to get on the wagon. And then we “forget” and relapse. But maybe we just want to feel the hand of God again. And each time it takes a little longer for us to feel God’s hand reaching out to us, because we are a little more ashamed of having this dire need of Him again, by our own doing.
How many times do we get to turn away from Him and then ask for His help and receive His mercy? Will His mercy run out? This is us testing the limits of parental love. Is this a journey that is particularly valuable for those who did not experience sufficient parental love from their earthly parents? Does our Creator, at least, love us then? Are we lovable? Ah, in the dance of addiction we discover that God actually loves us. But just how lovable are we? We might require additional proof.
We test and test and maybe something in us hopes that God will throw us away as our parents did. If God throws us away too, maybe we can at last forgive our earthly parents for throwing us away. Maybe if we keep going back to our addiction we will feel like we really are bad people, and that might help us to let go of the anger towards our parents by allowing us to feel that maybe they had good reason to abandon and abuse us. You know, since God agrees with them.
Although I was blessed with loving parents, what I’m saying is, maybe this concept above could be just one of many ways addiction might actually serve a purpose. Maybe it can be part of a healing process. We do learn about God’s love, and also the limits of His mercy. We learn that we have to be accountable, that we have to do our part. We also learn about our own strength and what we can survive. We learn humility. Oh, the ultimate humiliation. That’s what I see in these faces. Strength. Depth. Love. Acceptance. Humility. Honesty. Rawness. Naked souls.
Are they the face of something within all of us, and within the collective consciousness? Is this something that had to be expressed. The pain of humanity. The animal / spiritual. The results of our greed. The proof that there is something wrong with our society.
And another thing. Why does this place exist where these things are allowed to happen? Maybe there needs to be a place on the planet where people can go, who need to work out the worst kind of pain, to express that worst kind of pain through being in a place where one is allowed to give up. Being amongst others who have given up on humanity and themselves. Where you can still be accepted to a degree for who you are, a person who has given up, who has been broken, – accepted by others who have gone through the same.
I spent some time in Amsterdam as a traveling youth, playing my flute on the streets, and got to see some of this life. There is the temptation, the lure of a life in which normal rules don’t apply, in which you can get out of living according to societal expectations. It can feel like an easy escape from drudgery. And for a while it can be. A wild whirlwind fantasy wonderland. But then as you start to struggle with addiction – with health and sanity, and personal safety, it becomes as hard a path as any, and harder still.
The psychological and physical toll go together. As you realize you are hurting yourself physically, and that you can’t stop, you start to question your sanity. As the toxins can make one a little – or a lot – emotionally unbalanced, you start to further question your sanity. And you try to hold on to shreds of your sanity. And if you decide to fight your way out of the addiction, you have to admit that you are insane, and then you are locking yourself in to this insanity on a quantum level. But if you insist for quantum’s sake that you are sane, and you allow yourself to continue in your addiction, then you are more likely to start to go actually insane.
And these things are so complex, and you are not feeling very smart, and so it is hard to figure out how to get out of the addiction – which way do you go? Do you stay in it and not admit you are insane? Or do you admit you are insane and ask God to help you out of it? Are your thoughts about how it all works even valid at all? Or are you just a confused mess?
And how different is this from the food addict’s journey? We are using substances that numb us, or that give us temporary energy, by turns. Uppers and downers. We develop a physical need for them. We start to feel physical ailments from them. We can’t stop. We become psychologically depressed. We feel crazy. We are living in secret, we don’t know where to turn for help, we are ashamed. We do the addiction-recovery-relapse dance. And we die early, painful deaths.
And I think this photo essay can birth in us a kind of deeper understanding of who we are and why we are in this mess. Many of these people suffered abuse or other trauma. What traumas are you escaping with your addiction? What can you do about the trauma now? How can you move through it or let it go? How can you work on your life so it starts to make sense, add up, so you can gain some self-esteem, and have a good life?
You work on every front. I’ve found that for me, It has to start with prayer. Daily. Even if it is only “God, Your Will be done”. But I try to have a conversation with Him. “Let your needs be spread out before you”. If you believe in prayer, speak to Him from your heart about what is really going on with you. Don’t worry if you lose your train of thought or become distracted and disjointed. He can follow you. If even a snippet of your real feeling goes in to your prayer, He’ll hear you. Don’t be embarrassed to cry, cry out in anger or desperation, to beg, express your innermost emotional states, to just chatter about whatever, or anything else. You’ll be heard.
Through prayer a unique magical door will be opened to you and you’ll find a strange roundabout way out of the maze that your mind has become, twisting in on itself as it has been striving for two opposite goals simultaneously — to get out of the addiction and to stay in it.
I have struggled with food addictions both before and after first becoming a raw vegan. Being 100% raw has helped me to “Stay on the wagon” and away from addictive foods. But I have struggled to stay 100% raw. I have also experimented with embracing a high raw diet but found I was not able to stay addiction-free for long. I have a new post coming soon about my most recent experience with food addiction and how it compelled me to get back to 100% raw.
Meanwhile, I hope you will be moved by this incredible photo essay: “Faces of Addiction” http://www.flickr.com/photos/arnade/sets/72157627894114489/