Here is an excerpt from my newest article of the same title. It appears in the March issue of St. Anthony Messenger.
When I hear the word conversion, I tend to immediately think of persons who became Catholic but were not born and raised Catholic. Those converts chose to be Catholic. Some may have done so for reasons having nothing to do with the Church. My grandfather, for example, apparently converted from the Presbyterian Church so that he could marry my Irish Catholic grandmother. There are others who become converts because they found something within Catholicism that drew them.
In its basic meaning, conversion points to a process of transformation, a change in something essential. Other words relating to conversion include metanoia (a change of consciousness), spiritual awakening, and redemption. Literally, “conversion” means “to turn to”.
Some indeed turn to a new spiritual path. But for many of us the possibility of a new path is thrust upon us, arising out of a place of spiritual and psychological brokenness. In the depths of despair, we may be offered a path of healing and, ultimately, transformation. But we must choose to be open to that conversion.
For some such as St. Paul or Bill W., the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, this transformation may occur dramatically and in an instant. But for many of us, the process of conversion is experienced quietly and gradually, perhaps over time. The invitation to conversion doesn’t come in a burst of light but slowly, as if through a whisper, just as Elijah experienced in his moment of fearful brokenness (1Kings 19: 11-12)
There are many different experiences of brokenness that can be a doorway to conversion. Four potential doorways are addiction, trauma, depression, and facing one’s death.
The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous had the wisdom to point out the strong spiritual component to addiction. Essentially when addicted we have made some thing –alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, etc. – our god. When troubled we turn to our god. When happy we turn to our god. We look for release. We look for comfort. And, for the short term, that god works for us! But that god comes with a price. Loss of family or employment. Financial crisis. Legal problems. Isolation. Shame. And especially the spiritual equivalent of cancer – self-hatred. In the midst of such turmoil, some addicts choose to confront their addictions and seek help.
Addicts soon learn that the conversion from addiction is just the beginning. For addicts, the process of conversion is ongoing. It is a process of fearless self-awareness as well as gratitude. It continues for a lifetime.
I often wondered about the story in the Gospels of the healing of the ten lepers. Jesus heals all ten yet only one returns to express gratitude. Jesus never seemed to me to be a person who reveled in the gratitude of those He healed. So why did he ask the Tenth Leper “Where are the others?” For me, there is an important lesson in that story. Jesus, I believe, was pointing out to the Tenth Leper (and to us) that the removal of the scars of leprosy was just a beginning and that, to continue to heal, the lepers would have to continue the work of conversion. This would include ongoing gratitude.
Concerning addiction, then, conversion involves turning to sobriety – learning how to work at a sober spiritual life with honesty and gratitude.
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This is a powerful message. God does use broken things for His purpose which gives hope to those of us who have dealt with addiction.
This post does not mention addiction to work which is accepted by society. My frfriend who is a Sister of Charity had to tell me, “You are not what you do. You are someone God loves”.
This post states that self hatred is a cancer of the psyche. I agree because I almost died from it. What would you say about narcissism? The narcissist adores himself or at least adores his image. Is too much self-love also a cancer?
Thank you again for this post which I have used to become more aware the gifts of grace which have accompanied my many sufferings. I have also shared the content with those who helped me as an act of gratitude.
My opinion is that some addictions are approved by society. The addiction to power is one of them. Not only does it not lead to job loss, isolation, legal problems, etc., but quite the opposite. It can lead to great wealth. Think Joseph Stalin, Ferdinand Marcos, Kim Jong-un, and many others. I say it is an addiction because they turn to the Power god at all times. He tells them that the ends justify the means, and the world reinforces them. Some addictions have long-term rewards. The question is what does a man gain if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? My interpretation of your post is that those of us who have battled an addiction (to work, gambling, sex, substances, or even power) have won because we won our soul. My point is that we may not win the world.
The most pernicious addiction may be the addiction to power. With this addiction, one does not turn to a false god such as alcohol or sex. One believes that he IS God. As such he has the right to determine who lives and who dies. There are several current world leaders who believe in the Divine Right of Kings although they do not state it explicitly as the leaders in the olden days. These mini gods on earth are accountable only to themselves, but they do not hold themselves accountable. Is there a price to be paid for this type of addiction, or is it only others who pay the price? I don’t know but the paradox is that “He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will [eventually] find it”.