The Sacred Calling OF ADDICTION

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Those of us who have chosen to deal with our addictions -- alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, work, people-pleasing -- whatever they may be, tend to feel ashamed of our addictions and even to view ourselves as hopelessly defective for having them.

When the first layers of denial are penetrated, it may be a frighten-hag experience to look into the monstrous face of our disease and the character defects that accompany it. Because our addictions have caused us phenomenal suffering, and perhaps even taken us to death's door, it is difficult to see beyond their horrors and glimpse any of their positive aspects.

I believe that there are positive, even sacred, aspects of addictions, and that ha order to recover from them, it is necessary to understand their meaning, significance and value ha our lives. In its essence, an addiction is a longing for presence -- it is a yearning for wholeness and union with Self and other which becomes distorted by dysfunctional family and cultural influences. This yearning for wholeness is a universally-based theme or motif(archetype) which has permeated our mythology, art, music and dreams throughout human history. From the beginning, human beings have sought perfection, nirvana, cosmic consciousness, the Holy Grail, the Sun God, Heaven.

In ancient and primitive civilizations, perfection meant something very different from its meaning today. To the ancients whose mythology and spirituality were based on the feminine/goddess principle, perfection meant an integration of opposites and contained both light and dark, good and evil, masculine and feminine elements. With gradual devaluing of the feminine (integration) principle, the masculine (discrimination) principle of perfectionism prevailed, which cherished power, reason, spirituality and order, and designated sensuality, emotion, matter and chaos as evil (Eve-full) - synonymous with Adam's temptress. Consequently, the feminine principle and its crucial life-giving, transformative, integrating funcions were disowned. The result has been the predominance of the masculine Judeo-Christian tradition which disembodied the Goddess, feebly attempting to revive Her ha the Virgin Mary, but also devalued and distorted mothering ha the process. Furthermore, the devaluing of the feminine precipitated a shift in emphasis from wholeness to perfectionism.

The addictive craving for a substance, person or feeling (matter) is inextricably connected with a long-hag for the positive mother (Mater) and the internal feminine which brings life, nourishment, comfort, sensuality and unconditional acceptance. As Marion Woodman, author of Addiction to perfection, states: "Very few mothers have it in our culture, because they didn't receive it from their mothers. And that's not to lay a guilt trip on mothers. Many women feel tremendous guilt about their mothering, but they can't give what they weren't given. Look at the treatment of the feminine principle in our culture: people say they care, yet they rape Mother Earth at such a pace that we could end up destroying ourselves in our blind stupidity."

As I watched the movie, Bagdad Cafe, I was absolutely mesmerized by the hypnotic crooning of Jevetta Steele, singing the main title theme, "I Am Calling You". Whereas the subject matter of the movie focused on a friendship between two women, the song leapt out at me as the haunting theme song of addiction -- the process of being called by the Feminine to Inner wholeness and union with the Self. The essence of the Feminine (life) is in the body, and mothers who cannot love their own bodies are not connected to their own life energies, nor can they connect their child with its right to existence in a body. Thus addicitons are frantic but futile attempts to connect with matter (Mater/Mother), be in our bodies and experience ourselves as truly alive - real persons in real situations.

The most beautiful aspect of Bagdad Cafe for me was how protagonist, Yasmine, demonstrated that when people are heard, believed and truly attended to, they change profoundly from within. Thus, in recovering from an addiction, honoring and attending to the longings and human needs which the addiction symbolized - the Feminine, the inner child, the body, yearning to belong, positive mother, comfort, integration, wholeness, is to recognize that the addiction (matter) is a drive toward the sacred (spirit). And it is essential to remember that the journey to the sacred requires the integration of spirit and matter. The addiction is always a representation of a metaphor which has not yet been brought to consciousness. By utilizing metaphor, a Greek word for "transformer", such as we see in dreams and in our creative imagination, by attending to the metaphor and its connection with the body, transformational energy is released, and spirit and matter cooperate in the healing process. Just as the sacred call of spirit is real, so is the sacred call of the animal body to come home to it.

Our planet and individual bodies have become garbage disposals of conspicuous consumption. From the massive poisoning of our ecology to AIDS and allergies, the consistent theme is one of invasion. Meanwhile, Hollywood cranks out a new "alien invader" flick every other month. It seems no accident that simultaneous with the invasion of the earth and our bodies, addictions have become epidemic.

Those who give themselves fully to the recovery process and the inner work which it entails, often find themselves identifying as "grateful alcoholics", "grateful addicts", "grateful compulsive overeaters", or "grateful whatevers", because in the process of coming to terms with addictions, many individuals discover the calling in the craving which, if headed, can lead to healing and transformation. For individuals, and the planet, this involves a shift from power to love and from striving for perfection to questing for wholeness. However, such a shift invariably requires conscious suffering - a willingness to follow our wounds and make sense of them.

Perfectionism has become a pathology in itself and is, as every addict knows, inherent in the addiction, as well as endemic in the culture. As individuals and as a planet, we are being called, through our addictive processes, to wholeness.

While none of us is proud of our addictions, we can view them as opportunites replete with potential for learning to love ourselves and the earth.

About the author: Carolyn Baker, M.S., Ph.D. is in private practice in Santa Rosa and specializes in addiction, recovery and women's issues.

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By Carolyn Baker

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