The Anatomy of Addiction (Rooted 2017 Workshop Preview)

“I wish I was how I appear, because I despise the man in the mirror.”
Benjamin Tod, “Using Again”

I don’t know exactly how my anatomy began to be replaced by the anatomy of addiction, but it did. A distorted sense of self is the foundation of the anatomy of addiction. Maybe that foundation was first poured when I got straight A’s on my report card in the 3rd grade. Proving myself settled into my bones. The interior anatomy of me was further shaped when I got a disappointing B in Algebra in the 9th grade. Shame wrapped itself around the core of my being. When I won “Best Camper” at Rocky Mountain Grace Camp (I’m sure you see the irony), I really started to settle into the frame of addiction’s anatomy, believing it could protect me from being seen when I failed, was hurt, or lonely. And then it mocked me with contempt when my mom discovered that I had skipped school for a day in middle school and lied about it.

The anatomy of addiction slithered back into vulnerable places by soothing me that everything was okay again when my parents told me that I was special. And then it paralyzed me when I smoked pot with Tommy Ismond during my freshman year of high school (my parents didn’t see that as so special). My mother’s words reverberated in my heart, hot with shame, “I don’t even know if you’re a Christian! You sure don’t look like one.” Addiction was already changing my shape.

My confused sense of self conspired to convince me that I needed to become better at hiding my flaws, failures, and mistakes to affirm that I was good enough, that I could make my life work, and that I was worthy of love. The anatomy of addiction – proving, protecting, shaming, self-hating, performing, and soothing grandiosity seduced me from a young age that it would be my safest home.

My newly-resolved strategy to show off my bright and shiny side while hiding my shadow side worked, but it felt a bit like trying to hold a beach ball under water twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. That’s exhausting. This anatomy that felt like home was beginning to show signs of being more like a haunted house of horrors.

Secrets started to accumulate faster than the interest on the credit cards that I was over-indulging to try to make this haunted house a home. My marriage broke into a thousand pieces that all the best counselors in the world could not put back together. I started drinking again (I had been in recovery from alcoholism for years). I was writing a book on relationships and speaking at women’s retreats. I was heartbroken and ashamed. The weight of this anatomy was crushing the life out of me, and I couldn’t tell anyone. I felt desperate to fix me with me.

At that time, the liquor stores in Colorado were closed on Sundays and I wanted a drink – an escape from the self that in public acted like I was enough to face the challenges of life and in private knew that I was not. I drove to a local restaurant and sat at the bar, ordering drinks until my mind and heart were numb to me. I stumbled to my car to make the short drive home and the most terrible thing I could imagine happened. I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw the flashing lights of the law. It’s a blur what happened next . . . questions I couldn’t answer, humiliation that was stronger than all that booze, and handcuffs. I was arrested for driving under the influence. I knew my world would never be the same – that I would have to work even harder to erase this hideous blot from my carefully kept record.

I didn’t know then that we don’t carry our secrets; they carry us.

If the words highlighted throughout this cautionary tale resonate with you, then perhaps understanding the anatomy of addiction and the path to find your true self is the conversation you’ve been waiting for.

Most people familiar with the anatomy of addiction are desperate for some good news. This session will look unflinchingly at the bad news in stories of addiction and we will tell the good news that God is waiting to change our anatomy from the inside out. These stories we tell about addiction are important. Someone once said, if you want someone to know the truth, tell them. If you want someone to love the truth tell them a story. Whatever scene you are in right now, maybe God wants you to love the truth, and so He’s telling His story in you – even and especially if that story is about addiction.

This workshop will be presented at Rooted 2017 in Dallas, Texas on October 26-28. To register for the conference, click here.


Sharon Hersh is a Licensed Professional Counselor, author, and speaker. She is the author of the best-selling Bravehearts: Unlocking the Key to Love With Abandon as well as the critically acclaimed The Last Addiction: Why Self-Help is Not Enough. Sharon has written several parenting books including Mom! Sex is NO Big Deal! Sharon is an adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in graduate counseling classes. She lives in Lone Tree, Colorado.

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