Cross-Cultural Addict

by Tony Bordenkircher, LMFT

“For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14.

We all, within each one of us, carry the capacity to be an addict. Christians, especially cross-cultural workers, are no exception. That is, the psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of addiction are actively at work within every human being (Addiction & Grace; May, Gerald G.). Addiction occurs when our desires and fears get attached to different behaviors, things, or people. These objects of attachment then come to rule our lives psychologically, physiologically, and relationally. The same processes that are responsible for addiction to alcohol and narcotics are also responsible for addiction to ideas, work, relationships, power, moods, fantasies, and an endless variety of other things.

While it might be easy for some to spot the alcohol or drug addict, it can be more challenging to identify other areas where we get enslaved. Lisa, addicted to eating, buries her guilt and anxiety in food. Jim, a man of moderation in all things except his work. He is addicted to his own sense of responsibility and the need to perform; he worries constantly about finances and security. Frank addicted to sexual desire. Jean addicted to her relationship with her husband whom she looks to for all her acceptance and worth.

Those of us living and working overseas in a cross-cultural context are not immune because we experience the same stressors as those living in their home culture—and more. It is a fact that we too experience addiction, whether brought with us onto the field or developed here. Separated from important community and relationship resources, plunged night and day into a new and taxing world, and working for the good news against seen and unseen forces bring up all sorts stressors and fears.

How do I know if it is addiction? Consider if any of the following are present:

  • Continued relationship problems.
  • Excessive amount of time on any behavior or activity.
  • Violation of one’s own morals regarding a particular activity.
  • An activity is frequently done in secret or apart from the knowledge of loved ones.
  • An activity is continued despite problems of health, relationship, finance, or job.
  • Do close others say you have a problem but you don’t see it?
  • Repeated activities are followed by feelings of guilt or shame.
  • These activities are done to help relieve some type of stress or anxiety.

Addiction makes idolaters of us all. We are given a free will so that we may choose freely, without coercion, to love God and to love one another. But when we, with that free will, worship these attachments by investing so much of our time, energy, thought, and other resources, we participate in idolatry and have less to give elsewhere. “[Addiction] is like a psychic malignancy, sucking our life energy into specific obsessions and compulsions, leaving less and less energy available for other people and other pursuits” (Addiction & Grace; May, Gerald G.). Already as cross-cultural workers we can have less time and energy at many times, but addiction has a way of sapping us even further.

I am usually heard talking about addiction as a relationship that ends up trumping other, real relationships. Since our desire is caught up in addiction, then desire for other things—other relationships—decreases. If my addiction uses up my desire, then I have less for God, less for my spouse. I will have less desire for intimacy. Do you know anyone working cross-culturally who has a hard time connecting with others and often feels isolated? As followers of Christ, we know that a relationship with Christ through our rootedness in Him is the wellspring of an abundant and everlasting life. That is also our source of wisdom and power as we work for good as well as the Good News in His kingdom. Have you experienced trying to live apart from Christ and put your hope and energy in other things that never truly satisfy?

Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result will get you nowhere. If you try dropping your addictive/idolatrous behavior but can’t, consider the following and remember that under grace, you are no longer a slave to sin.

  • Take one day at a time.
  • Don’t do it alone; get buddies.
  • Read. Identify encouraging materials and put them near the source of addiction temptation (i.e. computer or liquor cabinet).
  • Be accountable to someone.
  • Predict your weak spots—when you will be most unable to resist addiction.
  • Sweat. Stay active and in shape.
  • Get on your knees.
  • Grab your security item. Find a thing or a mantra/phrase/prayer that you can keep with you for tough times that reminds you of the Lord, your values, and your goals.
  • Get help from a professional.