It’s a Battlefield: Addiction, Self-Control, and Moderation

Addiction usually brings to mind the abuse of alcohol or drugs. Some people are also addicted to smoking, gambling, or pornography.Those who are free of these practices may feel a bit superior to friends or family members who get drunk every night or who lose their home to pay their gambling debts. We may pity Uncle Bill for his love affair with New Amsterdam gin, but that sorrow may also contain a heavy dose of condescension. Yet, truth be told, a lot of us are addicts, meaning that some force in our life controls us more than we control it. The wife of the guy who works 70 hours a week selling insurance convinces him to vacation with her at the beach. If he can set aside his work habits and enjoy that week, then it’s likely he grinds away at his job by choice. If, however, he spends the vacation out of sorts and distant, trekking 10 or 12 times a day to his laptop to check his emails and the status at the office, then work is his master, and he the slave. Once, I heard a priest say that a sin was a “good” turned inside out. A glass or two of wine in the evening can be a positive good. Eight glasses of wine … not so much. Wine is a good—a celebration of the day, conducive to conversation and thought, and possibly with some healthy physical benefits. But when we abuse those benefits, we destroy the good and embrace addiction. In C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce,” some souls from hell have the opportunity to discard their past, transform themselves, and enter into heaven. In nearly every case, these souls turn their back on paradise and return to hell. In this novel, a mother so loves her dead son that she can love no other. An artist can’t imagine living without his possessions and acclaim. A wife endlessly complains about her husband and can’t forsake her grievances. In each case, these hell-shackled souls fail to realize their greed for control has become an addiction, a craving that has enslaved them. Even when we recognize our loss of control, we may have trouble cutting down the thicket of addiction. One man I know spends hours a day reading various online news sites and commentary. He regrets squandering his time in a way so meaningless and damaging to his spirit, yet he can’t break the habit. Addictions of all sorts are harmful to us—and I include myself in this lot, though shame prevents me from making this piece a confessional. These fixations separate us from other parts of life that are vital to our spiritual and mental well-being. The mother who devotes herself to her children while neglecting her husband is doing damage to her marriage. The husband who daily watches pornography is wreaking havoc on his marriage and family. Thinkers have long known and warned of these negative consequences. The prayer Jesus taught to his disciples contains the line “Lead us not into temptation.” Seven hundred years earlier, the Greek philosopher Hesiod wrote, “Observe due measure; moderation is best in all things.” On the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was inscribed the maxim “Nothing in excess.” Behind the ancient concept of moderation is balance, a weighing of the various goods available to us: marriage, children, work, self-care, spiritual practices. Life has all of us walking a tightrope, but the best funambulists are those who understand the principles of balance. When working in the office or on a job site, they give themselves fully to those endeavors. When they return home, they give themselves to those they love. It’s really that simple—and that difficult—to practice moderation.

It’s a Battlefield: Addiction, Self-Control, and Moderation

Addiction usually brings to mind the abuse of alcohol or drugs. Some people are also addicted to smoking, gambling, or pornography.

Those who are free of these practices may feel a bit superior to friends or family members who get drunk every night or who lose their home to pay their gambling debts. We may pity Uncle Bill for his love affair with New Amsterdam gin, but that sorrow may also contain a heavy dose of condescension.

Yet, truth be told, a lot of us are addicts, meaning that some force in our life controls us more than we control it. The wife of the guy who works 70 hours a week selling insurance convinces him to vacation with her at the beach. If he can set aside his work habits and enjoy that week, then it’s likely he grinds away at his job by choice. If, however, he spends the vacation out of sorts and distant, trekking 10 or 12 times a day to his laptop to check his emails and the status at the office, then work is his master, and he the slave.

Once, I heard a priest say that a sin was a “good” turned inside out. A glass or two of wine in the evening can be a positive good. Eight glasses of wine … not so much. Wine is a good—a celebration of the day, conducive to conversation and thought, and possibly with some healthy physical benefits. But when we abuse those benefits, we destroy the good and embrace addiction.

In C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce,” some souls from hell have the opportunity to discard their past, transform themselves, and enter into heaven. In nearly every case, these souls turn their back on paradise and return to hell. In this novel, a mother so loves her dead son that she can love no other. An artist can’t imagine living without his possessions and acclaim. A wife endlessly complains about her husband and can’t forsake her grievances.

In each case, these hell-shackled souls fail to realize their greed for control has become an addiction, a craving that has enslaved them.

Even when we recognize our loss of control, we may have trouble cutting down the thicket of addiction. One man I know spends hours a day reading various online news sites and commentary. He regrets squandering his time in a way so meaningless and damaging to his spirit, yet he can’t break the habit.

Addictions of all sorts are harmful to us—and I include myself in this lot, though shame prevents me from making this piece a confessional. These fixations separate us from other parts of life that are vital to our spiritual and mental well-being. The mother who devotes herself to her children while neglecting her husband is doing damage to her marriage. The husband who daily watches pornography is wreaking havoc on his marriage and family.

Thinkers have long known and warned of these negative consequences. The prayer Jesus taught to his disciples contains the line “Lead us not into temptation.” Seven hundred years earlier, the Greek philosopher Hesiod wrote, “Observe due measure; moderation is best in all things.” On the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was inscribed the maxim “Nothing in excess.”

Behind the ancient concept of moderation is balance, a weighing of the various goods available to us: marriage, children, work, self-care, spiritual practices. Life has all of us walking a tightrope, but the best funambulists are those who understand the principles of balance. When working in the office or on a job site, they give themselves fully to those endeavors. When they return home, they give themselves to those they love.

It’s really that simple—and that difficult—to practice moderation.