Sunday, April 3, 2011

Vice Anonymous

The adventures of the vice squad
detectives of the Miami Police Department!
Once upon a time (like years ago!), I ran into an Alcoholic Anonymous team leader; we began talking about his group and how addictions are handled. For the most part, I had a very uneducated view of the matter: if you want to quit, just quit. Simple, right? Well, I learned that addictions are not on the intellectual level. Others disagree, such as my psychology professor of junior year, who said that the day she wanted to stop smoking, she threw her cigarettes out and never smoked again. Lucky for her, but not everyone is that enabled; others are deeply entrenched in their habits, and their problems can become so cumbersome, that it affects the lives of their lover, families, and friends.

I believe vice is a puzzling entrapment that makes us act against human reason: “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate” (Rom 7:15). Seeking hangovers but don’t really want to get drunk? Eating but can’t stop overeating? Having one-night stands but really longing for fidelity and security? There's no winning in the repetition. St. Paul uses some strong words on this topic (see 1 Cor 6:18), but regardless if you call these behaviors a weakness, bad habit, addiction, disease, vice, sin or whatever, it is still a destructive power that has overtaken the individual.

“But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20). If you recognize the downward spiral that you have been sucked into, then I pray you get the grace to battle back. The quest is not easy though. It is like walking up an old wooden staircase, and if you are unlucky enough to tread upon a rotted step, you’ll momentarily fall, but grab on, pull yourself back up, and keep moving. There will be many falls along the way, but never despair and think you cannot win. It's painful but doable. Even Jesus, whom was God-in-flesh, fell several times to the top of the mountain, but He carried His cross all the way to victory.

“Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt 16:24). To deny yourself is to throw away the irrational temporary indulgence that has been harming you. I believe His message is one of hope, that there is victory at the end, and that the choice to live better will test your sincerity like a fire to “test the quality of each one’s work” (1 Cor 3:13). The fire will purify you. It will burn away the vice that is covering you, like the straw and hay masking the brilliance of the precious stones beneath.

Supplemental commentary by my uncle:
I remember what the author Hilarie Belloc wrote (when pointing out the difference between the government of the United States and that of the Soviet Union): “We are sinners who seek to be saints, while they are sinners who seek to be sinners.” It is the same with our approach to our vices (as you so ably wrote): we may fall but we must persevere (we must be “Sinners who seek to be saints”). If we fail to persevere, or if we give in to our vices, we then become “Sinners who seek to be sinners.”