Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions

Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions

by Gerald G. May


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061122439
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/09/2007
Series: Plus Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 95,695
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.54(d)

About the Author

Gerald G. May, M.D. (1940-2005), practiced medicine and psychiatry for twenty-five years before becoming a senior fellow in contemplative theology and psychology at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Bethesda, Maryland. He was the author of many books and articles blending spirituality and psychology, including Addiction and Grace, Care of Mind/Care of Spirit, Will and Spirit, and The Dark Night of the Soul.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Desire: Addiction and Human Freedom

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
-- The Gospel According To Matthew

After twenty years of listening to the yearnings of people's hearts, I am convinced that all human beings have an inborn desire for God. Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and our most precious treasure. It gives us meaning. Some of us have repressed this desire, burying it beneath so many other interests that we are completely unaware of it. Or we may experience it in different ways -- as a longing for wholeness, completion, or fulfillment. Regardless of how we describe it, it is a longing for love. It is a hunger to love, to be loved, and to move closer to the Source of love. This yearning is the essence of the human spirit; it is the origin of our highest hopes and most noble dreams.

Modern theology describes this desire as God given. In an outpouring of love, God creates us and plants the seeds of this desire within us. Then, throughout our lives, God nourishes this desire, drawing us toward fulfillment of the two great commandments: "Thou shalt love thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself." If we could claim our longing for love as the true treasure of our hearts, we would, with God's grace, be able to live these commandments.

But something gets in the way. Not only are we unable to fulfill the commandments; we often even ignore our desire to do so. The longing at the center of our hearts repeatedly disappears from our awareness, and its energy isusurped by forces that are not at all loving. Our desires are captured, and we give ourselves over to things that, in our deepest honesty, we really do not want. There are times when each of us can easily identify with the words of the apostle Paul: "I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do the things that I hate. Though the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do it is not; the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want -- that is what I do.

In writing these words, Paul was talking about sin. Theologically, sin is what turns us away from love -- away from love for ourselves, away from love for one another, and away from love for God. When I look at this problem psychologically, I see two forces that are responsible: repression and addiction. We all suffer from both repression and addiction. Of the two, repression is by far the milder one.


We frequently repress our desire for love because love makes us vulnerable to being hurt. The word passion, which is used to express strong loving desire, comes from the Latin root passus, which means "suffered." All of us know that, along with bringing joy, love can make us suffer. Often we repress our desire for love to minimize this suffering. This happens after someone spurns our love; we stifle our desire, and it may take us a long time before we are ready to love again. It is a normal human response; we repress our longings when they hurt us too much. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that we do the same with our deepest longings for God. God does not always come to us in the pleasant ways we might expect, and so we repress our desire for God.

When we repress a desire, we try to keep it out of our awareness. We try to keep our focus on other things -- safer things. Psychology calls this displacement. But something that has been repressed does not really go away; it remains within us, skirting the edges of our consciousness. Every now and then it reminds us of its presence, as if to say, "Remember me?" And, when we are ready to tackle the thing again, we can. We may repress our longing for God, but, like the hound of heaven that it is, it haunts us. And it is there for us to deal with whenever we are ready. Repression, then, in spite of its sinister reputation, is relatively flexible. It is workable. Addiction, the other force that turns us away from love, is much more vicious.

The Paradoxes of Addiction

For generations, psychologists thought that virtually all self-defeating behavior was caused by repression. I have now come to believe that addiction is a separate and even more self-defeating force that abuses our freedom and makes us do things we really do not want to do. While repression stifles desire, addiction attaches desire, bonds and enslaves the energy of desire to certain specific behaviors, things, or people. These objects of attachment then become preoccupations and obsessions; they come to rule our lives.

The word attachment has long been used by spiritual traditions to describe this process. It comes from the old French atache, meaning "nailed to." Attachment "nails" our desire to specific objects and creates addiction. In this light, we can see why traditional psychotherapy, which is based on the release of repression, has proven ineffective with addictions. It also shows why addiction is the most powerful psychic enemy of humanity's desire for God.

I am not being flippant when I say that all of us suffer from addiction. Nor am I reducing the meaning of addiction. I mean in all truth that the psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of full-fledged addiction are actively at work within every human being. 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. We are all addicts in every sense of the word. Moreover, our addictions are our own worst enemies.

Addiction and Grace. Copyright © by Gerald G. May. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a physician with 12 years of experience treating over 1000 substance abusing patients, I was amazed to read Dr. May's treatise and to see how closely his discussion of addiction fits with my experience and how well he describes the theoretical and practical aspects of addiction. Thank God for His grace!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Addiction and Grace' gives hope to both the addict and those who love them. It shows, in an easy, understandable way, what is happening to the addict--physically, mentally, and spiritually. This book was so helpful to me in my dealings with an addicted friend. I am very grateful to Dr. May, and I highly recommend it.
GwG on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Though I was stretched by some Dr. May's theology, I learned a great deal about addiction from him. Truly knowledgeable in both areas of addiction and spirituality, May's writing has been a resource for many working with those in addiction or struggling with their own (however, I must say that May makes a strong case that we all struggle with addiction).
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RedheadDitz More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent tool to help someone who wants to be rid of any addiction regardless of the nature. We are all creatures of habits and with God's grace we can live a more peaceful life at ease with ourselves & others.
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A great explanation of spirituality, grace and the physical effects of human addictions.
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Sergio Fernando Navarro More than 1 year ago
You should try it!!!!!!!
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