I am sitting in my home on a Sunday morning, and every fiber of my being tells me that I need to be in church.
It feels like I haven’t been to church in ages. It has only been two weeks.
As I took a shower this morning, I mulled over the central question of this post: “Who am I without this?” My next thought was, “I know what I am without this! I need to go to church!” I nearly stopped the shower then, got dressed, and drove down the street in time to greet folks before Sunday service.
It’s not a sin to enjoy going to church. For many people, the church is a place of comfort and healing, a place where they truly belong. Not going to church might make them feel sad or lonely, but it won’t cause them physical pain to be absent.
When I can think clearly about this, I realize what’s going on.
I’m detoxing from church.
Addiction runs pretty deep in my family, and I have a lot of secondhand experience with it. My only firsthand experience is with nicotine (which is a hell of a drug.)
I was smoking almost a pack of cigarettes a day until about a year and a half ago. Over the years that I smoked, there were many attempts to quit. Every attempt ended in failure – even this last attempt is a very qualified success – but each attempt shared a few characteristics.
First, there was the elation. I’m finally quitting. I’m quitting for real this time. I’ve got this.
Then came the sullenness. This sucks. I don’t know if this is worth it. I feel like shit.
Next comes the anxiety. Oh my God, I’m never going to have another cigarette in my life. I’m going to die.
Who am I without this?
It might seem like a silly question to ask about nicotine or alcohol, but it’s a question that every addict asks themselves, in one form or another.
What am I without this? What am I going to do to fill this aching need? Who am I without a cigarette/drink in my hand?
When you give up an addiction, whether by colossal amount of will or with proper treatment – and the second option is much more viable – when you give it up, you do more than just leave the drug behind. You also leave behind an entire community of people.
For smokers, you leave behind all those folks that you used to light up with behind your workplace.
For alcoholics, you leave behind your favorite watering holes, and all the people who welcomed you in and helped you into an Uber when you were too shitfaced to drive.
You leave family behind. You leave community behind. You leave a thousand little rituals behind.
And, you know that you can never go back.
To go back means that you fall right back into those old habits and rituals, because you’re among the community. You belong there. This is who you are. Who are you without this?
There are many people at that old watering hole who can come in, have a few drinks, and then leave. They’ll never understand why you can’t walk into a bar without leaving in an Uber.
There are people out there who can smoke a cigarette or two at a party, and not even think about smoking for months. They’ll never understand why you can’t take even a drag without immediately needing a pack.
There are people at the church who can come to church and love every moment of it, but can also take a vacation without feeling the absolute, aching need to be in church. There are people who don’t feel like they have to apologize when they miss a Sunday or two. There are people who don’t come back after a short absence with the frenetic, manic energy of someone who is finally getting a fix after weeks without.
Those people – those wonderful, loving, amazing people – will never understand why you’re not happy. They’ll never understand why you cringe during the sermon, or during the song service, all the while saying, “Amen” and raising your hands and singing along.
Because, you don’t belong there. You don’t really want to be there. But, you don’t know who you are without these people. You don’t know who you are without these rituals, these songs, these sermons.
These aren’t good reasons to keep doing something. These aren’t the signs of a properly devout religious person.
These are the signs of an addict.
This journey isn’t done. I’ve tried to quit before. But, “cold turkey” is never a good technique. You, my dear readers, are my support group.
Some of you might not understand this. For you, church is something completely different than it is for me. If that’s you, please give me grace. If you can’t understand me, then at least continue to love me.
If you’re reading this and you attend my wonderful, loving church, please understand that there is nothing wrong with you or our church. The bar isn’t to blame for the alcoholism, nor are the patrons.
If you see me at church, most of you will hug me and say, “Welcome back.” Just like most of my old smoking buddies will offer me a cigarette when they smoke in front of me. Just like most of them would never judge me for bumming one.
But, I hope that at least one of you will be like that rare friend of an addict. After greeting me and hugging me, I hope that at least one of you will look me in the eyes and say, “What are you doing? I thought you quit.”
Because, I don’t know who I am without this. But, I need to find out.