When I think of an addict, the image of a drugged-up, gaunt-faced, gutter-bound junkie from a school health video comes to mind. So when a psychologist recently spoke about addiction at a Bible study I attend, I started to tune him out. He's talking to people who do drugs, smoke or drink alcohol, I thought. I'm not like that. But the first addiction he mentioned—coffee—grabbed my attention.
Don't get me wrong. I wasn't one of those people who drinks five pots a day. I didn't have a constant case of the jitters. But I did tote my coffee mug to every class, especially those 8 a.m. ones waaaay across campus on bitter cold mornings. I seriously doubted I could stay awake the full hour and a half without my daily dose of caffeine.
And that's exactly what addiction is, the presenter pointed out. When you can't function—stay alert and active—without something, you're dependent upon it. It has become your drug. You need your fix before you feel good. Pretty soon, you reach a point where the same amount won't give you the same effect it used to. So you need more. As I listened to this, I shuddered. The week before, I'd added a 10 p.m. mug to my coffee routine so I could work better at night. I was hooked.
Unfortunately, the college atmosphere lends itself to addictions. Students are free to make their own choices, so it's easier to get out of balance in certain areas when no one's checking up on you. Everything's new, and juggling all your activities, classes and friends is a challenge. It's easy to feel out of control, so we seek stability in something else. That something else often ends up controlling us.
Almost anything can feed our need for control. Some people pick up smoking to ease their nerves. Others start drinking to loosen up at parties. Still others find comfort in food, or in restricting food. Computers, exercise, soft drinks, schoolwork, success, e-mail, the opposite sex, money (spending or hoarding it), pornography, television, popularity, and yes, even coffee can begin to dictate how we live.
Many serious addictions require counseling, support groups and sometimes even hospitalization. God has provided these measures for dealing with deeply rooted addictions that have become life threatening and destructive. But the psychologist pointed out that I could be free from everyday addictions like my caffeine dependence by asking Christ to change my attitude. He gave three steps for doing this.
First, he said, I needed to identify what was controlling my life—whatever my sinful nature was telling me that I needed. For me, it was coffee. Then, he said, I needed to realize that Jesus took my sinful desires with him to the cross and crucified them there (Galatians 5:24). I had to depend on Jesus' grace to free me from my addiction because I didn't have the strength or desire on my own. Finally, the psychologist said, I was to live that new life of freedom the Spirit gave me, and seek to understand his desires for me (Galatians 5:16-17, 25). I had to let the Spirit control things and learn day-by-day to follow where he led. It was a challenge, but eventually, God gave me the endurance to not only function without coffee, but to actually live without it.
Now I can go out with friends for an occasional caffe latte and not desire it all the time. I recognize the difference between needing something and wanting it. Best of all, I'm free to develop another "addiction" to the One who gives real freedom to live life to its fullest—Jesus.
Heather, a junior at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, served a one-week internship with Campus Life last spring.