I have an addictive personality.
I always knew this. But, when I was in seminary I took a family systems course and did my genogram. A genogram is a family tree that focuses on emotional process and how things are passed from generation to generation. My own genogram showed me that addictive personalities were common, especially among the males, in my family of origin.
How this translated into my own life is that it is hard for me to do something half-heartedly. For the things I choose to do, I’m either all in or checked out.
One of my addictions was video games. This started right around the time that I finished seminary. We had gotten the original Nintendo game console for our kids, but I was the one who got hooked. I grew up loving pinball, then arcade video games, so this was no surprise.
My game was Super Mario Cart.
It’s a silly go-kart racing game that consumed me. I would play at night after everyone went to bed so that it didn’t interfere with my work life or family life. And I killed it. First I mastered the 50cc level. Then the 100cc level, which I thought meant I mastered the game. But as soon as I completed that, a whole new level, 150cc, magically appeared. I was sad when I mastered 150cc and nothing new appeared.
Then it was on to Mario Andretti racing. I always liked Indy cars, so this was cool. I got to race on tracks I had seen on TV, which made it even more realistic. It was around this time that my family got me a steering wheel, gas/brake pedal, gear-shift attachment. Big mistake. No more thumbs for me, I was really driving.
But something happens in an addiction. It’s no longer fun.
I got to the point that the only thing that mattered was winning every race. If I crashed or didn’t finish first it was a failure. And even winning didn’t feel good. I just checked it off and moved on. Worse yet, it started affecting my life. I would stay up later and later. Just one more race. Just one more race. If you’ve ever binge-watched a TV show, you know the feeling. I would stay up way too late and go to bed feeling unfulfilled. Not good.
My other addiction was the football team I grew up loving. I recently wrote about why I’m giving up my season tickets, but I have not been addicted for a long time. Oh, I love watching and rooting, but it wasn’t an addiction.
You see, when I was addicted, my life revolved around the team. The worst part was how I felt when they lost. It ruined my day. Made me grumpy. It often carried over into the next day. I would wake up and think about the game with regret. And they lost a lot. Not good.
So how did I kick these addictions? Clarity.
There were two separate but related incidents that occurred very close to each other in time. One when I was playing video games on a weekend day (my addiction had gotten out of hand). The other when I was watching my team lose.
In each of these incidents, one of my kids came up and asked me to do something with them. In each case, I snapped back that I was busy and they went away sad. It still makes me sad to think about it. I hope they forgive me.
Nobody had to tell me what was going on. I felt it deep down. You might say it was God getting through to me. But I stopped playing video games. And even though I kept rooting for my team it was different. If they lost, I reminded myself that it was just a game.
In fact, they lost so much for so long that my wife asked me, “Why do you still watch them?”
I would say, “It’s entertainment. You pay to go to sad movies don’t you (actually, she doesn’t)?”
Why do I share this?
Because every once in a while God gives us a moment of clarity where we understand what really matters.
These are life-changing, if we pay attention. And then do something about it. That’s what I learned.
I’m not suggesting that every addiction is so easy to kick. There are many that are devastating and seemingly impossible to be free from. But I am saying that doing my own family systems work helped me. It helped me to better understand who I am and what drives me. So when that moment of clarity came, I knew what I had to do.
I still have an addictive personality. But, I’m learning to focus it on positive things. I’ve been running regularly (some might say obsessively) since 2009. And for the last six months, I have been writing regularly. And in all of this, perhaps even because of this, I trust that there will be other moments of clarity. That’s how God works.
Questions for Reflection:
What consumes you? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?
How does God get through to you?
What do you do about it?