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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Slippery Slopes

You’ve heard the expression perhaps. “It’s a slippery slope”, suggesting that some circumstance or action poses a risk of accelerating a downward descent, and likely one over which we will have little control once begun. I’ve been thinking about this recently as several friends and acquaintances took such a step. We might ask why we do this; why we knowingly put ourselves in difficult or even perilous positions understanding that the consequences can be damaging or even threatening to our future?

Some months ago, I wrote about the human capacity for self-deception, our ability to perform a sleight of hand trick in which we tell ourselves we will not do something we know to be wrong or fraught with risk but do it anyway. It would be a fascinating study in human behavior if it were not for the very real consequences. What are these risks? They are familiar to you I imagine. Taking that next drink or reverting to an addictive drug are all too common ways we can begin our fall. In relationships, we may be tempted and succumb to our need for attention, intimacy or what we mistake for love. There are others to be sure but they all have in common certain causes and traits. For one they all begin out of a feeling---a feeling of unhappiness borne out of real or perceived adversity in our lives. Something we want or had is missing, we are hurting and want to make ourselves feel better. That’s the temptation.

In our desire to escape the pain we feel in the moment, we take a step that can only end badly. If we have lived more than a few years we know from experience it is risky and has led us before into the dark depression and far deeper pain that accompanies self-deception. We will feel wretched later, when we recognize that we have inflicted more pain on ourselves and others, once again, but in the moment our need seems so great we bargain our own future just to feel the momentary semblance of getting what we want and need. And so, begins the cycle. Self-loathing follows in most cases and the instant high is quickly replaced by the even deeper pain and regret we feel at having slipped again. Do it often enough and the willful structures we have put into place to prevent recurrence become ever more tenuous until they are of no substance.

Formalized programs for addiction recognize these behaviors and prescribe steps that must be taken to restore equilibrium and prevent recurrence. Let me focus on two of these. The first is taking ownership. That means recognizing that we are the agents of our own pain, and not some external set of circumstances or fate. This is a critical element, without accepting that we have brought about our own misfortune we cannot take whatever steps may be necessary to accept forgiveness and avoid repeating the same pattern over again.

Forgiveness is that second crucial element. We must seek forgiveness and accept it from everyone, most importantly from ourselves. We have violated trust, eroding the fabric of all relationships, including and most important of all our relationship with our higher selves. When we erode trust in ourselves, we are at sea without hope of rescue. We are the only ones who can take on the difficult work of repairing our lives and setting a new course for our future, but if we lack confidence in our ability to do so we are beaten before we begin. Whether you call this higher self our conscience or God within us, as I do, is a personal matter. But either way, a faith—yes I said faith in our ability to overcome the temptation to slip and fall again, a faith that we can make things right again must be present if we are to be in any way successful in staying the course to redemption.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that faith in myself alone is not sufficient. I am not that strong, as much as I would like to project so. I look to God as my strength and lean on him knowing that with his help I have the resources of infinite power at my disposal. On my own, I am just a man, flawed and limited, given to temptation, to a weak will, and an inability to foresee the consequences of my actions past a certain point. When I allow my feelings to rule, I am cast adrift of all reason and good judgement. I don’t reject feelings –to do so would be to deny my humanity, but I recognize that they are a product of my experience and ephemeral. Today I may feel one way and tomorrow another—feelings are too easily influenced by everything outside me. I need to be constant, and the only way I have learned to do so is to remember that I am weak, that I cannot overcome everything on my own, that I am surrounded by people who love and support me, and most of all by a loving and forgiving God.

So, for my friends and acquaintances who find themselves in difficult straits, I want you to know that you are loved, you are forgiven, and together we both have the strength to live in the moment of this day—present, aware and accepting of God’s grace.

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