I'm not upset at those who focus on behavior modification in recovery. After all, it makes sense to look at what addicts are doing and freak out a little. Rarely does a person look at an addict's behavior and say to themselves, Yeah, that's rational. More likely, their eyes pop out of their heads as they scream (at least in their mind), "Are you crazy?!"
Unfortunately, though, what I see happen over and over again with addicts who endeavor to focus solely on behavior modification in their recovery is that they never actually change. They may not "act out" anymore because they have all sorts of "tools" in their lives to make sure that doesn't happen, but fundamentally nothing has changed in the one place where change matters the most: the mind.
What we think matters, not just in addiction recovery but in life as a whole. Thoughts are the basis of everything we do. I dare you to try and come up with one decision you make without using your mind. Sorry, you lose. You just had to use your mind to understand the dare. The mind is the engine behind our actions. So, using the car analogy, if you want to change how your life "runs," you must change your mind (engine), not your paint color (behaviors).
I'm not going to pretend like I know everything about how thoughts form. (I'm not that smart!) And especially for addicts it can become a difficult exercise in futility to try and completely figure out which is feeding which; are the thoughts feeding the behaviors or are the behaviors feeding/reinforcing the thoughts? My answer? Yes, it's a big mess! But rather than focus on origins (which are important) I want this post to focus on solutions (which is what addicts really need).
Transformation: Renewing Your Mind
Regardless of how you became addicted, the long-term solution, the route to finding freedom and joy, is by transforming your mind.
Romans 12:2 - Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
If we start from the premise that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Deut. 8:3, Matt. 4:4) then we must see His Word as the authority on how we are to live. As such, we see that the way we discern and live out God's will is by rejecting what the world offers (lies) and embracing what God offers (truth). Where this transference takes place is in the mind.
The first thing we must acknowledge is that even as believers in God we can be fooled by the lies of the world. God would not instruct us to not be conformed to this world if it were impossible for us to be conformed to this world. Therefore, transformation is not a gift of God, it is a discipline of ours as a follower of Jesus. Change will take work!
The Truth is a Person
John 8:31-32 - So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Where does one go to affect this change of mind that is necessary to break free from addiction? God's Word, the Bible. Jesus essentially offered the path to freedom: know Me, the Truth, and you will be free. Here is where I want to be careful with how I communicate what it is to "know" the truth.
Truth, the kind that transforms your life, is not a bunch of facts about life. Truth is a person, Jesus Christ. Therefore, to know the truth is to know Jesus. This requires a much different kind of connection than you would have to words on a page. It is an ongoing building of intimacy and dependence on the Creator, not merely an ability to recite facts about Him.
Imagine you read Billy Graham's autobiography, Just As I Am. You would obtain lots of facts about his life, even by his own hand. But could you say with integrity that you knew Billy, that you had a relationship with him? Not simply from reading his biography. Real relationships are different than academic knowledge. This is why if you want real transformation, a true change of mind, you cannot simply engage text on a page; you must interact with Truth, Jesus Christ.
The best way to get started in knowing Truth is to read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). These are firsthand accounts of Jesus' life and teachings. Also, by faith in Christ, you have access to Him through prayer and meditation. Take your time. You are building a relationship, so there is no need to be in a hurry. Transformation is a life-long process.
Repetition is the Mother of Skill
Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Transforming your mind is a discipline, a daily skill that requires attention, effort and repetition. Don't think (pun intended) that you can spend a few days focusing on some bible verses and praying and expect to totally replace whatever lies and patterns you have embraced in the dark for years. You are on a journey of change, one that demands you train your mind with truth; day by day, moment by moment.
A key ingredient to effectively changing your mind, and thereby changing your actions, is to never train alone. Your history has proven that you are no match for your enemy (Satan) when trying to go it alone. He is too cunning and patient for you to handle on your own. He also employs horrible tactics such as shame and doubt and self-reliance. If you try to change alone, you will fail. Period. Locks arms with other followers of Jesus and pursue transformation through engaging the Truth.
A New Mind, A New You
There is a great promise for those who seek Truth, who pursue Jesus. We will be like Him!
1 John 3:2-3 - Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (Emphasis mine)
So, does it matter what you think? Absolutely! You are what you think. And if you want to be more like Jesus and less like addiction, I suggest you get to know the Truth. He really will set you free...