I have heard that when you go to Alcoholics Anonymous you introduce yourself by saying, “My name is unanonymous, and I’m an alcoholic”. How can a complex, made in the image of God person be identified by a behavior? Isn’t he also a doctor, a husband, father, friend, Christian? I suppose addictions take over a person’s life so that he becomes a doctor impaired by alcoholism, etc,. One assumes a diagnosis as an identity when it gets to the point of being the loudest thing in his life. Once an alcholic, always an alcoholic? They say so. That no matter how long a person abstains from alcohol, one sip can put someone in the exact same place they were immediately after the last binge.
What does the identifying diagnosis do to a person? Instead of thinking “I, like all others, have to moderate alcohol, just like I moderate how much garlic I sprinkle on the roast”, you think, “My thoughts are consumed by longing for alcohol and I haven’t been able to stop myself. It has damaged my relationships and now I must wholly devote myself to stopping.” It’s as if you couldn’t quit wanting to sprinkle garlic on everyone you meet. And the only way you can know if there’s enough is to taste them. Weird, but labeling such a takeover of behaviors as a Garlic Disorder seems apt because it has consumed the person’s life. I don’t know how many people who feel defeated by alcoholism would stand at the meeting and say, “I’m unanonymous and I’m alive.” I think they probably feel dead in their trespasses and sins. Their feelings don’t necessarily identify them though. Maybe if they felt more like a child of God they wouldn’t feel the need for alcohol. But there are habits. Perhaps the first step to breaking a habit is to admit you have the habit. You then try to understand the nature of the habit. Sadly, that’s not enough. I don’t know why understanding isn’t enough. Our impulses and dependencies must not come from our brains. Some people call it wiring. Nature, nurture, and habits begun at an early age establish how a person is wired. We have automatic responses to things. Recognizing a faulty response may first come from the conscience, not consciousness. I’m intentionally avoiding presuming God’s role in any of this, but I think he’s connected to nature, nurture, our conscience, and our good habits. Ideally we would be established with good wiring when we were young, then being an adult would be like rolling down a hill. You could trust your responses and impulses. Identifying faulty impulses and interrupting them is jolting and feels very unnatural. If it is a consuming bad habit, then a possible benefit to identifying yourself with that set of behaviors is to realize that they are in control of you. To say you’re a child of God should mean that he is the source or at least approves of all your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. To say that you’re a doctor is to say you help, not hurt people, etc. If this isn’t true, maybe another identification is necessary. And if that wrong impulse will always be there to trip you up, what does it mean to identify yourself with it as perhaps a permanent earthly label? If you have to devote almost all your energy to struggle against that impulse, then it doesn’t seem too out of place to call it an identity.
I have heard that sometimes it’s ok to leave off “a sinner” when saying the Jesus Prayer. Some people can despair over it. I have struggled with it. Like I said in the self-esteem post, you have to have a certain sense of self to admit your sin. If you can’t identify your sin with yourself, then maybe some work needs to be done.