“As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their “right” place.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen
What you think of me is really none of my business. I know that is the truth because I know that what you think of me doesn’t change my value as a person. The problem, of course, is when the little girl within me feels like she needs your approval. It isn’t fun to know someone doesn’t like me, but I’ve learned with a lot of practice to let go of what you think of me. Your opinion doesn’t change who I am, but your judging me surely does change you. If you are, as Nouwen says, “addicted” to righting the world and the people in it, what are you doing to yourself?
Nouwen’s quote caught my attention immediately because of two key words: judgment and addiction. Judgment is supposed to be an opinion arrived at after careful thought. Aside from the judges sitting on a bench, most of the judgment I have seen is from people who form opinions quickly, with little care and much thoughtlessness. Addiction is a cruel thing that finds people. The American Medical Association says “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease…” Addiction is a disease. Diabetes is a disease, cancer is a disease, ALS is a disease, and Celiac Disease is a disease. Knowing that the cause of an addict’s choices is a disease, does it change how you see them?
Defined by Merriam-Webster, addiction is “a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble); an unusually great interest in something or a need to do or have something.”
It is possible that you, too, are an addict. I know people who are addicted to eating, to shopping, to organizing the garage, and to drugs. I’m aware of many other types of addiction. In fact, there are over a hundred types of recovery groups: Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous,Workaholics Anonymous,Online Gamers Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous, Co-Dependents Anonymous, Pills Anonymous, Clutterers Anonymous, and the list just keeps going. There is a group to help you work through recovery for things you didn’t even know were problems or addictions. We all have habits that can cause us problems. For some people, a habit becomes an addiction–it is out of their control. Some folks spend the better part of their lives fighting addiction, while others heal and are never tempted again. When the world is telling you that your addiction is a simply your bad choice, it’s hard to want to tell anyone, or to ask for help. With a fear of betrayal, most addicts keep their addiction a secret.
Ann Aguirre, (Grimspace), said “Once exposed, a secret loses all its power.” How can I share my secret, allowing that power to finally be removed, if I am consumed with worry about the judgment that will follow? I’ve thought so much this week about a man whose secret was exposed, and I’ve thought of the good that can come because that secret, his addiction, immediately lost a large part of its power over him. Still, he will have to deal with the legal ramifications and the physical withdrawal for his body and mind, but what a relief to know he doesn’t have to hide anymore!
The fear of being exposed holds a person hostage, powerful secrets paralyze and control. It is the power in your judgment that keeps many locked in their secrets. What if revealing your secret means your friends unfriend you, the people in the pew whisper, and the water cooler becomes a murky pond of gossip? Addiction and other secrets remain covered like the cloak of a masquerade as long as the rest of us sit poised with our gavels.
Take a minute to separate the person from the addiction, the offender from the crime. No one wants to be controlled by something or someone else, do they? “I can stop _______ whenever I want.” What have you tried to stop doing, yet found was calling you back–felt out of your control? Watching television? Playing the lottery? Eating sweets? Drinking alcohol? Keeping order in your home or office? Taking pills? Surely you see–we typically only think a problem is an addiction when it affects how someone else is able to function. The truth is we each have things which could become addictions, and any of us could be the judge holding someone else hostage.
Not judging another person’s choices is a gift you can give to them and to yourself. Outside of addiction, people will still make choices that we don’t understand. Sometimes, that is just where we must leave our thoughts and opinions. It’s really none of their business what we think of them, nor ours what they think of us. If we continue to allow OUR value to be based on what we have, what we do, and what others think of us, we will remain filled with THEIR judgments and condemnations, and those will become our own. Maybe today is the day your secret will lose its power over you, the day you will feel strong enough to risk exposure and share that you need help. Maybe when you learn that someone has risked so greatly, you’ll choose to refrain from judging, and the world will become a little safer for all of us.