Transfer Addiction

One addictive behavior can be replaced by another without interior work and conversation


“Oh, there’s an emptiness inside her and she’d do anything to fill it in…” –lyrics from “Grey Street” by Dave Matthews Band

I made the decision to have roux-en-y gastric bypass in March 2019 and surgery was September 2019. But this article isn’t about weight loss. It’s about transfer addiction. My doctor laid out some rules that I should follow if I wanted to be a “good” patient. Many of them were easy and with logical explanations. My doctor came to the last rule and said it as if it was almost a throw away. 

“Oh and no drinking alcohol. For the rest of your life.” I just looked at her with a blank stare. 

She continued “we know what you do” (as a pastor) “so, have communion. Maybe have a glass of champagne down the road when your daughter gets married, but that’s it.” 

I confidently answered, “Too many empty calories, huh?” 

Without looking up from her clipboard she said “Nope. We don’t want our patients to go from being addicted to food to being addicted to alcohol.” In preparation for surgery, I stopped drinking that day. And it was hard. Really hard. I’ve remained sober since that day, but it’s been challenging. 

I had never heard about transfer addiction before. It started to make sense to me though. My stomach wouldn’t be able to handle the volume of food it was used to. Food could no longer be my comfort, haphazardly eating whatever, whenever, however, and wherever I wanted. At the same time, alcohol couldn’t fill that function either. I didn’t search hard, but I knew other things could fill that void: gambling, shopping, exercise (or over-exercise) and even sex could all be used to comfort. All of those indulgences could also be used for coping, avoidance, or celebration. Despite the fact that I believe deep down in my soul that God created me “fearfully and wonderfully made,” I was an addict. I have an addictive personality. God didn’t make a mistake when crafting me. My brain is just a jerk. There are medications and therapy to help with this, but this isn’t about SSRI’s and the gift of therapy. 

To fill the void

I wouldn’t have ever considered myself an alcoholic. I never hid my drinking. I didn’t desire a drink to start or keep functioning. I never blacked out. I had a picture in my mind of what an alcoholic does and I wasn’t one of “those people.” I have seen alcoholics. I know alcoholics. I have them in my own family. It was a weird sense of pride that I could “handle” my drinking. It wasn’t until I was forced to quit that I realized that perhaps my consumption was more like an alcoholic than I desired to admit. Self confession is difficult for me. It’s hard to not blame, dwell, and lament on my shortcomings over and over. I believe in grace for you; believing in grace for myself is another story. After all, to call myself an addict is a bold and audacious move and one I wonder comes with forgiveness and mercy. 

Now, this may not be a popular opinion, but I think we all have something. You may not call it an addiction. But many, if not all of us, have something we do to fill a void. Whatever it is that we do can even be healthy and lifegiving (like relationships). But it is possible to slip easily from substances or processes that are life giving to those that are life draining. It’s the whole “too much of a good thing” idea. Then when we “slip” we (okay, I) start a shame spiral. I think:

  • If I were a “stronger” Christian, I might be able to avoid temptation. 
  • If my relationship with God was “better,” then when food, sex, shopping, even quality time present themselves, I’d be able to know what was a “good and proper” amount. 
  • If I spent more time in scripture, when Satan came calling with all the desires that fill my soul with all that I think I need, I’d be able to use verses of refute. And quickly. 
  • Why don’t I have better control? Why can’t I have more control? Isn’t self control one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? 

Just because I can’t or don’t drink anymore doesn’t mean I haven’t found ways of abusing my mind, body, or spirit. I’m well versed in negative self-talk, spiraling, shaming myself, and following the anxiety train to Nowheresville. 

I am not alone

Friends, why do we do this? I’m not alone in all of this, am I? We were made in the image of God. We all have a little reflection of our beautiful creator in us. I tell my people all the time that if God has a fridge, our picture is on it. We are worthy of love. We are worthy of mercy. We are worthy of forgiveness. Our addictions do not define us. Baptismal waters do.  I am grateful that I can return to those waters daily, even hourly, if I need to. And sometimes, I need to. I want to look in the mirror and see what God sees. I want to feel the desire for a drink, food, or other void-filling things and instead be reminded that I am enough. It’s a daily struggle. I want all of the control but none of the consequences and that’s just not how life works. I am a work in progress. I mess it up a lot. But on the days when I am still and calm enough to hear God, I am filled with peace that is more than any vice can ever bring. 

Your turn

What vice comes between you and God? 

Are there current spiritual practices that you engage in to remind yourself that you are loved? 

Have you ever voiced (out loud) the idea that you, too, might have an addiction? Confide in a trusted friend today and start a conversation.

  • Jealaine Marple

    Rev. Jealaine Marple (she/her) is the interim pastor at First Lutheran Church in Mission Hills, KS. She enjoys time with her family, the dog (just the one…the other is shady), podcasts, and cheering on local sports teams. She’s been sober for 1,298 days…so far.

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