Not long after I got sober in October 2000, they re-released the movie “The Exorcist” in theaters. Looking for things to do in my early sobriety, I went to see the movie with several friends I had made while in treatment for my addiction, a couple of whom were ultimately killed by their disease. Though I had seen the movie in the past, the plot of a young girl possessed by something destructive and evil seemed to take on new meaning for me, even though I still wasn’t convinced that things like demons or evil existed. However, coming out of nearly fourteen years of active alcoholism, I was convinced that something outside of myself had taken over my body and personality, turning myself into a creature that only vaguely resembled my old self.
About half way through the movie there is a scene where the two exorcist priests have taken a break after hours of futility, failing to remove the demon from the young girl, witnessing her doing things that could only be described as sub-human. At one point, the younger priest turns to the older and begins asking questions about this evil, confused and terrified about the what he is witnessing.
He asks the older priest imploringly:
“What is the point of this evil? Why this girl?”
The older priest, answers his question with this statement:
“I think the point is to have us despair, so that we see ourselves as animal and ugly and reject the idea that God could possible love us.”
When I heard those words in the theater, a cold chill ran up my spine. I had found the perfect description for what the disease of addiction had done to me for the past decade.
In the last years of my alcoholism it seemed as though I had been separated from all things good in this world. My capacity to love was gone. I couldn’t sleep or eat, the ability to receive joy was destroyed, and my creativity was no more. But the most damaging part of my addiction was the way in which it obliterated my capacity to see the beauty of the world around me, both seen and unseen. The only way to experience the above pleasures was to continue to use the drug that was causing the problem in the first place. That is what they mean when they talk about powerlessness in 12 Step Meetings.
One of the reasons I write this blog is to generate compassion for those suffering with addiction. After working in the field for nearly twenty years, I know for sure that most people who are struggling with addiction and mental health issues do not want to be the way that they are. This is difficult to see, because it looks like they are making the choice to live the way they live, destroying their bodies and families the way they do, but in my experience this is rarely the case. Science is beginning to recognize the truth of this statement, identifying deficiencies in the addicted brain that leave some people with little choice but to try to make themselves feel better by altering their neurochemistry. As I have said for years, all addicts and alcoholics are self-medicating.
In The Exorcist, both the priests and the child’s mother must look past the horrifying behaviors she is exhibiting while possessed, remembering that underneath all the hatred and ugliness, there is a little girl trapped within the evil. The ability to gaze deeply into the depths of human beings and see the divinity within is the greatest hope for healing addiction, and probably most of human evil we encounter everyday.