,It is impossible for those who haven’t had to struggle with sexual identity issues and haven’t faced the agony of trying to decide to ‘come out’ what it must be like, unless possibly you are an addict. Living in the world, and in the culture today is difficult for anyone who might be slightly outside what is considered acceptable and ‘normal’. Just simple differences in looks, dress, hair styles, accents can all cause hurtful words and gossip. So, imagine what it must be like for those of color in a white neighborhood, those who struggle with sexual identity in a conservative neighborhood or family, or any other group that feels culturally discriminated.
Like many things that infect our spirit and soul, the more one experiences the ridicule or disconnection from the ‘norm’ the more shame builds up, contributing to a further borrowing into hiding. Being proud of your black heritage, or coming out to your family, or going against the predominant political or social issues within the family can be incredibly challenging and takes a great deal of courage and resilience. Isn't it understandable why people hide? Shame and fear are incredibly powerful and potent weapons of Satan.
There are several similar cultural myths between addicts those who fear coming out: they are bad, indigent or morally corrupt. “They just need to quit”, is a common refrain. Even though there are differences in reasons for hiding, addicts share internal worlds filled with similar amount and intensity of shame and fear. The drug (alcohol, drugs, sex, money, food, gaming, gambling) comes with societal stigmas that contributes to the need to stay hidden.
There are approximately 30 million problem drinkers / alcoholics in the US and there are less than 2 million in AA meetings. Approximately 95,000 people die each year from alcohol abuse. This is a huge gap between those who have sought help and those who need it. The current thinking is that the only way for an addict to come out is for them to come to the end of themselves, reach bottom and finally admit the drug has them licked. This can be due to loss of job, family, or financially destitute or they become sick and tired of being sick and tired.
A few thoughts on how we might address this intractable problem. Just as Jesus said to those who were going to stone the prostitute … “he who is without sin cast the first stone…”. What would it be like if everyone could see all our sin as a bubble above one another’s head, or written on the backs of their clothing, would we still be so judgmental and condemning? Make sure everyone in your circle including family, friends and especially children know that ‘there is nothing they can do to make you love them less, and there is nothing they can do that would make you love them more’. And mean it and show it!
Lastly, maybe in the church we could not only pray for and visit those who have physical ailments which is a very common practice, we could also openly pray for those who suffer from emotional and mental illnesses which are the real cause of their addictions. And we could have open and honest conversations about how our cultural norms perpetuates the hiding. Jesus called us to love the Lord, and to love our neighbors. He didn’t say just love those who are not in bondage.