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Disordered Attachments

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2 November 2009 2 Comments

This is a hard blog to write. It’s a hard thing to admit.
I have disordered attachments (sounds like one of those awkward TV commercials about things no one ever really talks about, doesn’t it?)Disordered attachments are those things (objects, experiences, activities, even other people) who become the focus of our desires and, consequently our time on this earth, rather than seeking the will and companionship of God.

Recently I faced the reality of someone living amidst Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder manifested as Hoarder’s syndrome. Imagine walking into a house in which every surface, every corner, every chair, every closet, every drawer was filled or covered with junk. There is no place to sit, no place to hang a coat, no place to walk in some cases. Even the trunk of the car was used as a storage area. Company is not invited over and friends are actually few and far between because time is spent gathering more or continually finding ways to try to hide the stuff already accumulated. OCPD is a mental illness, beyond a person’s control in many cases. It is as tragic as incurable cancer. This clinical disorder prevents a person from ever getting rid of anything out of “fear” that it might be needed. It was horrifying and sad to see and I asked myself “How can anyone live like that? How can their soul find rest amidst such fear and clutter?”

But in a moment of prayer and intimacy with the One, I recognized that I too have disordered attachments. I have desires or wants that go unquestioned and become almost habitual rather than be considered in light of what they give to or deny my soul in the present moment. Sometimes I can even justify that they give me joy and they do, but they distract me from the focus to be closer to God. And far too often the moments of my day are spent trying to placate those rather than being open and present to how God is working or calls me to work in my day. Similar to the over- cluttered house, these attachments clutter my soul.

For example, I just took a 10-day trip back to the U.S. from our current home in El Salvador. Even though we are only going to be here for six more weeks, I spent much of my time stocking up on foods my family craved. I was quite proud of myself for packing my bags 50lbs to the ounce so as not to be overcharged. But just because you can “manage” your attachments does mean they are healthy. Struggling to haul nearly 100lbs through five airports, my disorder hit me. This is nuts! Rather than be at peace in my travels and truly work to inculturate or simplify our lives—wherein I profess God most clearly exists—I was attached to the fear of feeling empty or at a loss if I didn’t have those junk food staples of my life. And the time I spent accumulating my attachments could have been spent on less self-centered behaviors such as engaging my ailing father or helping my mother around the house. I missed those opportunities to answer God’s call.

I’ve seen many people with disordered attachments, to technology, to money, to work or the need for recognition, to another person, or to things. None of these are bad in themselves. In fact, in the Ignatian tradition we are called to find God in all things. The disorder comes from allowing the object of the attachment to subtly take the place of our search for God’s presence and will in this moment or situation. We are not truly open, we do not have the freedom to choose God’s will, instead we just got to have ________ (fill in your own disordered attachment here.)

But, in my prayer as well, I recognize that I am not helpless to control my attachments. Jesus says if something is causing you to sin cut it off or pluck it out, go cold turkey. But that takes a tremendous amount of will power and leaves one in angst over what is missing for quite some time. In other cases, like attachment to food or money or technology even, it is hard to function without the object of our disorder.

Ignatius guides us that in contemplation there are ways to overcome those disordered attachments.
- Naming the disorder is the place to start.
- Admitting the implications it has for one’s day and relationships.
- Recalling instead the ultimate desire of our lives is to move closer to God in each moment and serve others.
- Seeking the grace to be strong and committed to that Path. Rather than completely deny the object of my attachment, I seek only to hold it openly, in ways that free my soul from fear, trusting that if it truly is of God, the consolation it gives will stay present without my obsession.

I’ve heard contemplation defined as “anything that dismantles illusions.” To sit in honest contemplation with my actions or wants, hard as it is to admit, reveals their disordered nature. It also reveals their true nature as well.

I look forward to the day when I will actually get to travel with no baggage at all, completely free to enjoy the journey.

Photo: “Too Much Stuff” by Pete&Brook’s Photostream from Flickr (Used under Creative Commons license)


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  • Recidivus ut Sanitas said:

    “trusting that if it truly is of God, the consolation it gives will stay present without my obsession.”

    Golden calves only look ridiculous in retrospect. At the time, they seem perfectly reasonable, even necessary. Just recently, after many years of sobriety(I am a recovering alcoholic), I caught myself “reasoning” with myself as to why it would be acceptable to get drunk . And I will admit that I had a very strong inclination to agree with myself. I travel frequently for business and it would be a simple thing to do so without anyone knowing-and therefore without anyone being adversely affected. A completely false premise, of course. But what really struck me was the intensity of my desire for that to be true. I wanted VERY badly to believe me.

    I didn’t do it. I recognized that this was something I most definitely needed to confess to the trusted voices in my life, and they managed to” talk me down off the ledge”, so to speak.

    But it did give me some insight into how Aaron could arrive at the conclusion that a little metal cow was just the very thing. Or how Adam and Eve could think that hiding behind a few sticks was the perfect way to avoid a confrontation with the all powerful God of the universe. Things that I have previously viewed smugly.

    It also brought to light a deeper consideration. Why? What desolation am I seeking to avoid? What desire(s) are manifesting themselves errantly? “What is it that you want?” as Jesus so often asked? I have not yet arrived at the point where I can answer those questions in a succinct way; but I have been able to identify that it is related to identity. I “should” find consolation in my creator’s definition of Me; in fact, I do not. I am unable to “Be still and know…” because I remain unwilling to admit that I am not a god unto myself in those areas of the Self that remain tumultuous as a result.

    And so, I find myself asking, “Can those areas be made to be quiet? Can they find the victory that begins with surrender? Can they find the treasure of spiritual poverty?”

    “With man, this is impossible…”

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  • lisa said:

    funny how we can so easily see the true God within in others and fight it in ourselves (yet act like we are God at times!) thank you recidivus for sharing your challenge so openly with others that we may all realize we are not alone in our struggle. In just reading your response I find incredible consolation at seeing the God within you. I pray you can see it as well. You don’t need a drink any more than I need my junk food! We’ll both be better off without our attachments, and relying on the God between us!

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