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Slavery, Freedom, And The Soul Of Addiction

For some, the urge to spring clean starts today, when the clocks are set an hour ahead. For others, the weather is the trigger. For us, it’s the day after the Jewish holiday of Purim when most traditional Jewish homes begin (or are already well-into) cleaning for the upcoming Passover holiday.

Unlike traditional spring cleaning, Passover cleaning isn’t merely about getting rid of bacteria, dust, and junk (though that is usually a part of it)—it’s primarily about preparing oneself spiritually for the upcoming holiday of liberation, Passover, which celebrates the exodus of our ancestors from Egypt.

The main requirement of this psycho-spiritual practice is getting rid of *grain-based items that are capable of leavening or rising.”

The matter-of-fact reason? Our ancestors were in a great rush to leave their slavery in Egypt and were told not to wait for their bread to rise; therefore, they ate unleavened bread (matzoh).

The spiritual reason? Most of us eat grain products (like bread and pastry) that are puffed up, or leavened, all year long. In the spring we are charged with remembering that it’s easy to be puffed up with ourselves, but now is the time for a good dose of humility. We need to celebrate our freedom with inner-spaciousness. Without humility, the ego blocks up any space inside our psyches where the connection to the spiritual might flourish.

People in 12-step programs know this well. They acknowledge that their Higher-Power, the Source, the Creator, or simply God, is a vital part of recovery. There is a common expression of this: EGO is an acronym for Edging God Out. Too much ego, and there’s no room for recovery because one’s too consumed with me, me, me. (It’s important to note that there is another kind of me-first attitude vital to recovery, it’s called self-caring.)

But recovery and healing from addiction often requires that one asks other questions which, on the surface, don’t seem particularly related to addiction.

Some of these questions sound philosophical rather than psychological:

Who is this self I call “me”? Am I my brain and body? If so, then is my mind really just a function of the electro-chemical output of my brain? Why is my natural state untenable to me, so much so that I need to get “high”?

Some of these questions may sound spiritual, even religious:

Who is this “I” and why am “I” here? Does my life have meaning? If so, what is it?

Where do I seek the deeper answers to these questions? Do I have all the answers inside me (some argue, yes)? What if I believe there are answers I may not be aware of?

How can I feel/strengthen my connection to the Source, my Creator, God?

To us, there is simply no question that there is an important “I” in each of us. It’s a precious “I” that is infused with energy from the Creator, a spiritual self, a soul. But there is also room for that “I” to step aside, to make space in our psyche for awareness of deep meaning to blossom.

It bears comparison with cleaning out the garage or clothes closet. Throw out the useless, out-of-date stuff, the stuff that doesn’t fit who you are anymore and make room for the new stuff, the fresh stuff that makes us feel and look great.

Each “I” is a world unto itself, but like Milky Way, there’s space in between each world and energy fusing the worlds together. In order to function, and connect with our Higher Power (and to truly connect with others) we need the self and that space called humility.

If we think about it, we instinctively know that our profession doesn’t really define who we are. True, it’s socially normative (and convenient) to tell people, “I’m a therapist, I’m a writer, I’m an accountant, I’m an artist, I’m a singer,” but when we say it, we tame all the other aspects of our self into submission and become a “therapist” or “writer” or “accountant.” However, in order to recover and heal from addiction one needs to say, “I’m an addict.”

Jewish mysticism teaches that Pharaoh was the epitome of ego—haughty and arrogant, even to the point of self-destruction. He was addicted to flexing the muscles of his ego, he was addicted to power and self-love. Pharaoh was addiction personified. Pharaoh was the real slave.

The Israelite slaves, were willing to subjugate their own desires (represented by eating unleavened bread). Each person’s ego was set aside, and they were able therefore, to be led out of slavery into freedom. An inner and outer transformation took place. The slaves because truly free and each had enough inner space to accept the connection to the Source when it was offered them.

In the recesses of the psyche, the difference between addiction and sobriety is the difference between slavery and freedom.



*Products made out of wheat, barley, oats, spelt, rye.


Slavery, Freedom, And The Soul Of Addiction

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2012). Slavery, Freedom, And The Soul Of Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Mar 2012
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