I have 2 new posts at our Biblical Seminary faculty blog: one about what my dog teaches me about shame and desire and another about a rethinking of Christianity through the lens of evangelisation of the Masai–not into a Western-style church but into their own expression of church and community. You might not have any interest in a tribe from Tanzania, but I think you will find Father Donovan’s book an opportunity for you to re-think what the Gospel is all about.
Tag Archives: addiction
Our six-year-old cocker spaniel has learned a new trick. After having lived with us for over 1.5 years, she has figured out that she can open the pull-out cabinet drawer that contains our trash. This only happens when we leave her penned in the kitchen. I suspect we left some wonderful smelling meat scraps in it one night and the desire enabled some higher level problem-solving skills (she’s not the brightest dog in the world). Now that she has learned how to do this, we’ve taken to bungy cording the drawer. A few nights ago, we forgot and came home to a mess of coffee grounds and torn up trash all over the floor.
Interestingly, our dog responds in quite a predictable manner. Normally, when we come home, she is at the door to greet us by dancing around and putting her front paws on our legs. But each time we have come home to a mess she has made, we see her cowering and ready to bolt. The last time we came home to this mess, she squeezed out the door before we could get into the house so she could run away. No, we don’t beat her. She knows she has done wrong.
I’ve wondered what goes on in her head during the time she is into the trash. Does she know it is wrong? When does she start feeling bad. The moment we arrive? Has she been cowering and feeling guilty as soon as she spreads trash around? One more funny behavior: when we send her to her crate (in the basement) for a time out, she goes right away. But then, after a bit, we see her outside of her crate but sitting patiently. Then, she’s at the bottom of the stairs looking to see if we will let her up. Then, her front paws on the first step, waiting in anticipation that we’ll say all’s forgiven.
And this relates to addictions how?
Most individuals who struggle with an addiction have the strong feeling of guilt even as they partake. Guilt rarely is enough to stop us from acting out. Even knowing that we may well be caught does not stop us as much as you might think it would. The desire to have what is right at our fingertips can easily overwhelm all sensibilities and logic–that will race back to us as soon as we finish partaking or as soon as someone finds out. Our initial response may include running away. Guilt and shame prevail for a time and then we creep back into life hoping that the troubles we have caused will blow over and life will return to normal.
Of course, we are not dogs and so we must use the gifts God has given us (a brain capable of higher order planning, the Spirit) to learn from our mistakes and misdeeds. We can
- remove ourselves from proximity to the addictive agent
- plan for accountability, especially during vulnerable times
- examine the roots, shoots, and fruits of our addictions with a trusted friend/counselor
- remind ourselves of the power to say no and the foolish, false promises of addiction
For more of what I have written about addictions and interventions search the word in the seach box at the top of this page.
Over on the NPR website Alva Noe (Philosopher, UC Berkeley) writes an interesting opinion blog (aren’t they all?) about why we shouldn’t call addiction a disease of the brain. As you will see from the hundreds of comments, he surely riled a bunch of people up. Some of the comments are quite clear, others just humorous. But I commend his blog for you to read. It makes you think about how some of our language regarding addiction unhelpfully narrows down the problem, thereby making it more difficult to pinpoint all that needs to change when fighting addiction.
Is addiction a disease of the brain? Following his logic, no. Is it a disease that involves the brain? Yes. We must recognize that we are not mere machines and as a result mental illness and addiction both must be viewed from socio-cultural-biological-relational-experiential-spitual-will perspective. A lot goes into creating an addiction. We ought not single out neural structures and activity as if that says all we need to know.
However, on the flip side, to suggest the that addiction isn’t a disease or a biological problem may also send the wrong message. In fact, addicts rarely can “just say no.” By the time they seek help their bodies are working against whatever little will power they have left.
So, addiction is a disease of the person. It may not qualify as a disease that we can identify on a specific cell, but the addicted person is no longer functioning properly and thus their entire person is diseased.
Why are addictive behaviors, well, so hard to resist? We know they are bad for us. We know they won’t give us what we ultimately want. We’ve had times where we assure ourselves that we will not return to behaviors that have hurt us in the past…and hurt our families. We’re sure we would never find them appealing again.
And then we find ourselves returning to the habit again.
I’ve written more recent blog posts here and here on the topic of addictions (you can also use the search engine on this page to find others). You may also check out my “Slides, Articles, etc.” for links to talks on the cycle of addiction. Here, I want to help non-addicts take the mystery out of why addictions are so addicting.
- I feel a particular “need” (craving, desire, want, …and I feel desperate about the “need”
- I solve the need with something that fills the need, at least temporarily.
Think about it. You wouldn’t drink alcohol for 2 days in order to get the benefit. You drink because in 20 minutes you will get the benefit. You wouldn’t view porn for a week in order to finally get some payoff. You view porn to get the pay off now.
Of course, when we solve with the addictive behavior, we rarely calculate the cost because the cost does not seem all that nearby. But the cost is there nonetheless. Cover-ups, deception, use leads to shame, self-hatred, distance from family, and ironically, increased desires or “need.”
On the other hand, “waiting” delays the use of the “substance.” When waiting includes using spiritual resources, friends, and other helpful mechanisms, it often encourages careful self-assessment. In time, the “need” may become more distant and the addict may come to see how unhelpful the “substance” really is. In Christian terms, this casting our burdens/desires on the Lord reminds us that we are not in the fight alone.
Why is it so hard to resist addictive behavior? Because they always give a pay off now. And Godly, wise, mature, delay or waiting tactics will never pay off in the immediate at the same rate of power. Praying IS powerful but God is not a vending machine and so praying rarely gives a person a cellular high.
If you are walking alongside an addict, remember that addictions make lots of sense and resisting almost always means increased pain, angst, and desire. So be sure to encourage them along the way. Telling them that their “I need” isn’t accurate may be true but probably won’t help them let go of desire. Rather, try hanging out with them in the “decision” spot pictured above. Sometimes when we delay deciding to use for a bit, we actually gain capacity to say no.
§By “work” I mean how we move from desire to action. I am not speaking here of the biological processes of addiction.
A friend of mine in the blogosphere has written this fine piece on addictions. Love how he starts it…that we think repentance should kill temptation. Further, he goes on to talk about Satan’s end-game with addictions. Is it getting you to imbibe in your addiction or is it something else?
And what is our end game? Not having to struggle with saying no to an addiction? Maybe it should be something else. Click the link above and read his short but helpful response.
Harvest USA, a local Philadelphia ministry, is just about ready to unveil a new booklet that will be available for purchase via download. I wrote this last year after trying to help someone consider whether or not residential care was necessary to address an ongoing battle with sexual addiction. They sent me an advance hard copy to preview and so I’ve included a pic of the front page on this post. Sorry, I couldn’t provide a better, color shot.
As you might expect, when a sexual addiction is discovered, confusion reigns among the addict and the family. What should they do? What does it mean? Where can he/she go to get help? Strong emotions and the nature of the crisis may lead to quick decisions. Whereas one family wants to find the best, most intensive solution, another family may try to solve the problem “in-house” with accountability from the pastor.
This is a short booklet designed to help the reader cut through some of the confusion and answer 8 key questions to help them decide whether it is necessary to seek treatment in a residency setting. The booklet concludes with a list of books and short-term and residential programs around the country.
I’ll let you know when the e-version is available for download.
I’m planning a series of writings on issues that Christians often bring to counseling; where they bring unique and significant questions that are difficult to answer. One of those issues is the topic of backsliding. We all know that the word backsliding carries the meaning of slipping away from a habit, identity, belief, etc. In Christian circles it means that one who was once active in their faith has stopped living it out or altogether moved away from said faith. One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from Tolstoy,
Quite often a man goes on for years imagining that the religious teaching that had been imparted to him since childhood is still intact, while all the time there is not a trace of it left in him. (Confession, 1983 reprint, p. 15)
When someone is in this position, they often ask questions about how it happened or what the future will hold. I’ve just run across a sermon by G. Campbell Morgan on the topic (The Westminster Pulpit, v. 1, 1954). The full text can be found here.
There are several things I found helpful:
1. His take on Deuteronomy as the law of love and containing the treatment of the disease of backsliding.
2. His take on how backsliding happens.
What is this process [of backsliding]? Mark three things…. The first is purely personal, perhaps hidden from men, the corruption of the self. The second is the sequel to self-corruption, the making of a graven image. Finally, the overt act of evil.
What is self-corruption? It is the devotion of the life to something lower than the highest. The first movement of backsliding may be accomplished without committing any sin which the [present] age names vulgar. In the moment in which a man takes his eye from the highest and sets it upon something lower, be the distance apparently never so small, he has set himself upon the decline which ends in the desert and in the agony of rejection. (p. 100)
3. His conception of idolatry.
You say….”I have set up no graven image.” Remember, the graven image is always the figure of that which lies behind it. When a man has corrupted himself, the issue is always that he thinks falsely of God. Man is so linked to deity in the very essential of his being that he will form his conception of God upon what he is in himself….He is forever projecting his own personality into immensity, and calling that God. (p. 101)
4. His closing on the promise: If you seek him, you shall surely find him…
If you seek him with all your heart and soul you will find him….Will he come with flaming and flashing glory? In all probability, no. Will he come with some new sense of his coming, making you thrill in every fiber of your being? In all probability, no. It is far more likely that he will come with a still small voice…. Trample your pride beneath your feet, Crucify your prejudice….
One of the struggles I hear in “backsliding” or relapsing sinners is that they (and me too!) look for Christianity to provide the same stimulus as an addiction. We look for God to give us the high, the excitement, the freedom from pain. He may, but never in the way that an addiction or a sin pattern might provide (in the short run). The struggle I hear is that when God does not supply an equally exciting substitute for the addiction then the person wonders if God is real or if the fight for freedom from addiction is really worth the effort in the end.
If you know someone with this struggle, send them the link to the chapter. It may provide a bit of relief.
Now, a post title like this deserves a long and fair answer. Lacking the time, I’m only going to address one issue–that of the healing process with addictions. If you ask a person in AA how they defeat addictions they will quickly point out the need for God (or higher power) and the need for community in changing their lifestyle. They need a sponsor, they need to feel they are fighting with others to maintain their sobriety. Will power will not be enough.
I suspect that most Christians would agree. But, here’s the problem. When we are asked about the healing agent for any sinful or repetitive problem, we point to Jesus. True, without God we do not have a shot of defeating our nemeses. When we talk like this it can sound like an isolationist, just me and God, healing process.
One of my students said it well. When he got saved out of his addictions he got new friends, new discipleship activities, and a new view of the reality of addictions (friends died). He had new activities to replace the old, new reinforcement patterns, etc. And, while he points to the saving grace of God, it wasn’t an isolating event.
That is our problem. We continue to think of our sanctification as a me and God experience. AA does a better job (often) than the church in reminding each other of the need for support without any condemnation for needing years and years later.
Am reading CS Lewis’ The Silver Chairagain (my least favorite of the Narnia chronicles). If you’ve not read it, it tells the story of the King Caspian’s son, Prince Rilian, and his escape from the underworld by the help of two British children and a Marshwiggle. Prince Rilian has been captured by a witch who keeps him insane and believing that he was rescued by her and that she will put him on a throne soon in the overworld. He stays sane except for an hour when he is bound to a silver chair at which point he comes to and know who he is and that the evil witch murdered his mother.
The children and the marshwiggle help him escape the chair while he is sane. He turns on the chair with a sword and shreds it to pieces. At that moment, he has all the clarity of sane thinking and sees reality as it really is. But moments later, the witch returns and begins to cloud his mind with a soothing music, voice and something thrown on the fire. Within minutes they begin to doubt the truth and believe that what is bad is good and what is good is only a fantasy. They disbelieve Aslan, the sun. The Overworld is fantasy and the underworld is the true world.
Now, this story is not about addiction but it reminded me how quickly we can move from seeing the abomination of an addictive habit to beginning to believe it might not be so bad. The addict “repents” from the consequences of their action only to fall right back because the siren song has their number.
Do you notice this in your life about irritability, rage, jealousy, substances, food, internet sex? It doesn’t have to be a traditional addiction, just something that we find ourselves telling (to ourselves) those sweet little lies.
Later this week I’ll be speaking at CCEF’s Annual Conference about addiction (more to come on that tomorrow) and so lately I’ve been thinking about sin and addiction.
It is common for Christian folk stuck in repetitive sin to move away from God. Why? There are a variety of reasons but often they include overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, and a desire to fix the problem through some sort of penance. But when individuals suffer from being sinned against, they are much more likely to go to God and talk to him about it.
With that in mind, I went to church yesterday and heard a sermon by our pastor on Judges 4-5 (The Deborah/Barak/Sisera story). And Pastor Traylor made this point,
Israel brought their oppression on themselves by their own idolatry. Yes, the king of Caanan was the oppressor but the cause was their own foolishness and evil inclination. What do they do? It seems that after 20 years of oppression, they cry to the Lord and he provides, yet again, a rescuer. This pattern is evident throughout Scripture but nowhere clearer than in the book of Judges. Sinners return to God, cry out for mercy and rescue, and God hears and delivers.
What if we were to cry out for deliverance much quicker? When we are righteously suffering it seems easy to do. But when we know we have fallen away, we find it much harder.
Do you suffer from the consequences of repetitive sin? Turn to God the second after to seek his deliverance. Continue that pattern (in an honest fashion) and you will discover that God provides the way of escape BEFORE you give in to that temptation.
We need to beat it into our heads that God wants us to turn to him even when we sin. The illustrations are numerous that we are loved by a pursuing God. Unfortunately, we also see that we are very committed to covering up our brokenness. Let us remember it is a losing battle. We will not be able to cover up for ever…
May God have mercy and deliver us from evil.