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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Alcoholism Training in Tanzania

For those of you who are not aware of it, the Orthodox Church has been growing like wildfire in Tanzania.  The Bishop of Mwanza, Metropolitan Hieronymos, is native of Kenya who converted some years back and was assigned not too long ago to the Tanzania.  Under his care, the Church there is growing by leaps and bounds.

In putting up dozens of new churches each year, the Diocese is now responsible for all the social ills that their parishioners face on a daily basis.  This includes alcoholism.  The preferred drink there is banana liquor (yes, I didn't think you could make bananas into booze either, but they figured out a way).

My friend, Floyd Frantz, took a break from his missionary work in Romania to start training priests in Tanzania.  Here's his story:

If you are interested in supporting addiction training, please consider helping Floyd out.

Monday, July 30, 2012

How we see is as important as what we see

I'm interrupting the series on the will because this is a fascinating story I ran across a few days ago and I wanted to write something before it gets buried.

A recent study shows how both men and women look at male and female bodies differently: men as seen as a whole, whereas females are seen as a collection of  'parts.'

Since we have already dealt with the topic of sexual addictions and even deviance, I think it is important to examine how we perceive our world effects the nature of addictions.  You see, addiction does effect our perceptions, but we ought to know something about what normal perception looks like before we start to think too hard about dysfunctional perception.

What do I mean by that?  Well, for example, someone who notices that he looks at women differently than men may think that he is a 'pervert.'  This guilt can not only effect normal relationships, but can lead to a whole series of other conclusions that can negatively effect his overall health.  By assuming he is a pervert, he may very well become more predisposed to experimenting in perversion.  All just because he felt uncomfortable in how he sees the world.  If you think I am exaggerating, stick around.  There are a lot of people who fall into the trap of feeling guilty about what is 'normal.'

This study reveals that we look at people differently depending upon our perception of their gender, which means that vision itself is a highly complicated process.  If you want to understand more about some of the discoveries regarding vision and how scientists are finding it works, I recommend this excellent book, Phantoms in the Brain:

Defects in the brain can lead to stilted vision.  But, vision itself is not entirely without distortion even when it is working properly.  Dr. Ramachandran's experiments at the University of San Diego are fascinating in this regard.

So, let's look at the previous study, and assume that someone is struggling with an addiction to sexual activity of some kind.  This study reveals a great deal about what he should expect as far as his perceptions are concerned: to some degree, him mind will objectify women even though he knows better.  He should be less worried about how he looks at women in this sense, because he cannot fight a 'hard-wiring issue,' but rather he should be concerned about his intentions and what he does with his images.  Doe he continue to objectify women, or does he work to convert those object images into a human person?  The latter should be the intended goal.

Something else that came to me is how this underlines the typical problems we have when encountering transvestites or those who have sex-change operations.  Since the human mind sees males and females in a very different way, the blurring of those distinctions creates discord.  After all, how do you look at someone that is either both or neither?

I think it would be worth studying how much of what is often passed off as 'homophobia' is really a biological reaction to this conflict within the human brain.  If people expect to successfully over come a natural reaction, I'd say they have a tall order.  Hard wiring issues can over be overridden by a great deal of unnatural thinking, and the outcome can often lead to far worse results, such as insecurity and overall distrust of one's perceptions.

Returning to the original matter, temptation often comes to us through vision, and so understanding vision is key to comprehending the real problem of temptation.  Some things are temptations because our minds see these things as highly desirable.  That will likely never change, and so we should not kick ourselves for perceiving things the way we do.  It is what we do with those perceptions that is most important.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How Your Will Operates - Part 3

So, let's say the 'car' (which is you or me) is moving forward in 'Drive.'  That means we are making decisions and taking action to attain what we desire.  But, what happens when the car reaches something in the 'road' that is not desired, but rather feared?

This is where the gear marked 'reverse' comes in.  You see, just as we can be drawn to things we desire, we are also repulsed by what is perceived as dangerous or 'bad.'  Our natural inclination is to flee what is dangerous.  We avoid the things that hurt us.

This is at the core of human anxiety: it is the preparation to flee.  Anxiety is a tool, and a necessary one.  So long as we are confronting dangers, we need to have some degree of anxiety so that we make the right decision and avoid harm.  Our anxiety forces us to back away from what is in front of us until an alternative route can be chosen.

To say, in the modern parlance, that we can live 'without anxiety' means that we should live without excessive worrying, which is a good idea.  But, this does not mean our goal should be to live without any kind of fear or concern.  That is foolishness.  Fear is a gift.  Some things are worth fearing, like crossing the freeway on foot at rush hour or lighting a cigarette while holding an open can of jet fuel.

Here is a great book on the topic of fear:

What we must remember about this reverse gear is that the car is really designed to move forward.  We are oriented towards desire, and so the reverse of avoidance is always supposed to be a temporary maneuver.  No real change is necessary to the person's general orientation in order to reverse away from something, because the assumption is that very soon the car will be back in forward again and moving towards desire.

So, what reverse is really is determined by how the mind defines its desires.  What we avoid is based on what we desire.

This means that a person who is dominated by certain behaviors is not always running in reverse, but that their avoidant behaviors are what they really desire.  We'll get into this later.

What this also means is that avoidance patterns are easier to change than desires, because we spend less time doing these patterns and so they are less 'entrenched.'  However, avoidance based on faulty desires requires that the desires be repaired first.

When we get into addiction, this will all become clearer.  However, we have two more gears to review before this all comes together.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How Your Will Operates - Part 2

So, let's look again at the gear shift.

'Forward' is the direction towards what we desire.  When we see something, and our consciousness through memory assigns a positive attribute to what we see, then the will moves into a forward path towards the object.

We become 'attracted' to what we perceive.

We desire, we want, either to consume or to possess.  This forward motion is called by some of the Church Fathers the 'appetitive' quality of the soul, which is the capacity to desire.

Desire moves a man out of inertia.  We get out of bed because we desire to move, we eat because we desire food, we work because we desire to be active and to have things.  Desires make the world go 'round.

Man cannot be utterly rid of his desires, because otherwise he would not do anything at all.  It is foolish to think of a person without desires.  But, we must then ask the question: are all desires good?

In a healthy person, the answer is 'yes.'  A further refinement of the definition of desire is necessary at this point: desire is always for what is good.  The human will seeks what is good.  Now, there may be desires for things that are not good for us at a deeper level (for example, the desire for sugar can lead to obesity and tooth decay in inappropriate amounts), but the desire for sugar itself is not bad.

Where humans run into problems is when desires are not met and inappropriate replacements are made.  So, for example, we all desire (to varying degrees) human companionship.  If we deprive ourselves of this companionship, we will often end up turning to a replacement: food, pornography, drugs, hoarding... the list goes on.

Desire is based on need.  The human person is, in reality, needy.  But, that is because life itself is a condition of need.  Even the most basic organism has needs.  Life is about being needy, consuming and eliminating.  In and out.  We are in a constant flow.  This condition of perpetual need is elementary to all life.

Only a fool would try to exist without need.

So, the anticipation of need is a desire: I am attracted to food either because I am hungry or I know that I will be.  The mind assigns a 'good' label to food, and when I see it, I am attracted to it.  I have a desire for it because I know about hunger and the underlying needs I have.

Once we explain the totality of the gear shift, then we will discuss what happens when our needs become distorted.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How Your Will Operates - Part 1

In order to understand addiction, you have to understand something about how the human will operates.  the best way I can describe it is through the analogy of a gear shift in a car.  There are four gear positions: forward, reverse, neutral, and park.  They look like this:

So, these gear positions represent how your consciousness determines its actions.

Over the next few posts, I plan to discuss how each of these positions works and how addiction interferes with the proper operation of this system.

The will is comprised largely of desires and anxieties that are 'drives.'  The will is what 'moves' the human person either towards or away from what lies in front of us.  All our decisions really boil down to this forwards and reverse analogy.

When you see an infant with food, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  If the child likes the food, he plunges into it face first.  He can't get enough, and gobbles it all up.

On the other hand, if he does not like it, he strikes it and tries either to get away from it or push it away.

These are the two directions of the will.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Insanity" versus Insanity

I think it is important to realize that there is a difference between being, well, 'crazy' in the irrational sense,  and being utterly insane in the real meaning of the word.

The legal profession in the US defines insanity as an utter break with reality.  No connection to it at all, meaning that a person can no longer distinguish between right and wrong.  How can you tell?

The foundation of the insanity is the inability to experience doubt or guilt for what one is doing.  So, when the police show up, you don't hide from them... because you don't think you are doing anything wrong.  There is no 'guilt factor' in your behavior, such as trying to hide the evidence or obscure what has been done.

When someone goes to great lengths to justify his actions and cover over his actions, he is not insane.  Someone can have severe mental illness, but that does not make him truly insane if he can still distinguish right from wrong.  People with mental illness, by definition, are not 'immoral.'  They are also not 'amoral.'

Neither is the addict.  In fact, the addict's greatest burden is his own fight with his morality.  The conscience is the 'enemy' of the addict, reminding him of what he has done and how wrong it was to do what he did.  The struggle with the conscience can lead to 'insane,' or more accurately, illogical and stupid, behavior.  But, the addict is not insane.  He is troubled, but he still knows right from wrong.  otherwise, he would not need to medicate himself with his addiction.

Very few people cross that line into utter insanity, and they are never brought there by addiction.  An addict by definition is 'sane' in the sense that he is always (even under piles of denial) acutely aware of right and wrong.  He suffers from addiction because of his sanity.

The Big Book of AA speaks of recovery as being 'restored to sanity,' but this is not meant to say that the addict is one who has lost all touch with reality.  It is a metaphor for the restoration of one's integrity, where the man lives according to his conscience, and his conscience is in harmony with the divine will.  Man does not enter into true 'sanity' until one enters into relationship with God.

By extension, the further one moves away from God, the more 'insane' we become.  We have a harder and harder time distinguishing right from wrong as we depart from God in our minds.

In the Orthodox Church, there is a belief that even severe mental illness does not interfere with this relationship.  We have numerous saints with mental illness, sometimes called 'Fools for Christ.'  There are some saints who faked mental illness as well, using the treatment at the hands of others and the embarrassing side-effects of such illness to curb their pride.  But, in the end, they were all people who were close to God.

The recovering addict has this same potential to connect with God, though his 'insanity' is largely curable.  This is not to say that it is entirely curable, as those with long-term sobriety can attest.  And so, what remains is part of one's struggle to meet God, and like the 'Holy Fool' who encounters God even in the midst of mental illness, so the addict encounters God even in the midst of his broken humanity.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Medications and the Brain

We are all aware of the recent shootings in Aurora, CO, which has ignited discussions about gun control, recreational drugs (the perpetrator was known to use marijuana and was reported to have taken Valium shortly before the rampage), and even gun control.  What most of the media is avoiding is the topic of medications.  I've heard several radio reports, but nothing in print.  Here's a Los Angeles area radio program where some of this is discussed.  The host is a decorated US Army Reserve officer with combat experience.  If you listen to the whole show, you can hear him talk about the large number of US recruits who are enlisted with medications (e.g. they came into the Armed Services with mental health needs that were being treated with medications).  He also talks about a fellow soldier that had to be disarmed and shipped out when he went off is meds and became psychotic.  If you don't want to hear all that excitement, then fast-forward to 29:00 in the show and listen to what he's found out about the shooter.

There are others who are tracking the number of incidents where mental health medications are causing these psychotic breaks.  Children, particularly boy, are being over-prescribed medications at an alarming rate, mostly because teachers can no longer administrate punishment for unruly behavior, so they demand that a child who does not sit still and follow instructions in a robotic way should be doped into a better attitude.

This is a societal problem of unreasonable expectations, both for children and for adults.  Adults can no longer use force to correct children, and children by nature cannot control themselves in a reliable manner.  So, instead of spanking, we dope.  

The problem is that the drugs change brain chemistry in unpredictable ways.  Let's not forget that medications work on a percentage basis.  Not every medication works the same way.  So, with anti-depressants, one must go through a trial-and-error period where different medications and levels will be tried.  This is a risky time, since messing with chemistry can often make problems worse.

Going off the medications, as the perpetrator apparently did when he started his PhD program and moved away from his RN mother who was supervising his dosing.  He left hope, stopped taking the drugs, and something worse happened.

Medication problems are so common that we have countless stories involving them:

When mental medications enter the brain, the brain 'makes room' for them, chemically-speaking.  The body learns to work around these medications and integrate them into its functions.  In a word, the brain becomes chemically dependent on these drugs.  When the drugs are removed, it leaves a chemical void.  How will the brain respond?  In many cases, we are seeing violence as the result.

As we see more and more 'doping' of children, we are going to see more incidents of what happens when the dope is removed or the brain changes:

750% increase in eight years?  Yup, and with each percentage increase we have a further increase in risk of adverse effects.

As a society, we have a myth that drugs can fix any problem.  What this is doing is not only causing us to not deal with the real problems, be they guilt, fear, or the inability to sit still because you are a child and not built to sit still... but we are creating horrible problems like addiction and psychosis.

We as humans must know our limits.  What we want is often what we cannot have.  We must learn to live within our reality and not use drugs to escape.  We should turn to God for help rather than pills.  We should also learn to have reasonable expectations from life.

Otherwise, the descent into madness will continue.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Stirring Up Desires

Human thoughts tend to be manipulations of memories associated with either anxieties or desires.  We either want things or want to avoid things.  

When we start running into trouble is when our desires are not met by what is healthy (i.e. what we really want) but by what is unhealthy.  If we continue to treat healthy desires with unhealthy replacements, we can develop a taste for what is unhealthy.  Our minds will soon tell us that we want the unhealthy thing.

To want or to desire is not unnatural, and so overcoming our nature is really a futile task.  No matter how hard you try, you will always want something, because we are meant to absorb and emit the things we receive.  What I mean is that you will always desire water because your body is always losing water.  You will always want to love someone because you will always want to be loved.  Human beings have bad gaskets: we leak.

I saw this story in the news and thought I would share it because it talks about how stirring up desires through the media (as an example) can lead to acting out:

If we 'absorb' things by taking them into us and contemplating them, eventually they will come out.  By taking in this imagery and stirring up the natural desire for sex, even when it is not appropriate, eventually the activity will come out.

This is why addicts do much better avoiding places and imagery of abuse.  An alcoholic who hangs out in bars and watches people 'have a good time' can eventually stir up that craving for fun that he had when he drank (at least for a time), which will eventually lead to a relapse.  In AA groups, alcoholics talk about those experiences, but also in light of the later suffering.  Successfully sober people don't dwell just on the fun parts of drinking.

Sobriety means not feeding healthy desires for love and security with the craving for escape into abuse.  It also means we should watch what we put into ourselves, so as not to unnecessarily stir the pot of desires.  Daily life is hard enough.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hitting the Plateau

In my time, I have seen a phenomenon in sobriety I call the 'plateau.'  It is that flat place that one comes to after years of struggle for spiritual development.  'Old Timers' with 20 years or more often hit this stage where the program has seemingly dealt with all the major drama in their lives.  While they still live by the principles of AA, they become disinterested in attending meetings, sponsoring, etc.  In fact, a lot of the chaos of newcomers becomes just downright boring.

Well, to be honest, sin is boring.  You hang around enough meetings, and you start hearing the same stories over and over again.  Depravity is predictable.

What is this 'plateau?'  Is this the first stage of relapse?  No, not necessarily.  What it does indicate is that spiritual development has ceased.  Quite literally, the program alone has done all that it can do.  The addict has completely entered into recovery, where the average person in a 12 Step meeting is still struggling with his ambivalence.

By that, I mean that because we do not fully and completely accept all the principles of the Steps in everyday life, we still have problems.  After all, we have not truly accepted a relationship with God and are still living according to self-will.  

In the plateau, the recovering addict has largely renounced his old ways and followed good orderly direction, but he is no longer moving forward in the program.  He has 'maxed out' on his experience of God in the meetings.  God is there, but the plateaued addict is, well.... bored.  He needs to grow.

To avoid slipping back into the disease, addicts will often look for God outside the meetings.  Some addicts will seek God in church or religious activities, others will find ways to serve in the community.

Does this mean that the meetings have failed?  Or, are addicts who remain the truly recovering ones, while those who leave are setting themselves up for failure?

Some do relapse, but there are plenty who don't.  I know a number of alcoholics and addicts that 'dropped out' of meetings after a number of years and have not relapsed, nor are they on 'dry drunks.'  I would never force them to go back.  What they are doing, judged by its fruits, is working.  You don't have to fix what is not broken.

However, if you stop going to meetings and your anxiety level begins to increase, then you should go back.  Leaving is not for you.  And, I would not even consider such a maneuver until one has at least 10 years of working all the steps and has a solid spiritual foundation.

Some people get apathy in the program, but that is different from the plateau.  Apathy is when we start hiding from our inner problems, which then makes all of the spiritual work of the steps seem unnecessary.  That will come back to bite you.  Apathy feels like boredom.

The plateau does not feel like boredom, but fullness.  It is like that feeling after a big meal: the I'm done feeling.  People get this in church, too.  It means that one needs to explore new options and take new directions.  After all, spiritual development has endless opportunities.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Social Breakdown

Last night I was invited to a dinner by some friends for the group FOCUS North America .

I usually feel grandly awkward in large social settings, and eventually sondered off to a secluded corner to rest my sore knees.  These new smart phones are wonderful devices: they allow someone like me to appear busy in a more socially-acceptable way.

Anyway, the founder, and then the director, explained the many efforts they are making at improving our communities, from food pantries and kitchens to counselling services and classes.  What their work outlines, quite literally, is the destruction of our society.

How is our society being destroyed, and how is this related to addiction?  Addiction is the problem of an immature mind coupled with a magnified response to a substance or behavior.  Immaturity is rampant in or society.

We even acknowledge this when medical benefit of parents can be extended to the 'children' until 26 years of age.  What does this tell you?  An adult in most other societies is already married, bearing children, and at peak production in his field of work.  Here, a 26-year-old is unable to care for himself in the eyes of many.

Don't marry in your 20s, you are not mature enough.  Wait.  Wait for what?  To grow up?  You grow up by marrying and living a responsible life... but we are coming to an era where people do not know how to be responsible anymore.  Rather than having this passed down through families, we are breaking of families and expecting classes to teach lessons that once were taught in the homes that no longer exist.

Our society now sends young people to college in large numbers not to get a career, but to 'find themselves.'  They graduate with majors that are not tied to anything useful in the workplace, and so it takes another few years to make the jump from student to employee.  You can try making the jump by 'interning' in some fields, provided that your parents pay the bills.  One hundred fifty years ago, that was called apprenticing... and you started when you were 12.

What I am trying to say is that we are keeping people in extended periods where life has no meaning.  And, when your life has no meaning, your suffering has no meaning.  This meaningless suffering is horrendous, and so out of this, paired off with lots of boredom, you have the perfect environment for addiction to take hold.

While FOCUS is trying to do important work in catching the fall-out from this broken system, we must also wonder when the general population will wake up to the fact that we need to go back to some more traditional teachings about families and adulthood and life expectations to stop thus human-grinding that is going on.  We really ought to consider the failures we have made as a society and stop trying to double-down on them to get them to work.

They won't.  We have enough fruit to prove it.

We cannot create a perfect society, but some societies are better than others.  If we look at our social problems, and then we look at what we have been doing, what we ought to be able to do is say that our best efforts to have our way have gotten us here.

What we need to do is go back and look for something different.

Otherwise, we will have only more and more addictions problems to look forward to as people try to deal with the pain of broken families and meaningless lives.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Once again, another reason why psychedelic drugs are not to be messed with:

There unpredictable effects are widely known, yet people are willing to take the risk.  Why?

The young man, now recuperating, had this to say when asked whether he was trying to kill himself:

“No, I just wanted to wake up from the bad nightmare,” he reportedly replied. “I am happy and I love my life.”

Perhaps he was trying to reenact the closing scene of Fight Club, but it is pretty clear that shooting yourself in the head is a really lousy decision.  The fact that this drug erased his inner impulse control and sense of reality should tell you all you need to know about these kinds of drugs.

But, if he is so happy with his life, why is he risking so much to escape it through mind-altering drugs?  Perhaps he is happy because he has been escaping his realities for a while with this stuff.  If so, he's heading for trouble down the line: psychedelic drugs can have permanent effects, and that does not include the very real problem with uncontrolled 'flashbacks.'

Imagine you are on the highway with him going 80mph when all of a sudden he returns to this experience...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Will and the Conscience

Obviously, one of the biggest problems people have in understanding 12 Step recovery is the role of the will.  Addiction means the alcoholic loses control over his own will and can no longer choose to not drink.  He is drawn to alcohol in a way that he seems to have no control over.  His will becomes broken.

So, the alcoholic (or addict of another stripe for that matter) will often be told to stop, will even want to stop, but can't seem to pull it off even when he has every incentive to quit.  He can lose his job, his family, his health... nothing changes this loss of control.  Yet, everyone assumes that you have use your will in order to quit.

AA says, 'no'.  The will cannot fix itself.  We cannot self-repair.  We need outside help, and this comes from God.

But, you may ask, how can God help us unless we use our will?

This is where I think the language of the Church can be helpful.  The Fathers speak of the human person having two drives, appetitive and irascibility.   In other words, desire and anxiety.  When the will is broken by addiction, it only really operates out of anxiety, this irascibility.  It no longer truly desires anything, because it is filled with fear.

What the Steps introduce is a desire for God, awakening this appetitive aspect of the soul that has been repressed by anxiety.  This desire can be used to overcome the anxiety of the soul that has come to characterize the will.  The will is broken because anxiety has overcome it.

We must also keep in mind that for addiction of any kind to be present, their must be a complete conscience underneath.  The anxiety originates in the conscience's struggle with guilt and resentment.  Because the will is overcome with anxiety, it cannot cure its own conscience, since anxiety can only 'strike' or 'lash out'... or 'run'.

Only desire can cure the conscience, because what the conscience really needs is healing.  It needs something from the outside to come in and repair what was broken.  The conscience needs healing words and images of reconciliation and justice that anxiety cannot bring, because anxiety brings nothing.  Anxiety pushes away.  So, the conscience can be overburdened and ignored, but it cannot be absent from the addict.  If it was absent, then there would be no addiction because there would be no suffering to drown with booze or drugs.

A broken will does not mean a broken conscience, though the conscience can often be numbed to the point that it no longer is perceived.  This is the goal of addiction: to shut off the inner voice that says things are all messed up.  Addiction is anxiety.

Addiction is also not true desire.  Desire is not about fear.  Desire is wanting, but not out of anxiety.  Things done out of anxiety are not desire, but rather anxious actions.  So, you can drink a glass of wine out of desire for the pleasure of wine, or you can drink it because you need to.  The latter is anxiety-driven, it is craving rather than a desire.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Deviant Behavior and Alcohol

Recently, I've been researching the topic of human evil from the psychological perspective.  There is a difference between human evil and demonic evil which I am working towards defining.  There is a line over which men cross and their small sins become monstrous acts.  I think it is important for us to know the difference when we are helping people struggle with their consciences.

One aspect of evil is when we work to overcome our natural instincts not to do something evil.

So, I am reading this book, Ordinary Men, about a German police unit in WWII that commits some of the worst human atrocities of the Holocaust.  It is not so much a psychological examination as it is a detailed account of how a group of middle-aged, ordinary, working-class Germans went from being sickened by orders to shoot unarmed civilians to being highly effective at it.

The Nazis were not a stupid bunch in many ways.  A soldiers and police began to have mental breakdowns from the butchering they were ordered to conduct, their leaders devised new ways to commit mass murder.  One of the first methods, which was used throughout these actions, was the provision of alcohol.  In fact, the High Command made sure that soldiers would have vodka and schnapps available each morning before they began their work and throughout the day.  The alcohol served as 'fuel' for what became 'orgies' of violence.

Was alcohol the fuel?  No, what was the real fuel was the suffering the men experienced from the very first murders they committed, mostly in the name of trying to fit in with others and truly 'belong.'  As their guilt increased, they became more and more angry at themselves.  Once alcohol was added to the mix, their violent hatred of themselves and their desire to 'take it out' on themselves became the force behind their killings.

Humans do not kill other humans, they kill themselves.

Our hatred of others is not about our hatred of them, but really our own self-hatred.  We project what we hated about ourselves onto others, and this becomes our justification for our sins against others.  It is the scapegoat mentality, and what alcohol (or other drugs for that matter) does is provides enough mental slowing to make the transfer seem utterly reasonable.

Alcohol and drugs lowers our inhibitions, those inhibitions that would have stopped those policemen from any further killing and put them on the path of repentance.  Instead, they drank, felt numb, and went out to kill more.

What it shows is that these men never actually became true deviants in accepting what they were doing as 'good.'  It shows, however, that man can use the numbing effects of drugs to overcome his conscience.

Recovery is about digging deep into the conscience sodden by alcohol to uncover the goodness burdened by the memories of our evil.  This is why there is always hope deep beneath the pain.  The tragedy is how men can willingly and purposefully overcome their consciences.  We do this all the time in small ways, but such a habit can have greater consequences.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Deviance versus Addiction

There is a big difference between a broken will and a deviant will.  This came up recently in a discussion with someone over the arrest of a pedophile.  The person with whom I was speaking with called pedophilia an 'addiction.'  I said it was not, and here's why.

A pedophile is someone who's will is guided by a desire to abuse children, yet he does not see his actions as harmful or regrettable.  If you have ever met a pedophile, they are genuinely unrepentant even after a great deal of treatment because overcoming an 'unnatural attraction' is extremely difficult.

Our deepest desires are entangled in levels of our being that the logical mind cannot easily reach.  Usually, we end up trying to 'repress' these areas, which is about all you can do.  This is why few people can be successfully 'treated' for pedophilia.  Of course, there are different reasons for pedophilia arising in a person, and there will always be those exceptions to the rule that are able to break free, but they are rare.

The same is true about other attractions, such as homosexuality.  I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all explanation as to why 3-5% of us have this desire, but then again sexual attraction is hard enough to understand on its own because it also occurs so deep within us.  As modern people dominated by logical thinking, it is virtually inaccessible.  Yes, there are some that can come out of this type of attraction, but I think it is foolish to assume that every homosexual is 'curable,' especially if they don't want to be cured.

The attraction to addiction is more complex: yes, there must be an 'attractive' aspect to the addiction.  The Big Book of AA first used the concept of 'allergy' to describe this experience.  By allergy, they mean that alcohol releases a certain series of chemicals within the brain of the alcoholic that normal people do not get or experience the same way.  The effect of alcohol induces more pleasure in the alcoholic than in other people, and this unusual effect is summarized as an 'allergy.'

This allergy alone, however, is not enough.  That's where the comparison ends with deviance.  You see, just because you have an allergic reaction to something does not mean that you are attracted to it.  You can be attracted to the effect, but not the substance itself.  This is why alcoholics will go from being very choosy about their drink of choice to eventually drinking anything they can get their hands on.

This ability to separate substance from effect is very important in recovery, when the second aspect of addiction comes to light: the mental vulnerability caused by pre-existing suffering.  Addiction arises when the pre-addict combines his suffering with the allergic reaction which wipes out the suffering.  Now, you have an explosive combination.

The loss of will in the addict comes with the escalation of suffering which is only masked by the allergic reaction.  In essence, in order to not experience the overwhelming suffering, the addict is obliged to have repeated allergic reactions.  More pain, more reactions.  This escalation is behind addiction.

Now, recovery means several things.  First is the curing of the suffering, but the second is almost co-occurring: the realization that the object of desire is in fact not the problem, but the effect is.  The alcoholic must realize his escapism in the bottle before he can truly recover.  Once this is realized, the obsession to drink ends as he emerges from his pain using the 12 Steps.

Notice that the 12 Steps do not command the alcoholic to stop drinking.  The will goes back to its natural state once the pain is alleviated and the attraction to the effect is realized.

In the case of a pedophile, the natural state of the will inclines towards pedophilia (unless we are talking about one of those rare exceptions).  A deviant will is broken from the beginning in a way an addict's will is not, which is why the Steps talk about being 'restored to sanity.'  A deviant will cannot be restored to anything but deviance.

An addict is not a deviant with a deviant will, but a broken person with a broken will.

Of course, we hope that pedophiles and other deviants can learn to manage their broken wills with God's help and their inner goodness with which all mankind is created.  But, it is indeed a much harder road. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Alcoholism and Religion

I remember an old Roman Catholic priest, many years ago, who told me that clergy were brought down by the "Four B's"- Books, Broads, Boys, and Booze.  Now that I have a couple years under my belt, I can see how this is true even in the Orthodox Church, and it seems true everywhere else in religion for that matter.  In a few cases, I can think of a fifth "B" - Bread.  Some clergy eat themselves to death.

Why would people who believe in God so much do such things?  Well, unlike other most people, clergy are generally judged by their affect (  How they behave is almost more important to their congregation than what they do.  If the priest is not emotive in the right way, no matter how much he does for the community, they will always criticize him for being 'dry' or 'unfeeling' or even worse.  If your priest is a 'vending machine for' your own feelings, than a priest who doesn't exude the emotions you want for yourself is utterly useless.

So, clergy often learn to exude what their people are looking for emotionally by dampening their own real emotions.  They may get mad, but they cannot show it.  They may be frustrated, but they will show no sign of it.  Parishioners are not meeting with the priest to get God, they want something a little less powerful.  They want a dose of enabling so they can go back to business as usual.  So, the priest faces the daunting task of risking an empty church for the sake of honesty, or pleasing people while hiding his true self.

This leads to loneliness, and the pain of such isolation is only magnified by other clergy who look on at us, seeming to do a much better job of hiding than we do or, perhaps, actually having attained such a state where they simply don't have any negative emotions at all.  They are not hiding anything, they are like 'that' all the time.  This leads to further feelings of anxiety and over our inadequacies.

Now, all of those "Bs" are looking like a great escape.

Several priests I know are now suspended for 'booze' I'm sorry to say.  I can understand why: the isolation, the expectations, the secrecy... it all adds up to a lot of pressure.  Alcohol is cheap and effective at providing a temporary escape from the stress of life.  The problem is that the stress is always there when you get back.  It waits in the doorway like a faithful dog.

The problems I am describing are not limited just to clergy, even laypeople can fall under the same pressure to 'conform.'  Here's an article about Mormon doping:

We are all missing the point: Jesus did not tell everyone to walk around with a smile all of the time.  He told people to do what was right and repent of their own failings.

If you think your religion demands that you never ever have a negative emotion, then you are setting yourself up for addiction.  The more you repress, the more you will suffer.  The more you suffer, the more temptation you will have to medicate.

No, I am not advocating that we abandon ourselves to every whim: the trick is to confront and deal with negative emotions rather than hide from them.  We must always be honest with ourselves.  There is a time to hold back our negative emotions, but unless you are a saint don't try to fake it.  Be yourself, as ugly and embarrassing as that is (especially for myself!).

Have manners, but do not be captivated by other people's expectations, as noble as they are.  I warned my parish when I arrived, "You had a holy man as a priest.  Now, you have me and I'm not that holy.  Be careful."  One person decided to test my patience the way he did my saintly predecessor, and he quickly discovered that I have none of the virtues of the man I replaced.  But, I have been honest about it, and honesty seems to work for now.  If it stops working, it will be time to move on.  I'm not strong enough to hide all of my failings.

Religion should not be about hiding, but about being changed.  If there is nothing that needs to be changed, then you don't need religion.  The perfect have no need of it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sad News

I apologize that posts on the blog have been erratic at best, but lately I've been inundated with bad news and have found all of it rather overwhelming.  Within the last week, I've discovered that at least four people I know are have serious problems, at least two are addictions-related.  Only one of them has been in contact, and I'm glad to say that while his overall situation is dreadful, I hold the most hope for him because he's starting the Steps and doing the right things to get on the right path.

As for the others, I simply do not know.  I can only watch at a distance.  And pray.

After the shock wears off, then I have to make a decision: am I going to let someone else's decisions to be unhappy impact my happiness?  If I do, it helps neither of us.

Mourning is natural, but remaining in perpetual mourning is not.  There is a time when we must let go and move on with life because the loss passes further and further into the past.  We are not supposed to live in the past.  The past is dangerous?

Why? Because it relies on human memory, which is subject to distortion.  memories are reconstructions.  We do not experience reality in a memory, but an imaginary image of what once was.  It is effected by our present circumstances as well as our past dispositions: we can 'forget' to remember the whole picture, or we can later notice how much we missed at the time.

This is why we must always try to stay in the present.  Sentimentality is a real killer, particularly for an addict whose mind is distorted by his suffering.

There was a time where I would have looked at such suffering in others and snorted something along the lines of, "Well, they deserve what they got."  part of that is the introvert in me that avoids lots of social attachments, but the other is the part that is sensitive to such wounding and wants to limit my own pain by downgrading my relationships.  The less you care for others, the less they can hurt you.

In my own path, I have resolved that people can hurt me... initially.  But, only I can hurt myself over long periods of time.  The real tortures I have endured have always been self-inflicted.  I have always hurt myself far more than others have.  My worst shame and embarrassment was always self-inflicted.  Even when others embarrassed me, it was only because I had something to be embarrassed about.

So, I have learned to some extent to absorb the blow and experience the pain, but then move on.  When someone betrays my trust, it hurts until I realize how much the other person has betrayed himself.

If I can endure my pain, then I can pass through it and never go through it again.  Only by avoiding the experience of pain do I end up reliving it over and over again.