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Friday, November 30, 2012

"Doing insane things for the sake of doing insane things"

As usual, Ioan gets what I'm trying to say and says it better than I do! 

Biological insanity, be it schizophrenia or psychosis or some other psychiatric disorder, is not intentional.  The afflicted person is not 'immoral' because he does not choose to break with reality.  I think the civil law here in the US has this approach, when it rules that 'legal insanity' is the inability to discern right from wrong.

I think that this is half-right: the psychiatric patient is most often trying to do the right thing, but with the wrong information.  He tries to be moral, but just does not have the ability to make good decisions because of the impairment he experiences.  He is not making 'stupid' decisions in the sense of being carefree or, as Ioan points out, intentionally stupid.

There is another kind of insanity, a moral insanity.  This is "doing insane things for the sake of doing insane things."  This insanity is intentional, done with full knowledge of what is true, and thus moral.

Morality is the description of behavior that is according to nature, thus according to what is right and good.  Immorality is not a random act, but an intention to rebel against the natural order.  When we know what is good but refuse to act accordingly, we are departing into moral insanity.

The addict often starts off in the arena of moral insanity.  He will drink or use knowing that what he is doing is perhaps against morality, but his pride (driven by pain and fear) tells him he is entitled to act out in an immoral manner.

However, once the disease sets in and his intellect is sufficiently distorted, he enters into a type of biological insanity where his free will is impaired by a disease which he has no control of.  Addiction has one foot in each type of insanity.  One is treatable through a therapeutic and rational process, but the other is not.  Biological insanity cannot be counselled, but moral insanity can.

The difficulty is being able to discern when the addict is acting out of either type of insanity.  Does he have a choice not to drink or use?  This is a tricky question: on the one hand, his moral insanity is treatable and so he does have a choice, yet his biological insanity compels him to use beyond his ability to control.  The addict must learn to take responsibility for his intentional insanity, and leave the treatment of his biological insanity to the care of God.  This is what the 12 Steps does.

However, there are many people who do "insane things for the sake of doing insane things."  They are purposefully immoral.  They have no biological impairment, and so they are truly insane.  The person with biological insanity, if he can be properly treated, willingly embraces sanity in the same proportion as the general public (with perhaps a higher level of compassion and virtue on account of his experience of suffering with his disease).  But, those who are purposefully immoral have a curable problem which only needs willingness.

My greatest concern for our modern world is that we are working overtime to redefine good in such a way that makes addictions recovery and true morality an impossibility.  Our cultures stokes the fires of personal irresponsibility and self-indulgence even when it talks about altruistic notions of community and charity.

We arrest and fine people for destroying unborn turtles in their eggs because it is killing an endangered species, but say that abortion does not kill a human being.  But, then again, we send people to prison for murder should they cause a woman to miscarry even in her first trimester, when it is perfectly legal for her to abort the child.

Why such a conflicted logic?  Because we have become imprisoned by our desires for things, and are willing to abandon reason and logic for the sake of our goals: avoiding the consequences of voluntary, unprotected sex.

Abortion is just one example of many.  So, how is it that we can teach the addict about morality when his own world is so distorted by immorality?  We celebrate "doing insane things for the sake of doing insane things."  Just look at the celebrity culture!  Turn on your TV and watch what is going on.

The world is "doing insane things for the sake of doing insane things."  We revel in our lawlessness, yet we wonder why we need to medicate ourselves.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Locked Up for Crazy

My friend Red once posted this: "They don't lock you up for being crazy, they lock you up for acting crazy."

When I read it, I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair.  It is true: there are plenty of people who are crazy who don't get locked up.  So, why am I posting this?

Well, previously I posted on marijuana and mental illness (, and didn't quite finish my thought.  One of the links I put up had to do with the stigma of mental illness and how we, as a society react to it.  So, why do we assign a stigma to mental illness?

There are a number of reasons: first, people with mental illness have impaired judgement.  They make bad decisions, and so there's always a risk factor to themselves and others.  Someone who is 'high' gets the same stigma.

But, second and perhaps more important, is that we value, as a society, human life because it is intelligent.  We place a high value on intelligence.  That's why we emphasize education in the secular world and the study of Scriptures in religious traditions.

Because people with mental illness don't process information the way an 'intelligent' person does, we assume that the mentally ill are 'stupid' and therefore 'less-than.'

There is a third reason, a bit less influential, and that is that the mentally ill suffer for their disease, and suffering makes human life far less valuable in the secular world.  Think about it: there are many people who justify euthanasia because it 'ends suffering.'  They would never think of killing a healthy person.  Others will justify killing a child in the womb because it would be 'unwanted' and thus subjected to a life of suffering from deprivation.

I'm going to focus on the second one (in part because I am sick right now and don't want to think much about suffering) because I think that we have a hard time reconciling the intelligence of the mentally ill with their behavior.

We lock people up for 'acting crazy.'

But, acting crazy is not the same as acting stupid.  A person who makes bad decisions again and again is not mentally ill, and the reverse holds true.

It is undeniable that addiction is a type of mental illness.  As with all mental illness, it is complex and not entirely understood, though I think we can say that it is far less 'organic' than schizophrenia or psychosis.

We often look at addictive behavior as stupid.  Some of it certainly is.  But, it is not come by through stupidity or low IQ.  It comes through a broken mind.

But, just so that you can see where I'm coming from on this, I will take the opposite tack and say that intelligence does not always produce the most rational decisions either.

Now I know you are scratching your head, because we assume that intelligence governs one's ability to make good decisions.  Well, that is true when it comes to attaining facts.  But, there is another axis to decision-making: morality.

Education does not make someone moral.  Morality and the ability to care about others cannot be taught, nor does a PhD make anyone more or less likely to be moral.  Education gives information, and that's about it.

The mentally ill do not necessarily lose their morality because of their disease.  While they may have gross misconceptions about the people around them, the truth is that they are far less violent than, let's say, their 'chronically normal' peers.  Even mental illness does not entirely rob a person of his will and his reason.

The real problem of addiction and mental illness, at a social level, has to do with self-care.  In both cases, people with mental illness and addictions invariably become a drain on public systems.  This can be the family at first, but eventually the state will get involved in having to pay for treatment either of the disorder or something caused by the disorder.

People must be held accountable for their own self-care, and it is only through this approach that we can really engage those who are sick and have a fair standard: if you can care for yourself by your own rules, then do what you want... but if you can't care for yourself, then those who care for you will make the rules.

This is how we deal with childhood, right?  Children are 'wards' of their parents until they can 'self-care.'

Rather than arguing endlessly over law and programs, we first need to set a standard of self-care.  That's what being crazy really is: you are not caring for yourself.  After all, if you are crazy but can care for yourself, we just call you eccentric.  people have a right to be eccentric, but they do not have a right to be a burden without making any attempt to help themselves.

To refuse to help yourself makes you a candidate for an asylum rather than a hospital (

I think we need to clarify what it means to make good decisions and what it really means to be crazy.

Thanks to Red and Christina for all the input.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Schizophrenic Epidemic and Marijuana Use

Yes, there is an increase in psychosis and schizophrenia over the last few decades.  No one is denying it, and all studies point towards a genuine upward track.

I found several very interesting articles linking marijuana use to this rise, along with the general societal stigma of mental illness:

I find it right annoying that people want to call marijuana 'safe' when we pull toys off the shelves because less than 1% of the users suffer a preventable injury.  The numbers for marijuana brain-injury are much higher.

Yes, I said "marijuana brain-injury."

These studies demonstrate that marijuana is linked to lowering IQ points, along with triggering psychosis and schizophrenia.  The brain is being injured by marijuana.

You may think that I am being hypocritical because I think that marijuana should remain illegal, whereas I am not calling for a new Prohibition when some studies point to 8% of Americans as being problem drinkers or alcoholics (actual medical diagnosis for alcoholism is around .06%).  Here's why I think there is a difference:

We have laws banning underage drinking, which are important because the human brain continues to develop until age 25, and we know that alcohol consumption during development has negative consequences.  However, after this critical time, long-term severe brain damage (the proverbial 'wet-brain') takes a level of alcohol consumption that most alcoholics never achieve.  Studies are showing that it takes far less marijuana to do the type of long-term damage that alcohol can rarely accomplish.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that the body does not fight THC as it does alcohol, or that marijuana is now so much more powerful than it once was prior to hybridizing and concentrating.  The reasons are so much less important than the results: 'moderate' amounts of marijuana have a significantly deleterious effect on the brain for a significant segment of the population.

So, you may drink and run the risk of being addicted, or you can smoke pot and run that risk as well as irreversible brain damage.  After all, the type of psychosis and schizophrenia they are talking about isn't temporary.

I think the increase in marijuana use, coupled with its increased THC levels, has much to do with the modern spike in psychosis and schizophrenia.  This is a message that should not be tucked away in medical journals because marijuana has become a political issue.

If you are concerned about public health, then this is really something that should be discussed as more than just an attempt to "kill everyone's buzz."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Church is a Hospital, Not an Asylum

There are many Fathers of the Church who teach about the Church being a ‘hospital’ for the healing of those wounded by sin.  This is a very helpful and hopeful image, and one that we should all take seriously.

The problem is that too many people confuse ‘hospital’ with ‘asylum.’  What do I mean?  Well, back before all the wonderful progress we now benefit from in the field of medicine, psychiatric patients and others who could not be treated went to an ‘asylum.’  Asylums were warehouses for the untreatable.

The assumption was that your case was ‘incorrigible’ and could not improve.  The asylum was a refuge from the demands of the world in which you could not function.

Too often, people confuse the metaphor of ‘hospital’ with ‘asylum.’  They know they are wounded and in need, but also think that there is no use in trying to change.  They find the tolerance and patience of the clergy and people very comforting, because these others seem to be willing to accommodate and number inappropriate outbursts and abandonment of personal responsibility.  After all, the ‘hospital’ is for th sick, right?  Don’t sick people behave poorly?

Yes, they do.  But, they behave poorly in large part because of the rigors of the healing process rather than the refusal of treatment.  They come to the hospital with the desire and commitment to be healed, not to avoid healing.

If you don’t want to be healed, then you go to the asylum.  The Church is not an asylum, storing up the purposefully infirm.  We are not supposed to be a storage lot for madness.  You enter on the condition that you are willing to follow Christ anywhere, even to the point of surrendering yourself in any way.

Madness is to hold onto one’s self.  The denizen of the asylum is utterly self-possessed, since he cannot be treated or wants know help.  Therefore, his illness leaves him utterly alone.

When we come to the hospital that is the Church, we place ourselves under the care of the ‘doctors’ (read clergy and monks) and ‘nurses’ (laypeople) who help us return to health.  To do what?  Why, to join the ‘staff’ and become a healer.

Hospitals heal so that the healed become healers.  Asylums do nothing but shelve our problems… and ourselves.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Spirituality & Economics - Part 1

This is something I started on recently, and will roll it out in parts because of the length.

When we think of spirituality, we usually do not associate it with economics.  For most of us, economics is the study of the material.  Webster’s Dictionary defines economics as “The science of household affairs, or of domestic management”, while defines it as “The branch of social science that deals with the production and distribution and consumption of goods and services and their management.”

The word ‘economics’ comes from the Greek οἰκονομία (oikonomia, administration or management of a household), a combination of οἶκος (oikos, house) and νόμος (nomos, law).  Academically-speaking, economics is the study of how things are attained and preserved.

But, the real importance of economics is that it studies the means by which goals are achieved.  Quite literally, it is the study of efficiency.

After all, economists don’t really set out to find the worst way to run a household, or a state’s finances.  Such discoveries happen along the way to finding the best way.  This search for what is best is at the heart of economics.
Sciences, such as engineering, seek the most economical means to build a building or a machine.  Science not only seeks to understand what things are, but how they are best to be used.

In this sense best use, economics is not bound to materialism.  Our pursuit of scientific knowledge is always about mankind.  Men do the exploring, the learning, and ultimately benefit from such advances.  We do not teach our chemistry discoveries to fish, nor do we share our knowledge of quantum physics with bears.  Scientific knowledge is only of value to man.

Now, if we examine man closely, we see that he is more than a material creature.  Despite whatever theories may be held about the spiritual world and the Divine, one thing cannot be argued: mankind has always yearned for something beyond the material confines of this world.

This is not to deny that men have had their doubts, or even individually rejected God, but larger societies have always had a religious element within them.

Even atheistic societies, such as Socialist states like the Soviet Union and China, developed religious elements.  An ‘eternal,’ transcendental worship of the ‘worker’ as well as Party leadership, was much the norm.  Look at the parades and public events of these regimes… how can one avoid noticing their religious tendencies of ritual and super-natural air?  Even in atheism, there is a notion of humanity reaching out beyond the human person to greater things.

Religion provides a ‘cosmology’ for humans to fit themselves into.  It gives purpose to life beyond the fulfillment of impulses and desires.  But, religion does something else: it explains how one is to live, and this living out of religion is spirituality.

Thus, spirituality is the ‘economics’ of the human person.

More to come...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

'Kids Without God'... You Are Alone

Never mind that statistics show that children in religious households tend to do better overall in terms of behavior and happiness:

When the kids share the beliefs, studies show they have benefits as well:

But, there is always someone out there who can't be happy with that, so now you have the 'Kids Without God' project:

Let's just call it what it is: atheists trying to recruit, just as much as "children's ministries" in Christian circle try to draw kids into religion.  To a great degree, I don't care much about atheists doing their own 'evangelism.'

The real reason I am drawing attention to this is their motto: "You are not alone."

But, that is precisely what an atheist is... alone.  Their insults about 'imaginary friends' aside, the whole message of atheism is that life ends at death, there is no spiritual reality, and there is no God.  You are alone.

Humans are left to themselves to find meaning and purpose.  What you give to others lasts only in the minutes of this life, and beyond them there is nothing.  Death is the bitter end, full stop.

Telling kids they are 'not alone' in their doubts is one thing, but the real message of atheism is utter loneliness, and there are lots of atheists who like it that way.  They sense it as liberating.  They can do as they please.

But, for children, this loneliness is destructive... it isn't even what they want, which is that the motto 'You Are Not Alone' is made to address... in a bait-and-switch kind of way.  I can think of no religious equivalent: "Believe in God, and He will leave you alone."  perhaps the weird hellfire-and-brimstone approach comes close, but the cure that is preached is one's attention to God... hardly being left alone.

Religion itself is not isolating the way atheism is.  Atheism requires one reconstruct all the various 'safeguards' to human sanity that religion naturally provides.  One must find fellowship, distinct boundaries, accountability, meaning, and ultimately hope in order to live as an atheist... all without the help of religion and its spiritual benefits.

The atheist struggles with his desire to be 'alone' with his innate need for companionship and ultimately salvation from his problems.  Without God he is stuck with his material resources.  The believer is not.

Let's also not forget that this same atheist child, due to his insecurities, will likely experiment with alcohol and drugs.

Then, where will he be?  What can his new atheist friends do for him then?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Orthodox Christianity in the US has always been something of a ghettoized affair, relegated to a few secluded ethnic groups.  Now, that it is emerging from the confines of racial groups (don't make the mistake of confusing Anglos and Greeks with that silly term 'white'... they are apples and oranges), Orthodoxy is emerging as a 'counter-cultural' phenomenon.

Orthodox Christianity is something which goes against the grain of American religion and politics.  It has no existing categories in which to fit, because those who hate American religion often find much less to reject in it than the name of Christ.  When it comes to politics, then there's a whole other level of confusion: Orthodoxy has thrived under Socialist and Capitalist systems.  It does not require a political system to cooperate with it in order to work, because it assumes Caesar will win and kill you anyway, so get about preparing to meet God.  

Genuine sobriety is also becoming a counter-cultural movement.  In the early days of AA, you went from the hard-drinking days of the 1930s through the 1970s, which merged seamlessly into the drug scene starting in the 1960s until now.

AA made its mark: we have a lot less public drunkenness, and the three martini lunch is less acceptable than it once was.  But, we are getting 'stoned' on lots of other stuff now: prescription drug abuse is at an all-time high, internet and porn addictions are skyrocketing, and people are eating themselves to death in record numbers.

Moderation, the hallmark of sobriety, is not only under attack, it is losing.  Our society rejects it as a value.  Instead, we are supposed to follow our desires... well, except when they become obviously evil.  Sure, we can have all the sex we want with whatever and whoever we want... just not with those kids.  Then we wonder why kids get molested, when we have rejected the idea of self-control and self-denial?

As a society, we can't even tell our kids to pull up their pants, and yet we are supposed to tell them about how to be adults?  Is anyone paying attention to this?

Self-control is no longer in vogue, and so Orthodox Christianity and sobriety represent 'rebellions.'  We are no longer teaching people to fit in with society, but actually to stand against it and withstand the full brunt of its animosity.  There is no 'blessed homeland' to return to: the sober man does not return to the warm embrace of his community for more than a second before it becomes obvious that he's not going to play ball like he used to.  He won't party with his friends, and he won't indulge in the angry indignation of the group as he had before... if he wants to stay sober.

The addict is the 'off scouring' of society as much as the Christian when either chooses God over society.

Both are counter-cultural movements, and both recovering addicts and Orthodox Christians would do well to remember this.

Monday, November 12, 2012

'Restore us to Sanity'

If there is one 'weak link' in the AA narrative, it is this notion of being 'restored to sanity.'  This comes up more than a few times in the Big Book, and represents the trajectory of recovery at the time the book was written (~1935).

What does this mean?  It means that one was part of society at one point, but then veered off into alcoholism, but the 12 Steps helped the alcoholic return to a healthy society and thus becomes healthy.

But, what if society itself is no longer 'healthy?'  Can we return to 'normal' social conventions and expect to have true health?

As I mentioned in the previous post, our popular culture no longer celebrates maturity, but rather immaturity.  Our 'celebrities' not only look young, they act immature.  We enjoy their antics, and then go on to imitate them.

Yet, we also crave the respect of maturity.  We wanted to be treated as adults while doing our best to ignore adulthood.  A big part of my life as a priest in a medium-sized parish is trying to get adults struggling with maturity to get why their kids don't respect them... the kids don't respect them because the parents are acting like their 'friends.'  And, that's not just about having informal chats, but they see their parents literally act like children.

Children are impatient.

Children are oriented towards play.

Children are impulsive.

Children are often selfish.

Children are more interested in immediate gratification.

Children are unable to understand 'fair play' and consistency.

Children are able to deny 'cause and effect.'

A case in point: I deal with a number of 'healthy,' average adults whose whole lives center on their vacations.  They obsess about recreational vehicles, and they always are dresses like they just escaped from a vacation resort: shorts and Hawaiian shirts... even in 60°F (15°C).  Then, they complain how others ignore their opinions, their children don't respect them, etc.

Try as I might, and as unhappy as they are with the results, they refuse to change.  This is immaturity.  A mature person changes his mannerisms to suit his surroundings, because he realizes this accommodation will eventually result in better results.

I have dealt with addicts who were raised by 'hoodlums.'  Is recovery going to work for him if he keeps going back to a dysfunctional neighborhood?

Judging from our politics and social problems (widespread pedophilia, substance abuse, divorce, etc.), we have become resigned to dysfunction, and with it comes an acceptance of it.  It has become the 'new normal.'

But, how much of this 'new normal' is that cause of addiction?  This is a question I do not hear too many people asking, because the answer may be more than we can bear.

But, we must ask.  We must know the truth.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Brain Development and Binge Drinking

Here's another dire warning about the effects of heavy/binge drinking on brain development:

(With much appreciation to one of our readers for the tip... keep 'em coming!)

Here's where we should be getting really concerned:

It found irreversibly altered the brain, keeping it in an adolescent state.
And the earlier in life someone starts bingeing, the worse the possible outcomes.
"Because it inhibits part of the brain's development, binge drinking over time keeps people in an emotionally immature state," Queensland University of Technology Professor Selena Bartlett says.
"This often leads to huge problems when in their 30s and 40s when people come face to face with the demands of life."

What are we talking about here?

Well, the study seems to indicate the possibility of permanent damage to the brain because of drinking, one that is 'subtle' and characterized by emotion problems rather than, let's say, a catastrophic loss of function.

When does this binge drinking occur for many young people?  College (at least in the US).  

We need to ask ourselves some tough questions: most colleges 'tolerate' partying and alcohol consumption.  It is an 'acceptable' activity on most campuses... but are institutions of higher learning turning out students with stunted emotional growth?

This study points in that direction.  During the last phases of emotional development, alcohol is introduced and deadens the process.

There has been an explosion of what I call 'perma-teens'... men and women in their 30s and 40s who have emotional problems we used to only associate with adolescents.  Men like Chris Farley, Russell Brand, and Adam Sandler have made reputations for portraying characters in modern entertainment which glamorize this state of being 'stunted.'

While the bodies of children have been going through puberty as younger and younger age, the reverse is true about passing into adulthood.  Our politics have embraced this idea that 'adult children' should stay on their parents' medical benefits until 25 years of age... where a generation ago such a person would have been married and had kids.

Is binge drinking part of this?

We need to look more closely at society and see if this is part of what is happening to our community.

In my next post, I'll discuss the religious and spiritual ramifications of this 'arrested development.'

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Vampires we want to be, the Zombies we are...

I was reading this article about 'monsters' on this Orthodox blog, and it returned me to a concept that I had forgotten long ago:

In short, this article discusses how popular 'monsters' are often extensions of how we look at ourselves.  The two most popular are vampires and zombies.

On the one hand, the article argues, vampires are elites.  They are glamorous, even with that embarrassing habit of killing the living and drinking their blood.  They are ultimately parasites... but they look good at doing it.

The vampire is also master of his relationships.  He hypnotizes and plots... vampires are always plotting.  Of course, their plans are usually frustrated, otherwise there would be an apocalypse and eventually you'd run out of living people to feed off of.  So, he can never be too successful.  At least, we hope...

On the other hand, you have the zombie.  He's the easier one: he feeds, but there is no thinking involved.  He is attractive because he represents that break from plotting and scheming and hypnotizing that the vampire is stuck doing over and over again  He is also a parasite that must be defeated, and the only hope is that he is easily crushed, thus expendable.

What's the underlying message?  Popular culture values the parasite.  People who produce are no longer at the pinnacle of our admiration.  When people are hungry for their lives to have meaning, and they look to modern culture, the examples given to them are consumers.

The addict is the ultimate 'consumer.'  He plots like a vampire, but tires and quickly becomes the zombie.  Both feed off of others who must ensure the survival of both: without the living to feed off of, the vampires and zombies both will starve.  The addict will starve as well without an enabling live arrangement, replete with codependents will to contribute to his parasitical existence.  The addict drains his world of life rather than contributing to it. 

The vampire hates God, but he zombie forgets Him (and all his other problems).  The addict outside recovery can surely relate.

Addiction can be glamorized like being part of the 'living dead,' it's unavoidable reality is it is unnatural.  It becomes its own torment.  The zombie must be destroyed, and the vampire must ultimately meet his stake, because he will eventually run out of 'deserving victims' and begin to prey on the innocent.  Were either to have a shred of conscience, this would be a horror of its own.  When the addict begins to feed on those he loves, he yearns to be the zombie so as not to feel his own guilt.

I think it is telling that so many people are drawn to these characters, and I do think it says something about the world we are in.  We are all tempted to be parasites, to live as we want and leave others the responsibility to feed us.  Our world is not one of happiness, but one of burdened consciences and profound emptiness.

Deep down, we realize the true hero is the protagonist who takes up the responsibility of killing the vampire/zombie.  However, the 'Twilight' series removes this character... the vampires instead battle an equally vacuous group of monsters.  Some stories will involve a 'traitor vampire' or 'slow transforming zombie' as the hero, but these still involve a degree of hopelessness: the disease of self is too strong to overcome.  The self must ultimately die once infected by selfishness.

From a Christian perspective, this death of self is understandable: it is called the Cross.  One must be Baptized and kill this parasitical nature.

This death of the parasite is what the 12 Steps points towards.  Recovery is about killing our own vampire within us.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Election

No, I'm not going to endorse a candidate or a party.

I do want to comment on our attitudes regarding politics.

Recovery is about inner peace through God.  Pretty simple.

If you live according to this, then you know that anything that disturbs this peace is not of God and must be removed.  Working the steps is all about removing the guilt and shame that robs us of peace.

It is also about forgiving others.  It is about not having to take revenge, but rather letting go of resentment and anger.

Do not excuse your hatred because of politics.  You are called to live in peace with every man, even the one who hates you.  Simply put, there is no excuse for hatred.

Do not follow an ideology that requires you to hate someone else or do something to someone else.  This also robs you of inner peace, because if you are constantly concerned about 'punishing' other people or judging them, rather than helping them, you will never experience inner peace because you will be drawn into conflict with them.

Seek the way of freedom for others, and you will be freed yourself.  When we try to dominate others, we become prisoner to our expectations of dominance.  You should only desire domination if you don't mind being dominated.  If you seek power, don't be surprised if someone else seeks the same thing... over you.

Do not throw away eternal joy for momentary pleasures.  Governments rise and fall, yet humanity lives on.  You cannot solve all the world's problems, so don't expect to.  Take it all one day at a time.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Addiction as Spectrum

One of the revelations I've come back with is that we, those raised in the West with long exposure to AA and 12-Steps, think of addiction as a 'stand alone.'  When we speak of it as a disease, a disease is always singular: you either have cancer, or you don't.  There is a distinct line.  Tests for diseases come back 'positive or negative.

But, when we are talking about mental disorders, the lines start to get a little blurry.  We can talk about individual symptoms, and perhaps even general tendencies or even 'onset' of a disorder, but you will see doctors step back before jumping to a diagnosis.

Now, let's throw in addiction.  When is someone 'addicted?'  Well, AA teaches that you are 'qualified' to call yourself an alcoholic when you say so, but that's not exactly clinical.  Chances are we can see plenty of people around us who are plainly addicted and won't acknowledge it at all.

We can also go back and look at the events which an addict will usually blame for the onset of the disease, yet the person did not become instantly addicted as a direct result.  Usually, the addiction arises sometime later.

Some addicts can point to a particular moment when they had the drug or drink that set the wheels in motion, but they will also readily admit that the wheels were there long before that 'first drink.'  The disease just became more obvious, but even that first experience isn't enough to make a diagnosis.  I know plenty of people who've had euphoria and it does not mean they are hooked.

It is precisely this blurry, indistinct line that gives us trouble when explaining the 'disease concept' to those who do not take AA and the 12 Steps for granted.  I was raised around it, having a number of sober relatives.  There was nothing revolutionary about it for me.  But, I'm in the minority.

In Romania, teaching about the disease model is frustrated by the simple fact that the Romanians pick up on the disjunctive situation, where a precise 'disease model' does not line up with an imprecise diagnostic model.  One is specific, while the other is ambiguous.

Sure, most of psychology operates in this blurry world, but psychology and psychiatry are a lot less controversial because they usually are the only path available to people with mental illness.  When it comes to addiction, there are a number of choices people can take in order to 'treat' the problem.  Not that they work, but people usually perceive that they have choices.

To effectively explain addiction, the only thing that has worked for me is to explain the whole spectrum of human experience and suffering.  Explaining addiction as its own thing isn't working.  However, when I can explain how the 'spectrum' of addiction takes hold in the spectrum of human existence, people seem to grasp it quicker.

My sense is that it is time to start looking at addiction through the lens of the 'big picture.'  We need to stop isolating addiction, and address the greater issue of human suffering.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Getting Back on the Horse

Well, I have been back from Romania for several weeks, and I am still trying to process everything I experienced there.  Romania is a culture in transition, and it is very obvious that the Church leadership is very interested in meeting the new needs of the community.

Addictions are a big concern, but they look at the issue differently than we do in the West.  I learned this from trying to teach.

I will spend more time getting into how the Romanians understand addiction, which is not incompatible with the 12 Steps, but they actually take for granted the Big Book's suggestion that even non-addicts can benefit from the Steps.  They reverse the idea: the general treatment of the Passions which all humanity suffers from naturally embraces the treatment of addiction.

Now, there are some other issues they don't quite grasp: declining a drink is an insult in Romania and I had to find another strategy for dealing with anxious hosts wonder why I wasn't gulping down their glasses of 'parts cleaner' (a liquor called Ţuica, usually made from plums, but also just about anything that ferments).  There were a couple of times I had three or four glasses, full to the brim, sitting around me while I tried to finish my meal under the concerned stares of my hosts.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to unpack some of my mental luggage from this trip.