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Friday, July 26, 2013

Crack Babies: a new study

I think this is a very helpful article that sheds light on the world of addiction:

Here you have crack cocaine addicts giving birth to children, who are born addicted.  Yet, the numbers as a group are undifferentiated from the rest of the poor of American society.

What does this tell us?

First, if addiction was genetic, the rates would be higher among the children of addicts, since these families have the gene and would be more likely to pass it down.  The study does not reveal this.  Instead, it shows high levels of use which are common in society.

Let's look again at the components of addiction:

1) Psychological distress compounded by a lack of faith.

2) An 'allergic reaction' to a substance that causes a significant release of dopamine and other brain chemicals that gives the person a 'relaxation response.'

3) An exposure to the allergen, which triggers a further desire once the stress returns to consciousness.

When you have these three things, you have the 'HIV' of addiction.  This is the primary 'virus' that attacks the person, both psychologically and physically.

So, then you may ask, since we are comparing addiction to AIDS, when does actual addiction 'AIDS' set in?

This happens when you have:

A) Physical dependency (for chemical abuse).

B) Psychological obsession (uncontrollable thoughts about the addictor).

C) Brain pattern alterations.

D) Inability to 'normally' function without the addictor or a replacement substance/activity which triggers the necessary brain chemical reaction.

Now, you have the full-blown disease.  One of the numbered factors is not enough to trigger addiction.  In fact, two alone are not enough to really kick off the process.  I'll give you an example.

There are plenty of addicts with long-term recovery who eventually need to take strong, physically-addictive pain medications.  They are able to do so without relapse, even though they often experience the same dopamine levels they once got when they were using.  Why don't they relapse?  Because Factor #1 has been taken out of the equation, so the disease is not triggered.

The same is true for sober-alcoholic priests.  Once they have spent enough time in sobriety to get #1 down to a 'manageable level' (living with a strong faith is a daily struggle), then sipping from the chalice or even consuming the Gifts after the Liturgy (a practice that should be done with caution and requires a moderate use of while when preparing the chalice) is not going to present a problem.

The 12 Steps are all about removing #1.  After all, you cannot change the physical reaction, nor can one even eliminate all exposure to the addictor (think of the struggles of our brethren the food addicts... my hat is off to the toughest people I know!).

Yet, once an addict develops his Faith through the Steps, then the rest of the contributing factors lose their collective effectiveness.  The stress that triggers the craving for the brain-chemical cocktail no longer initiates a binge, and the brain begins to heal.  Neuro-pathways return to normal.  The addict learns new life-coping skills which improves his well-being and eliminates the need to use.

It is a lifelong recuperation process, which is why the addict never goes back to play with fire.  But, he can get on with a better life than before and experience sobriety.

Now, there may come a time when genetics may progress to the point where doctors can point to a genome feature and say, "Here, you are an addict in the making!"  There are certainly indications that genes play a factor.  However, we've known that all along: people with mental illness and anxiety have always struggled with addiction.  However, we also know that not all of them become addicts.

We are still talking about, as this study indicates, a much more complex process of addict, which is very personal.  A lot of it is environmental, though no one can say for certain that it is entirely so.  We are still learning about how the brain works and how genes work.  The one thing we can say for sure is that the Steps work for those who want to work them.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Anxiety Center

The brain has various regions and centers which effect our moods and contribute both to our well-being and our suffering.  Some addicts 'medicate' themselves to deal with what are essentially organic problems.  Here, it seems that scientists have gotten more insight into the situation.

I'm reproducing the article below from the Daily Mail, which has good articles but muddles them up with a lot of soft-core celebri-porn (i.e. bikini shots of actors I don't know).

Scientists have found the brain's 'misery molecule' believed to be responsible for all of our feelings of stress and anxiety. 
Researchers believe that the protein - named CRF1 - could also be linked to depression. 
A team from Heptares Therapeutics, a medical company based in Hertfordshire, used one of the world's most powerful x-ray machines to study the brain's pituitary gland.
It has long been known that the gland controls stress, depression and anxiety by releasing stress chemicals, the Sunday Times reports.
Now, scientists have discovered the response is triggered by CRF1 - which is found in the outer membranes of pituitary cells.
Fiona Marshall, chief scientific officer at Heptares, told the paper: 'Stress related diseases such as depression and anxiety affect a quarter of adults each year, but what many people don't realise is that these conditions are controlled by proteins in the brain, one of which is CRF1.'
She added that now they have worked out the structure of it and how it works it could open up potential to design drugs to control it.
CRF1 sits in pituitary cells and detects the stress molecules detected by the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain which produces hormones that control, body temperature, hunger and moods - among others.
When it picks one of these molecules up, it triggers the parent cell to release the hormones which lead to stress and anxiety, the paper reports.
Using the Diamond Light Source, based in Harwell, Oxfordshire, which produces powerful x-ray beams, researchers were able to study the protein's structure and pin point areas which could be targeted by new drugs.
Ms Marshall said they had identified a 'crevice' which would be an ideal area to aim a molecule which could be specially designed to block CRF1 - effectively disabling it.
She said the team now hope to use this research method to analyse molecules involved in type 2 diabetes - with the hope of one day developing a drug which can be taken orally as opposed to the injections which sufferers of the condition have to use.

Now, the one thing that I might add is that tampering with this region when it is functioning normally can lead to disaster.  What I mean is that if your anxiety is grounded in the reality of your situation, and you try to 'adjust' the normal chemical response to it, you will be throwing off the natural function of your brain.

Distress and anxiety are important components in normal human psychology.   Part of what these reactions do is help us from falling into sociopathy... the experience of anxiety linked to our perceptions of others.  If you enter the world of dampened anxiety, then things 'matter' less.  This will free you up to do a lot of things you normally would not do because they are too distressing.

However, for those battling with anxiety disorders and organic depression, my hope is that this discovery will lead to an alleviation of suffering.  Bill W. spent a lifetime looking for a cure for his own battle with depression.  Perhaps we are a step closer to accomplishing his dream and taking away one of the biggest contributors to the problem of addiction.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Doping and Disposing

I want to reinforce something that I have said repeatedly on this blog because if you forget this one principle you will miss most of what is happening in this world.  You will certainly not understand the phenomenon of modern addiction.

Here it is: addictions are the lubricant to the machine of modern society.

Our society is a giant machine.  Step back and look at the millions of people and their need to survive, then look at how little we here in the developed world even think about survival.  Why are we not constantly worried about starvation the way our forefathers did?  Because we know we are protected by the 'machine.'

We have technology run by technocrats, who are commanded by bureaucrats, who are authorized by politicians, who are elected by us... to take care of us.  Our survival is no longer about the weather or preventing a foreign invasion or even winning the favor of God (unless you've been diagnosed with Stage Four cancer, or realized that your next overdose may well be your last AND you are afraid to die), but rather who we put in charge of the machine that insulates us from threats.

The problems is that the machine itself needs to 'naturally select' who is useful to it and who is not.  A Communist machine is far more efficient at this process: it takes the less desirable people and puts them in camps.  Our 'neo-liberal' society has long ago realized such open acknowledgement of this process raises the hackles of the human instinct to survive and gets people to ask that pesky question, "Am I next?"

Of course you are, if you don't 'contribute.'

When you are no longer a contributor, the machine has to do something with you.  It has to either make you minimally useful (i.e. use your minimal worth as a 'voter' or a 'consumer' through which value can be passed from producer to producer), or it has to store you like a fat cell for use in emergency situations, like felons and welfare recipients.  You are kept alive, and are grateful to no one for it because you know that your life is largely meaningless to yourself.

And, it is this meaninglessness of life, how the machine takes away one's own sense of personal value and accomplishment, that is the 'squeak' of metal-on-metal that the machine desperately needs to keep quiet because the machine works best when no one realizes that it is a machine.  When you start realizing you are a cog, you may want to not be a cog, and then there will be problems.

Most of my life, I have struggled with employment in large part because I figured out the machine and decided at some point that I did not like playing the part that I was hired to play.  So, I would start talking about the machine (which annoys employers to no end) or change my part type, which then throws the machine into a malfunction mode.  So then I quit.  Being fired is so embarrassing.  You do that too much and the machine will label you defective and stick you in the fat cells of the unemployable support services.

The machine makes sure no one starves to death (that makes a different sound that awakens people), but it cannot help but grind people up slowly in its plodding.  Where is it going?  Utopia.  This is what we are promised: a day with no poverty and nothing difficult.  Like a long opium induced 'pipe dream' full of magical visions accompanied with a profound sense of well-being... kind of like that visualization class you took once with a middle aged woman yoga instructor who talked to you like you were a nursery school patient.

Yes, schools do not have students, they have patients.  They are working on those kids.  Parts have to be removed, and others installed.  They are being prepared to either produce or be shuffled off into the fat cells for eventual extinction.  The machine assigns us our roles and values, largely by an elaborate sales pitch to get us to automatically agree that a college education is the key to success, or something for someone else.  We are assigned our self-imposed racial stereotypes that confuse culture with DNA and a host of other stupidities that we never even think about.  It does not matter what is natural, but only what is believed.  And the beliefs come from 'above.'

Addiction is the lubricant that keeps us silent as we are ground up by the unnatural conditions to which we are subjected: the one-size-fits-all approach to human happiness and the definitions of success.  It is no accomplishment anymore to survive, the way it used to be.  We take it for granted.  Life has lost its savor because it has become utterly common.

This is why we abort babies and cry hysterically when a 'young' 65-year-old dies: we assume that life just goes on and on.  When life is meaningless, new life means nothing.  If we cannot talk to a fetus and see it, we are unable to 'bond' with it and assign our own personal value to it.  Yet, life is also taken for granted to the point that when it does end, we are shocked.  We assume everyone lives forever, because we don't take the dead home and prep the body on the kitchen table the way we used to.

The machine needs to occupy people, and people find the occupation of mortician as a wonderful way to occupy themselves until they become customers.

When the pain of your function in the machine begins to hurt, and you begin to see that you are being squeezed into a place you do not fit, then the dope of addiction is a perfect way of keeping you from making too much noise.

A 'dope' is a liquid used to fix a problem.  You dope up to fix the noise.

But, the dope does not fix the underlying problem, which is why addiction stunts human growth and ultimately leads to death.  The system is OK with either outcome, so long as the machine keeps operating.  Addiction treatment is not offered to really help people, because if it was it would be done differently.  Instead, it is an occupation for the system to put people in and provide the assurance to the rest of the parts that they will be maintained if they start to malfunction.

Yes, the system does care for the parts in a general sense.  The problem is that the parts assume the machine cares for them individually, when in fact the system will rip out and replace any part that is not useful.  That's when you become a fat cell or a corpse.

Don't expect the machine to fix your problems, because the lies of the machine are part of your problems.  You have to wake up and realize where you are and what is going on.  You will have to spend the rest of your life surviving by playing the part of a cog in the machine but knowing that there is more to life and even playing that part when your 'component' in the machine is not in use.

God is not in the machine.  He lets us build these machines, but He also lets us know that we are not the machine.  This is why the real solution is with God, not with more machine.  The system cannot fix us once we find ourselves not working out in our assigned position.  The system can only dope us up with free stuff and addiction until we die and get out of its way.

God never does that.  The system does not love you.  Society does not love you.

Only God does.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Common Humanity

I realize that the last few posts may seem conflicted, since I have said on the one hand that addicts must accept their difference, yet we must also not be defined by it.  Forgive me, but I would like one more stab at this before I move on.  Call it insecurity, or my character defect of repeating myself.

Being made in the Image and Likeness of God, we are all inherently made as equals.  Human life has equal value and equal holiness.  Without this concept, you would not have the modern gift of 'human rights' in its original form (i.e. before the secularists got a hold of it and started to make this equality about the experience of pleasure, which in turn has led to the popularization of abortion and euthanasia, which really are violations of this).

Human life, as man and woman, can come in many variant 'occurrences' or forms, but all share the same inseparable and indivisible origin from God as the Creator of man.  And, eventually, all mankind is restored to God through the Resurrection,so each of us is on the same path.

However, this does not make us 'clones.'  We have differences that makes each person unique, and each of us has a unique awareness of self (we do not recycle awarenesses, like Buddhism for example).  Yet, the differences in how are humanity is manifested does not denigrate the origin: no distortion of humanity can undo its origin with God.  Neither can humanity be derailed from its intended return to God.

If all humanity is intended to return to God, not to be 'absorbed' but rather completed as Persons through the Resurrection, then all differences between humans are inherently meaningless in the face of the Divine.  The question is whether God intended these differences to remain, or whether they are constructs of man which ultimately fail because they are not real.

Constructs such as 'politics' and 'class' are theoretical.  They are not real, because God did not create them  He did not create political parties, neither did He create the 'rich' and the 'poor.'  These are our creations and our categories.  Think about it: the 'poor' in the US live well above the 'middle class' in the Congo.

Even such conceptual categories as 'addict' are not real, since it is plainly evident that all humans share the capacity to become addicted, and all humans walk around with all the necessary ingredients to become addicted.  Addiction is a matter of degrees of dysfunctionality.

It is important for us to acknowledge this dysfunction by identifying as addicts, but this does not define who we are: we are all human being made in the Image and Likeness of God.

When we begin to identify with the entire world as 'addicts,' we are in danger of allowing this label to qualify our humanity.  We become 'different.'  Now, this difference can be advantageous if you want something from someone and want to use the reason that you are different as the explanation for your request, but this is dangerous business.  If you market yourself as 'different' then you must accept the fact that other people have the ability to reject that difference.  They have a choice to not like it.  They have a choice to not like you.

The more differences we construct between people, the harder it becomes to see the unity of humanity.  We lose sight of our common origin and common destination.  The addict really isn't called upon to do anything differently from anyone else (except use, and in many addictions those injunctions are universal as well)... he is called to pray and serve others and seek God as all mankind is called.

Addicts are called to the same inner peace and experience of God's love as everyone else.  So, I ask you, why is it that we need to demand that others recognize us as 'addicts?'  What is so important?

Ah, yes... we want things from other people.  This, of course, is precisely what recovery teaches us not to do.  We do not demand forgiveness from others when we do the 9th Step, nor do we demand apologies from others in our 5th Step.  The steps don't demand action from others.  We are the ones called to action.  We are also the only ones who can say for ourselves that we are addicts.  What others have to say is meaningless in this regard.

If we wear the 'difference,' then we should expect to be treated as different.  People treat addicts differently because, well, addicts are different.  Addicts lie, cheat, and steal.  If addicts didn't, we probably would never hit bottom and get help.  These things may help us, but other people find these difference right annoying, and I don't blame them.

I don't blame people for being annoyed with addicts, especially when we use the excuse of the addiction to justify our departure from what is normal and what is common to all humanity, which is goodness.  We do not have the right to demand anyone treat us with any special care, because if we were honest we would acknowledge that we don't deserve it.

Part of recovery is taking responsibility and to quit blaming the disease.  It is not about the disease.  It is about me.  I sinned.  The disease is not even real, because if it was, it would be from God and getting rid of it or treating it would be a sin in itself.  We do not remove the things of God.

In the end, we can still call the disease of addiction a 'gift' in the same way that all human suffering is a gift.  It is a gift because God allows it to exist and afflict us, but only as a temporary condition.  It is a gift because He does not leave us in it forever, but provides us a means of escape from it through Him.

Again, it all comes back to Him, and no difference in humanity can prevent that.  The only thing that keeps me from God is me.

I will talk about how God blesses our uniqueness in the next post.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"The Anonymous People" - a movie project

One of my friends, Red, sent me a link to this new movie project, The Anonymous People:

Here's the description attached to the video: 

Addiction affects almost 100 million people in the US. There are millions of us who are in recovery that remains unknown to most of their friends and co-workers. Maybe we should declare ourselves to bring hope to those who are still struggling."Deeply entrenched social stigma and mass participation in widely successful anonymous 12-step groups have kept recovery voices silent and faces hidden for decades." But now, many recovery advocates are beginning to "come out of the shadows to tell their true stories." The powerful message of The Anonymous People is conveyed through the faces and voices
 of the leaders, volunteers, corporate executives and celebrities who are "coming out" in order 
to publicize the epidemic of addiction—and to help other addicts break their silence. This new public recovery movement aims to transform public opinion, change public dialogue around addiction and recovery, and unite the recovery community as a political force. 

I bolded the most troubling part of this video project for me, because it is precisely the wrong route for the recovery community.  By taking this direction, the community makes itself into a political force to 'get from' others.  Former congressman Pat Kennedy spoke in the video about demanding treatment from the government.  This is madness.


Unlike what the video says, addiction is not like any other disease.  It is not like cancer or the flu.  It is a spiritual problem.  There is only one kind of government that deals with spiritual problems.

A Theocracy.

I don't think most of us want one of those, particularly as Orthodox Christians in the West, there our theology would instantly be made illegal.  Government is hesitant about getting involved in treatment because most of the people in government understand that to really advocate effective addictions treatment means having to also advocate for spirituality.  Now, you have the government mandating a relationship with God.

This is why government aid tends towards general, atheistic counseling of the secular variety, which is quite ineffective when it comes to addiction.  It can help the aggravating co-morbid mental problems, but 12 Step recovery can't be handled like other types of counseling.

That's because the core of the 12 Step program is the communal love that addicts have for one another, which a government program cannot duplicate.  Only the addicts coming together under their own desire to serve others without profit can provide the proper healing environment.  Pat Kennedy's solution is to bureaucratize treatment, which will ultimately kill it.

Real help has to be offered for free and freely given.  This is why the best programs are charities, rather than government outfits that compel society to underwrite its activities.  They have no profit margin to make, nor do they stay around when they don't work.  Government programs usually do.

Sure, charities pay their workers, but it is a far different situation than being a state employee working with addicts the same way people work at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Think about it.

The Church really needs to take up its ancient task of providing 'hospitals' for the spiritually ill.  Modern hospitals, in fact, originated in the Church.  we need to take back what we have surrendered to the state, if only for our own salvation.  Some of our communities are being destroyed by their own selfishness, while many of our communities are thriving because they are taking up service to others.

What can government do?  How about addressing the overall societal problems that contribute to addiction?

For example, how about tightening up the college drinking and drugging culture which dominates so many college campuses? After all, they get federal money, don't they?

How about, instead of teaching kids about being in touch with their own feelings, you start teaching them how to read and write and be responsible for themselves?

Here's a radical idea: let's look at all the negativity found in modern American politics, which runs on crisis and despair,  and throw it out the window?  Let's get rid of the victim mentality that dominates our society.

My problem with this video is that it seems to buy into the victim model perpetuated by the very same system that is contributing to the problem to begin with.  In the video, former Miss USA 2006 Tara Conner complains about people 'judging' her... what business is that of hers?  People have the right to think what they want to, good or bad.  A big part of sobriety is being free from other people's expectations and demands.

Alcoholics and addicts are 'judged' because, frankly, we do a lot of crazy stuff, both in and out of sobriety.  Go to an AA or NA meeting and you will see what I mean.  It is unfair to demand that 'normies' ignore the obvious: we are damaged goods.  As St. Paul put it:

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the
foremost of sinners; (1Ti 1:15)

If I am the foremost of sinners, why would I demand that others treat me better?  Miss Connor is missing the whole point of recovery.  It is not about going back to a state of being like others.  You can't go back, but you must go forward instead.  You can't live like they do and be part of their world in the same way they are.

You can be in it, but you can't be of it.

Overall, I think that shedding a more positive light on recovering addicts is excellent.  While I am not used to the 'person in recovery' lingo, I am glad that they are willing to explore the topic of labels as we have been discussing here.

But, turning this into a political campaign is nutty.  Addicts need to focus on their own recovery and not demand 'justice' from others.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Dangers of Labels

Lots of addicts wrestle with bearing the label of an addict.  It is scary, because it singles us out as different from others.  It allows others to make snap judgments or draw conclusions before even giving us a chance to show who we really are.

Our society loves labels.  The modern scientific mind is all about taxonomy and establishing what category you fit into.  The biggest fights in mental health are over 'identifying' diseases or categorizing behaviors.

We feel like we are more in control when we can quickly slap a label on someone and instantly predict what they will do based on this label.  So, if you have the label of an addict, it is clear what you will do... you will use, right?

If we accept the Christian approach to humanity, there are only two main categories that humanity falls into as created by God: 

Male and Female
Genesis 1:27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Jews and Gentiles
Genesis 18:17-19  The LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him?  No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him."

In the second circumstance, even this division is over come with the 'return of the nations' envisioned by the Prophets, so that the divisions of nationality are overcome.  In the end, only gender seems to be the single enduring categorization of humanity.

Yet, we work overtime to separate ourselves.  We love to differentiate between 'junkie' and 'normie,' 'white' and 'black,' 'gay' and 'straight,' 'saint' and 'sinner,' 'conservative' and 'liberal'...

These are all, for the most part, sinful.  After all, God did not create them... we did.  Man wrote the DSM-IV to describe diseases, God did not.  Yes, there are differences between us, even differences that are significant, but these do not differentiate our humanity.  Our humanity is the same.

But labels separate humans.  They 'create' different kinds of humanity.  Once we begin to accept the reality of these labels, the psychological effects are well-known: we begin to hate and fear the other, while we embrace those who wear our label even if they are evil.

Addiction is not made by God.  It is made by us.  We make ourselves into addicts by our own fallenness and how we react to it.

AA was started as an anonymous group for this reason: the identity of alcoholic is only important within the context of the group.  It should not be worn in the streets.  We should not define who we are as either addicts or non-addicts in terms of our humanity.  To be human is to be completely human, and by this we must realize that all humans are equal participants in humanity.  We are all made in the Image and Likeness of God.

The same is true of 'homosexuality,' which is the latest fashion these days.  God did not create 'homosexuality,' but rather men have.  It certainly is not significant enough for men and women to define themselves by it, yet it is now something by which humans have created these separations and further alienation.

Some people may say, "But, I was born feeling this way.  What am I supposed to do?  This is not fair!"  Ask the kid born without arms and legs about 'fair.'  If he has to struggle with this life, so do we all.  Some people have bigger burdens than others, and so we are confronted with the options to struggling on our own, surrender and let our burdens dominate us, or ask for Divine intervention.

God isn't necessarily going to make legs grow back, or alleviate the temptations of the addict or the attractions of the homosexual.  God's purpose is something greater... our inner transformation that leads to an eternal state beginning in this life and continuing ever onward from here.  It is silly to demand a complete change or utter lifting of what becomes something holy: addiction and homosexuality and all the other manifestations of human brokenness become holy when they become the means by which man unites himself to God.

In Mark 2 and John 5, Jesus Christ tells those he heals to take up their pallets and walk.  Why?  Why not leave it there?

Think about it: if any of us were on the Titanic, and we survived by clinging to a life vest, don't we think that vest would be hanging on our living room wall right now?  Yes, because in it would be the summary of our entire struggle from near death to salvation.  The same is true of the pallet, and more so, because this was the means by which a man encountered God.

If we are afflicted with same-sex attraction or addiction or mental illness or any other condition which separates us from others, then we are confronted with the option of using this as our means by which we are united to God.

And, since all men are called to be united to God, how exactly do our afflictions make us different from anyone else?  

The labels are only important to us ourselves, so that we might understand our own particular route to God.  Whether any one of us is an addict or not only matters if we decide to struggle with it.  because, after all, if we choose not to pay attention to it and just go about doing what we want, why would we care about the label at all?

The only way the label would become important is if we want to use our identity against others.  By embracing the separation, it gives us the right to 'avenge' ourselves and oppress others.  When we no longer see our humanity in the face of someone with a different label, then it is much easier to oppress them.

Know who you are, but do not buy into the world's labels.

Monday, July 8, 2013

New Way of Prescribing Pain Meds

The mortality rate for painkiller overdose is rising, and very little is being done about it.

The new painkillers are highly addictive, and people are getting hooked left and right these days, throwing pain sufferers into the dark spiral of addiction that often leads to overdosing.

Sadly, no one wants to do anything about it other than document the deaths.

I propose that drugs like Oxycodone be prescribed with a 'taper kit.'  This means that once you complete your last regular refill, you get a 'wheel' of pills (think of a birth control pill kit) that gradually reduce the daily dosage over a month.  This way, the patient can be taken off the drug in a less-than-sudden manner and have a greater chance of shaking dependency.

Right now, there are only some additives that supposedly reduce dependency by slowing the uptake into the body (which ostensibly reduces the 'high'), but the jury is still out on its effectiveness.

Many addicts these days start off with pain medications.  Once they become physically addicted, their inability to successfully fight this battle leaves them with the emotional pain necessary for full addiction to take hold.  I have seen this destroy a number of people who otherwise would have gone through life without addiction.

It is a real problem, and I hope that the drug companies and the government that insists on regulating them do something about this.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Moscow Addictions Conference in November

I have mentioned on this blog a little bit about "Old World" Charity in Moscow, Russia.  It is one of the leading addiction treatment programs in Russia.

They have very kindly asked me and another friend of this blog, Fr. Iulian Negru, to talk on alcoholism and addictions at the conference they are sponsoring in cooperation with the Moscow Municipal Psychological and Pedagogical University.

Here is the link to the official announcement.  Just open the document and you'll see the full announcement.  Here's an excerpt:

We are glad to invite you for taking part in Third International Scientific-Practical Conference "Addictive behavior: prevention and rehabilitation", which will take place on 6-7 November - 2013 in Moscow, at  Moscow Municipal Psychological and Pedagogical University.

            The Purpose of our Conference is consolidation of national and international scientist's efforts of their researches and practices in field of addictive behavior, so as to model preventive interventions, construct rehabilitation processes and realize psycho-pedagogical support for young people with addiction. Such work must be based on results of empirical researches conducted in accordance with the basic principles of evidence-based psychology, education, sociology in field of addictive behavior's prevention methods and methodologies.

            The Conference will consider the recognition of the priority of scientific evidence and support prevention and rehabilitation in order to manage them more effectively. The conference will also continue to build the organizational work for creation of the Russian community of experts in the field of non-medical prevention, rehabilitation and psycho-pedagogical support of persons with addictive behavior, include adolescents and youth.

I'm looking forward to meeting some of the people who are working hard for the cause of sobriety in Russia.  I will post much more on this when it happens.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Teaching people what love is

We can't expect people to accept the Love of God when they have no idea what love is.

We cannot impose morality on people, because true Christian morality comes from love.

When people do not know what love is, we cannot expect them to do what is good.  We must first teach them about love, and then hope they will embrace Love.  Then, this love within them will move them into morality.

A recovery program cannot merely lay out moral rules and expect sick people to follow them.  Part of the development of addiction is the 'stepping over' of moral rules.  People do know what it is to be moral, but they feel that they must reject morality in order to be happy and escape their sorrow.  They see no love in morality.

Recovery means that a person is first introduced to the true meaning of Love, and gradually comes to accept this love.  Then, the embrace of love releases the strangle-hold of addiction.

Recovery never ends because love never ends.  Its embrace must be continuous and ever-lasting, because the death that addiction brings represents an eternal falling away from love.

Therefore, when the addict comes to believe that God is Love, then he will accept this love, and the love will manifest in his renewed morality not as just obedience, but as an earnest desire for the fruits of morality.  After all, morality is nothing more than the adjectives that describe the fullness of life.

Morality is not 'no,' but 'yes.'  It is a yes to how things really are, and so living according to moral rules is a rejection of the disorder of death and separation from God.  Morality encompasses all things as God created them and intended them to be used.

But, first man must love life and all that is in the world.  He cannot do that without loving God, and so loving God is the basis for recovery and sanity.

This is what we must teach.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How to be Abnormal

The awkwardness of being an addict is hard to describe.  For ages, alcoholics and addicts have all reported the same sense of alienation and isolation from others.  Human relationships are often grand hazards which can only be traversed through outrageous acts that only seem to reinforce the 'otherness' the addict senses.

So, how do we live as ones who are abnormal?  Other people do not feel this way... obviously.  So, how do we cope with our own feelings?

The first thing one must do is cultivate a sense of manners.  We may be uncomfortable with who we are and what we are doing, but 9 times out of 10 the people around us have no idea until we start trying to cope with our feelings.

Rather than just thinking about ourselves, we should try to think of others.  We need not impose our awkwardness on them.  We will also find that thinking of others and responding appropriately to them will often lift that sense of separation.  People will respond positively to our behavior and accept us.

Years back, I discovered an interesting book that helped me learn something about this:

The book is outrageously funny, written by a very effeminate gay man who struggled to cope with his own social unacceptability.  His wisdom is well worth heeding.  He discovered that by cultivating good manners and being gracious to others, even those who were repulsed by his condition could warm to him... or at least be civil.

By the way, I think most teenagers ought to have this on their mandatory reading list.

Most addicts have difficulties overcoming the wreckage of their poor impulse control and even bad upbringing.  This book can help one understand the real challenges to being polite and tolerant of others as a way of winning such treatment in return.

It may also help those of us who have a hard time accepting ourselves as we are.  There are things we cannot change, and so we must decide whether we are going to accept what we cannot change, or spend the rest of our lives in a perpetual state of angst over our powerlessness.

It is a decision.  Do you doubt me?

Watch this video, and then tell me that it is not possible.  There are lots of other people like him who become disfigured and 'objectionable,' and yet retain a positive attitude towards life and other people.

We may not always have control over what we feel, but we do have control over what we do with those feelings.  Do we nurse them and make them grow, or do we overcome them?  We may be repulsed by this man's face, but after hearing him talk, we can decide that there is far more to him than his scars.  If we can overcome our feelings about his injuries, we can also decide to overcome our own feelings of horror over our personal problems.

Thus, our abnormalities can be set aside, and we can join the human race as a equal rather than an inferior.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Normalnoi zhizin versus "Preter-Normality"

I am struggling through a rather thought-provoking book,  "HIV is God's Blessing": Rehabilitating Morality in Neoliberal Russia by Jarrett Zigon.  The reason I find it difficult is that the author is a rather well-educated sociologist and writes in that style.  He drops name I don't know, and uses terminology that I don't necessarily understand, or perhaps I just don't grasp the nuances.

Also, I'm not critical of Russian political structures as is the author.

But, it is dealing with recovery programs in Russia, particularly Church-sponsored endeavors, and so I'm determined to get as far as I can with it.  It is stirring up many issues, which I will probably discuss here because they are indeed pertinent to this blog's stated purpose.

But, the first thing I can get into is my objection to the concept of recovery as a return to 'normality.'  Unfortunately, Bill W. used this idea in Alcoholics Anonymous and it has stuck like a biblical truth: the 12 Steps 'restore' us to sanity.  While I appreciate the sentiment, it is rather misleading.  Restore means we were sane and then got lost.  I would suggest that we are always insane so long as we live without God.  If we are restored to our previous state, and that state is godless, then we are restored to a point that will eventually lead us back into addiction.

We always think of 'restoration' as a move backwards: we restore a car to its 'original condition.'  The problem is that once restored, it will fall back into the same patterns of disrepair, because the design never changes.  Restoration is always a temporary solution.

I have seen countless addicts fail in sobriety because they can't shake that idea from their heads.  They want to go back to the 'way things were.'  The problem is that 'the way things were' was what got them addicted to begin with!  We must break the false romance with the past and look forward to the unexplored territory of spiritual growth.

Looking back is as dangerous for us as it was for Lot's wife.

In Russia, treatment programs seem to use this idea of normal'naya zhizn' (this is how he writes it in the book, but I've found more references to it as нормальной жизни or normalnoi zhizin, so I've used that in the title of this post), normal life, as the goal of a recovery program.  This is a derivative of this notion of 'restoration,' and I believe it will continue to hamper recovery efforts in Russia.

Think about it: what if 'normal life' is a life without prayer but with lots of social drinking?  That's normal life in Russia right now: most Russians do not actively practice their faith, and society is dominated by secular materialism.  This is why addict rates are so high (just like the US and the rest of the West, where the problems of addiction have spread out across a much wider array of obsessions).  The people are dying because they are starving for God, but the Church is still struggling out from under centuries of domination by oppressive forces to take its place in society.

Normal life will always fail to produce sobriety.  In fact, normal life is the biggest contributing factor to sobriety.  Telling the addict that he must return to normal life is a bit like telling him nothing has to change in order to stay sober.  Just be like your neighbors.

I have learned that being an Orthodox Christian and being a sober addict require the same ambivalence towards 'normal life.'  We must live our lives without a real concern for what others do and what is normal for them, because they do not need God the way we do.

They can be angry and hold resentments without imploding.  We cannot.

They can drink and use in moderation without losing control.  We cannot.

They can go without prayer and be happy without God.  We cannot.

That's normal life in most parts of the world.  Normal life kills addicts and mangles Christians.  We must reject it for ourselves, though this does not mean that we must deprive others of their access to it.  Normal life is for normal people.  Addicts are not normal.

Christians and addicts need to embrace their eccentricities.  It does not mean rubbing other people's noses in the differences, but rather accepting that normal life is not for entirely us.  We have to cope with it, but not live in it.  We can call it 'Preter-Normality,' a life beyond the normal.

If we want Christ and sobriety, we must first embrace the idea that nothing in this world can come between us and our goal.  All social expectations and temptations must be avoided if they interfere in what we seek to attain.  Fashion and social compliance are necessarily going to be hit-and-miss for those seeking a spiritual life.

I think Russians intuitively get that: look at the popularity of books like Everyday Saints and the Russian veneration of 'Fools-for-Christ.'  I think Russians struggle with the strong social impulse to be normal and fit into society, yet they also understand that to follow Christ means to resist this when it becomes an idol.

Certainly the Communist regime made an idol of this compliance feature of Russian culture.  Socialist regimes require a great deal of social compliance in order to centralize the economy and society as a single-party system.  The collapse of this system, however, has not done away with the pre-existing urge to have everyone comply with authority.

While Christianity does not advocate active rebellion against the state just for the sake of not being 'dominated,' neither does Christianity demand total social compliance.  In fact, much of the Church's history has been marked by tension with the state.  But, it is a tension that, I believe, perfects people.  Sleepy people who develop complacency fall into grave error.  We must stay awake in this life.  Boredom is absolutely dangerous.

Normalcy for the addict is boring and dangerous.  yet, he often craves it because he is exhausted from his struggles with the disease.  This is why  'Preter-Normality' (за-нормальности in Russian) a life beyond the normal, is so critical: the addict can enjoy many of the benefits of normal life, taking into account his own 'abnormalities.'

We can be in the world, but not of it.