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Monday, September 30, 2013

Fictional Movie About Porn Use

I'm posting this because the movie sounds intriguing, but also because the review itself is also rather informative.  Of course, I have not seen the movie, and will probably wait for its DVD release.  However, my hope is that it will start to change the discussion about porn use on a national and even international scale.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s new film raises a good question: Does our culture have an unhealthy relationship with porn? In Verily’s upcoming Nov/Dec Issue, Mary Rose Somarriba gives an answer.
“How do you watch that s***?” exclaims Scarlett Johansson in what is possibly the best minute of acting in her career. She’s playing Barbara Sugarman, the flame of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his recent film Don Jon.
Barbara is livid with rage and baffled; she found a string of porn sites in her boyfriend Jon’s browser history. They had a good relationship, she thought. Why did he need to look at other women?
“Everyone looks at porn,” Jon retorts. As he sees it, porn is as American as apple pie. While he may keep it private—the only real person he tells is his priest in the secrecy of confession—porn is a big part of his life, something he needs on a daily basis.
For Gordon-Levitt’s first written and directed feature film, Don Jon (which sensitive viewers should know is filled with porn clips) raises a good question: Does our culture have an unhealthy relationship with porn? Has it diminished our view of women, relationships, and sex in general?
Don Jon is a bold contribution to a recent trend in entertainment, giving audiences a real—and grim—snapshot of 21st-century relationships. Call it post–Sex and the City realism. There’s the recent film Lovelace, contrasting the exciting story, as we were told it, of Deepthroat star Linda Lovelace, and the completely un-sexy version as it really was. There’s Girls on HBO, known for showing ugly, lifelike sex scenes. There’s Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, managing to make ultra-risqué performances devoid of any sex appeal. It’s as if sex is no longer sexy in pop culture. What was once a warm and alluring mystery is now a cold, anatomical display. If intimacy is dead, porn may have killed it.
Still, many think porn has mostly good effects. Porn helps people express their sexuality, some say. It helps men live the fantasies they can’t with their partners. It’s an escape. It can even add spice to tired relationships, Oprah and Dr. Ruth suggest.
But in reality, porn can make it harder to appreciate real sex. As Pamela Paul documented in her 2006 book Pornified, dozens of men whom she interviewed anonymously revealed, “I used to view porn online, but I began to find it more difficult to stay aroused when having sex with a real woman. . . . Real sex has now lost some of its magic. And that’s sad.”


That sadness comes through the many laughs of Don Jon. It was sad, for instance, to see the way the men treated women. How Jon and his clubbing buddies constantly sized them up—comparing each to the fantasy women in porn. An all-around attractive girl was a 10, also known as a “dime” (Scarlett Johansson qualified). But most girls fell short of the ideal, so the boys resorted to zeroing in on different body parts. One woman’s breasts were a 4, for instance—hardly worth their time.
Here the film offers a glimpse of reality. In a 2004 Elle/ poll of 15,246 Americans, one in ten men admitted that porn had made him more critical of his partner’s body.
Not surprisingly, many women feel deficient next to porn-star competition. According to Paul’s commissioned nationwide poll conducted by Harris Interactive, six out of ten women “believe pornography affects how men expect them to look and behave.”
Of course porn isn’t the only avenue through which unrealistic expectations of beauty can make women feel inadequate. Major motion pictures, television shows, even commercial advertisements have long employed sex appeal as an effective draw. But the mainstream acceptance of porn has no doubt influenced other media; content once considered too explicit is now regular fare on network television. And, while television networks may deal only in Porn Lite, it’s no less disruptive to our perception of women.
Don Jon captures this well in a family-dinner-table scene. With the large-screen TV playing in the background, a bikini-clad model suddenly steals the conversation. Jon and his father (a cringe-inducing and convincing performance by Tony Danza) are mesmerized by the suggestive ad, while Jon’s mother and sister (Glenne Headly and Brie Larson) avert their eyes and wait for it to be over. Within seconds, the tableside dynamic is shattered—something that could have been avoided with just a click of the TiVo-fast-forward button. But of course the boys are oblivious, both to how the ad affected them and to how it affected their female counterparts.
Later in the film, the television once again serves as the women’s antagonist in a climactic scene. Brie Larson’s character, who thus far hasn’t uttered a single line in the film, opens her mouth to share her feminine intuition about Jon and Barbara’s relationship. But no one can hear her over the television.
This is where Gordon-Levitt gets it. His nearly seamless script reveals remarkable acumen for a man of his generation. He’s done his homework on the porn issue, and he tackles it extremely well. He loosens up the audience with laughs, all the while sprinkling the film with digestible insights.


Does our culture have an unhealthy relationship with porn? Don Jon’s portrait of a porn user suggests at the very least that we might not be aware of its overall effects.
The Don, for example, never stops to consider the seeming strangeness of his behavior. Why does a man who has no trouble getting attractive women to sleep with him on a regular basis need to sneak out of bed after each encounter to follow it up with porn?
The answer is that porn-using men aren’t exactly feeling fulfilled in bed. In the Elle/ poll, 35 percent of men said real sex with a woman had become less arousing, and 20 percent admitted real sex just couldn’t compare to cybersex anymore. Porn, on the other hand, is exciting more men than ever.
As Gordon-Levitt’s character put it, “I lose myself. . . . Nothing else does it the same way.” Girls in porn will do things real girls won’t. And the shock-value element can be addictive.
Many young men today become porn junkies, making a daily habit of visiting porn sites, hiding it from their partners, and having trouble stopping. Those who try to stop as an exercise in self-control, as Jon does later in the film, often cite feelings of withdrawal and increased difficulty maintaining their resolution if they so much as have Internet access.
Jon’s quirky, middle-aged night-school classmate, played by Julianne Moore, aptly (and rather jarringly) captures the experience of the porn addict after listening to him describe his addiction: “So you like porn better than sex.”
When the imitation of a thing becomes more desirable than the thing itself, what does that mean? To put it lightly, it means that these men have been sold a bill of goods. To put it gravely, it means these men are facing the irrationality that is addiction. Sure, the experience porn offers may feel exciting while it lasts, but it’s often followed by feelings of guilt or disappointment. There’s something unsatisfying about being alone seconds after you just had a woman looking utterly enthralled by you. And there’s something universally depressing about seeing that hours of time have passed on a rewardless activity.
As one man interviewed for Pornified put it, “A man starts to feel like a computer himself when he realizes that he’s dependent on computer images to turn him on.”
Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, described in his best-selling book The Brain That Changes Itself how pornography consumption can rewire men’s brains, restricting their free choice. As he put it, “Those who use [pornography] have no sense of the extent to which their brains are reshaped by it. . . . The addictiveness of Internet pornography is not a metaphor. Not all addictions are to drugs or alcohol. People can be seriously addicted to gambling, even to running. All addicts show a loss of control of the activity, compulsively seek it out despite negative consequences, develop tolerance so that they need higher and higher levels of stimulation for satisfaction, and experience withdrawal if they can’t consummate the addictive act.”
Doidge describes this pattern as a sort of urgent thrill-seeking. “Porn is more exciting than satisfying,” he explains, because of the “pleasure systems in our brains. . . . Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based on the photos and videos they see. Because it is a use-it-or-lose-it brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated.”
For many men, Internet porn is a gateway to strip clubs, escort services, and prostitutes—real, live women who are paid to feign enjoyment and perform acts similar to those in porn. Norma Ramos, head of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, finds this a disturbing trend. “Porn is corrupting male sexuality by moving it in the direction to buy prostituted sex,” she told me in an interview. “Johns are not born, they’re made.”
One man revealed in Pornified that he too developed interests he previously didn’t have, like the day he stumbled on child porn. “It was scary for me because I was turned on and also because it obviously depicted kids who had been abused and tricked.” Another man said, “I would see some young girl in porn and then read a horror story in the newspaper about sex trafficking in Eastern Europe, but I just mentally discarded the connection. . . . I couldn’t let myself feel anything toward these women other than the means to satisfy my desires.”
All of this can further a false sense of what is pleasurable for women. As one sex therapist in Paul’s book explains, “In pornography all a man does is touch a woman and she’s howling in delight in two minutes. If men think this is how real women respond, they’re going to be horrible lovers.”


In 2009, I attended a conference at Princeton University, sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute and the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. The findings, later compiled in the bookThe Social Costs of Pornography (2010), include papers from nearly a dozen experts. But the words that have stuck with me most are Roger Scruton’s concluding remarks: “Psychologists and psychotherapists are increasingly encountering the damage done by pornography, not to marriages and relationships only, but to the very capacity to engage in them. . . . This, it seems to me, is the real risk attached to pornography. Those who become addicted to this risk-free form of sex run a risk of another and greater kind. They risk the loss of love, in a world where only love brings happiness.”
And there’s the rub. If porn affects individual men and women, then it affects relationships. It prevents the possibility of an us. Porn sells the idea that you can, literally, put a person on pause, fast-forward through the messiness of human feelings and foibles to the “good parts,” and, when you are through, discard him or her for another. The tragedy, Scruton recognizes, is that while glutting a person’s sexual appetites, porn risks thwarting another human desire: to give love.
This is what is captured in the poignant line from Moore’s character in Don Jon: “If you want to lose yourself, you have to lose yourself in another person. And she has to lose herself in you. It’s a two-way thing.”
This line comes just moments before the most awkward sex scene in the movie. While the rest of the film’s slapstick sex references filled the theater with uproarious laughter and crack-ups, at this moment you could’ve heard a pin drop. It was the kind of encounter that was as special as it was private—the kind that makes you feel as if you shouldn’t be watching, as if it was just for the two of them, as if they are just for each other. Despite the film’s many porn-infused snippets, this one offers something much more powerful: intimacy.


Does the prevalence of porn use among today’s young men mean we’re all doomed to pornified love lives where intimacy is dead? No. If there’s a lesson to the fable of Don Jon, it’s that it’s possible to get beyond this.
Porn is not the only way in which we can poison our relationships—a point that Gordon-Levitt expertly weaves into Don Jon. One could easily add possessiveness and jealousy to the list, or impatience with others’ flaws, or the all-too-common temptation to try to manipulate and change the other to our liking. The popularity of pornography has been fostered, perhaps, in part by a larger cultural tendency toward individualism, a perception that relationships are primarily tools used by an individual on his or her solo journey of self-understanding and satisfaction.
Don Jon responds to the question of pornography not through statistics (although, as we have seen, they’re there) but, ultimately, through a simple assertion, powerfully made through the stories of the characters: Like it or not, authentic relationships are not one-sided. “If you want to lose yourself, you have to lose yourself in another person. And she has to lose herself in you. It’s a two-way thing.”
Mary Rose Somarriba, culture editor of Verily Magazine, is completing a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship on the connections between sex trafficking and pornography.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Upcoming Documentary on Porn

Here's a link to an article in the Daily mail from the producer of a documentary on teenage porn use:

The era of 'let kids experiment' may be drawing to a close.  The case for morality is, sadly, being built up on a foundation made from millions of sufferers.  Yes, the distortion of sexuality 'liberated' from 'Bourgeois morality' means that young men and women will spend decades trying to figure out what a healthy sex life is.

How many more divorces, broken families, single-parent homes, custody battles, and other traumas do we have to put children through before we figure out that they are the innocent victims of our selfish desires for 'freedom'?

The sad truth is that fewer and fewer children in the 'Industrialize World' know what an intact family is.  They live in the shadow of their parents' instabilities and insecurities.  Yet, they yearn for the peace and stability of the 'old fashioned' family that they are denied.

Addiction is being fed by the modern idea that the 'reward center' of the brain, the ventral striatum, is the measure of all good.  We no longer delight in being moderate or moral or virtuous, but rather success in life is now measured in how much pleasure and stimulation one can indulge in. 

The problem is that these rewards are meant to be the after-dinner mint rather than the meal, but the plentiful supply of 'mints' means we are choosing them rather than the real food, and thus we are starving in the midst of plenty.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Krokodil: Russian Nightmare Reaches the U.S.

I have written before on the dangerous synthetic drug Крокодил, which has up to a million users in Russia.  'Crocodile' got its name from the its destruction of the user's flesh, which dies and ends up looking like crocodile skin.  It is easy to make and dirt cheap, which makes it the #1 choice of end-game addicts.

Now, this drug, officially called desomorphine, has popped up along the US border states.  My suspicion is that, since there are not a lot of Russian immigrants with heroin problems downloading recipes from the internet, this is coming across the border along with the rest of the drugs in the hands of Mexican cartels.

We have seen the horrors of cheap meth, but heroin and other opiates have still maintained their relatively higher prices due to the transportation costs.  Crocodile can be made anywhere there is codeine.  While codeine is controlled in the US, it isn't in Mexico, so you might as well get ready for another new industry.  

The next stop for this will probably be the prisons, since heroin is big in the Big House.  However, because US prisoners do get better medical care than their addict counterparts on the streets, they most likely won't have the massive amputation issues that Russian street users end up with.  That won't happen until the drug hits the streets and addicts start using it outside the watchful gaze of the Department of Corrections.

If you observed the law enforcement response to Bath Salts, you can probably expect a very slow reaction to this drug as well.  Why?  Well, it has taken ages for the government to react to Bath Salts, which cause immediate psychotic reactions.  Now, Krocodil is much more subtle, acting like heroin until the user's body starts to disassemble.  Meanwhile, if it is indeed coming across the US border from Mexico, the politics of the border will likely having lots of politicians not wanting to look at this problem and have to explain away, once again, another reason why the border needs to be controlled.

As for the earlier discussion we have had about legalization of drugs, I think Krokodil (desomorphine) is just one more example of why legalization is dangerous business: even if you legalize heroin, addicts will very often go so far down the tunnel of addiction that they will no longer be able to afford their habits.  Do you make drugs free?  If not, then they will still commit crimes and also turn to their favorite high in a new form.

Get ready for another episode of 'Day of the Living Dead.'

Here, you can see what doctors had to do to save this man's life.

Here, you can see an Arizona TV report.  I think the doctors get that there's a problem even with only a few documented cases.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Thinking About Codependency

In recent days, my friend, Dr. Evgenie Protsenko of Old World Charity in Moscow, has gotten me thinking a lot about the problem of codependency as not only a phenomenon within addiction, but also as a major problem in the Church and within society as a whole.

Recently, I've had a couple of 'emotional hostage takers' who threaten to discomfort themselves if I don't take their course of action.  To be honest, I caved in, but largely because I know that I would have zero back-up from anyone if I decided to play hard-ball and tell people that they need to take responsibility for their own feelings.

Nobody can make you 'feel' anything you don't want to.

Yes, someone can physically hurt you, and there are reasonable emotions in response to, let's say, being sexually assaulted or having your house burn down.  But, those a rare events, and so most of life's struggles are well within our normal parameters of self-control.  If someone cuts you off in traffic, you are the one who gets to decide how you are going to feel about it afterwards.

You have an option to forgive and move on, or you can decide to get angry and honk your horn for 20 miles.  The choice is yours and mine.

Is this codependency?  No, it isn't.  But, I would contend that this lays the foundations for codependency by permitting ourselves to lose control of our emotions, particularly in response to the actions of others.  If we freely allow ourselves to become emotionally entangled with others in little things, how much more will we do so with bigger things?

Once we tear down the ego barriers between you and me, suddenly I must control you just as much as I must control myself in order to be happy.  And, since self-control (in the sense of doing what we want to be happy) is far more predictable and thus easier to achieve, we eventually become more obsessed with difficult job of controlling the other person.

This is where codependency clicks in.  But, it all begins with the basic assumption that other people are 'responsible' for how I feel.

There is a lot of this these days.  In the Church, we blame the bishops and priests for how we feel about the faith, about God, about spirituality... and we hold them responsible for our emotional well-being.  If they don't do their jobs, we feel it necessary to disquiet ourselves and even leave the communion altogether because they 'make' us feel a certain way.

If you are going to last in a 12 Step program, you also have to overcome this same obstacle.  People in the group will do all kinds of annoying things, and you can choose to allow them to dictate how you feel about recovery, the group, God... the possibilities are endless.  Or, you can decide to not let these people change how you feel, and simply deal with what they say and do apart from the force of emotions.

Should we really believe that no one can come between us and God, then we should not let another person's actions dictate how we behave or experience life.  Being free of the undue influence of others is an essential component of spirituality.  The moment we attach our happiness to other people, we are abandoning God.

The other person becomes our idol.

At first, the idol acts against us, and we choose to allow it to dictate how we feel.  But, eventually, through our unhealthy attachment to the other, the idolized person can then afflict us like a voodoo doll: it sticks pins in itself, but we feel the pain.

This is the direction codependency takes us in.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Another Way to Look at the Legalization of Drugs

Here's an interesting BBC documentary about the meth situation in California-

Now, after you watch this, ask yourself: what would the legalization of drugs do for the people that you see in this documentary?

Will it bring back the mothers who abandon their children to grandparents and Child Protective Services?

Will it make homes safer and cleaner?

Will it improve family life so that parents attend to their children's needs?

Will it stabilize marriages and decrease domestic violence?

Will it reduce the levels of addiction?

Will it prevent drug-addled minds from making horrid and depraved decisions?

The folks who advocate for the legalization of drugs tend, for the most part, to focus in on the criminal aspects of drug culture having to do with dealing and distributing, forgetting that this is only a small part of the social costs of addiction.

The real costs are far worse.

Drug use smashes families, and leaves society to clean up the mess.  Only society cannot replace parents... moms and dads.  All the rest of us can do is baby-sit.  Then, these children raised without nurturing parents become all the more vulnerable to becoming addicts themselves.

Let's also face the fact that legalization won't make drugs any less addictive.

Sure, you can stop arresting dealers, and provide clean needles... but are you going to make the drugs free themselves?  If you aren't, then be prepared: drug-related crime will continue as you saw in the video.  After all, addicts need to feed the addiction, law or no law.  They can choose to be unemployed and collect benefits (the harm reduction model), but are you going to pay for their habits as well?

Then what happens when the addict has a child?  Forget the social costs: an addict cannot love a child, but that does not mean that the child does not stop needing to be loved... by a mother AND a father capable of being present and... drum-roll please... sacrificing their self-wills and desires to show this love.

The sad truth is that our half-cocked 'War on Drugs' still has a lot of enabling in it because we, as a society, have bought into the notion that parents are replaceable, and so addicts know that they can be replaced, and they come to depend on it.  We have become a Codependent Society.

How did we handle the idea of irresponsible parenting before the Codependent model came into being?  It was the 'Poor House,' where families were sent until they could be 'rehabilitated' in the sense that mom and dad would demonstrate their willingness to work hard enough to get out of it.  Or, you and your children starved on the side of the road.  Sounds dreadful?  It sure was!

However, so is growing up in a house where meth rules.  Yes, we have done a fabulous job of keeping people from physically starving, but we have an emotional famine in this land, where too many children are raised not only without spirituality (thus left yearning for God, causing them to act out in all manner of ways), but without essential parental affection.

Legalization just makes it easier for parents to press the 'eject button' on their responsibilities.  For my part, I don't think that is a very good idea.

It is hard to see this is an era of easy divorce and easy marriage.  You see, marriage is pretty easy these days.  Couples are more worried about whether they can afford to have a big wedding and a few kids than whether they can literally survive as a family.  Survival is no longer a component to modern marriage, and so we now base it on how we feel.  And, when the feelings change, we divorce.  Then, kids go this way and that, and the cycle of abandonment starts.

If you go to enough 12 Step meetings, you know how many addiction sagas began with these abandonments.  There's the foundations of the disease for many right there in modern marriage and the age of the Velcro Family, which has now reached its apogee in the 'Gay Marriage' movement and the final breakdown of parental identity: mom and dad are just options, because marriage is not about family, but about sex.  Children are just upgrades and accessories, and their needs come last after the 'couple' decide what their definition of the household will be.  Change your mind?  No worries... you can bail out at any time and start all over.

The kids will 'adapt.'

It is this dystopian nightmare that is our reality, and this is why the 'legalization' debate is simply too narrow in its scope.  It does not take in all of the factors, but zeroes in on 'crime' or 'harm reduction' or 'personal choice.'  The way I see it, until you can give children the 'personal choice' to be born or not born (paging Dr. Plato) into a family with an addicted, or an immature and reckless, parent, then choice is really a bad argument to base legalization on.  Children don't choose to be born.  We choose to get married and sex, but once that choice is made you terminate your freedoms unless you are willing to take, or at least botch, another human life.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Culture of Irresponsibility

If you want to see why I am convinced that American culture is in a tailspin and heading towards collapse, here's a classic example:

The facts of the case are what is interesting here:

According to the press, the the home is located in Stephentown, NY, in a middle-class, predominantly White community not terribly far from New York City.

- The graffiti and vandalism is not by poor kids, but rather well-dressed (by today's standards) and well-groomed suburban scions.  

- Rather than exhibiting some sense of shame and decency, a number of the parents are threatening to sue the owner of the house for repeating their own children's advertisements of their depravity.

Congratulations!  You can now rest assured that moving to the countryside will guarantee that your kid will be surrounded by the same immoral, hedonistic lot that you left behind in the inner city!  You would expect that such behavior would be the norm in the ghetto, not in the well-heeled suburbs.

But, when you look at the behavior of the parents, you realize that they are the bigger problem: rather than teaching their kids to own up and make amends, they are exploring ways to make the victim 'pay' for having the temerity to point out that these kids are morally bankrupt.

Oh, sure, there's no evidence of rape or murder, but look at how they casually break into someone's home and destroy it.  Then, they post pictures.  They are not ashamed.  They are just 'having a good time.'

This culture of irresponsibility is the result of the destruction of the family.  Parents no longer feel it necessary to teach children morality that even they themselves have a tenuous hold on, because the modern social construct says that 'professionals' are supposed to teach your kids and solve your problems.  The reason the parents are finding some other 'professionals' (read lawyers) should tell us everything: their children are more of a liability than humans in need of correction.

The victim is right: these kids are indeed in need of a great deal of help, and their parents are largely the problem.  They themselves have not grown up.  They are not taking responsibility and are rather trying to limit their own culpability by threatening court action.

The fact that these kids are learning that such reckless behavior is 'kid-tested, mother-approved' means that they will continue to indulge in it and the underlying assumption that having fun means abandoning your sense of dignity and self-responsibility because, after all, it is so hard being a kid in the suburbs and you need to let off a little steam once in a while. 

This self-indulgence without consequences leaves them more and more vulnerable to addiction because, when life gets tough, they do not have the basic skills of self-preservation and self-control necessary to protect themselves from self-harm.  After all, 'teens' can't be held responsible for their actions.  And the parents sure as heck aren't going to let junior's escapades endanger the family's continued membership in 'respectable' (read employable) society.

There's a lot of this weak parenting in the Church these days, which is why Orthodox kids get in a lot of the same trouble their peers get into.  We have all terminated our parental responsibilities in favor of public schools, colleges, Sunday school, and the media.  They define what our children do and think.  Not us parents.

Breaking the bonds of parenthood, modern society has left us alienated and alone.  There are no absolute moral authority figures.  There are no role models except for the 'celebutards' who proudly march about displaying their exemption for decency and even common sense.  Following these people does not help us learn how to handle our deepest emotional crises.

This is why we are getting addicted at ever-increasing rates... and our society is crumbling.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sugar Addiction

Yes, it sure feels like it:

Though, I think nicotine is probably the hardest to break.  

The problem with sugar is that it is so easily available, and is the most disarming because it gives the most pleasure without immediate side-effects.  I used to laugh when I heard the term 'sugar addict,' but I think I get it now.

However, warning labels are not going to help.

Just like alcohol consumption, I think we all need to more closely examine what we eat and live more mindful lives.  That means cutting back not only on what we eat, but the lifestyles that we lead that take away our time to prepare or even pay attention to what we are eating.  

I'm as guilty of this as anyone else.  And, my waistband reveals the evidence... 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Legalization and Religious Bloggers

I came across the latest dialog between two bloggers, one Roman Catholic and the other Orthodox, and find it thoughtful enough to link it here.

When it comes to politics, I suppose I am more on the Libertarian side, though I don't toe a party line and have plenty in common with both the Right and the Left.  That does not mean I'm a 'Moderate' in the classical American sense, which usually means falling for the most emotionally-powerful message of the day.  I do have hard and fast standards, the problem is that no one party embraces them all.

In other parts of the world, I suppose I would be called a 'dissident.'  All I know is that people that can't be 'classified' under the socially-accepted labels usually get executed right off the bat to preserve the clear battle lines the manipulators require.  Oh, well.

On the topic of drug laws, I lean more towards strict enforcement.  On the other hand, I think we are overly complicating the process.  

First, I think that the courts and government need to be out of the treatment business altogether.  Why?  Courts are for laws, not counseling services.  If you link punishment for law-breaking with treatment, addicts have a very hard time understanding when they are playing the system versus when they are playing their treatment, and so both get played.

Treatment is scary. So is losing your freedom and going to jail.  Many addicts, when facing 'court-ordered treatment,' take all of their legal angst and vest their treatment program with it, then invariably bomb out.  That's why the 'anonymous' has always worked in 12 Step programs... so how can you be anonymous when the court is reviewing your treatment?

It makes the judges and commissioners and P.O.s feel like they are 'making a difference,' the problem is that most of it is just for show.  They feel better, but the success rates for the defendants are abysmal.

Forced treatment does not work.  In fact, bombing out of treatment repeatedly prolongs the bottoming out process.  Old School AA used to 'hand-pick' its members.  They had a high success rate.  Now it is 5% because the rooms are full of court-card-carrying motor-vehicle violators.  This is not really helping people: addiction rates are sky-rocketing.

The courts and judges need to enforce the law and get out of trying to 'heal' offenders.  When offenders get tired of the system, they will get their own treatment and succeed.  Until then, they will take their same ambivalence towards civil law and apply it to treatment.  I saw it with my own eyes.  It is not working, and the flow of drugs into the US bears witness.

Second, I think we need to look much harder at how we prescribe pain medications, and I think every pain prescription should involve a 'taper-off' kit.  Having had two major surgeries in recent years, I got a chance to 'reconnect' with physical dependency and the rigors of a home-detox.  Not fun.  There are a lot of people who are 'exposure addicts' that have such a radical experience of the new pharmacology that they are pretty much sitting ducks for addiction.

Their lives don't have to be over-the-top messes for these drugs to give them a super-high that they naturally want to repeat.  Sorry for the comparison, but it is a lot like sex: once you've had it (in a normal, voluntary sense), it is hard not to want it more.  The same is true of most experiences of alcohol.  The problem is when you try heroin and have that same desire for a repeat.  Your life may not be a mess at the time you try it, but it will be in short order.

Third, you have to treat drug enforcement like a war.  It is.  Drug trafficking is not petty crime, but a multi-billion-dollar-budgeted armed conflict.  So, you treat it that way: you declare war, then you fight.  You don't make arrests, but you do have POW camps and you keep the enemy prisoners inside until the war is over.  Trust me, if you can invade Iraq and Afghanistan without a war declaration, you can declare war on the drug cartels.  Because, if those were not wars, then the definition of war is pretty fluid and you can stretch it to suit non-governmental entities.

That means you seal the border and shoot first.  After all, when you let the enemy in, your people are dying.  The cartels are not a business in the sense that they are trying to help humanity by making a better product.  They are making money and think the end users deserve death.  They sell it out of hate.  Just listen to the interviews with high-level drug suppliers.

This is where my deep-seated distrust of government comes in, because I think that corruption has taken hold of the highest levels of our government and that some people do have a vested financial interest in maintaining a 'war on drugs' that is not a win-or-die proposition.  It is.  So, you either surrender and let your enemies kill your people or you fight.

Think about it: why does the Taliban traffic in heroin... because they love the West?  How about the North Koreans making meth?  Drugs have been a powerful social weapon, and they have been largely effective.

How?  Look at how drugs sterilize people that would otherwise raise happy and productive families.  Look at how addiction costs us billions of dollars each year that could otherwise improve our world.  Addiction treatment is necessary and helpful, but it is not 'progressive' in the sense that it move society forward.  Instead, it is a cure for a disease, which means its overall success is to bring society back to the centerline from the destructive, downward path addiction takes us.

Since the 1980s, the transnationalists (those who work in places like the UN and international NGOs) have been talking about 'overpopulation' and population growth.  Drugs have become a tool in curbing population growth in the developed world, which is why you see a plunge in Western fertility along with the increased abuse of chemicals and behavioral addictions.

I believe Legalization is something that is partly encouraged by those seeking a decrease in world population because drug abuse keeps us compliant, as does our entertainment culture and its degrading messages (think about the recent displays of she-who-will-not-be-named, as well as plenty of other pop culture figures).  There are plenty of culture warriors who have taken on those topics, so I won't regurgitate their arguments.

Can you make an argument about the religious necessity to fight the war on drugs?  Maybe, and maybe not.  I think you can and should make an argument for our moral duty and Gospel calling to help the walking wounded from the drug wars, something virtually all of the churches have dodged.  

That's because really getting into the problem of addiction would mean, for the vast majority of Christian denominations in the US, a major shift in theology.  This is why they happily host a 'Christian 12 Step Group' on Wednesdays nights, but don't touch the topic at all as a regular message.  After all, you don't want people stepping on Luther's declaration that confession and penances are unchristian, do you?

The Orthodox community here in the US still hasn't gotten to the point that it identifies with American culture (wearing a suit or putting 'American' in your title), and so addiction treatment and counseling are not seen as a necessary component in serving our neighbor.  Right now, we're just interested in the well-heeled amateur theologian and the clean-cut middle-class convert types that are way more generous than the stingy immigrants trying to replicate a religious Potemkin village on a shoe-string budget.  But, times are changing and this reality is already self-immolating in many parishes and communities as we evolve into a domestic church.

People are beginning to wake up to the fact that we have lots of suffering people right here and right now, and a lot of them are victims of the drug-and-entertainment industry.  Even those who have never had a drug problem are beginning to see how pop culture is laying the groundwork for dysfunction and addiction.

Legalizing drugs is not going to help.  It will increase the likelihood of exposure, which in turn leads to addiction.  Yes, there are plenty of underlying causes and pre-existing conditions necessary for addiction to take hold, but it is way easier to treat those before addiction takes the person down a dark path.

Let's not all the cancer of drugs to get to Stage Four before we do something about it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Will versus Personality

Perhaps those of you with a clinical background have something constructive to say.  Right now, I'm just thinking out loud.  Everyone is free to disagree or agree with what I am about to say.

I've been reading a 'professional' book about Codependency, which I have found very helpful in many ways, and 'out-of-the-box' in other ways.  But, one thing it did do is get me thinking about the psychological term 'personality' and how the Church really does not use a similar concept at all.

From all that I have read, the Church has never officially recognized any system of categorizing Personality, which Wikipedia defines as:

1. A set of qualities that make a person (or thing) distinct from another2. An assumed role or manner of behavior

I think it is safe to assume that the reason for this is that the manifestations of personality, whether we are 'Introverts' or 'Extroverts,' are really not impediments to salvation and the path to God.  Salvation and inner peace are paths all men can choose, no matter their personality traits.

What is interesting is that when you compare this with the 12 Steps, you notice the same approach: personality is not an issue, only sobriety.  And, the Steps can be worked so long as you are willing to work them.

I think the lone difference between the two is that the Church accepts the notion that those with significant personality problems that cannot be treated will receive their justice for their suffering in the afterlife, whereas those who are 'constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves,' as the Big Book categorizes them, simply can't get sober through the Steps.  That is completely understandable if you think about it: the Steps are narrow in scope and represent only one way to sobriety (though the most common and generally effective way, I might add).  

There is also the additional difference that the Steps deal with the limited issue of addiction and its underlying Passions, while the Church deals with a grander scale of all humanity, not just the 10% or so of the population with addiction issues.  

What this book, Understanding Codependency, Updated and Expanded: The Science Behind It and How to Break the Cycle, triggered in my thinking as, aside from a very well-thought-through explanation of addictions, but also the idea that addiction is a 'sub-personality' condition.  The process of becoming addicted and also being treated for it has to go on below the details of the personality itself.

Of course, as clinical types, the rest of the book explains treatment in terms of personality manipulation, which is why I became more and more disappointed with a great beginning.  These days, personality systems are an inescapable reality when dealing with mental health professionals.  It is really all they have to work with.

Personality theory is the only way a professional can understand what is going on inside us without directly experiencing it.  I also want to emphasize that just being an addict does not give anyone license to 'treat' others... most addicts do have profound personality problems that could use a lot of professional treatment to get through.

What I suppose I am saying is that professional counseling and the Steps operate at two parallel levels in the human person.  Since each level is part of the same person, they do influence one another, and so you can't really say that one is 'superior' to the other because malfunctions at either level can bring enormous amounts of misery to the whole person.

We definitely need both, and we should not try to use one system to cure problems in another.  Nor should we thing that problems in one are not effected by problems in another.  Again, humans are an organic whole, and the only way to successfully 'dissect' them is to kill them.  That's when psychology fails: when it tries to explain what goes on within man at a spiritual level, invariably it goes weird.  The more successful systems allow for spirituality.

When you let psychologists start teaching spirituality, you get humdingers like this:

The most precious part of us is our souls.  In fact, we are not in our bodies.  We are given our bodies as marvelous, beautifully designed Land Rovers for moving us around the planet.  We are inside there somewhere looking out, and God is driving.  More and more often we hear this great self-worth phrase: "I am me!  Hooray!"

Paging Dr. Plato...

As goofy and maudlin as this sounds, it is also entirely dangerous for the addict.  Dissociating from one's body in even the slightest way is disastrous for addicts, just ask our friends with food disorders based on body image.  Then again, these writers get to 'specialize' in one area, which spirituality can't do.  The truth of spirituality is its universality.

If it isn't true everywhere, then it is true nowhere.

Truth is never 'particular,' but this is a rabbit trail I won't put you through today.

This 'sub-personality' layer of humanity I think of as the will, and it is the will that the Church does take great concern with.  Human personality is ignored I think largely because it simply is too complicated and would take too much time and resources when people very often need short answers during those occasional moments when our ears open.

It is also the Will that drives our actions through our personalities.  Therefore, if you cure the Will, the forces of personality and the problems of personality, subside.  After all, if we are better able to manage our personalities, then we will be better able to be patient with others and also not 'crowd' people with the demands of our unmanaged, feral personalities.  Of course, a problemed personality requires both a cure of the Personality and the Will.  This is why 'Personality Disorders' are so phenomenally hard to treat.

I think that psychology and spirituality are both important to man's overall health, and I hope that counseling professionals and clergy can work together to help heal the many people around us who are ill and suffering.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Loneliness and Fellowship

There are times when writing on this blog underscores the problem I am struggling with.  It is not like we do not know the answer to the problem of addiction.  The problem is that so few people are interested in dealing with it.

For me, it is an inescapable reality.  People email me or call me up.  When I meet with parishioners, the topic surfaces because they are either struggling with their passions or are entangled with someone who is extremely dysfunctional.  The problem is that most people just want the problem to go away.  They are not willing to struggle.  All I can say is, "Keep coming back!"

But, I think many who read this blog can relate that those of us who are really interested in this topic are atomized: we are spread out and disbursed in a sea of people who are simply uninterested.  Most of them are not that sick, so why should they care?

I've gotten the opportunity to email exchange with lots of folks with sincere concern and profound thoughts, but it is not the same as fellowship.  There's a difference between getting a :) and a real human expression.  Sure, I know there are a lot of people out there (the blog is now averaging 200 hits per day and steadily increasing), but it is still fairly lonely here in front of my monitor.

Loneliness is something that I had to accept as part of my 'job.'  We Orthodox parish priests are isolated from one another by geographical barriers, and when in close proximity, there are lots of other barriers of jealousy, envy, and territory-guarding which makes for complicated relationships.  Parishioners want our companionship, but it is always with the expectation that we are still their 'vending machine' and we had better not be flashing the 'out of service' light lest the bishop be contacted.  If you have hair, you can never let it down.  If you do, you will be reminded by someone with a gun pointed to his own head... "Father, don't make me do this!"

So, we tend to isolate.

The same is true of many addicts in the Church: they are isolated from fellow parishioners because there is a sense that they have to keep the addiction an utter secret.  It is so hypocritical that we preach a God who loves sinners, then we run around making sure that no one thinks that we are sinners.  But, we are.  We are afraid of our neighbor.  He and his opinions are a threat, and we forget that our neighbor is looking at us as threats as well.  We are scared of one another.

So, most people compensate by having 'two lives': a life in the parish, and a life in the group.  It is only when you get home and close the door that the two come together.  This is a recipe for loneliness.

Someone mentioned arranging online meetings for Orthodox in recovery.  I'd even like to see us perhaps meet at a campground somewhere for a bonfire and socializing.  We will see what happens.  I don't know.

In the meantime, I want to thank all of you, those who speak and those who are silent.  Thank you for stopping by.  It tells me this is the right thing to do, and that there are a lot of us out there who are struggling for answers and desirous of a way to God through our struggles.  Though we do not know each other or see one another's faces, like the POW in the solitary cell, sometimes it is a real comfort to tap on the wall and get a response.

We are not alone.  And, if we carry the message, our numbers will grow.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How It Works With a Loving God

So, let's assume I'm not way off and that God is Love and He loves us in a divine manner, which is appropriate for a Divine Person to do.  After all, God is Divine, and that means He does divine things, and for Him not to do divine things would mean that He really wasn't acting like Himself, right?

This is, by the way, why we say that Christ had to be completely human as we are, otherwise He could not be human at all.  You can't be a 'little human'... it is an all-or-nothing proposition.  We believe that He had a complete humanity in every way.  What He did with that humanity was what made the difference.

That is action.  God acts according to who He is.  So, if God loves, how is He going to love?  Well, He is going to love in a divine way.  That means he will do it better than human love.  It will also be greater, more plentiful... but it is still love.  It can be rejected by others, but that does not make it go away.  Love endures all things, even resistance from us.  We don't have to accept it, but rejecting God's love does not alter God's love towards us.  After all, He is substantially 'bigger' than us and does not have all the hangups we have of pride and vanity.

If you believe that God does have those hangups, you must be worshiping Zeus.

The final testimony to God's love is how He treats us in the big picture of life... and death.

Here's Pope Francis, the new Roman Catholic pope, trying to get at this topic from his perspective.

Now, the problem here is that the story is being reported, and reporters (I was a journalist, so I know how to dish on the media) are notorious for getting stories dead wrong because with a looming headline you oftentimes can't get enough background information to actually understand what you are reporting on.  So, you have a pope making a theological statement in common parlance which the reporter probably doesn't really understand at all.

Then again, there's also the issue of translation.  Lots of things get lost right there.

What Pope Francis is hinting at is that old Christian debate about Apokatastasis.  In a nutshell, there is a question about whether this infinite love of God can really be resisted for all eternity, and whether people who reject God in this life because of 'conscience' (for example, someone who loses his faith because he was molested by a priest or was raised with the idea of an angry, judgmental god) will necessarily be damned.

We Orthodox don't usually use the term 'conscience' in this way, knowing that plenty of us do absolutely horrible things 'in good conscience.'  But, he is getting at something that makes perfect sense from the perspective of the Church.  The Orthodox Church has always held the idea that even the dead that lived horribly in this life can embrace this divine love and even find eternal rest.  That's because, in the end it is this infinite love that embraces all men and not only restores whatever injustices we have received, but also fixes that which we have broken though our own sin.

Think about how important this is when considering the Steps:
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
What about those whom we have harmed but we cannot make amends to?  How is our making amends going to help them?

This is where the Loving God comes in and says, "I will fix what you cannot."

Even our worst evil is no match for God's infinite love.  Whatever we do, He can outdo it.  We believe that He does.  So, even when our evil results in people losing their faith in God and perhaps even hating Him, His love is still greater than that and can heal what we have broken.

The process of recovery is one where we see this divine Love even in the presence of the evils done to us and those evils we are guilty of.  The Holy Fathers understood this.  Sure, they pushed the notion of joining the Church and being baptised, but that's because these things lead us to this experience of God's love.  That is what salvation is... the path of receiving this Love through our own free will that is freely offered.

The question comes whether man can resist this love.  The answer is there: yes.  Man is free to choose even when all reality shows him otherwise.  God is not looking for ways to exclude us, though He knows that this way for us is difficult in this life.  This is why He says, 

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.   Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." Matthew 7:13-15

So, then let's look at a different verse:

Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”
And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’  then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’  But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.  They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God.  And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” Luke 13:23-30
The warning here is to those who supposedly 'know God' ("We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.") but are actually 'workers of iniquity.'  Hypocrites.  remember that He was addressing the Pharisees outside Jerusalem.  It was a particular warning.  He was telling them that God does not 'know where you are from' when you are engaging in false teaching in His name ("... you taught in our streets.") and did not listen.

When God says that He does not know where you are from, it is because you have made yourself a citizen of another land.  This is our choice, but we have to live with it.  We cannot be a citizen of a foreign land.  We also cannot remain outside the house forever, but then resent it when the door is finally closed.  If they had come in when they were supposed to, then the door would not have been closed.

You have to go into the meeting room in order to get sober.  You can't stand outside smoking all night and still expect to enjoy sobriety.  It is the same way with God.  We do, at some point, have to come in.

For the Orthodox, the door is shut at the Last Judgment, and so we have time... but we just don't know how long and so we should hurry.  But, we know that God will keep those doors open to us until that time, and all we have to do is step.  If we prepare ourselves, He will prepare us.

He will fix what is broken, and healed those who are wounded.  

Just remember, a party is not about who chooses not to show up.  It is about those who make the effort to attend.  We all receive this invitation, and God will even help us get there.