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Friday, January 31, 2014

Sticking Around

A number of readers have asked me about staying in relationships with people who are 'negative.'  Most of these folks are people married to addicts who get mouthy while using their substances of choice.  I have a few general principles:

1) If you are being abused, remember this is not God's will for you.  Call the police if you are being physically abused.  If you are being emotionally abused, no one who is sane can tell you to stay.  I emphasize sane.  There are plenty of people in black robes who are crazy, and would very much like to see you remain in an abusive relationship so as not to disturb their idealism or disturbed view of reality.

Your life is not about proving other people's theories about marriage of spiritual suffering.  Just remember that.

2) If you are married to an addict, go to Al-Anon.  No excuses.

3) If you decided all on your own to get married, then it is obvious who you really need to ask in order to get divorced, or at least separated.  No one (in most cases) forced you into getting married, and I am talking about literal shotguns versus guilt or fear or other emotional pressures.  Those still require your cooperation in order to work.  You made the decision to get married, rather than running away.  So, it is your call whether you will stay and be abused.

The Church did not force you to get married, and so do not look for the Church to determine whether you must stay or not.  Yes, the churches have various processes for granting divorces, but unless you are with the Copts, a bit of persistence will get you a ecclesiastical divorce (it seems like the Coptic church frequently refuses to grant divorces, which I don't quite understand in light of the Gospel, but, hey, what do I know... everyone has their hang-ups).

4) If you are getting verbally abused, a big part of the problem is you putting up with it.  Addicts learn to push the margins.  If you are willing to be tough and consistent, you can retrain your addict like a wayward dog.  Yes, I compared an active addict to a dog.  The truth is, I love dogs.  Some part of me feels bad for dogs in making this comparison, but you know what I mean: an active addict can be way meaner and out-of-control than even the meanest street cur.  

Do not be a verbal punching bag.  It does not help your addict's recovery, and it certainly isn't helping you.  Do what you need to do to make it stop (that is legal, folks... legal).

5) Have you contacted Al-Anon yet?

6) Whether you stay or go, you will need a lot of treatment.  The effects of addiction on the non-addicted spouse are just as profound as they are for the addict.  Do not move on to another relationship until you have gotten real professional help and spent a couple of happy years on your own.  Notice I said 'happy.'  This is not a stop-watch event, racing to the finish line as fast as possible so you can hook up with another dysfunctional clod.

You will have to learn to be happy on your own, and break your attraction to addicts.  Spouses of addicts, once divorced, often end up right back with another addict.  It is their 'comfort zone.'  That has to change before you can move on.

7) The Church does not 'advocate' divorce, but it also does not advocate abuse.  In fact, the by-laws of Spiritual Courts do have provisions regarding abuse and even 'drunkenness.'  These are canonical grounds for divorce.  If you need an ecclesiastical divorce, you have the right to see the by-laws of the Spiritual Court hearing your case.  If there is a hold-up, ask the Bishop to provide you a copy.

Second and third marriages are granted by economia, but you really don't need to be thinking about getting re-married when you are in the middle of a mess.  Fix one thing at a time.

8) Always remember: you are not the first person to go through this.  You are not alone, and not unusual.  We have seen it all.  Repeatedly.  Don't be ashamed to ask for help.

In conclusion, the decision is yours to make.  Be careful about who you get your advice from, and remember that you are responsible for your own happiness either way.  If you cannot be happy with the decision that you made, then you need to make another one.

Get advice from as many good people as possible, then weigh all your options.  You may be able to retrain your addict, and just that alone may tip the scales in favor of him/her deciding to seek help.

News flash: being a punching bag is a form of enabling that perpetuates the disease.

Do not sit in your misery.  This is not why God created you.

Now, find an Al-Anon meeting and start working the Steps.

Also, for some of you... stop listening to crazy people.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Feeding on Rage

If you ever want to see what happens when you allow yourself to become obsessed with grievances and negativity, then read this:

If you are wondering what the lowest circle of hell is like, it appears to look a lot like the feminist blogosphere.  This is not a dig at feminists, because you can find the same thing on some Orthodox internet forums.

When you make your whole life about the bad things being done to you, or just how bad other people are, it invariably clouds your judgment.  Here are all these women who are grinding each other up with more and more complex rules of communication, which essentially drives out many of their smartest and most well-intentioned because the rules are just so bizarre and non-sensical.

Here's how weird it can get:

Similarly, there’s a norm that intention doesn’t matter—indeed, if you offend someone and then try to explain that you were misunderstood, this is seen as compounding the original injury. Again, there’s a significant insight here: people often behave in bigoted ways without meaning to, and their benign intention doesn’t make the prejudice less painful for those subjected to it. However, “that became a rule where you say intentions never matter; there is no added value to understanding the intentions of the speaker,” Cross says.

So, if you cross one of the etiquette boundaries, which are constantly shifting and morphing, you might as well commit suicide.  There is no repentance, and similarly no conversion.  Thus, the negativity becomes a hopeless pit where the world is full of bigots and racists and sexists that will never change.  The complaining becomes not a path to a solution but a coping mechanism for permanent despair.

This is, in some ways, no surprise in this particular arena, because many women have told me that one of the key differences between men and women is that when women talk, they are often 'processing' rather than looking for a solution.  Just about the opposite is true for men: when we talk, we expect to hear a suggestion or an answer to our quandary.

So, the scold-a-thon is something to be expected in this case, yet it flies in the face of what they seek.

If we feed off of rage, then we descend into this self-consuming madness.

What is the way out?  I'm glad you asked.

The way out of rage begins with the self-discipline of good manners.  Yes, that's right: manners.

When we step back from expressing our own rage, we often find that being under control feels a lot better than being out-of-control.  Rage can be fun in short bursts, but it soon becomes scary.  When we confine ourselves to being polite, then we enjoy the security of knowing that we are doing and saying exactly what we want to do or say.

Manners are different from etiquette, which is the elaborate rules that delineate 'insiders' from 'outsiders.'  I learned about this years ago while reading Quentin Crisp's book, Manners from Heaven.  Yes, I know he is a gay 'superstar,' but he had tremendous insight into the human mind and the  power of manifesting kindness towards others.

The feminist movement is now all about etiquette, the violations of which become the trip-wires for rage.  When it comes to good manners, we roll up the wires and allow people to plod around, provided they have the right intentions.

Sometimes our rage is a reaction to our own personal etiquette rules rather than the intention of the person we are offended by.  By ignoring intention, we feed our rage by convincing ourselves that the other person is intentionally disrespecting us.  That just has to stop.  Rage kills, and it feeds addiction.

Once we roll back our propensity to be offended and stop feeding our rage, then we can more clearly see the power of the Lord's Prayer:

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

This short line is a rage-killer, because it reminds us of our failings and how they are no different from the people we are offended by.  We let the other person go through forgiveness, and we find the clenched fist of fury subsides.  We have peace.  God heals us.

I get angry more often than I should, and so I am reminding myself about this as I struggle to forgive.  It is not easy, and some of us have long roads ahead.  But, never give up hope.  There is a path away from rage, and it leads to God.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dealing With Negative People

To be honest, I have never really found an effective way to be around negative people that does not eventually lead me down the path of negativity.  If someone else has a way, I am all ears.

I suppose it is largely because I spent most of my life dwelling in the negative.  As a youngster, I was perpetually scared, and maintained that narrative through my early adulthood.  Fear is now a daily battle, far more than any other temptation, because it is the mother of all temptations.

Living in fear wears one down and takes away joy.  Being scared means not being happy.  So, the battle to overcome fear is the struggle to be happy.  

So, when I encounter a negative person, I find myself contending with two negative people: me and the other person.  And, like in a street fight against two muggers, I have to fight twice as hard.  I have two people rolling out negative and depressing narratives that must be recognized and overcome.

I look for those criticisms and complaints that tap into old resentments only recently buried (or perhaps denied).  many are only made in passing, as part of the wind-up for a bigger grievance.  Sometimes, I have to kill all the small ones first before I can touch the big one, otherwise I end up tacitly agreeing with them and then fighting the big one becomes virtually impossible.

Of course, once emotions start to come out, the party is over.  Emotions are rationality-killers by design: we have emotions to stop the contemplation process.  Emotions drive us to action, and once the action process begins, it takes a while to suck back up all those brain chemicals that get flowing during the emotion process.

That's why I have to work on my emotional health when I'm not having emotions... which is usually the times that I forget about my emotions.  Growing up is a slow process.

In the end, I have to give these negative people to God, because I can't handle them.  I can help them if they are willing to let go of negativity, but if they are not, then I just have to keep the doses really short.

If I am powerless over myself, then I am powerless over others.  That's it, really.  The biggest 'bad influence' on me is me.  Only God can save me from myself.  I have no way to 'fix' other people except to point hem to God and tell them where there solution lies.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Being Joined to Depravity

I am posting this letter because I think we need to look long and hard at the messages our popular culture sells us:

How much of our 'entertainment' celebrates the very diseased thinking that we must end up fighting in the process of recovery?  This movie exalts a morally depraved man, and minimizes the horrors he committed against his own family.

When people think of a 'party,' the media shows us disgusting scenes of excess.  Then we send young adults off to college with their heads packed with these messages and wonder why get into trouble.

Sure, popular entertainment has always been about exotic animals and gladiators.  But, not until now, have we had the technology that could close the gap between reality and fantasy so tightly.  At a deep level, our minds to not distinguish between the two.

This is why we go to a movie and are 'drawn in.'  The images shakes, and we feel shaken.  The hero dies (not in American films) and we cry.  Our brains may be able to differentiate at some later point, but in the moment our lower brain takes in the image and makes it 'real.'

So, we end up 'joining' ourselves to these images.  When we see some singer gyrating on a stage, the image delivered in HD with surround sound, our lust is experiencing her as 'real' even when the event is thousands of miles away.

The images themselves do not tell the whole story.  What ends up happening is that the performer offers himself/herself to be 'dehumanized,' to be objectified for us to use.  And yet, we then must objectify ourselves by being used.  Yes, we are used when marketeers design all of this stuff to get us to go to their movies or by their recordings.

Movie and music executives don't care about making the audience better... they just want to push our buttons to make money.  They know the lure of depravity and its powerful pull on the human psyche.  And, they are more than willing to tempt us into joining ourselves into the same depraved path they themselves are on.

So, what to do?  First, seek happiness based on reality.  Find what is good and real.  Very often, that is about serving others to the extent that we can.

Sure there are some types of service we are not ready for or circumstances prevent, but we can at least pray for others and ask God to help them when we know we cannot.  Never blow yourself up trying to help someone when you know you can't.

Second, be aware of the messages around you.  To do that, you may have to slow down on the number of messages you receive per day.  Turn off the TV and radio and computer, then get inside your own head.

Third, do not reward the depravity-mongers with their business.  Research what you buy, and then only buy what is good.  This may mean giving up some guilty pleasures... but just remember that what is a guilty pleasure for you could be a destructive force in many other lives.

Do not let yourself fall into the devil's oarboat.  He will make you row until you wear out, and then he will throw you overboard.  We all can find happiness that does not mean joining ourselves to the depraved.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hanging Out With Happy People

So, yesterday after liturgy, I went with some friends to the Timkat celebration of the local Ethiopian Orthodox community.  This feast is their Epiphany/Theophany commemoration, and they have a giant party for several days that rival even our typical Pascha celebrations.

Normally, I hate crowds and noise (my head provides enough internal clatter), but once I arrived it was a completely different feeling.  Sure, being one of the very few white people in attendance, I got more than a few stares.  All it took was eye contact and a smile, and all was well.  When an Ethiopian priest then came up and greeted me, suddenly everyone wanted pictures with us.

It was a joyful event.  Everyone was happy and chatting (Ethiopians are not loud, and I found this crowd quieter than a typical American crowd of the same size, even though everyone was talking and singing).  There were hymns accompanied by drums, and then a solemn blessing of the water.  Then they started to dowse the crowd.

Those who are in recovery need to be careful of the people they hang around.  Addicts are often very sensitive and pick up quickly on their environments.  They tend to mirror the emotions and attitudes of those around them, because it is the 'safest bet' when you are insecure.  'Follow the crowd' is the motto.

That's why addicts tend to stay sober when they are around other sober people, and relapse quickly when they hang around users.  It is a type of mirroring, hidden deep within the subconscious.

So, it is important to hang out with happy people if you want to be happy (and sober).  Even though I came there tired and sore from a long morning in church, I soon forgot my exhaustion because of the joy and love that flooded the fairground.  I was not particularly unhappy that morning, but I noticed that I felt much better after a few minutes of wading into waters of kindness and peace that permeated the crowd.

With so much negativity these days, even our attempts to be happy are often negativity wrapped in a smile.  Look at how comedians make us laugh at the expense of others.  Timkat had none of that.  People were just happy on their own without having to bring anyone else down or impose their 'superiority' on the world.

We may gather with friends, but how often do our conversations turn to criticizing others or bemoaning some injustice.  Yes, we do feel a bit better with companionship, but we must be careful in seeing whether our friends are inadvertently pulling us down even while trying to lift us up.

Liturgy and worship are supposed to be events of unqualified joy.  As well they should, because true joy is a divine experience.  At the core of this feast is the worship of God, and to that the people respond with gratitude.

Now, there may be someone who who will say, "But aren't they monophysite heretics?  How can you go there?"  I can go there because I appreciate their love for God and devotion to Christ.  These are people who have struggled with war, persecution, and poverty... yet they always come up smiling.  I don't have to have 100% agreement with someone's theology in order to love them, or receive their love in return.  I wasn't going to jump up on their altar.  I just came to be with them and soak up a bit of their happiness.

It would be stupid to deny the presence of God in their midst, just as it is stupid to assume that God only visits those of us who 'have' all of the right theology.  It is not our theology, it is God's.  And, don't forget, God gave correct theology to Israel, and they still chose to abandon Him.  Correct theology does not make you 'right' in the way that love and mercy and compassion does.

When you go to a 12 Step meeting, God is there.  It is not the same as in an Orthodox church, but it is not intended to be.  Many new addicts can't handle more than a small glimpse of God, otherwise it is so overpowering they would run.  But, even heresy and misguided beliefs are not enough to keep God away.  Remember Balaam and his donkey.  God can penetrate even paganism to reach those who are perishing in strange beliefs.

Timkat is about as far from paganism as one can get.  It is an ancient rite going back to the foundation of Christianity and the Church.  God was there, and it was joyful.  I was glad they shared their happiness with me, and lifted my spirits.  They gave me a dose of love that will help me through the challenges ahead.

All of us need that kind of buoyancy, and so we all need to find those happy places, inside and outside the church walls, where we can be influenced in the right way.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chinese Re-Education Camps... for addicts?

I'm back in town now after a conference, and am trying to get caught up on all of my communications.  If you are waiting for a response from me and have not gotten it, please be patient.  If I don't respond, then please remind me.  The box is rather full.

This article caught my eye, since I have been working my way through a book about Chinese re-education camps and their effects on Western inmates caught in China's revolution.

I think the headline is rather overblown: 'secret' means nobody knows.  The fact that a crew filmed this means that the Chinese government definitely knows about this.  No secrets here.

The question becomes whether forcing a person into a treatment regime that is largely about forced abstinence will work.  The answer is 'no.'  Unless someone decides to stop and seeks help on his own, enforced abstinence will only lead to a temporary end to the addicted behavior.  Once released, the obsession will continue.

That's the 'disease' of addiction: the benefits of sobriety mean little to the addict compared with the self-destructive 'high' of the obsession.  The addict has to 'choose' between the two, and getting someone to choose on his own is often very difficult.  Just ask the Chinese.

They invested huge amounts of valuable resources into re-education programs.  They have propagandized, imprisoned, counseled, tortured, medicated, educated... and they still have lots of problems with people not cooperating with government policies, from One-Child to Tibet.  The human will is not only hard to tame, it is extremely resilient.

Reprogramming and forced re-education has never worked.  That's why totalitarian regimes (by definition those that require complete political obedience) try it and end up opting for mass murder.  Getting people to change their minds, even when they are the supposed beneficiaries, is very hard.  The question we must always ask ourselves is this, "Am I willing to kill or imprison another person over my political beliefs?"  The same could be asked about our religious beliefs as well, especially right now.

The studies from China confirmed that the only lasting effects of re-education were some phobias.  Those who resisted, even when broken to the point where they 'believed' in the message, quickly reverted to their previous beliefs after pressure was abated.

You see this in the treatment industry, where so many addicts go in and out of treatment after 'successfully' completing the program.  That's because the program is about getting people to fit into it, and not the other way around.  We like 'widget treatment,' and we also don't like saying that someone cannot be forced into sobriety.

It is our own discomfort with the world that we have created with all of its 'hypnotic' features, from media technology to 'Living Better Through Chemistry'®, that drives our passion to 'fix' people that we feel at least partly responsible for breaking.  I do think that we, as a people, need to reexamine how we use and live with technology.

But, I also don't think camps are the cure.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Addiction Industry and Greed

I'm really grateful for the comments on the previous post, because that story was disgusting.  To see how the gambling magnates and their chums in politics have teemed up should trouble all of us.

Politicians have always been a troubled lot.  Power and money attract 'flies.'  In the case of the US, our system has gradually put more and more people under the power of fewer and fewer leaders.

This concentrates money and power, and so creates an environment where men with money can have an easier time accessing the power they need to make more money.  This happens under 'Capitalism' just as Party leaders did the same thing under Communism.

It is not the direct result of a political system, because all political systems run on people.  Corrupt people go in, corruption comes out.  Greed is one of the biggest forms of corruption around, and it has been with us from the beginning of man's fall.

The gambling industry runs on greed, and so greedy people thrive in it, and the byproduct is, well, greed.  Of course, greed is also part of the temptation that leads to gambling addiction.  We all want to be 'big winners' with little effort, and gambling draws our attention because it seems to offer this.

Now, read this:

If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.  But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed. (1 Ti 6:3-19)

We can see the greed of both the gambling industry members as well as the gamblers, and how their mutual love of money brings them to ruin.  There is nothing wrong with being rich, but there are wrong ways of doing it, and greed is, above all, a destructive force.

This 'love of money' is ϕιλαργυρία, the 'love of silver.'  The Scriptures more frequently use πλεονεξία or 'covetousness/greed.'  Notice how this greed love of money leads to apostasy.  It all comes from a lack of contentment.  Sound familiar?

Yes, this lack of contentment is what drives us to sin and addiction.  Our inability to be grateful and to offer thanks to God for what He has given us becomes hunger that sends us into dark places, where we end up destroying ourselves while we destroy others.

Although Steve Wynne and the other gambling industrialists look down on gamblers and abstain from gambling themselves, what makes them different from the dope dealer who says, "Sorry, I don't smoke"?  To be honest, nothing really.  I can understand why people are outraged that the guy on the street corner selling baggies of highly-cut narcotics goes to jail while Steve Wynne gets a police escort.  It is one of those things that we have to leave to Divine Justice I suppose.

Unless we wake up and decide to change.  We must renounce our own greed and, I think more appropriately, our own envy of those who are greedy and successful at it.  Yes, those who often scream the loudest are ignored because most people sense when our outrage is secretly driven by our own deep desires to be rich and powerful, and we are acting out of resentment that someone else got that and not us.

Society will not change unless we change first.  We must first purge ourselves of envy and malice, through the healing of gratitude to God.  Then, we can stop feeding this beast of Greed which has its tentacles everywhere these days.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Play to Extinction

One of our fellow readers sent me this link a while back, and it is really an interesting article about gambling as an 'industry':

This article covers a lot of territory, from government sponsorship of addiction to the 'play to extinction' design of the modern gambling apotheosis, the Slot machine.  It is actually rather frightening when you look at how the who world of gambling has been 'repackaged' with terminology designed to keep us from seeing the reality.

Here's some of that reality, as composed by the author:

  • No other form of “entertainment” causes significant harm to people who “enjoy” it frequently, including the loss of thousands of dollars per hour.
  • No other form of “entertainment” depends on profits generated by those who suffer from problems of addiction linked to the entertainment.
  • No other form of “entertainment” is often urged (and typically refuses) to provide information to those being entertained about its risks.
  • No other form of “entertainment” provides free alcohol to those being entertained with the express purpose of encouraging impulsivity, faulty cognition and reckless behavior. 
  • No other purported form of “entertainment” requires such high levels of taxation, regulation and government oversight when it constitutes a business as opposed to a private, small-scale activity and, most regrettable of all:
  • No other form of “entertainment”, in recent times, is heavily promoted by government.

Yes, our governments do sponsor gambling.  From legal casinos to state-run lotteries, our politicians use gambling as a means of revenue raising.  There's a lot of tax money involved, and so long as the bureaucrats get their share, most are perfectly will to let citizens get fleeced.  After all, it is all voluntary.

Sure, you could try to make an argument that there is no difference between taxing gambling and taxing alcohol.  But, that does not work for several reasons:

  1. States don't run breweries or distilleries, whereas states do run lotteries.
  2. The vast majority of alcohol consumed in the US is not consumed alcoholically (i.e. part of addictive behavior), whereas a large chunk of gambling revenues are from gambling addicts.
  3. Governments hold various controls over alcohol sales and consumption (i.e. public intoxication laws, extremely high tax rates, etc.) that it does not do for gambling, particularly lotteries.

The point here is that our states often profit from what is vice.  The government knows that this stuff is bad, but it lets it continue.

Sure, you can make the argument that people are going to gamble.  However, by totally caving and allowing an industry of purposefully designed hypnosis machines to to set up shop right under everyone's noses... what are we agreeing to?  These machines are designed to get people to lose... and lose big-time.

Government regulators know that these machines really pay out very little, and that people become hypnotized by them, but allows them to continue on.

I'm not calling for 'prohibition,' because I know there is no way to ban all forms of gambling.  However, I do think that our government does not need to get into bed with these crooks who take advantage of addicts.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"God Made Me This Way" and Other Excuses

One of our readers sent me a short story about a situation in his community.  Without getting into details, I'll just say that the person around whom the story revolves decides to excuse him/her-self by saying, "God made me this way."

Yes, this is the modern excuse for exercising absolutely no self-control or personal responsibility.  It is also stupid.

Every day, children are born with horrible diseases.  God made them that way.  We should just leave them alone.

Every day, children are born in poverty and broken homes.  God made them that way.  We should just leave them alone.

Every day, adults discover that they have developed, through no action of their own, disorders and illnesses that are simply 'not fair.'  God made them that way.  We should just leave them alone.

Christ is born with a broken and fallen humanity, and confronted the fact that He had to die on the Cross to destroy it in His own Person so as to offer mankind His Resurrection.  God made Him that way.  He should not have died.  See the problem?

We are born broken and thrown into a world that is unjust and unfair.  If you accept it, then that is it.  It is yours.  What you certainly cannot do is run around saying, "I don't have to change... God made me this way!" and then demand that absolutely everyone around you change how they think and what they do... we call that hypocrisy.

The moment you excuse yourself from change, to be fair, you must excuse everyone else.  Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, the old saying goes.  Of course, we like to think that we don't have to change if what we are doing has no effect on anyone else.  

Really?  Is that so?  What about the billionaire that dwells in the midst of the poor?  He's not hurting anyone of his gains are legally obtained.  It is amazing how that argument can be made one minute and then dropped the next because we notice that we, in fact, want a lot from other people who are doing nothing except minding their own business.

If you want to make demands of others, then they have the right to make demands of you.

And they will.  Children make demands of their mothers and fathers, and we do not begrudge them.  In fact, we know it is healthy.  Society makes demands of its citizens, and we call them laws and taxes.

All of us need to get down off the foolish pedestal of 'private sin' and understand that who we are naturally effects all those around us.  Even our deepest secrets are at play in the world, because we are part of the world.

And this world is broken.  It needs fixing.  God made us broken, but not so that we would remain so.  God allows us to be born into this broken world because God wants us to fix it... with Him.  God is calling us to be healed and then heal others as co-healers with Him.

"God made me this way" blows up this paradigm when it is used to excuse any effort to be transformed, because anyone can use it to excuse anything and then exempt himself from this healing process.  So, God made us this way so that we would change.  If He made us perfect, there would be no change.  

Yes, God make us 'perfect' in the sense that the brokenness we have is not enough to over come the Image and Likeness in which we are made, nor it our brokenness somehow insurmountable.

Let's not forget the Gospel of John (9:1-12)-

As He walked along, He saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  We must work the works of him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  When He had said this, He spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes,  saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.  The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”  Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”  But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”  He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”  They said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I do not know.”

We are all born blind.  We cannot see.  We are broken.  If we say, "God made me this way" and refuse to fight the darkness, then we are prisoners to fate.

God does not want us to argue about who sinned or how we ended up in the mess we are in.  He wants us to understand that if God made us blind, then He can also make us to see.  And, He wants not only to heal us, but to have us be part of this process.  In a way, God wants us to work with Him as we are perfected.  We become co-creators of the very world we are born into.

Yes, we must first accept that we are blind.  In this way, we must be honest and admit that God made us as who we are.  Sometimes that is really annoying, because we think we would be happier if we were perfect, and that is not an unreasonable conclusion.  But, the perfection we seek is not ours by nature.

We must grow towards it.  And so, God made us to grow beyond where we are.  We accept the brokenness in light of the healing that God promises will come.

Some may say, "But, you say that addiction is incurable... where's the healing in that?"  We believe that the fullness of human healing is not in this life.  None of us are 'safe' here.  We are called to continually grow and be healed until our physical death, because the final healing of this life is the Resurrection of All.

This is when we confront that truth that God even made us to die.  But, He did so that we might live in the fullness of Him.

So, "God made me this way" really should mean, "I am a mess right now, but I believe it gets better than this."

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Impossibility of Selfishness

I say that selfishness is impossible because selfishness always defeats itself... the self.

When we are selfish, we destroy the very fabric of the world in which we live.  We destroy the 'environment,' both in terms of the physical world but also the many invisible bonds of relationship that encircle and permeate our lives.

Selfishness attacks and drains the very surroundings that, if properly cultivated, would bring forth a bounty that would even exceed our greatest desires.  Selfishness cuts us off from the very things we seek and desire most.

What we must have is Respect.  Respect is honoring all things in accordance with how God has made them.  When we talk about self-respect, this is not Pride or Vanity, but the honest appraisal of who we are and how God has made us.  We know our strengths and weaknesses.  It is self-knowledge.

Knowing ourselves, we can then look to the outside world and see those around us for who they really are.  We know that they are capable of and what they are not.  We can see whether someone will give us what we desire, but also whether we are able to give them something in return that they value.  Lop-sided relationships don't work, but become parasitic.  They lack the 'symbiosis' that true relationships have.

Selfishness is not about symbiosis and harmony, but is entirely parasitic.  This is why it drains and destroys.

God shows us what this symbiosis looks like by becoming one of us.  Christ is incarnate and points out that He is the one in who's image we are made, and then He shows us how to give.  He gives Himself, and the Father resurrects Him.  We must then do likewise.

For God to do this, with no self-interest on the line, means it is a perfect gift.  What we do is always 'tainted' with self-interest, because we are always beneficiaries of good.  But, this is what we are designed to do.  None of us is God.  We all have needs.

The blessing is that God has given us a way to have self-interest, yet not the self-obsession that is selfishness.  We can use our self-interest to help others.  This is what service means... we get as much out of it as servants as do those whom we serve.

Selfishness cannot do this.  It takes without giving.  It plunders and leaves nothing to grow back.  It starves itself while trying to consume the world.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Legalization and Intoxication

A fellow reader of this blog sent me a link to a short article about the legalization of drugs:

This and the older article it links to brings up the sticky topic of addiction (which can be seen in one way as 'perpetual intoxication') versus legal use.  here is the problem: drugs are addicting whether or not they are legal.  So, legalization may eliminate some arrests for, let's say, possession or distribution, but will do nothing for the greater social costs of mothers and father who abandon their spouses and children to get high all the time.

Whether it increases or decreases those rates, my bet is that if marijuana becomes as easy to obtain as alcohol, there will be more problems with it... just as alcohol remains the #1 addiction in America.  Marijuana is easy to grow if you have the space, but any Alaskan fishing village can show you how much easier it is to make 'homebrew' over growing a self-sufficient pot farm, complete with hot house, grow lights, and hydroponic irrigation.

What will happen is that enforcement will shift towards intoxication.  After all, legalization does not mean we will be allowing hazed-up drivers to drive 20mph on the expressway.  Heavy users will continue to be on the fringes of society.  The question then becomes whether or not there will be more.

My bet is that government-industry is more than willing to have more addicts.  Stoned people don't have the time or energy to really fight the state.  Like vodka in the Soviet days, an intoxicated people can drown their sorrows and not tip the boat over.  We need to be entertained in order to not notice the destruction of so many lives around us.

We are surrounded by wounded people.  Recently, a videos have surfaced of children being egged on by their parents to say horrid things.  We laugh, then we cry, then we go back to our distractions.  There is no sustained outrage because we are all doped up on information, porn, drugs, alcohol, music, text messages... 

The problem is not with the drugs or the booze, but the need to get high and check out of life.  I sincerely doubt we would have the clowns we have in politics if we were all really sober and undistracted.  But, we are not, and so we are pacified and compliant, and thus the suffering of our neighbor becomes a 'welfare' problem shunted over to some bureaucracy rather than our own responsibility.  We pass the ball because we are too busy being distracted.

Yes, I am saying that we are intoxicated by more than just drugs.  As I have said before, we need to examine why we need to get high, and what it is we are running from.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Is a Sponsor Really Necessary?

The question of whether one should have 'sponsor' or not is a perennial question.  This recently came up in a discussion, and I thought I'd share a few thoughts.

The idea of having a sponsor came about because in order to get sober, one needs to get the message.  We need to get the message, and at first we get it from the group.  Once we have the basics, then comes the details.  There is a need to go deeper.

This is where a sponsor steps in.  A sponsor is someone who has been through his own set of details, and can thus help the newcomer by sharing his experience and get the newcomer to think according to the principles of the program rather than his old thoughts.

That's it.  No magic.

The problem for us is that we often don't want to open up at all and let others into our thinking.  It is embarrassing.  We often have thoughts that, were they shouted from the rooftops, we'd die of shame.  Rather than having to open up to a group of people, we are given the option of picking one person.

Now, if you can be equally honest and transparent with more than one person, there is nothing wrong with having this type of relationship with two or more people.  In fact, it may be extremely helpful.  The problem for the newly sober is that we are often master manipulators, and will often try to play one 'sponsor' off of the other, or use conflicting information to absolve us from doing what needs to be done.

There may come a time where we don't need a program sponsor, but we can work with a clergyman or spiritual person.  So long as we do not try to self-manage, we will be OK.  But, all of us need to have at least one person in whom we confide out thoughts and seek help in discernment... and ultimately healing.

Good Orderly Direction is not about being led, but about being pointed in the right direction.  We must learn to use our own free wills without relying on the broken thoughts which we once did.  Our minds trick us, and so the sponsor or sponsors or spiritual directors help us from wandering off the path to God.  This 'direction' is like that of a compass rather than a leash.  A sponsor points rather than pulls.

Sometimes, it is good to have more than one compass, especially when they are all pointing in the same direction.  One thing for sure: if we will not listen to one sponsor, we will not listen to any of them.  If you roam from sponsor to sponsor or father-confessor to father-confessor, and all of them seem to 'fail,' then the problem is with us.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Resentment and Addiction - from the SA White Book

Because there are so many people who have contacted me over the last few years about pornography addiction and other sexual-abuse problems, I have had to plunge into a world that was largely outside my knowledge base.  That means a lot of studying, since I don't really have much experience in this world.  Yes, I have plenty of problems, it just happens to be that sexual addiction is not one of them.

The more I study it, the more I realize that God has spared me because of my own weakness, and so, if I were to start watching porn, I would most likely become very, very addicted.  This is powerful stuff, and I think it is probably among the most powerful of the addictions.

In learning about the struggles of sex addicts, I have come to appreciate the profound spiritual work that they must undergo.  In short, the work a heck of a program in battling the addiction to lust.  So, I think all of us could learn a thing or two from those who are in recovery from lust addiction.

Here is an example from the SA White Book.  This is really very informative, and one of the best breakdowns I have seen regarding resentment and the path to addiction.

Even if you are not a sexaholic, this book is well worth reading.


Let's see if we can dissect this sample of experience isolating it from the sexual activity, to see if we can discern a spiritual process at work in the development of addiction. 

Based on a real or imagined injury, we create and hold on to a wrong toward another; we choose to distort the truth. Rebellion and hence resentment are born. (Perhaps a more inclusive term, sin, would be more appropriate.) 

This distortion of reality produces a false spiritual high- satisfaction, pleasure, and release from the conflict produced by our wrong. Rebellion and resentment fill a need (really a demand). 

We take nourishment from the resentment; it sustains us. It sustains the new reality, which is a lie. It hides our wrong; we don't have to face it and deal with it. Thus, resentment is used as a drug. 

To continue justifying this wrong to ourselves, we periodically play the incident back, winning the case in court against the other person every time. By thus reexperiencing the resentment, we seek to recapture the effect of the original high. 

Our use of resentment thus becomes habitual, producing more wrong, which requires more of the drug to cover it. The vicious cycle is set; it has a life of its own, unrelated to the initial event. 

Persistence in this habit produces distress. Part of us always knows when we're wrong: the lie doesn't square with something inside us, with what we see in the real world outside, and with inputs we get from others. Plus, we feel guilty for enjoying this unnatural ecstasy, and our isolation increases. 

We try abstaining from this inner spiritual habit, so we act outwardly toward the objects of our resentment as though we hold no wrong against them. But this pretense deprives us of our drug (resentment), creates a new lie that needs more drug, and forces us to treat the distress of withdrawal with the medicine that provides relief - more resentment. 

This mental behavior fulfills the three criteria of addiction noted earlier: tolerance, abstinence, and withdrawal. We are now fully addicted to resentment as a spiritual attitude, quite apart from any physical acting-out. 

Now, if we add the ingredient of some physical habit to this spiritual-mental process, as we do in our case with sex, we can see how the imprinting, conditioning, and programming become all the more total, rigid, and controlling. Once this pattern is established in the disposition of the inner person, it must manifest itself in some form of overt behavior-we are addicts waiting to happen. Thus, the addictive process may be established in the inner person long before it ever appears in our behavior.

When the man described above withdrew from his lust and sex addiction, resentment, which he had never before been aware of, suddenly erupted with volcanic fury and possessed him as lust had done previously. His physical addiction had been used to cover or drug the spiritual illness. For there to be any true and lasting recovery for him, he must right the wrongs in his life from the inside out. To stay sober sexually and grow in recovery, he will have to surrender his resentments. 

(Sexaholics Anonymous, pp. 47-49.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

SA Literature Resources

Some of you who asked for the number may not have been able to make the Phone-In Sexaholics Anonymous meeting last night, though quite a few did.  All reports suggest it went well and there was a significant number in the group.

If you are interested in participating, send me an email with Fr. Agapios # in the Subject line, and you will receive a response with the number and code.  Again, all participation is anonymous.  It meets Mondays at 10pm EST.

One of the readers here also was kind enough to put together a bunch of links for SA materials:

Sexaholics Anonymous 'White Book' for direct download:

Sexaholics Anonymous 'White Book' hard copy can be purchased at:

Here is a great discussion of sexuality in the Church, which may be very helpful to newer folks who are trying to decipher the sometimes conflicting messages we get from reading Orthodox sources:

And, of course, we have the classic text on recovery:

Many SA members find these books helpful as they begin to work the Steps:

Of course, there is no replacing going to as many meetings as possible, and SA does offer phone-in meetings like this one.  It is recommended that those new to recovery participate in as many meetings as possible.  This is only one of many.

If you are struggling with pornography, habitual masturbation, sexual acting out... there is help.  There is a community of people who are finding a path of hope that we call recovery.  There is no shame for the person who repents and seeks help.

Stop surrendering to the disease, and start surrendering to God.  Great things await you!

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Social Costs of Drug Policies

Well, I agree with one poster here that there is no such thing as a 'perfect policy' when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

Over all, law is supposed to be the last resort for humanity.  God instituted the Law so that Israel might live:

"Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 
"O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey..." (De 6:1-3)

Israel knew nothing about God or living in freedom.  The whole Exodus story is about the errors of the people that were so entrenched that only their death was sufficient to remove their bad thinking.  They were 'too Egyptian' in a sense, used to living in a pagan culture with an oppressive overlord. 

This is important to keep in mind: oppressed people, and people coming out of an oppressive culture, have difficulties managing self-control.  That's because they are used to other people always telling them when to stop.  There's always a boss around.

Christ brings a new paradigm: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the Law coming from within, driven by love rather than punishment.  The Old Testament documents how God tries to stir love and gratitude among the people of Israel, but it seems impossible.  Jesus Christ comes and says that in order for man to keep the Law as it was intended is an impossibility, and that only God residing in man can make this possible... through divine and perfect love.

I have written this before, but it bears repeating: the State is not about love.  Government is about everything outside the limits of love.  

This is why patriotism is important.  If people can feel a sense of patriotic duty, the state does not have to direct their affairs so much.  People will be motivated to do things voluntarily out of love for the society and one's fellows.  When love runs out and people lose their motivation to do what is right, then you have a state with the stick to keep people in line.

So, getting back to drug policies, there is no 'perfect law' because the law itself is an acknowledgement of human failure.  Humans will always be tempted to get stoned because this is how we are wired: we want to escape our pain, and will take the easiest way out.

Throwing people in jail is just the same as allowing people to get as high as they can get, because neither condition leads to healing.  The father who is in jail is just as absent as the father who is hammered all the time.  A 'functional' alcoholic or addict is still 'dysfunctional' even if he or she can keep a job and refrain from passing out in a public place.

That is because the real costs of addiction are in families, and the state has little control over families outside of divorce court and domestic violence calls.  The latter is also devolving into a complete disaster.

Drug policies need to switch focus: instead of trying to figure out when and for how long to throw people in jail or let them use, why don't we start looking at the social perception of drugs?  People complain that too many minorities are going to jail over drugs.  The question is, why would people in a minority community think that taking drugs is a good idea when it makes their lives suck even more than they already do?  Are they genetically incapable of making a rational decision to stop engaging in a self-destructive behavior?

No, it has nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with culture.  Here is an example: I recently heard a Dutch addictions treatment specialist talk about IV drug use, and how it is plummeting in Holland.  Why?  He said it was largely due to the fact that African immigrants, who are 'integrating' into the Dutch addict community, have strong taboos against needles.  Their refusal to use needles, and their open disdain for IV drug users, has pressured even white addicts to stop using IV drugs!

It is culture.

So long as we popularize the drug culture (for example, blacks listening to 'gangster rap' or whites listening to Grateful Dead or both of them listening to reggae), we are going to have drugs.  If you make something 'cool,' people will do it.  This is why you wore bell-bottom trousers and six-inch collars in the 1970s, and now look back at those photos and laugh.  At the time, they were fashionable.

Of course, looking cool is more than just personal taste, but is driven by the need to be accepted.  Drugs can look fashionable, but they are driven by the need to self-medicate.  The modern drug culture just makes hiding your problems look good.

Until we as a society start to take this seriously and begin to self-censor our cultural influences, we will continue to have problems.  America used to have huge marijuana fields for use in the hemp rope industry.  Folks even knew you could 'smoke rope'... but they didn't.  Why?  Because is was socially unacceptable.

Now, it is, and so we have a problem.  People are not ashamed to have a marijuana sticker in their cars the same way they would be with having a bumper sticker that says, "I ♥ Child Porn."  Social acceptability is the difference.

The social costs of allowing drugs to be acceptable is that we are constantly fighting over them.  We are giving one another mixed messages, and then wondering why everyone, particularly the young, is confused.