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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Just what we need, another addicting drug...

Modern man has lasted thousands of years without pharmaceuticals.  Sure, life has gotten easier in many positive ways.  The life expectancy has gotten much longer and we are healthier (despite all the crazy talk from food religionists who count on our inability to notice that all the 'bad' food we are not supposed to eat has been part of the diet of all the 80-year-olds around us... go figure).
What has not been good is our increasing expectations of a pain-free life.  Pain is just part of the deal here in this life, and yet we are demanding from our doctors ever-increasing dosages of pain killers.  The pharmaceutical industry (which, in America, is 'hyper-partisan' in that it controls both parties with campaign contributions, seen in our recent 'healthcare reform') is more that willing to oblige our appetites, and bring us more effective drugs-
The problem here is that these more effective drugs come with a price: they make some of us feel 'spectacular,' and they invariably make us physically dependent.
I struggled with this a few years ago.  After having some rather complicated surgery (you know it is 'complex' when the doctor comes into the recovery room to apologize for the pain I was going to experience because it did not go as planned), I was put on a rather heavy dose of Vicodin.  I hated it, but it alleviated the pain so long as I kept gulping pills.  After a week of heavy use, I began to taper off.  In the second week, I decided to stop.
It was horrid.  I felt, and yet more than ill.  At that point, I realized that physical dependency had set in.  I had two more refills, and took the second one because I needed another week to ramp down.  I spent the following week cutting my daily dose down until, by the third week I was off them entirely.  The rest of the bottle went into the toilet.
It scared me in a profound way, because I know people who like Vicodin.  I can only imagine how hard it would be to fight withdrawal knowing that each maintenance dose was bringing with it a wave of pleasure.
Now, they are offering a more concentrated version of this highly addictive substance.  This is not good.
I have written here before about the need to offer patients a taper-off prescription, like a birth-control pack that gradually tapers off someone who becomes physically dependent.  Sadly, I don't think the industry sees as much of benefit as the present system.  I also can't believe that the government has not considered this option and not changed the laws.  They are supposed to be smarter than me, which is why they create millions of regulations and laws.
My sense is that they are OK with some degree of abuse, because they don't want to deal with a sober public.  They are also not willing to stand up to our own weakness and appetites and say 'enough is enough.'  We ask to be drugged, and they are more than happy to oblige.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Doubt and Contempt

When St. Thomas doubted the story his friends told him about the Resurrection, he offered up a standard: if he could stick his finger in the holes in Jesus, he would believe.  Then, the Lord appeared and offered him the opportunity.
Many times when I deal with people who do not believe, or say they have doubts, I try to push them to describe a sign by which they would have enough proof.  Some do, most don't.
That's because they are really not interested in believing.  After all, if you really wanted to find the truth, then you would definitely have a sign in mind, or at least contemplate.  But, some people like the ambiguity, because it excuses them from having to do anything different.
I call it 'militant agnosticism.'  These are people who go out of their way not to believe, or to not know
We have all suffered from this from time to time.  I know now that the less I know about the world, the better I sleep at night.  But, that's largely because the more problems I hear about, the more I want to fix them, which is always a bad idea.  Most problems work themselves out without my help.
But, I am responsible for the problems I cause, and so I must know the truths that immediately effect me, and none is so important as whether God exists or not.  If God exists, then everything I do has a consequence.  If He does not, then it is just about what I feel like doing versus whether I will get caught.  These are profoundly different paradigms.
The person who refuses to know has contempt for the truth.  It is different from doubt.  The doubting man searches, but the contemptuous man avoids.
We can never be contemptuous, because in doing so we seal ourselves off from the possibility of finding the truth.  Contempt is different from certainty and confidence, because it is possible to be confident in what one believes and yet, at the same time, appreciate other things for what they are and even desire to see truth in them.
For example, I can go to a Non-Orthodox church and appreciate the fact that it was built by people who earnestly seek God, even though I don't believe that how they are doing it is right.  I can even appreciate the beauty and sincerity of a pagan temple, because these reveal the inner beauty of man seeking to express itself to the Divine, a beauty made by God with every human person.
Of course, I am intolerant of those beliefs which harm people, but I try my best (and often fail miserably) to not be contemptuous of those who do not believe as I do.  I figure if I treat them better, perhaps they will become interested in what I have to say.
Then again, I have a church full of people on Sunday, and probably only a small fraction of them really take what I have to say seriously.  That's OK, too: perhaps I am just full of hot air.  Or, maybe they are not ready, but will be someday and I am laying the groundwork.
Doubts are good so long as we have a standard to end them.  But, if we keep needing more and more evidence, but the goalposts keep moving, then what we are talking about is contempt for the truth.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Marijuana and Feminization

The feminist/libertarian author Camille Paglia recently penned an argument for the repeat of the drinking age in the US.  Obviously as such a short piece, it raises more questions than it answers:
As I skimmed it, something popped off of the screen-
As a libertarian, I support the decriminalization of marijuana, but there are many problems with pot. From my observation, pot may be great for jazz musicians and Beat poets, but it saps energy and willpower and can produce physiological feminization in men.
I tried looking for some evidence of this, but could not find much in the way of real studies in this direction.  There are some that have revealed the problems of male impotence, but unless one of our fellow readers has something on the topic, I'm not sure anyone is studying it-
Let's look at the basics here: cannabinoids are neurotransmitter suppressors, meaning that they slow down the activity between nerve cells.  Hence, if faster reflexes or greater neurological capacity is what you want, cannabinoids are the perfect way to make sure you won't.
This has a natural effect on sex, which is not only a sensory experience, but also a psychological one.  It stimulates the brain and thus a slow-down of neurotransmitter release means a dampening of stimulation and arousal.
Sure, plenty of marijuana-using men will smile and say that they are still able to 'perform,' but what they are talking about is having to overcome something that it working against them.  It is not helping the process.  As they get older, they often need to turn to impotency medications in order to be aroused.
Now, this really is the definition of 'living better through chemistry.'  So much for marijuana being the 'natural high.'
But, Paglia isn't talking about that so much as the docility that comes with a pot-head.  Marijuana dampens the normal 'aggression' of men, which is part of the reason so many men in this society, which values female virtues over masculine virtues, find it appealing at a deeper level: it takes away the aggression for which they have no way to otherwise vent.
Let's think about college.  Men are squeezed into classrooms for hours and hours of talking.  This is compounded by the fact that most modern people are not audio-learners as much as they are visual (because of internet, TV, and video games), and so the hours of sitting and focusing on listening is really against nature.  Colleges developed athletics in large part to help men deal with the after-effects of the classroom.
Of course, athletics became 'professionalized,' and so the average student has to find a pick-up game of basketball or football... if he can find the space on campus, and if security will allow them to.  There's the gym, where one can engage in mindless, robotic activity.  But, it lacks real interaction unless you fall in with a trainer.
Alcohol and marijuana become the 'easier' alternative.  Of course, with alcohol you have some of the effects that Paglia describes in her article, but many students shoot past that mark into drunkenness for an underlying reason: it dampens their anxieties and the desire to act upon them.
Paglia is talking about this 'calming' of men when she speaks of 'feminization.'  Modern males are docile, compliant, and much less aggressive than their natural counterparts.  The days of the great hunter and the man who builds monuments has been replaced by the Hipster who likes some formerly-obscure trend, or the vegan socially-conscious office worker, or the video-game addict. 
Those men who don't fit in are pushed further and further out of the places of power within modern society.  They are your sanitation workers and manual laborers, which is the only place where a dose of masculinity is still a benefit, so long as managers don't see it.  If they come inside the air-conditioned spaces, they become subjected to the social climate of the feminine, where horse-play and male-bonding activities like teasing are quickly punished.
Christianity is about being a 'natural person,' which is why we see a growing disconnect between modern culture (and its gender-bending tendencies) and Christianity with its gender-affirming and -perfecting goals.
There are some clergy who are reading strange books and try to enforce a bizarre kind of rigid gender role system on their parishioners.  I've heard of priests telling their community that the man 'must' earn more money than his wife, otherwise he is violating a sacred order of the world.
Aside from the poor bloke being a complete idiot in a lot of other ways (don't worry, I know I am a card-carrying member of that club), the fact that he demands complete obedience and subservience from his parishioners means that he really doesn't understand what he is talking about at all.  Masculine 'aggression' is not about keeping you wife down.  It is about racing ahead, and it is far more than just dollar-value.  It is about achievement and making things and putting one's energy to constructive use.
The phenomenon of the cult-priest is one of attracting these feminized, non-dominant men.  After all, there can be only one 'Alpha Male.'  The rest must submit and surrender some part of that masculinity.
There are more constructive ways to maintain order without such repression, but that's for another day.  Returning to the topic at hand, when men are forced to repress themselves, they either 'blow off steam' or try to dissolve it in some chemical bath.
The marijuana phenomenon is really about that.  Marijuana makes being a man more bearable in a society that pushes against masculinity.  That is Paglia's point, and it is well worth considering. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The New 'Villager'

I described in an earlier post the phenomenon of the 'Village People.'  By this, I mean people who think only about very basic needs and have little in the way of more expansive and/or abstract thought.  'Village People' have limited interests outside of basic survival.
Having spend years dealing with Village People, I've noticed that this pattern is not confined to immigrants (although the trauma of immigration is often enough to reduce someone to this level, or at least is only really appealing to people who are already at this level of thought).  We are producing a new generation of Villagers.
Many of our young people have become 'Village People,' though not precisely in the same way as those who are simply raised without abstract thought.  In fact, they are raised with so much abstract thought that nothing seems very real.
They are used to schools that are constantly trying to redefine reality.  We call it Post-Modernism, which is basically a constant shifting of the barriers of reality to the point where nothing much is real.  Now, the 'true believer' Post-Modernist finds this constant shifting to be 'the' reality.  he is comforted by being in control of the shifting process, rather than in control of anything within it.
This is why so many teachers love Post-Modernism.  They don't really have to know much of anything, which is evident when you talk to an academic these days and discover that they are people who are largely, to borrow Fr. Roman Braga's apt turn of phrase, 'made out of quotes.'  They quote others, but when it comes to dealing with real problems in the world, they are totally inept.
Teachers love Post-Modernism because they get to yank the stakes out of the ground and set them in new places for their students, whom are then punished for rejecting the new definitions.  Young people very quickly learn to either fake interest in their teachers' latest fads, or get whacked (fails are almost never handed out perhaps in recognition of the guilty conscience of a system where measurements and indicators as a whole are subjective).  Education is not about formation but obedience.  This is why the West has gradually become more totalitarian about thought and opinion.
The problem for the younger generation is that they eventually give up on trying to figure out their world and instead confine themselves to mindless entertainment.  Sure, the young have often turned to entertainment to blow off steam from their excess energy, but now entertainment is largely about sedation.  We seek out 'white noise' to drown out the cries of madness that haunt our daily lives.
The power of addiction is the power of the despair in a world where nothing seems real except direct sensory experiences.  The addict descends into a world dominated by his sensory overload in the addiction.

Many of our young people fall into hedonistic lifestyles because there simply is nothing greater to live for.  Post-Modernism and the constant 'amendment' of truth means that, in the end, there is no truth, only experience.  Morality, virtue, honor... these things suddenly have no consequence or even sense to someone who sees nothing enduring but concrete experience.

This is the 'New Villager,' the modern child who's life has no meaning.  There is no incentive to become responsible and grow up, because those things themselves have no meaning to them in a world were what is abstract is constantly changing.  They can't even define them if they wanted to, because the generation of parents and teachers before them benefitted from these things but denied them the same opportunity.

Now, we see this generation emerging, and it is only a matter of time before the weight of reality comes in with full force.  It will be interesting to see if they can handle life outside the nest once the Baby Boomers become too old to support the system that has created the Post-Modern dystopia of wealth without meaning.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Broken Identity

I hope everyone had a joyous Pascha!
As for me, I am still recovery from a 'near death experience' after someone spilled olive oil on the wood floor of the altar (particularly around the steps at the deacon's door) and then thought that wiping it into a circle with a paper towel was an appropriate response.  While I did not utterly fall, I twisted my knee trying not to and that had its own joys.  As if my arthritis wasn't enough.
So, I got a wonderful opportunity to fence with my mind through the remaining hours of Holy Week and Pascha.  Forgiveness takes a while, and is a lot harder when you bear a constant reminder of the sin against you... and never received an apology from the culprit.  Well, forgiveness is not about whether the other person wants to repent, but about not having to be dominated by anger.
I'm still working on that, but I'd say it has gotten much better.
In the midst of Holy Week, I was invited to a conference set to discuss youth and drug abuse.  There is no way I can attend on such short notice, especially during  this season, but I did write down my thoughts and sent them on to the organizers.  Perhaps I will post them here if they don't end up using it, but since this topic often comes up, I'd like to say a few words.
While the power of modern substances, and the ease in which our technology enables behavioral addictions to take hold, the real problem of modern addiction is not in the substance or behavior, but in the self.  Man lives with a broken identity.
What I mean by this is that nothing about our identity is fixed or certain.  At one time, we were born into a world where the moment of our birth largely established our 'fate.'  It determined what you would wear, who you would marry, what kind of food you eat, your employment, your religion... life was not really about making those choices.  Those were all left to 'fate' or the 'Will of God.'
Now, even our very gender is subject to change.  We modify our environment and our bodies.  Diseases that once automatically killed, or wounds that did so, are now open to 'possibilities.'  We make millions of micro-decisions about our lives that humanity really has never had to make before.
And, like the age old problem of too many choices, we are overloaded.  Human life is a whole series of entangled decisions with un intended consequences, all with the nagging sense that if I make the wrong decision, I may or may not be able to back it out.  Further, the decisions I do make and am certain about are not necessarily enduring.  We lack permanency in our identities.
The more educated we are, the worst it gets because this society places the locus of change on 'education.'  Listen to how we talk about problems: if people were just more educated, they would make better decisions.  We 'need to educate' people so that they will be better.  So, we educate the @#$%& out of people, pounding them with facts and, more often, platitudes, and they just keep getting crazier.
It is not working the way we planned.  Why?
Because having facts and being able to use them are two different things.  It is like the guy who spends thousands of dollars on a garage full of tools, but has to call a handyman to fix a leaking sink.  Owning the tool doth not a craftsman make.  I am evidence of that.
But, when these facts are presented to get us to change who we are, now comes a question: what else is wrong with me?  What else must be fixed?
This is when people have breakdowns and often profound changes of character.  Such questions force us to question everything.
Now, imagine doing that over and over again.  What does that do to you?
It makes you into a ball of dough.  Nothing is real, because someone is going to come and tell you in a little while that you need to change again in order to be a 'responsible citizen' or a 'good person.'  Sure, some of these messages are good, but what is the net effect of changing people over and over again?
Eventually, they give up.  Or, they turn to a distraction from their nagging doubts and overwhelming fears.  This is when the disease of the passions begins to take hold and blossom forth in what we call 'addiction.'

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The News Only Gets Worse

Here we are in Holy Week.  Only a few days until Pascha.  It is a spiritually profound time.
Outside, our nation is dying:
It is embarrassing that our Attorney General would say this-
"This kind of sneaked up on us,'' Holder said, referring to heroin's resurgence after its former popularity in the '50s and '60s.
Oh, yes, they had no idea that the huge battle with prescription drug abuse and over-prescription of opioids would lead to an increase in heroin use.  Wow, what exactly are we paying these guys for?
America is hooked on prescription opioids, and when your insurance policy limits out and your supply is suddenly cut off, what do you think will happen?  Yes, you will find something else.
Sure, meth is still out there, but I think, like the crack epidemic in the 1980s, it will eventually burn out enough of its users that it will go back to where it was 20 years ago.  heroin is now set to become king, because it is filling the needs created by the medical industry.
The Russian Federation is struggling with heroin as well, smuggled in through Kazakhstan from Afghanistan.  I hope that whatever policy they follow, it is not like ours.  I think Russia has the capacity to really use a more integrated system of prevention, simply because secularists are not as radical there as they are here.  Religion and spirituality still have meaning.
Our courts just kick people over to AA or NA meetings without thinking about why it is that we are having so many drug problems.  They don't want to admit that the godless path is destroying us.
I'm not calling for a theocracy.  I am calling for an acknowledgment that men need God and that our religious communities can work together.  perhaps we need to see the Russians doing this first before we will understand.  I have more to say about this, but I think it will have to wait until after Pascha.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

'Moderate' Pot Use and the Brain

We have all heard how marijuana is 'harmless.'  It is 'so much healthier' than alcohol.  Yeah, those canards have been repeated so often, despite the awful evidence to the contrary that surrounds us.
Now, this:
The name of the game is 'neuroplasticity.'  What is that you ask?  The Wikipedia definition is rather clear:
Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity, is an umbrella term that encompasses both synaptic plasticity and non-synaptic plasticity—it refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behavior, environment and neural processes, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.  Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how - and in which ways - the brain changes throughout life.
Neuroplasticity occurs on a variety of levels, ranging from cellular changes due to learning, to large-scale changes involved in cortical remapping in response to injury. The role of neuroplasticity is widely recognized in healthy development, learning, memory, and recovery from brain damage. During most of the 20th century, the consensus among neuroscientists was that brain structure is relatively immutable after a critical period during early childhood. This belief has been challenged by findings revealing that many aspects of the brain remain plastic even into adulthood.
What this means is that what we do, quite literally, changes our brains.  When we learn a new skill, the brain will change and adapt to it.  It will also re-task areas that are less used.
If you take up 'recreational' tennis, your brain will change and devote more area to coordination and physical activity.  If you take up 'recreational' gaming, your brain will also change and devote more area to reflexes and visual processing.
If you take up 'recreational' marijuana usage, you ought to consider how this is changing you.  There is a follow-up question which I have asked before: what about your life is so bad that getting stoned becomes so necessary?
There is an overall social shift in attitudes towards life.  Employers are noticing that it is harder and harder to find employees who will show up to work on time.  Our schools have preached the message of self-fulfillment, but really failed at communicated the basics of a civilized society.  Part of that is how to hold a job.
There's a lot of talk about raising the minimum wage, but not so much talk about improving the employability of citizens or examining why so many people want to stay in minimum wage jobs to begin with.  There are plenty of people who seem to want to remain in circumstances that make them unhappy, and they look for coping mechanists rather than change.
That's where marijuana comes in.  It is a coping mechanism for a meaningless, dead-end life.  It is a way to get endorphins, the reward chemical associated with satisfaction and completion, without achieving anything.  It makes living a tedious, monotonous existence somehow more bearable.  No incentive necessary... you don't need to try harder to get the same sense of satisfaction a joint can give you.
The problem is that this joint is altering your brain.  It is making you into its image rather than making you more of who you are supposed to be.  You are becoming a 'pot-head' as you light up, and you are retraining your brain to stay in that state.
Tonight, Orthodox parishes across the world are offering the service of Holy Unction.  As we receive anointing, we ought to consider asking God to heal our brains from the bad training we have given them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Lost Art of Listening

So, on Facebook a priest posted a photo from an Orthodox parish with a 'life-size' cardboard cutout (perhaps plywood, but you get the imagery) of Christ surrounded by altarboys holding candles.  He asked the question as to what the rest of us knew about this.  I had no idea, but I do have my hunches.

My response was this:

This is just my 2¢, but our churches are becoming a lot more 'visual' to compensate for a couple of factors. First, since people can't understand the languages of services, we seek to 'entertain' them with visuals. Second, as we are in an age with HD video, TV, computers, we are far more visually oriented, which tempts us to make services more about seeing than listening. We put more lights, demand bigger Holy Doors to 'see' the clergy (mostly doing nothing), etc. This is part of that general phenomenon. I think it is a distraction from listening, but when you can't understand the service, then there really is nothing else to do but watch the standing about.

Orthodox worship is indeed visual, but we are seeing a loss of listening as a more important feature in worship.  We don't hear much of what is going on around us anymore.  We are too busy watching.

Vision is complex, and involves 30 separate regions in the brain in order to get a complete 'picture.'  But, it is largely a sensual process.  Listening is not as demanding in many ways, yet I would say it is far more complex and nuanced than vision. 

Understanding language involves a layer of paying attention that can be exhausting in the way that, let's say, watching a silent film is not.  language is far more abstract.

Our modern technology and the rush of information means we often rely more on visual cues than listening.  We don't have time to listen.  A picture presents itself all at once, so it can be scanned in a moment.  Sound happens in time... and we have so little of that.

While you can spend as much or as little times as you want with seeing a picture, listening requires being in the moment through the duration of the sound.  If you can't stay there in that time, you will miss everything.

We have gotten to the point that we not only don't listen to others, I think sometimes we are not even listening to ourselves.  An example: a priest contacted me about something I wrote and said I was in big trouble with this other priest, who was threatening to get a bishop involved if it wasn't taken down.  So, I contacted the other priest and asked that, if he was going to do that, if he would extend the courtesy of letting me know before hand so I could prepare by family.

The response was, in short, 'I didn't say anything like that.'  Now, one of them, or perhaps both, were not listening.  Perhaps the threat was not intended to be a threat, or the fellow who heard the advice decided to hear it as a threat.  All I know is that I wouldn't put it past anyone to mess up listening these days.  We do so little of it.

Anyway, I have been threatened plenty of times before.  Eventually someone will act on a threat, but so far I have walked the line and avoided giving people real things to follow through on their threats with.  Perhaps someday I will.  Only God knows.  Some people don't even need facts to act upon.  Their desires are sufficient reason for them.

Recovery requires a lot of listening.  A sponsor and a sponsee, or priest and a parishioner, can't just send each other emails (though there is no shortage of attempts these days, if my inbox is at all reputable).  We need to listen and pay attention.

This requires time and focus that our modern lives often deny us.  We don't spend time with each other, which is why we are lonely.  A keyboard and a bottle of chardonnay are no replacement for real human contact.

I saw this picture (I believe the artist is Banksy), and I think it summarizes our real problem:

Monday, April 14, 2014

The 'Village People'

Just the other night, I was regaling a group of parishioners with my various crazy stories and whacky theories, when I decided to share my theory about the 'Village People' and how this affects alcoholism and addiction.  Now, this group of listeners was a mix of people, but in particular there was a Mexican-American, a Pennsylvania German (close the Amish in lifestyle) married into a traditional Russian family, and an Arab American.

All of them agreed that this described their family lives and the communities they originated in.  So, this is not aimed at one particular racial or religious group.

So, who or what are the Village People?

Well, we start with looking at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which another parishioner introduced me to from her experiences in working with Haitian women and their children in Port-au-Prince.  She was involved with trying to get mothers to care for their children, whom they would routinely abandon at orphanages.  The women had difficulty empathizing with their infants, and had such low levels of intellectual development that almost all forms of abstract thought were lost on them.

Maslow describes a world where people develop various levels of abstract thought that emerge from basic needs into the realm of highly-abstract world of religion and the Divine.  A lot of it is culture, and how we are brought up.

While American culture is all about the higher levels of abstract thought and self-fulfillment, most of our immigrant folks come over here as Village People.

What I mean by Village People is that they think like a person from a traditional village.  They are very low on Maslow's scale as far as thought, and don't understand highly-abstract concepts.

Their lives are about food, work (to get food, really), and relatives (to share the food and resources during hard times).  Anything else is lost on them.

They can make it to work on time, because they know they will lose their jobs if they are late, but they don't understand the concept of 'punctuality' and are late to everything else (including church).  No matter how much you plead or yell, they will always be late because they never developed that type of thinking growing up.

They also have a pretty low level of empathy.  They may have lots of emotion, but it is usually about themselves.  At a funeral, they really are crying for themselves, and they do so with gusto (I have LOTS of stories from my own experiences  of tipping caskets and whatnot, but now is not the time).  Self-indulgence is not embarrassing, because it is expected.

These people are highly prone to alcohol abuse and alcoholism, in large part because they don't know how to handle problems that involve abstract thought.  Humans have a natural capacity to think in an abstract manner, but when a culture loses this, it will not imbue its members with this important way of thinking.

Circumstances like war and political oppression, famine and uncertainty, produce people whose sole interest is basic survival.  Now you have Village People, peasants if you will, who can think of nothing but getting the next meal by any means necessary.

This leaves them vulnerable to extremist political and religious opinions, because they cannot comprehend the wider implications of their beliefs.  They will also seek the easiest solution, even when that involves harming a lot of people, because so long as it benefits them, they really can't empathize with the suffering of those outside their close-knit network.

In addiction, the natural selfishness and shallow thought-life of the Village People means that they will indulge themselves in such harmful thought patterns as self-pity.  All they know is what they need, and everything beyond that is a fog.  Yet, their humanity leaves them naturally yearning for something greater.

So, while they can often be much happier than more 'complex' people (intelligent people have the hardest time being happy because they tend to overthink their problems and circumstances), they also have a dreadful time with addiction because they don't understand how destructive their behaviors are.

They also have a very pagan view of God.  To them, He is the Fertility God who gives them things, and that's about it.  They know He is appeased with certain rules, and they will keep them to the extent that they understand them.  The rest is utterly meaningless.  A few of them, with the help of religion and natural intelligence, will rise above and become 'spiritual' in the sense that they can understand the implications of the Gospel.  Most of their family won't.

Addiction treatment with these people requires a much slower process.  Those who are on higher levels of Maslow's Hierarchy will be able to trade bad thoughts for good ones.  When counseling the Village People, you first have to teach them how to think.  This is a slower process.

That's not to say that we in America only get our 'Village People' from immigrants.  Our schools are producing a new form of 'Village Mind' which I will describe in the next post.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Unwilling

One of the most common requests for advice are from people who have an addict in their lives and desperately want him/her to quit.  So, they ask me for an effective way to take control of the other person.

Well, they don't say it exactly like that, but pretty close.

Sometimes I have the time and patience to work with the person until he/she figures out that this is a problem.  But, since I am usually juggling 30 things in my head at once, they get the direct approach: "So, you think you want to control him/her?"

I have a parish full of people at various levels of spiritual growth.  I am usually judged not so much by how I deal with the enthusiastic parishioners, but it seems that everyone wants me to take control of the nominal people and compel them to come to church (and make a substantial financial contribution while they are there).

In both cases, I have to keep in mind that while we are all called to go after the lost sheep, we can only be reasonably expected to bring back the willing ones.  Sure, our Lord tells us to go out to the highways and 'beat the bushes' to find people, but he does not tell us to club anyone like a baby seal and drag them to church, let alone sobriety.

No amount of religious insanity or codependency is going to make up for the fact that people get to do what they want.  If they want to stay 'out,' that's what they get to do.

God does not force us into the Heavenly Kingdom.  So it is that we cannot force someone to stop using.  If we are honest, we may note that all of us struggle with sins we can't control.  Welcome to insight.

The unwilling are best dealt with when we ourselves are healthy.  In my church, I am supremely (over)confident that folks who don't come to church know what is going on and choose to not come.  They are not lost, or even strayed.  They just don't want to come.  The question is whether they are staying away for a good reason or not.

If we are crazy, then they have good reason to stay away and we should not interfere with that.  I don't blame my seminary classmates for not returning my calls or even trying to keep in touch (beyond the nearly obligatory 'friending' on Facebook) because I am quite aware that I am annoying and an overall difficult person to be around.  My friends are special people.

But, if we are healed, then the person who chooses to remain outside does so for no good reason.  What we should do, then, is not force anyone to do what they don't want to do, but rather remove the good reasons others have to stay away.  If we are healed, then our own illness does not become an impediment to others.

No one wants to stay in a house where everyone has the flu, even if he has the flu himself.  Sick people know sick people, and healthy people know healthy people.  We have to get healthy first before we start inviting people in.

There is no 'magic pill.'  There is only our own improvement and healing.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Youth, Self-Confidence, and a Lying Head

It seems that just about every situation I've had to deal with in the past week has been 'younger folks,' both in and out of recovery, who are supremely self-confident that the ideas that pop into their heads are worth acting out on.  Perhaps it is all that talk about 'self-esteem' that goes on these days in modern schools and colleges.

It is frustrating, because they seem to have very little in the way of self-doubt.  They do experience 'confusion,' but even then there is an unwavering commitment to thinking their way out of problems that their thinking got them into.

It was not just one or two contacts, but it was virtually all of them.

I have long ago accepted the fact that most of what pops into my head is pure garbage and hardly worth considering.  Before I accept an idea, I usually run it past a few who are smarter than me.

It was something I learned after years of heartache: my head lies to me.  That's just the way it is.  before I act, I need to have a lot more than ideas, opinions, and thoughts to move me to action.  The disadvantage of youth today is that your parents are automatically 'dumber' than you are.

That's the message, from the education system that extends from Kindergarten to Post-Grad studies.  Don't even think of asking your grandparents... they are just plain ole senile.

So, when I get into the picture, I find that most people are not looking for advice as much as 'confirmation.'  They want me to approve of the messages they have gotten.  When I don't agree, then the battle is on.

Sometimes I just shut down when I run across the overly self-confident.  Other times, I even find myself purposefully disagreeing with otherwise innocuous statements just to see how deep the disease runs.  Sometimes, when the person is overly demanding of my acquiescence to their demands for agreement, it takes everything within me to not feel sick.  I know what it is they are doing to themselves... I've done it to.  It is tragic.

So, how do we handle these folks, who seem advice-proof?  Simple answer: I don't know.

There is no sure-fire way to wake people up, and I am not even sure that we should want to have that kind of control over others.  After all, if we start thinking that we can wake someone up, then we are indeed controlling their behavior.

Since I am lousy at controlling my own behavior, I found it improbable that I can control anyone else.

So, after such fun interactions, I try to review my own reactions, paying close attention to why I experienced the emotions that I did, and making sure I don't get vested in the idea of 'success' or 'failure' in the work that I do.  God and that other person are what is important, not my 'performance.' 

I have learned a long time ago that sometimes my job is to fail.  That's what God needs from me: my failures.  I can look back at the blessings I have now and realize that they come as much from my successes as my failures.  So, if I 'fail' to convince these people that they are on the wrong track, all I can do is accept that as a fact and move along.  This is just another part of God's plan.

It goes without saying that God's plans are often intensely frustrating for people like me with no patience.  I still have not entirely grown up myself.

However, it is much easier to deal with a lying head when you don't take yourself so seriously.  It becomes a source of joy when you come to realize how many people God has put in your life to deal with those lying thoughts.

In the end, I am grateful to God for the gift of today, even if it comes by means of frustrations.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Treatment Shortage

I came across this article talking about the national shortage of treatment beds and the insurance industry:
There's a reason why insurance companies won't pay for it: most treatment fails.
There are a few reasons.  First, heroin relapse is absolutely awful, and yet the pain of going through it without assistance is hardly enough motivation to keep addicts from relapsing.  In other words, addicts are slow learners.
Insurance companies are giant gambling operations, and they bet on what works.  Treatment of the 'medically-approved variety' is expensive, inefficient, and often ineffective.  For every success, there are 5-10 failures.  You would not buy a car with those kinds of stats.
Second, most addicts end up manipulating their way into treatment to get a shower and a few meals, then find some reason to 'Lindsey-Lohan' their ways out of treatment and back onto the streets.  They may not have a plan, but they sure know what they are NOT going to do... which is surrender.
The treatment facilities that I have seen work, and by that I mean work miracles, are places where the addicts actually have to come in with 30 days clean on their own.  yes, they need to take responsibility for their own sobriety for 30 days!
You may wonder, 'But, how is that possible when we say that addicts can't stay sober through their own will-power?'  Let's face facts: you can stay sober through sheer will-power.  It just sucks really bad and general won't last too long.
But, if you are willing to white-knuckle it for 30 days, then you are probably willing enough to actually listen to the counselors and follow directions.  However, if you take an addict, make his withdrawal as pleasant as possible, then start trying to wrestle with his ego, you are almost always going to lose.  Once he starts feeling stronger, he will use that strength to fight recovery and the change he needs to make.
Insurance companies don't make as much money off of this industry as much as the actual providers do.  Look at the prices... what are they paying for? 
I have watched charity rescue missions do far better work than any state or private treatment program, and yet the state-corporate system has all but squeezed out private charity.  I believe the Orthodox Church should start considering its own charity programs (which are just starting in Romania and Russia for example), and I think that if we could just get our acts together, we could be offering a lot of treatment options at much more affordable rates than the state-corporate system.
Corporations are bogged down by profit margins, and state systems die from bureaucracy and managerial malaise.  Our problem is that our community relies on these groups to do what we should be doing.
We should be out there doing this work.