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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Senses, Porn, and Relationships

Psychology Today published this short article on the effects of pornography on the ability to commit to a relationship-
The conclusion was hard not to see coming: the more one views porn, the less committed one becomes to one's real-life mate-relationships.  It has to do with sexual stimulation.
It is funny in a way, because I figured this one out years ago when I went on a pilgrimage for several weeks to Mt. Athos, where there were no women at all.  I hadn't noticed it too much (being overwhelmed with all the other aspects of the trip) until I stepped off the ferry in Ouranopoli and walked out onto the dock.  There were a dozen or so women there to pick up their husbands/boyfriends/male relatives, and... wow, it was a little unnerving.
Not having been around women for just a short time made us pilgrims notice them all the more.  We laughed as we jumped into the taxi and headed off to a convent (a funny destination all things considered after this experience), but the effects subsided as we made several stops along the way and got used to being around women again.
The shock of that experience never left me.  It was like coming out of a dark room into the sunlight.  It took time to adjust.
When we bombard our senses with pornography, it is the exact opposite: it is like standing in the sunlight, then going indoors.  We come in, and the whole world suddenly becomes dark and obscured.
I did say 'senses' because pornography is not just visual, but it is also perceived by what I call our 'socio-sexual sense.'  This is, in my opinion, a real sense just as much as hearing and sight or taste.  It does not have a single organ to rely on, just as our sense of temperature or kinesthesia.  The Socio-Sexual Sense relates the person to other beings... animals and humans, male and female.
Just like other senses (the exception being smell), this sense is routed through the Limbic System of the brain, and gives us the ability to immediately react to situations as they come into perception.  After all, we do not have to think long about sexual arousal... most of us can be instantly shocked by a sudden pornographic image that pops on the screen.
The Limbic System controls our reactions, and can flood the rest of the brain with chemicals which control behavior and the thinking of the higher Cerebrum.
So, when you are watching porn, the Limbic System is reacting to the senses of Vision and Socio Sexuality, then sending out the brain chemicals involved (this is a longer discussion).  The Cerebrum is less involved in this process, and is largely switched 'off.'  Otherwise, it would notice that the actors are not perfect or the video isn't clear.
But, the Limbic Brain doesn't notice these things.  It thinks it is looking at a real woman, and then it sets about to convince the Cerebrum that this is real and it needs to act accordingly.  The high levels of input become 'expected' by both brains.  They adjust to the white-hot 'light' of porn (especially the HD variety), and so everything else becomes 'less.'
In mating relationships, the foundation is the Socio-Sexual sense, which discerns the relationship and defines the position of the self in relation to the other.  If this sense has been overloaded by porn viewing, it is going to produce a 'duller image' to the rest of the brain, just like eyes adjusted to bright light produce a dimmer image in a regularly-lit room.
This study just confirms the effect, but we still have a long way to go to understand the role of the sense in relationships.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Tragedy of Thinking

One thing I know about myself: I'm not very popular as a Confessor.
People come to me for confession very infrequently, sometimes only once before they find someone else.  It isn't because I don't listen, or that I hand out 3-year excommunications like breath mints. 
From what I can tell, it is because I usually say things too directly for people to handle at that moment.  It is not a very good habit.  Sure, it makes for an entertaining blog, but when people are on pins and needles in the struggle with their egos... most folks don't want a shove.
Part of how I know this is that people come back later and tell me that they were not ready to hear what I had to say.  It took a while before they could digest it.
'Talking therapies' can be much the same way.  Sometimes they can be overly challenging.  Other times, not challenging enough.
They can also be dangerous, especially when someone is struggling with severe mental illness.  Yet, too often the approach is just to find a counselor you like rather than one with a proven track record.
This is starting to get some attention-
We are in an age where counseling and therapy are so wildly popular that the lingo has become part of our daily discourse.  People use the stilted and awkward terminology of pop psychology in normal discourse to the point where you may wonder whether the person has been through years of psychology or went to college (notice how new college grads are jam-packed with bizarre terminology inculcated by their professors, who never seem to leave the isolating bubble of academia to converse with normal people).
Troubled people can become much more troubled by someone who does not challenge them.
In the latest mass murder in California (in an area I am very familiar with, having served a parish just north of the location), the killer had been in therapy since age 8 and,
Other friends of Peter Rodger said he was “heartbroken” and “did everything he could”, including engaging top specialists, but his son turned his back on therapy as an adult and refused to take medication. 
Many of these types of events have been tied to psychotropic medications, and especially the cessation of them.  Of course, the industry doesn't really want much more than the standard warnings.  We may never know what he perhaps was on (or off) or what he was being treated for, but therapy is serious business.
In recovery, a lot of what is going on is NOT therapy.  Therapy is all about engaging the thoughts.  Recovery is largely about the simple rejection of them.  You don't have to really go deep with the inner 'rationality' of a thought to know it is simply irrational when exposed to the light of day, and so the Steps themselves can be worked quickly and without years 'on the couch' because the outcomes are judged rather than the processes.
In essence, all you really need to do is look at the thought for what it is, rather than why you may be having it, and that alone should judge its value.
The thoughts of an addict are often simply too convoluted and distorted for talking therapy to work in, which is why it fails so often, whereas 12 Steps has an overall higher success rate.  Of course, you can't use it to treat every problem, but I do think that a lot of problems people go to therapy for would do better to follow the old AA admonishment about thinking: stop.
This does not mean be stupid.  It means stop indulging your thought processes with destructive thoughts and just deal with the things in front of you as they are, rather than how you would like them or what they might become later.
Therapy often removes the client from the present and creates this obsession with a past that is largely a construct that the person can choose to ignore.  Yes, you don't have to believe all of your thoughts.  They are optional.
Therapy can be helpful, but spending 20 years in it is probably a sign that you are doing something wrong. 
It may also leave someone a prisoner of his thoughts.
My prayers to all the victims in this story, and for all those who suffer from their thoughts.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome

A few days back, I found this article, and thought it raised some interesting points-
Here's how the author defines PTCS-
PTCS presents as a severe, negative — almost allergic — reaction to inflexible doctrine, outright abuse of spiritual power, dogma and (often) praise bands and preachers. Internal symptoms include but are not limited to: withdrawal from all things religious, failure to believe in anything, depression, anxiety, anger, grief, loss of identity, despair, moral confusion, and, most notably, the loss of desire/inability to darken the door of a place of worship.
I have not read her book or explored her writings other than this, but I can say this: she describes something I have seen in lots of 12 Step meetings, and I have seen Orthodox go through this as well.  No, we are not immune to whackos in cassocks, just because the odds of having a dysfunctional person in authority increase in direct proportion to increases in the overall community.  More people, more crazies.
The problem for us Orthodox is that we look so different, and act so different, that newcomers often can't tell the difference between 'different' and 'loony.'  They meet a priest, he tells them "This is the Orthodox Way!" and that's the end of discussion.  Take it or leave it.
The problem is that if you sign up for the loony version, eventually you get the symptoms described above.  That's because we are not really designed for abuse.  It wears us down, and wears us out.
12 Step meetings are full of people who became addicts in some part because they came into contact with religious insanity and it drove them from God.  Some of these folks will sit in meetings and praise God there, but will not darken the door of a church because those wounds are still painful and unhealed.
Meanwhile, we as Orthodox make sure our churches are all about 'our people.'  How are we serving 'our people'?  Are 'our people' satisfied, or is there more we can do for us?
It is maddening because it is a complex process to 'domesticate' the practices of our faith when they come from such different places.  I still think we are generations away from really having an 'American Orthodoxy,' which is right around the time we will be asking a lot of other questions in the traditional lands as well.  The whole world is changing.
But, here in the US, it is important for newcomers to know that there are places where you can fall into abuse, no matter where you go.  Look for symptoms:
1) Slickness (a presentation that is a little too under-control)
2) Condemnation (the urge to condemn 'the world' or some bogeyman)
3) Territoriality (don't go anywhere else!)
4) Peculiarity (only this parish has the real thing and does it right)
5) Certainty (there is always a right answer, and you'd better find it quick)
6) Pride (aren't we wonderful? you can be, too, if you join us!)
7) Anxiety (for heaven's sake, don't break the rules!)
Yes, there are others, but I think you get the point.  Abusers abuse through control, and these are the ways that control is exercise.  First, you have to buy the snake oil.  But, once you've bought it, it only takes a few minutes before you are part of the Borg and trying to sell it to your newly-creeped-out friends.  Don't worry... the reason that they are creeped out is that they are not part of the elect and are damned anyhow.
What does health look like?
1) Awkward (jolly but clumsy... not out to impress)
2) Sorrowful (real sorrow that people are harming themselves, and hoping they will stop)
3) Free (go and see...)
4) Communality (we do things pretty much like our brethren, and this is what was handed down to us all)
5) Honesty (some things I just don't know, and other things I don't do well)
6) Humility (yeah, others are doing it better, but we try anyhow)
7) Peace (you know what that is, don't you?)
A parish does not have to be perfect, it just has to be control-freak-free.  otherwise, the pressure of having to meet the ever escalating expectations of the control-meister will eventually lead to PTCS.  Yes, I have seen it happen.  I get phone calls and emails from people 'exiting' their unhealthy communities.  If they ask for help, they get it and, amazingly, many find that they don't have to leave the Church to finally find peace.  They just need to find a healthier parish.
If you are the one with the PTCS, you don't have to suffer with it.  There are plenty of healthy communities that have balanced, loving clergy and faithful.  You may, at first, be struck by the fact that they are not super-attentive to newcomers, but that can be a good sing.  Nobody is out to reprogram you there!
But, do get help.  Do not let another person's insecurities keep you away from your God.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Blog Reader Book Review: Returning the Lost Sheep

Returning the Lost Sheep: Ministry to the Alcoholic and Addict: An Orthodox Perspective, Fr. Dimitrios Moraitis. Self-published, 2013.
A review by Michael Huber ThM, MA, CSAC, LPC, psychotherapist at BridgePoint Health, Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Reading through the first two sections of this book I felt like I was in a time capsule of 30 years ago—the beginnings of Hazelden treatment center, the Johnson Institute, the modern renaissance of Alcoholics Anonymous, DePaul recovery hospitals, prominent Catholic priests publishing spiritual recovery materials, Health Communications, Inc. publishing house. Orthodoxy was late arriving in America so we could expect Orthodoxy arriving late into the recovery scene, but thank God it has with this now third Orthodox publication in the field.
Fr. Moraitis clearly attempts to accomplish what those Catholic priests and a number of Protestant ministers attempted to do 30 to 40 years ago—to bring awareness, information, compassion and inspiration to Orthodox clergy in the current era. The theological/pastoral thrust relies on the combination of Mt. 9:12 regarding Jesus’ common sense saying that it’s the sick who need a physician and the parable of the lost sheep from Lk. 15 to deliver the mission call which is depicted prominently on the front cover. Not to overly criticize Orthodox priests. It has been hard enough just establishing an extremely small minority of Orthodox in the States with a minimum of worship and community life let alone specialized ministry to those suffering  alcoholism and addiction. But perhaps it is time and this book is a welcome and much needed addition.
Having read a brief preview summary of the book I feared an over spiritualized approach by Fr. Moraitis. But nothing could be further from the truth. Clearly Fr. Moraitis follows in the path of those 30-40 years ago in the modern “tradition” of the recovery movement as defined by the Alcoholics Anonymous subculture, along with the AMA and US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration definitions. He has picked up on all the details well and communicates the “tradition” effectively. Thankfully he is up to date and supportive of the latest scientific research establishing with certainty the genetic/biological component of alcoholism and likely of some forms of addiction in the modern world. It’s possible that Fr. Moraitis might receive criticism from some for over relying on these “secular” sources.
Fr. Moraitis takes the best of the recovery “tradition,” promotes it, and at the same time adapts it to the ministry and theological approach of Orthodox clergy to whom this work is primarily directed. Therefore, this work is an effective synthesis that Orthodox priests can have full confidence in. As such its approach compliments the current other two Orthodox works in this field by Fr. Webber and Victor Mihailoff, whose book was earlier reviewed for the Orthodoxy and Recovery blog.
Fr. Moraitis neatly assembles this work into three appropriate and progressive sections. Part One deals with the above mentioned definition of alcoholism. He presents an abundance of nationwide polls and even his own poll within the GOA to deliver the call to clergy involvement. He unabashedly espouses the “disease” model as a part of the “tradition” supported by modern era genetic research and the sources cited above.
In Part Two Fr. Moraitis tackles the theological questions of alcoholism and addiction, necessitating the reintroduction of the scientific research and genetic/biological aspects to ward off the simplistic notion of sola sin. Using Clinebell’s research seven possible views of the tension between “disease” and sin are suggested. Though he clearly leans toward a view of a combination of these possibilities as representative of Orthodox thought, he seems to leave it somewhat open for the individual priest to wrestle with on his own. But it’s the heart matters that dominate for Fr. Moraitis. Alcoholism and addiction can legitimately be viewed as opportunities that bring the individual to a place of receptive humbleness for priests who see the possibilities of ministry. Much of the book emphasizes this ministering to the sick, rather than the healthy citing the wisdom of our Lord.
In this section Fr. Moraitis cautions readers with regard to realistic expectations. It is so true that when some people get a loved one into treatment the thought is that “now everything will be fine.” The average number of relapses cited in the author’s surveys is 15!! This often times includes multiple relapses following one or more 30 day residential treatments.
Part Three is a clever and well presented application of the 12 “Core Competencies for Clergy” from the 2003 government report of the Expert Consensus Panel Meeting. Fr. Moraitis takes each one and makes special application for Orthodox clergy. It clearly works very well. There is an excellent section in “Core Competency 2” where each Step of the 12 Steps is explained with an appropriate Scripture verse and complements nicely the work of Fr. Webber. It is in this section though that Fr. Moraitis’ tension between strongly supporting AA, which has been very strong up to this point in the book, and criticizing it (and the modern treatment program) regarding religious integration reaches its zenith. There is no doubt that, despite his support of AA, especially the 12 Steps within AA, some Orthodox clergy might have some reservations referring individuals to AA as a result. The issue, a distinct irony, is AA’s avoidance of promoting itself as a religious group actually turns out to be one for many individuals.
The concluding Appendix is a summary “Clergy Handbook” for quick reference and organization. The book flows smoothly enough and is readable for any clergy. This reviewer strongly agrees with back cover endorsements by Fr. Joseph Allen and Dr. Philip Mamalakis, two prominent figures in the Orthodox pastoral counseling world.
What now follows is a more technical and detailed look at certain relatively minor concerns this reviewer has with some of the material presented in the book. Those clergy and laymen who are more actively involved and knowledgeable in the field may want to consider these things from this reviewer, a thirty year professional in both mental health and alcohol/drug counseling.
The terms “alcoholic” and “disease” are frequently used by the author in this volume. This reviewer tends to greatly limit, if not eliminate the use of these terms. As I am fond of saying, we don’t call people with cancer “cancerics.” The word “alcoholic” is a throw back to more ignorant times that reflect the very thing Fr. Moraitis and others are trying to eliminate--the moral stigma of the condition. Instead, individuals are referred to as having genetically inherited the condition of alcoholism. But those religious individuals who still regard alcoholism simply as a sin would find this completely unacceptable. Certainly the individual with alcoholism who continues to want to call him/herself an “alcoholic” for the purpose of sobriety is more than welcome to as, of course, is common in AA meetings.
 In addition there continue to be significant problems with the image of the word “disease” in modern culture despite Fr. Moraitis’ consistent use of the U.S. government’s and AMA definitions of alcoholism as a disease. Most people still associate “disease” with a virus or “bug” that one catches, completely irrespective of choice and decision making. Even though I completely agree with the “disease model” as Fr. Moraitis presents it, I refer to alcoholism as the Medical Model definition of alcoholism in which the genetic acquisition and biological components are prominent. Why cause people to stumble over words and images needlessly?
I can’t help but chuckle to myself when I read Fr. Moraitis’ “generally accepted definition of alcoholism.” There is no such thing despite, again, Fr. Moraitis heavily leaning upon the government information. If one were to interview 50 alcohol and drug professionals, one would come up with at least 10 different models or definitions of alcoholism. Furthermore, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which all professionals in both alcohol/drug and mental health fields use for diagnoses, does not use the word “alcoholism” nor “addiction” for that matter. In fact, in the latest edition of the DSM (5) drunken driving convictions, as well as any other legal consequences, have been eliminated from the criteria for an “alcohol use disorder.”
None the less, what stands out is the approach of nonjudgmental compassion by Fr. Moraitis who clearly is authentic in this practice. This is about loving some of the most unlovable that there are—at least while they are in their state of “insanity.” Having said that, Fr. Moraitis is not about emotional mush. He is completely balanced with regard to insight and tough decision making regarding the aspects of enmeshment with dysfunctional family systems—at times making the difficult decisions to separate when appropriate and refusing to be cast in enabling situations. His advice throughout clearly represents the wisdom of experience.
In Part 2 regarding the theological considerations mention of “anger, frustration, agony, depression, and fear” is referred to as “spiritual maladies.” These are NOT “spiritual maladies” but psychological ones. This is an important point. Especially with regard to depression, religious individuals have sometimes not received treatment that could help because it was viewed as a “spiritual” problem for which the clergy were not equipped to effectively deal with. And in some cases has led to tragic deaths completely needlessly because of this misunderstanding. “Spiritual malady” strictly refers to that area of one’s relationship with God no matter what the physical or psychological condition—something that Fr. Moraitis generally does well in the rest of the book.
With regard to the issue cited above regarding individuals making AA their “church,” there can be no other way of saying it. At least in part, the church at large, including Orthodoxy, has failed in regard to this matter. If church individuals with alcoholism and/or addiction had been experiencing the genuine, authentic power of the Christian life there would be far fewer individuals making AA their “church.” From the perspective of this reviewer it is easy to understand why individuals make AA their “church.” They have experienced genuine, heartfelt spiritual awakenings and social camaraderie akin to war veterans that they never came close to experiencing in traditional church settings. Why would they then seek it out back in their old church? And, ironically again, it is because they experienced it through classic, Christian based spiritual practice in the 12 Steps, but is certainly not associated with the former church experience.
Fr. Moraitis calls it the “relativism” of AA and the modern treatment program. But, I believe, why should Fr. Moraitis have expected any thing different? Ever since the 12 Steps used “Higher Power” the die was cast. Throw in modern American sensitivity and there was no doubt there would be no overt, obvious Christian emphasis in AA or treatment programs except those operated under the auspices and financial support of specific church groups, and there are some around the country. AA’s appeal as a nonreligious group, casting off stereotypical “hell and brimstone” images of God attracted (and kept) people. I completely agree with Fr. Moraitis in his example/encounter with the homosexual in recovery regarding Orthodox sacrificial practice. But the rest of “Christendom” is very relative compared to Orthodoxy’s practice of progressive sacrifice let alone AA and secular treatment programs. All the more for Fr. Moraitis to strongly attempt to persuade Orthodox priests for active ministry to Orthodox individuals. This reviewer sees no Orthodox since there is only a very small and struggling Greek Church within a 50 mile radius of his clinic.
In addition, in the “Core Competency 2” section Fr. Moraitis gives a good and succinct review of the drugs of abuse, including opiates, which are now the rage across the country. This reviewer is the lead therapist in the most prominent Suboxone program in East Central Wisconsin. Fr. Moraitis’ statement that Suboxone should be used no longer than a few months is inaccurate. The length of Suboxone treatment will vary considerably from one individual to the next based upon a number of complex factors. I have had individuals with milder symptoms and histories with good motivation take only several months with good results. The majority are far more severe and require lengthier and often multiple treatments.
From the perspective of this therapist opiate addiction in many cases resembles alcoholism to a large degree. In these cases there is likely a genetic component as well, though, unlike alcoholism, we have yet to have the scientific evidence. Suffice it to say that in our program we are proactive with patients to move them off of Suboxone as quickly as is reasonably possible—something that is generally not true with Methadone programs, though the philosophy of treatment is the same. On average opiate dependence is capable of destroying an individual and family far more quickly and effectively than alcoholism is. Therefore, Suboxone has been incredibly effective for quickly saving individuals from destroying themselves in almost every area of their lives. The advantage of Suboxone over methadone is the inclusion of naloxone, an opiate blocker, sometimes referred to as the life saving, emergency rendered Narcan in heroin overdoses, which has received nationwide publicity as of late. The Orthodox priest ought to always consider the option of referring an opiate addicted individual to a Suboxone prescribing physician in the area. If the prescribing physician is not a part of other outpatient treatment resources the individual should be referred to such and/or local NA groups.
I should also state that there is medical treatment for alcoholism as well—something that Fr. Moraitis fails to mention in the book. Antabuse has been an historic, effective treatment for some with alcoholism where all other interventions have failed. There is also some new evidence that antabuse can cut craving for cocaine addicts, though the phenomenon of “craving” in cocaine addicts is yet to be fully understood. In addition, in some cases, the opiate blocker, naltrexone, and the newer Campral, have also worked well in a minority of cases. There is also new evidence of the effectiveness of gabapentin with some. The reader should understand that these are not stand-alone treatments. The individual with alcoholism/addiction should always be treated on multiple levels.
Also in this section Fr. Moraitis succinctly describes and outlines the three stages of the progression of alcoholism. This can be helpful for the uninitiated but as Fr. Moraitis correctly states later in the book, these stages should not be calcified into a rigid system. In most cases it doesn’t flow into a neat and predictable progression. In addition, drug addiction will not progress the same way alcoholism does in many cases.
But there are other problems as well. The “Early Stages of Alcoholism” are described by symptoms of “use to calm nerves,” “increase in tolerance,” “driving under the influence,” “relief use” (this is no different than “calm nerves”), “secret irritation when confronted by a spouse.” The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of clients I see with these “symptoms” unequivocally do not have alcoholism. Some of them even have no diagnosable alcohol problem whatsoever. In addition, I’ve had a number of cases in which the spouse is complaining of the “alcoholic’s” use to find out that the spouse is greatly exaggerating the use and objectively there is no alcohol problem for the supposed “alcoholic.” In fact, collateral reporting of a number of family members verifies that the spouse has had a chronic habit of grossly over exaggerating many other things as well. In some cases the “irritation” by the supposed “alcoholic” is the result of the spouse chronically and falsely accusing the individual of a problem that doesn’t exist.
Even the symptom of “blackouts” is often not a solid indicator of what kind of alcohol difficulty is present. I’ve had clients with blackouts who clearly do not have alcoholism. I’ve had many cases of absolute certainty of alcoholism and those individuals have never experienced a blackout.
In the “Middle Stage” “alcoholics” are described as “egomaniacs with inferiority complexes.” This is a gross stereotyping of the “original” “alcoholic” himself, Bill W., one of the cofounders of AA who clearly had this character quality. From then on this gross over generalization has taken place, another one of the many faults of the “tradition” of AA. The truth of the matter is there are many individuals with alcoholism who do not exhibit this character quality. The danger in this should be obvious. I’ve had many individuals with alcoholism who have the “inferiority complex” entirely without the “egomania.” These individuals should not have alcoholism then, right?
Regarding the “Late Stage” Fr. Moraitis’ discussion is thoroughly confusing besides being inaccurate. He states many “alcoholics” die before reaching this stage. What sense does that make? If the individual dies as the result of physiological complications as the direct impact of alcoholism this automatically qualifies the individual as having been in the late stage, perhaps for a lengthy period of time prior to death. Several of the “symptoms” of the late stage are described as “indefinable fears” and “unable to initiate action.” These “symptoms” are typical of many clients I see with the character structure most common with individuals with alcoholism but have no symptoms of alcoholism whatsoever. The problem is that the majority of individuals with this character structure (the Fear structure as Fr. George has frequently and accurately pointed out in his blog) not only do not have alcoholism (or any drug addiction) they don’t have any diagnosable alcohol problem at all.
The same exact thing is applicable when Fr. Moraitis takes up “Spiritual Stages.” The described symptom of “blaming God for their problems and consequences” is far more observed in individuals with this character structure who have no symptoms of an alcohol or drug difficulty. I have seen it happen way too many times when well meaning but ignorant people read descriptions like these and falsely accuse a loved one of a problem that they don’t have.
Ditto with the so-called “dry drunk.” What are individuals called who exhibit the same exact symptoms that “dry drunks” do but have never had an alcohol problem? The recovery “tradition” again has erred in its assessment of this. They have wrongly concluded that “dry drunk” symptoms are the direct manifestation of a part of alcoholism when, in fact, they come from the character structure dynamics of the individual.
I remember clearly 30 years ago reviewing a newly released video showing exemplars describing their “discovery” of ACOA (Adult Child of an Alcoholic). Even though there were absolutely no symptoms of alcoholism the exemplars attributed their difficulty to alcohol “somewhere back in the family history.” This is just one more error of the AA “tradition” attributing every thing that is wrong with the person to alcohol. This is a terrible injustice and disservice to the individual and completely misses the source of the difficulty.
The same exact thing is true again when Fr. Moraitis, on pp. 136-7 in Core Competency 9 lists the traits of “ACOA” individuals. All the traits listed for these individuals are true in one degree or another of the vast majority of individuals with the character structure referred to above but with no symptoms of alcoholism and there is no history of alcoholism in the family.
This leads me to my main criticism of the “traditional” recovery model, even though, like Fr. Moraitis, I also support AA and refer appropriate individuals to it. Unlike the Orthodox Tradition which was delivered by Divine authority, the recovery “tradition”, as helpful as it oftentimes has been, is entirely fallible and human. As with any human tradition the main downfall is the tradition’s calcification which doesn’t allow for any new, creative depth and search for truth. Time and again I have observed in alcohol/drug seminars and conventions and AA and other meetings the “mythologizing” of Bill W. and the Big Book to the degree that Bill W. takes on the aura of the religious prophet and the Big Book is its Scriptures. This dynamic is completely consistent with the above described character dynamics which exaggerates something beyond reality and partially answers why some individuals make AA their “church.”
There has also been the chronic difficulty of “who can help whom.” This is raised by Fr. Moraitis when he quotes the AA tradition’s insistence that “drunks” best help other “drunks.” (I’m sure you know how this reviewer feels about that term!) No doubt the success that AA has had in this area has naturally contributed to this idea. And, while it is true, it is far more often true that “drunks” “helping” other “drunks” leads to far more and severe drinking in the end! It is not the fact that the person is a “drunk.” It has everything to do with the quality, maturity and advanced spiritual progression (the desire/willingness to become sober and recover) of the individual than whether he/she is a “drunk” or not. This is sometimes made into a big deal. Some individuals in AA do not trust anyone outside AA who is not a “drunk.” The Orthodox priest will surely encounter this and should unequivocally reject this notion. Is it absolutely required that the Oncologist have cancer in order to treat cancer patients? The ridiculous comparisons could go on and on.
This reviewer heartily endorses the perspective of Fr. Moraitis who has seen the benefit of incarceration for some individuals. The reviewer completely rejects the so-called “California model” which would send all chemical offenders (outside of perhaps episodes of violence and dealing) to treatment facilities. Like Fr. Moraitis this reviewer has had too many clients directly state that incarceration was an extremely important part of their recovery. The “California model” is extremely naïve regarding the willingness, participation and potential successful outcomes of these individuals. As it turns out it would only serve as an enabling device for many.
Finally, I’d like to congratulate Fr. Moraitis and his seeming outstanding success with the “traditional” intervention. Though he states that the intervention usually fails on the first attempt success is generally accomplished with succeeding tries. In the practice of this reviewer in alcohol soaked Wisconsin no traditional interventions take place because there is generally no one inside or outside of the enmeshed family substance dysfunction to recruit for such an intervention. Those few who are or could be available are either too afraid or angry and/or disengaged to put forth such an enormous effort. In Wisconsin dysfunctional alcohol behaviors are generally accepted as a part of the culture.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Objectifying Relationships

I was recently having a chat with some friends when a 'relationship' hoved into the conversation.  My friend went from talking about the person to an 'it.'  The it was the relationship.
Part of recovery would seem to be able restoring 'relationships.'  The word is very helpful in expressing our connections to others.  But, it is also a problem.
When we 'incarnate' a 'relationship' and give it a reality of its own, it becomes a barrier between the two in the 'relationship.'  Often, our relationships are barriers, filled with rules and expectations and demands and anxieties.  We no longer approach the person as he is, but in terms of all the rules that must be met in order to maintain the connection.
It becomes a departure from reality.
As with all fantasies, having a barrier is very comforting.  It affords us some 'protection' in that we can point to a violation of the rules and say, "Ah, you broke #47, so I don't have to respond (or care)."  The relationship makes interactions predictable and far less personal.  If you are vulnerable, you just make sure all of your relationships have rules that preserve your privacy.
Relationships become a way of keeping people away from us.  You can have hundreds of them, like your Facebook pals, that you would never give a kidney to.  Someone is broke and needs $1,000?  "Sorry, we don't have that kind of relationship..."
In reality, there is no such thing as a relationship.  It is an adjective and nothing more.
There is only you and me.
We can't even really have a relationship with God, because there again something comes between us and Him.  The whole point of all those medieval theological debates about whether God's energies are 'created' or 'uncreated' always came back to that point: does having a 'relationship' with God mean that there must be a created barrier?
Just in case you are wonder, the Orthodox position is 'no.'  Nothing comes between us, and so the perception of God is a perception of His uncreated energies... something coming from Him that is Him, not a created blocker between us and His essence.
So, what about love.  And mercy.  And compassion.  Aren't we asking these things from Him?
Again, the answer is in the language: are those proper nouns, or synonyms?
We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.  Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.
He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.  By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. (1Jo 4:6-18)
If there is love, then it is not just a substance but God Himself.  Love is an action, and yet something that permeates us as God in His transcendence imbues all things.  We are constantly awash in His love, but we tend to ignore it.
If marriage is an icon of Christ and the Church, then where is the 'relationship' between a husband and a wife?  There is none.  It is two people being united directly to one another, surrounded and permeated with the Love that is God.
If another person is made in the Image and Likeness of God stands before us, why should we put up a barrier?  It is because we are weak: we cannot bear to look upon this Image in others because it pains us.  We are reminded of our own sins and selfishness and fears.  So, we build walls called 'relationships' and invent etiquette to make sure we can cut off the contact when it becomes uncomfortable.
"No shoes, no shirt, no service" reads the sign on the door of the relationship.
But, God's love is about taking down the barriers and loving others as they are, with nothing in between.
Horrifying prospect, isn't it?  Now you know why saints do what they do to repent and be humbled, because you can get there while maintaining your 'comfort zone' which is also an exclusion zone.
For most of us, we try to make the walls a little thinner and a little lower.  We start tossing some of the rules, and stop freaking out when the rules get broken.
Believing in God calls us to courage, which we receive in return for our trust in Him.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Gluten 'Intolerance,' Addiction, and the Power of Suggestion

I have not seen this discussed anywhere, so I am straying into uncharted territory.  Of course, this is not the first time for me, as the scratches in my 'hull' show ample proof of my ability to stray off the charts and find where the unknown reefs are.  So, let's begin!
So, this article seems to indicate that many people with 'gluten intolerance' are having a reaction based on psychology rather than physiology: the mere suggestion of gluten is enough to send them into a symptomatic downward spiral.  Sure, they are experiencing real pain and suffering, but the question is what is the cause?
Now, I've gotten all the usual name-calling and breathless diatribes about how horrible I am for suggesting that people are 'making it up.'  You can try that and waste your energy.  In fact, part of why I am so convinced that many of these cases are psychological is the over-the-top and harried defense of the legitimacy of such disorders, even when I am not questioning actual cases of Celiac or medically-diagnosed problems.
What I am questioning are the countless thousands that have self-diagnosed themselves and take up the mantle of those who really are suffering.
But, then it got me thinking: how much of the problem of addiction and the magnificent attraction of our obsessions is less about the power these things really have but how much power we attribute to them?
We often speak of alcoholism as being part psychological and part 'allergy,' and that is how I began to make something of a connection: is there a genuine 'allergy,' or is this 'allergy' something like a psychosomatic reaction that we think our way into?

With all the glamorization of alcohol, are people really experiencing a super-powerful effect because that is really what is going on within them biochemically, or are they creating this effect strictly in their own minds?  Who remembers choking on their first cigarette, and then immediately trying to hold another one down in order to participate in the glories of smoking?

Drinking and drug use have no doubt been glamorized by media: how many songs have been devoted to the benefits of these?
Warning: Graphic Language (i.e. bad words)

I'm posting this version because it is a mockery of the original.  But, in this one song is the abuse of alcohol, drugs, subjugation of women, criminal activity... all rolled up into a catchy beat.  Fantastic, isn't it?  It makes all these things seem far more exciting than perhaps what one would experience in a ghetto apartment or desert trailer park, but if you have convinced yourself that these things really are that great... could this be the 'allergy' that so many people seem to 'contract'?
This is the gray area of the allergy factor, where people experience real symptoms (which is why many people are so very hurt when you question their allergies, because regardless of the source, they are really suffering) but because of thinking.
Don't forget that addiction is a problem of perception, first and foremost.  This is why the 12 Steps are mostly about changing one's perceptions rather than one's experience of alcohol.  Anabuse and other tools that work with classical conditioning have limited effect on a direct confrontation with alcohol and other drugs because they are simply too narrow in scope: addiction runs deep into the fabric of the human person, to the core of our worst fears and the passions we suffer with.
We have all seen the addict who comes to hate the experience of his addiction, and yet cannot stop.  The same is often true of other allergic syndromes and the people who suffer from them.  I am not saying that people with psychosomatic allergies like having them (sure some do, just as some people enjoy their addictions).  The thinking in both cases run far deeper than like or dislike.  They run straight to the murkiest layers of the human will.
We have only just begun to understand the interplay between the human brain and the body.  There are plenty of books out there documenting the amazing discoveries of science in this field, which I think are helpful in putting right our own expectations of what we are up against in addiction and recovery.
The area of psychosomatic allergies is one that will help us better understand the power of addiction and how our own minds often make trouble for us in the journey of this life.


Friday, May 16, 2014

A Life Without Meaning

A rather sad story from the UK, that is really common in the modern world-
Of course, the connection here is with unemployment.  In the Western world, with its particular emphasis on materialism (call it 'capitalism,' 'corporatism,' 'fascism,' 'socialism,' 'distributionism,' 'mercantilism,' 'communism,'... you get the point), then what passes for identity is how one partakes of the material world.
We do that by 'making' money.  Our career is, therefore, the pinnacle of identity.
No longer is man defined by religion and spirituality, or family, or regional origin, or even citizenship. 
"What do you do?" is the most common question after asking one's name.  So, when you lose your job, or your career is taken away, then who you are comes into question.
You may get away with prepending 'retired' to one's old profession, but for many people, that just seems rather silly when you are 24 years old and have not held the same job for more than two years.  When you are young and have few accomplishments, identity is unstable when it is defined by a career.
So, we wrestle with why we exist, particularly when we do not have a fixed identity.  We wonder what we are and why we are at the same time.  So, why do we exist?
The sillier answers sound something like this:
"God created us to worship Him."
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
If you want to know why the Church says God created us, then just read this snippet from the introduction to the Philokalia written by St. Nikedemos the Hagiorite-
God, the Blessed Nature, the Transcendent Perfection, the Creative Principle of all good and beautiful things, Transcendently Good and Beautiful, having from eternity destined according to His Divine Idea to deify man, and having from the beginning within Himself set this purpose, created man at a time when He was well pleased.
Making the body out of matter and placing inside it a soul which He created, He set man as a sort of a cosmos, great by virtue of the soul's many and superior powers, in a small cosmos. He placed man as a contemplator of Visible Creation and as an initiate of Intelligible Creation, according to the Gregory (bishop of Nazianzus [c. 329-390]) who is great in Theology.  And what else but as really a statue and a divinely made image full of all the graces. And having given him the Law of the Commandments as a kind of test of his power of free choice and self-control. And as Sirach says, He left man in the power of his own deliberation (Wisdom of Sirach 15:14), to choose according to his own opinion in each situation. And as a prize, to receive the hypostatic gift of theosis, becoming God (ed.- In the sense of participating in God's "energies.") and shining eternally with the purest Light.  (St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, Introduction to the Philokalia, trans. C. Cavarnos, The Philokalia, vol. 1 [Belmont, 2008], p. 27.)

God made man because He wanted to.  Nothing more.
He places within us what it is that we sense: an interior cosmos that is greater than the world into which we are born.  The very Image of the Divine is, in fact, after which we are fashioned.  Then, we are thrust into a small world that is dirty and sticky, and somehow feels both inviting and inappropriate at the same time.  We love the world and despise it at the same time.

When we are not shown the way through this world, then it becomes a depressing journey of futility.  We are called to be 'initiated' into the deeper mysteries of the world, and ourselves.  It is not a secret path to initiation, but one of hardship and suffering that is both public and private.  The books are open, and the secrets are known.  The 'secret' is getting the secret rather than just knowing about it.  It is the experience of it.

When your life has no vastness, no mystery, but just a day-to-day struggle to put food in your mouth and clothes on your back, then it will always be something of a disappointment once the food is eaten and the clothes put on.  The only challenge is one of quality and quantity, but nothing exists beyond them.

Unless you move through and beyond.  Unless you stretch your thoughts into this vast interior cosmos to find the Eternal God that lies within.  The light is not your own, but a Divine Light that is not you, but has made you our of the purest of love.

That's the mystery.  And, that is the thing we long to live for.  It gives us not 'purpose,' but 'value.'

It makes life worth living.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Where is your country?

Consuming alcohol isn't a problem... over-consuming is.  I think this map tells us an awful lot.

Of course, this only tells part of the story of addiction.  This is just alcohol, and other substances, like food and drugs (street and prescription), are not included.  Behavioral addictions, like internet pornography, are also not scored here.  In fact, I doubt many countries with the highest per capita use of porn (like Pakistan) are even tracking the phenomenon of addiction.
Having visited 'black' and 'red' territories, I can say that there is a noticeable difference between those regions and the US.  While alcohol is heavily marketed in the US, public consumption and drunkenness are rare (other than outside of clubs or college campuses on weekend nights).  Whereas the Helsinki Metro, in the middle of the day, seemed like a place for drunks to enjoy a little ride between binges.  The Moscow Metro (in a 'black' territory according to the map) was even more so (with most of the culprits dressed in camouflage for whatever reason... Russians seem to have a passion for camouflage).
So, what can we learn?  In Finland, for example, the rate was under two liters leading up to the 1960s... now they are at over ten.  Russians have always drunk vodka, but now the rates are unimaginably high.  Why?
My theory is simple: as traditional culture and family life are repressed, the human person is left wounded and needy.  Alcohol and drugs are easy alternatives to fighting the social message of dialectical materialism and the overstimulation of modern life, not to forget how alcohol takes away the pain of an oppressive society.
We are seeing the gradual wearing down of billions of lives.  Our unnatural existence is catching up with us.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

4 in 10 Children...

Of course, this is just a guess-
But, underneath it all is a question: how is this effecting their brains and mental development?
I have three children of my own, and I worry even though I do allow them access to the internet, part for school and, in small doses, games & entertainment.  There is a time limit set with a timer, because they will play for hours if permitted.
The internet is powerful, so much so that it can drown out the real world.  Like all addictions, there is a 'man takes a drink, then a drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man' effect.  The neurochemical rewards computer games offer a young mind seeking stimulation are undeniable.
It is a constant battle to keep my children focused on the material of the internet rather than the experience of it as an end game.  I am hoping they learn to use it to accomplish tasks away from it, rather than seeing their self-worth and sense of accomplishment as tied up with the internet.
So far, this seems to be happening.  Crafting projects, books, and conversations with live people still seem to be pretty important around here, but it is because of self-discipline above all else.
Still I worry that perhaps I am laying the groundwork for later problems.  I wrestle with the possibility that the one-hour allotment is still too much.  What I have come to accept at some level is that the internet will be with them long after they are emancipated by age, and so I must show them the way of moderation... and then pray.
The internet is a dangerous companion.  In some ways, it is like being a lion-tamer: while it may serve your purposes and be 'obedient,' there is still a wild animal in front of you that can revert to a very dangerous beast at the drop of a hat.
Susceptibility is the key: am I, or my children, healthy enough to use it?  If not, then we are susceptible to abuse not only the internet, but any other manner of substance or behavior that releases similar biochemical.
In the end, the 'net is neutral: we are the problem.