Sunday, March 18

hard things #2

 Ed Cooke for Valencourt by Samuel Bradley.
Hard Things #2—Addiction [See my quasi-intro to the "hard things" posts here.] 
This post has been slowly pieced together over many weeks; at one point I strongly considered not posting any of it at all, so as not to be voted the Most Depressing Blog of 2012. But then I re-read this statistic in the news: "Unintentional drug overdose is now the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States." I think that's worth some attention.

There are so many facets of addiction: the science behind it, the psychology of it, the broken relationships, the fallout, recovery, the healed relationships, relapse, the grace required, the patterns, the simplicity of it, the complexity of it. And I am by no means an expert on any of it.

Things that would have been easier than writing this post:
  • embedding an hour-long video of Dr. Drew (not to be confused with Dr. Phil...or Dr. Dre for that matter, whose upcoming album just so happens to be called Detox). But I couldn't find an hour-long video on YouTube. Your loss. Dr. Drew is the best.
  • typing out the 10+ prayer journals I have detailing the saga that my ex-boyfriend and I falsely referred to as a "healthy dating relationship." But I kept picturing my sister opening up her computer, clicking on my blog, and throwing her laptop across the room.
Needless to say—this is the hard thing that hits closest to home for me. My ex-boyfriend, Taylor, is an addict. No, I didn't meet him at a homeless shelter or on the Internet. We met at church. We played worship together in youth group. He has a Bachelor's degree from the private liberal arts college that we both attended. He has two wonderful and loving parents. He drives a nice car.

I say all of this only to point out that I think Taylor is a good example of someone who breaks the mold of what we as "the Church" (or perhaps all of upper-class America) typically picture when we think of a drug addict. The only thing that I respect about addiction is that it doesn't discriminate. And until we recognize the people who are in need, we won't be able to help them in the ways that they need.

What Science Has to Say...
Many would argue that addiction is the epidemic of our generation. Once in the throes of their addiction, addicts all share a common biology—a disorder of the brains reward system. Drugs distort the brain's fundamental motivation systems (loving your family, maintaining your own health) until the brain's biology confuses the message of the drug with the message of survival itself. And because this renders an addict almost always resistant to the very treatment that could save them, many doctors have suggested that severe addicts have a worse prognosis than most cancer patients.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), "between 1991 and 2010, prescriptions for...opioid analgesics increased from about 75.5 million to 209.5 million."
That fact should blow your mind.
[Opioid analgesics/narcotic analgesics are pain relievers. They act on the central nervous system. And they include codeine, morphine, methadone, oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), fentanyl...etc.]

Can We Change This? 
When I first realized how bad off Taylor was (hint: really bad), I responded by looping Jimmy Eat World's Drugs or Me in my iPod headphones and crying myself to sleep almost every night for a month. Pathetic, yes. But I don't fault myself for it. I know I wasn't overreacting because I'd read over half the addiction memoirs on the market. Spoiler alert: They are all the same. And the story I was living through was the same. Watch any episode from any of the drug-related shows now on television (Intervention, Celebrity Rehab, Addicted, etc.), and you will see the same thing over and over and over again. Loved ones frustrated and scared to the point of tears, weary from trying to save their lying and scheming addict, whose odds are stacked against them. I just summarized 50% of prime time television.

I say all that brazenly, but truthfully, that was me not that long ago. For a time, I made everything in my life about saving Taylor's life. When the professor of a graduate-level writing course I was taking read a piece I wrote about Taylor, he responded with this critique: "Your EX-boyfriend is doing what? That's a sentence. Not an essay."
And then I ripped a pillow in half.
But really—after his words settled in, I realized that he'd basically told me what it took my therapist three years to tell me. I need to accept that which I cannot change on my own.

This is the Serenity Prayer. Not-so-coincidentally, it gets corporately recited at the end of every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Hmmm, I wonder why.

But what about the things that we can change?  
So glad you asked. 
While writing this, I played around with new and creative ways to define addiction because our culture uses the word far too casually and often incorrectly. I found that in many ways, addiction is the opposite of love. There is no balance of truth and grace in it—it's dark, all-consuming and downright deceptive.

If we are ever going to see widespread healing, we have to take the shame out of the disease of addiction.

Secrets, shame, fear and pain all live within the dark. But that's not who we are as believers. We are called to live as children of the light. We are children of the day! Not a single speck of our beings belongs to the night or the darkness (1 Thess. 5:5).

Taylor sent me these verses in a Facebook message once:
Job 17:11-15: 
"My days have passed, my plans are shattered.
   Yet the desires of my heart
turn night into day;
   in the face of the darkness light is near. 
If the only home I hope for is the grave,
   if I spread out my bed in the realm of darkness,
where then is my hope—
   who can see any hope for me?"
We need to be the people who see the hope for those suffering in darkness. 

We try too hard to fix the symptoms and not the heart of the disease. We throw money, empty sermons, rehab, housing, and even food banks at the addicts in our cities, but I believe Christ would do more.

Here are a few ways I've seen the Church further the gap between itself and the chemically dependent population:
  • deception. Naively believing that "it could never happen to _____" is only furthering the lie and the problem. Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves." It's time to wise up.
  • ignorance. Plenty of people don't know the difference between marijuana and heroin, or that Vicodin is an opiate, and a highly addictive one at that.
  • lack of compassion. Imagine yourself in that position. Life is not a 24/7 party. You are literally a slave to a pill or a glass of liquid. You've let down everyone you love. There is no promising light at the end of the tunnel unless someone cares enough to walk you into it.
  • judgment. There's a haunting French proverb that says, "We should enter everyone's situation. To understand all is to forgive all." It's safe to say that God, in his sovereign wisdom, is the only one who is capable of accomplishing both these feats. But are we, as humans, even trying?

D.L.M, an author on McSweeney's literary journal, speaks to our role so much better than I ever could: 
"I never thought I would mourn the inability to go back, back to a time when the weight of the world wasn’t on my shoulders. The ever-present voice (I would say Holy Spirit) inside of me is only getting louder: The world is not right, the world is not right
...Jesus would not want our lives to be [inconvenienced] just because so many others are. Right? I have looked hard at the facts, and by the grace of God I am starting to understand that I am not special. That I am one of God’s children, and I must do everything in my power to help my brothers and sisters. I can’t promise the key to a good life, but I can tell you that Jesus wanted us to be all up in the human condition."
And how are we supposed to be "all up in the human condition" if we ignore it, hide it, or enable it? Not sure how I made it this far into a post about addiction without saying the word enable. Enable, by its very definition, means "to allow, permit or empower something to happen."

But the only way to fight the evil of addiction is by exposing it. Not so that the person can suffer shame, but so that they can be surrounded by a compassionate community who is aware of the problem and therefore better equipped to pray more specifically, refer help more accurately, and support their loved ones more readily.

One of the worst atrocities I've seen committed in the Christian community is this thing I've started calling the "white picket fence phenomenon." It's the way we as Christians fail at being transparent with one another in an attempt to hide our shortcomings and thereby appear as if we "have it all together." You've seen it before. We've all done it before. It's misleading, deceiving, ungracious and goes against so much of what Christ stood for. And when we try and cover up our own sins, or the sins of our loved ones, we are only encouraging that sin to thrive in the darkness we've created around it. Sometimes we do it out of shame or embarrassment, but oftentimes we do it out of love and a false sense of being able to protect someone we deeply care about.

The Hope We Can't Provide On Our Own
Psalm 107 speaks boldly into the heart of addiction, while promoting a God who fights for his children, even the ones who have imprisoned themselves...
Before witnessing Taylor's addiction, I clumped addicts of all shapes and sizes together in my head and branded them with the words "lost cause." I assumed anyone with an addiction had always been walking down that road and would surely always be on it. Now when I see someone living in that battle, there is a love that wells up inside me. I picture Taylor's face prior to this mess he's in, and I remember all of the color that he used to have in life—his music, his brain, his humungous heart. 

In trying not to dwell on this present darkness, I cannot help but reach into the past to anchor my hope for the future. No one is born a lost cause. And if we don't give up on those who become lost, some of the lucky ones won't have to die that way.
We are the light of the world. We are the city on a hill. We've got to start acting like it.


ika said...

I feel 1.) after reading this, I don't need to read my daily devotional now.
2) I should read a whole weeks worth.

"for we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..."

KelRanck said...

you are beautiful in so many ways. Blessed to have your heart, spirit, and mind in my life.

Adam K said...

I've seen addiction in some of the lives around me and I've seen those folks face the consequences. It's not easy. I feel for you. I've also seen "addiction", the version that is casually diagnosed by "experts" and "addicts". It's a difficult topic to wrestle with.

What's not difficult to wrestle with, but is difficult to hear is the statistic on the number of deaths due to overdose. That's very sad.

Like you say, it is not our duty to change others. That is only done by God. We can aid in the process and should endeavor to be a servant to those folks who need the help. Your professor was wise to imply a distinction between what your role is in Taylor's life and what Taylor must do for himself. Or what God will do for Taylor.

In any case, you've written a very touching and personal blog. Thanks for writing about interesting and relevant things. I think we may need a "Great Things" blog entry soon, however.

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