Christians and Addiction

  Earlier this year, I had the privilege of seeing a presentation by Tim Hilton called THE ADDICTED BRAIN. He explained just how addiction can be called a “disease”. He said a few things that stuck out to me. 1.) The “Primal Brain” tends to override the executive functioning. 2.) The judgment center begins to shut down with continued use. 3.) The longer and more often than a person uses, the more damage that is done to neurotransmitters (i.e. glutamate, serotonin, dopamine).

   I’m going to pose a question. Is addiction a choice? You know the answer to that. Of course not!  Addiction has always been a disease even though there are many people who believe otherwise. See, it affects your brain’s reward center. When the brain is affected, then it ultimately affects the ability to care for yourself, manage impulse control, and a myriad of other things. Ultimately, Our goal is to survive and find the next dopamine hit...which is exactly what drugs and alcohol affect. We’re looking for the next “feel good” moment. Or some people may call it “chasing the next high”. And honestly, drugs and alcohol can help one survive.

   Those are a few of the takeaways that I had from Tim Hilton’s presentation. Addiction is a disease. Recovery is a choice. It’s also a verb. It’s something that we do. And it’s a decision that a person must make every single day. 

   Drugs, alcohol, mental illness, sex, and gambling are usually things we tend to think about when we hear/say the word “Addiction”. Oftentimes, we treat addiction as if it’s the main problem. What I’ve discovered is that addiction is usually a symptom of a bigger and/or deeper problem. Anything we use to “numb” is a means for coping. Anything we do or use to avoid our lives is our way of avoiding the pain. 

   Many things can contribute to one's desire to be numb. Traumatic events such as a global pandemic, social injustices being put on display for the world to see, money and job (or the lack thereof), surviving natural disasters,  physical/chronic pain, family conflict, isolation, and childhood experiences are a few of the things that the world has faced since COVID19 assaulted our lives. I’m sure we can all relate to these things. Life under regular circumstances is challenging on a good day. Right?

   Now can you imagine being so overwhelmed with emotion and not knowing what to do and have limited access to the people that can help? And keep in mind, you’ve made a decision to avoid the one thing that you know works for you. Can you even begin to wrap your mind around that? You can’t? Well, let me offer you this harsh truth. This is someone's reality. People in recovery NEED their recovery community and yet, there’s limited/no access to it. For people in recovery, they’re quite aware that drugs and/or alcohol will work.

  Guilt says I’ve done a bad thing. Shame says that I’m a bad person. Addiction has a way to make us live in shame. We want to get rid of the pain. So we use it. More Shame. More usage. More shame...you catch the drift. A cycle of shame is created and it keeps us from being the best version of ourselves.

  A quote by Brene Brown comes to mind, “Shame cannot survive being spoken.” There is power in community and healing in speaking your truth. Shame and judgment (of yourself) are one of the many barriers that get in the way of stepping into recovery. Speaking truth to power is the first step to releasing the shackles that we call addiction.

  I find that many people find it difficult to offer compassion to people they identify as being an addict. By why is that? Is it because they should be able to control it? They should’ve never started using it from the beginning? Or maybe you believe that people who are addicts look a certain way? Well, Let’s explore this a bit more.

 

• Have you survived a traumatic experience? Then you’re at risk.

• Have you been diagnosed with a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder? Then you're at risk.

• Are you stressed out? Are you worried every day about balancing working and teaching the kids? You’re at risk.

• Do alcoholism and drug abuse run in your family? You’re at risk.

 

• Is your sleep pattern completely disrupted since quarantine? Guess what? You, too, are at risk.

 

Drug addiction and mental illness don’t care about whom it attacks. One doesn’t have an addiction because of any one specific reason. Addiction and mental illness attack the rich and poor, old and young, high school graduates, and people with Doctorates. There’s not much we can do to predict who can/will have an addiction. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all at risk even when we think we’re not. It’s scary to think about, but it’s very true.

   Blake Farmer of WPLN News, Nashville Public Radio reported in May that there were 107 deaths related to overdoses between March 1, 2020, and May 20, 2020. Why do you think that is? I’ll offer a few suggestions.  Being alone, living in shame, and limited contact with humans are all contributing factors. Some people may never admit it (especially the introverts) but humans need each other. There are some significant consequences to us not having social interactions. I believe that we’re seeing the effects of this in real-time.

   I’ve spent much time talking about addiction in the traditional sense. But I want to reiterate one point. We’re all at risk. We may not be using drugs or alcohol, but there is a multitude of other behaviors that we use numb. Codependency (which can be described as an addiction to people, workaholism, sex, and love addiction, spending money excessively, perfectionism, procrastination, self-harm (i.e. cutting), and overcompensation are a few of the ways in which we “numb”. These are maladaptive coping strategies that allow us to look as if we’re okay. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’re all trying to figure it out. As humans, we do what we know works. We will always do what is going to make sure that we’re presenting as our best selves. And we will continue to do that thing until it no longer works.

   I’ve given you quite a bit of information, so I also want to offer this to you. There is hope. Just as we’re all at risk for addiction, we can all work toward recovery. Brene Brown stated, “The antidote to shame is Empathy.” That is the recovery community. It has the ability to understand or at least attempt to understand the feelings of another person. The community is able to provide compassion and accountability in ways that are unbelievable. I have seen lives change by simply being connected, which, in my opinion, is the best way to treat addiction. A connection is key.

   There are so many ways to start this journey of recovery. Codependents Anonymous (CODA), AA, NA, Celebrate Recovery, SMART Recovery, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), Sex and Love addiction (SLAA), and therapy with a licensed practitioner are all ways to help one work toward that goal. 

Trauma survivors look for guarantees. No shame, No Judgment. Just hope.

“Healers don’t do the healing. Healers Provide space for the healing to happen.”

 

   I’m not sure who made this statement, but I want to personally say Thank you to this individual. There’s promise in that statement for all of us from within the community who participate in Recovery Fest. We provide a space that will allow the healing process to begin. Holding and sharing space is a sacred thing to do. Allow us to hold space with you in order for you to reach the ultimate goal-to life and thrive in life.

~ Mai

Helpfull Links

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-8255

Counselors Outside Rutherford

Rockhouse Center

Brentwood, TN

www.rockhousecenter.com

615-396-0668

Agape Counseling

8 Locations across Middle Tennessee

www.agapenashville.org/counseling

615-781-3000

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Mai Ferrell, LCSW, LADAC II, CCTP has worked with adolescents, families, and people who struggle with substance use disorders. She earned her licensure as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor in 2018. Currently, she works as the Coordinator for the Intensive Outpatient program at Trustpoint Hospital in Murfreesboro where she’s been for almost 7 years. Lastly, she is active with the Coalition for Black Social workers and is an advisory board member for W.E. C.A.R.E. Rutherford.