Hello Dopamine, My Old Friend

Teaching addiction education class is not something I dreamed of as a kid growing up in the piney woods of East Texas. Yet, there I was Friday morning, my coffee steaming., standing in a cafeteria turned into a makeshift classroom. Roughly 50 street-hardened men, ranging in age from too young to know for sure and old enough to know better, filled the room. When you’re young, you have lots of porcelain god moments, swearing you’ll change. As you age and become more aware of your addictions, you don’t can’t quite grasp why you still can’t quit even though life, the law, and former loved ones have given you every incentive and opportunity. In either case, you live teetering on a constant edge between clarity and compulsion, with clarity rarely winning. It’s a humbling moment for me because teaching an addiction education class usually implies you have some personal knowledge regarding people’s habits, hang-ups, compulsions, and fetishes. And that I do; I am one.

The group of men I had the privilege of standing before found themselves living at a homeless shelter due to their dependences and cravings for the different monkeys riding shotgun on their backs. We focused on four: alcohol, drugs, real sex, and fake sex (porn). As men, these tend to be our big fixations. Be assured, they are not the only types of addictions or compulsive obsessions people face in this world.

To be clear, all homeless people aren’t addicts. Addiction can lead to homelessness. Some homeless people turn to substances after experiencing life on the streets. However, addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer impacting peaceful suburban neighborhoods just like the one you call home. I know addicts who live good lives from the outside looking in. Addiction isn’t just substance abuse. Chances are you know someone addicted to porn sitting at a computer feeding their fetishes in the comfort of their home. Maybe it’s happening in your house right now? You may know someone who is struggling with behaviors like gambling, anorexia, or other disorders and compulsions. Addiction is something that touches us all and comes in many forms. When is the last time you spent a day without your smartphone?

Life is hard and we love to medicate. I have found this to be true in the First World where we use fancy prescriptions and toys to mask our senses and in the Third World where kids sell glue found in garbage dumps overrun with trash and refuse.

Psychology Today defines addiction as “a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.”

You want to stop. You try. But you can’t.

You recognize you should stop. You don’t.

Hello dopamine, my old friend. I see you’ve come to play with my mind again.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.

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As I mentioned earlier, addiction involves the use of a wide array of substances like alcohol and nicotine and including inhalants, opioids, cocaine, and other substances. Addiction also covers behaviors such as gambling and sex. Scientific evidence shows that the addictive substances and behaviors share a key neurobiological feature; they intensely activate brain pathways of reward and reinforcement, many of which involve the neurotransmitter dopamine (What is Addiction? 2018).

Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

But for me and the men in this room addiction is more than a psychological condition. There’s something more missing than the off-switch that other people seem to have when it comes to drinking a little drink and smoking a little smoke. For us, it is a spiritual condition. We’ve fallen so deep that when we look up we see bottom; tore up from the floor up. Mired and enslaved in our addictions, we only see darkness. No light. Zero. Zilch. We have become hopeless. Our lives are unmanageable. We don’t recognize the person we see in the mirror staring back at us. Who have we become? How did we get here? This is not the road we intended to take. None of us raised their hands as kids declaring we were going to grow up and be addicts. Yet, here we are, enslaved to our own maddening vices. What we once loved is now hellbent on killing us. Our compulsion aims to extinguish us. How do we stop?

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Rollercoasters are fun until you want to get off and realize you can’t. Then panic sets in. You get angry. You fight it. It fights back. You stop for a little while and then it comes back vigorously, raising the stakes. Double or nothing every time. You hear it declare, “I’ll tell you when you can stop.”

You’re scared. You’re shaking; trembling down to the bottom of your soul. You want to quit.

Life has forgotten the men in this room. Few will come back from the depths of their fall. Success for them has been redefined. It’s no longer about the things we dreamed about as children. We’ve lost everything more than once. No matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to catch a break. We’ve been humbled into obedience and now simply seek to be faithful in a few, little things. We don’t trust ourselves with more. “Maybe one day,” one of the men says. “But not today.”

But those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak. – Isaiah 40:31

We’re all just living one day at a time. Today, I’m clean and sober. Today is all I can hope for. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow ain’t here yet. Each time we fall or stumble, we get up again, dusting ourselves off. Recovery demands persistence; that’s for sure. With each passing failure, we realize the power of our sickness. We lived in denial. Then, in a moment of clarity, we recognized that our lives had become unmanageable and admitted we were powerless over our addictions. We came to believe only a supernatural power greater than ourselves could rescue us from drowning and begin to restore us to sanity. We turned to God, as we understood Him, and made a conscious decision to submit our will and turn our lives over to His care. And so we began to turn the page, altering the course of our story, from hopeless to hopeful.

And that’s why I find myself standing in front of the room full of men hungry for life change. As gratitude, for God pulling me off the rubbage pile, I venture back into the cesspool, looking for survivors. I want to leave no man (or woman), behind. I need God to use me to bring hope to those lacking hope. God doesn’t want anyone to perish. He values our lives. He gave His Son so that we might experience living in eternal presence with Him. Going back, helps me grow in my faith. Teaching what I have come to know about addiction helps me maintain my continuous walk of sobriety.

Are you struggling with the demons of addiction? Do you yearn for the day when you’ll live clean and sober? There’s help. You’re not alone. YOU CAN.

Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. – Romans 12:12

Recovery happens. Pass it on. 

Peace be with you. Blessings.

The Devotional Guy™

References:

What is Addiction? 2018. Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, New York. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/addiction

Never Forget: Recalling 9.11.2001

Like you, I remember that day and the days that followed immediately afterward. It’s an impossible time to forget. The memories are etched in my mind.

At the time, I was the General Manager of the Babe’s Chicken Dinner House in Roanoke, Texas, a role I had been promoted to a little over a year earlier. Traditionally a dinner-only restaurant, we had just begun serving lunch earlier that Spring. We were blessed to have a superb staff, tightly-knit, who loved and cared about one another. We had the best customers in the world. They came from all over the globe. We served everyday people and celebrities. I had met the love of my life. I had begun building a new house. Life was good.

That morning, when the planes hit the Twin Towers, the world changed. Going forward, none of our lives would ever be the same. The normally bustling skies above us were suddenly silent. The streets, typically jammed with traffic, lay still. Overwhelmed with shock, words failed us. Our emotions were a giant, jumbled mess. We didn’t know what to feel or if we could feel at all.

Uncomfortable Numbness overwhelmed us.

A sea of employees, friends & family,  local townsfolk, government officials, the famous and not famous, and ordinary passers-by gathered in front of our store. We huddled in a circle and prayed, standing as one. We sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘America the Beautiful.’ For the longest time, we stood silently, holding hands. We hugged. We cried. We grieved.

Our lives were shattered, but our spirit remained unbroken. Determined to dust ourselves off and go on, we didn’t want hate or fear to rule the remainder of our days. Amid our differences, we stood united, firm in our belief that America was the greatest country on the planet. Land of the free, home of the Brave. We agreed that evil and terror should not win. It would not. It could not. We mourned the lives lost and grieved for the families they had left behind.

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Then, as the days passed, we pressed on. We moved forward. Changed, yet filled with a hope of better days ahead, vowing to never forget the day that broke our hearts but bolstered our spirit.

Never forget. 9.11.2001

Church: Love One Another as God First Loved You

A church is made up of imperfect people, like you and me. It doesn’t matter what position you hold or role you play in your church body or how long you’ve been walking with the Lord, none of us achieve perfection this side of the Pearly Gates. When a brother or sister in Christ fall, it can be tempting to ostracize them, ridicule them, or banish them from our lives. After all, we don’t want to go hang around sinners now do we? The problem is, we’re all sinners. Being saved and becoming a Christian neither immunizes nor incubates us from sin. Such is not the nature of the world we inhabit.

As a Christian, I’ve made a conscious effort to walk a different road than the one I ventured down before I encountered Christ. Having a relationship with Christ makes me think about sin and view my shortcomings differently than before I knew Christ on a personal level. Yet, daily, I find myself dependent on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct my way. I don’t want anything to come between me and God. That doesn’t mean that nothing will be vying for my attention. To the contrary, it seems like the opportunities to mess up and fall amp up dramatically the more pronounced in my faith I become.

There’s a reason that the Apostle Paul urges us to put on the full armor of God every day. He understood better than most that ours is a daily battle to pursue the righteousness of God versus succumbing to the vices and devices of the Enemy. There’s a reason Scripture instructs us to be careful about assessing judgment on the words and deeds of others. It’s no accident that the Word emphasizes us to treat others like we would want to be treated.

Ephesians 6:10-12 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Whole Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

When a brother or sister in Christ falls, they need our love, not our condemnation. Who can they rely on to love on them in the hour of their greatest need if not us? This is what it means to be family. We love one another because God first loved us while we were yet sinners. God demonstrated that love through the atoning sacrificial offering of His precious Son, Jesus Christ and He continues to show that love through the power of the Holy Spirit abiding in us.

As a friend of mine once encouraged me: If you find a perfect church, don’t start attending. You’ll just mess it up.

In the meantime, cast no stones.

Peace be with you.

Blessings,

The Devotional Guy™

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