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

Some Things Only God Can Do

It’s a terrible feeling to realize your life has become unmanageable. Addiction kills most people slowly. A few precious few, burnout quickly. In either case, addiction doesn’t have to kill you. You can get out—with the help of others and God’s immeasurable grace you can overcome the chains of your addiction.

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Imagine you’re walking in complete darkness and suddenly a sliver of light shines through a door leading to the way out. When you see it, run for it, full speed ahead and don’t look back. Don’t worry about what’s on the other side. It’s better than the dead end road you’re on. The madness will only stop if you’re willing to take that first step toward God. You don’t have to live mired in the depravity of addiction. You CAN change. God can change you. But you got to want it. Nobody can want it more for you than YOU. Only YOU can decide to get off the roller coaster ride and quit trying to be the god of your own life chasing your own foolhardy, selfish will.

And it’s not something you can really do to please others. YOU have to want it. YOU have to come to the realization that because of your addictions your life has become unmanageable. You must recognize that you have spun out of control, jumped off the tracks, and are headed for a major derailment, if you haven’t already landed in the ditch.

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Addiction is a taker. It won’t stop taking from you until it has consumed absolutely everything—including your life and your soul. YOU’RE the only one that can stop this raging fire. The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. There are people who will help you. There is a God who loves you and wants bigger and better things for you than you ever dreamed possible. Your addiction doesn’t have to end in death. Through God’s grace, you can know what it means to live abundantly with abandon for the One True King. Addiction doesn’t have to take you. You don’t have to become another number in a long line of sad statistics.

Remembering July 7, 2016 (Psalm 22)

Two years ago, at the end of protests on the night of July 7, 2016, a lone shooter ambushed a group of Dallas police officers, killing five men and injuring nine others. The ambush came amid high tensions across the nation concerning a rash of police shootings that received massive media scrutiny and sparked nationwide outrage, particularly in black communities.

Dallas is a city that has witnessed horrific events before. In 1963, JFK was assassinated here. After September 11, 2001, the skies above DFW, normally filled with flying machines, hovered quietly and somberly for days on end as the nation attempted to come to grips with what had happened that fateful day.

Two years after the shootings in Dallas, tensions and dissension remain. Yes, the focus and topics have changed, but the societal gaps have widened. We are not a nation that has been drawn closer together. The cohesiveness and unity of the day after 9-11 are a distant memory.

In the days that followed the cowardly attack, I had the privilege of attending several of the funerals for the officers. Pulling up to park at the memorial service for Dallas Police Sergeant Michael Smith, my friend Mark Jones and I were blown away at seeing the thousands of police cars and motorcycles lining the streets around Watermark Church. Mark and I lamented the state of race relations in America, discussing how, as ministers, we should respond to the ever-increasing tensions between our two respective races.

While we did not assess people by their skin color, we knew that people in the world did. We both believed in law and order and supporting those who protected our families and communities. Our hearts ached for the fallen officers and their families and the tensions splitting our nation apart. Walking to the church, neither of us knew that the Lord would call my friend Mark home the following year, days before the one-year anniversary of the ambush.

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The focus of those days has shifted. The vitriolic venom, though, has not subsided. Our country is not any more united today than it was on that day. The divide still exists. Protests continue. As a nation, we are weary. Weary of the terrorism, tired of war, fed up with the drug epidemics, and frustrated by the unending protests against seemingly everything and everyone.

Psalm 22 The Message (MSG)

A David Psalm

22 1-2 God, God . . . my God!
Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.

3-5 And you! Are you indifferent, above it all,
  leaning back on the cushions of Israel’s praise?
We know you were there for our parents:
    they cried for your help and you gave it;
    they trusted and lived a good life.

6-8 And here I am, a nothing—an earthworm,
something to step on, to squash.
Everyone pokes fun at me;
they make faces at me, they shake their heads:
“Let’s see how God handles this one;
since God likes him so much, let him help him!”

9-11 And to think you were midwife at my birth,
setting me at my mother’s breasts!
When I left the womb you cradled me;
since the moment of birth you’ve been my God.
Then you moved far away
and trouble moved in next door.
I need a neighbor.

12-13 Herds of bulls come at me,
    the raging bulls stampede,
Horns lowered, nostrils flaring,
    like a herd of buffalo on the move.

14-15 I’m a bucket kicked over and spilled,
every joint in my body has been pulled apart.
My heart is a blob
of melted wax in my gut.
I’m dry as a bone,
my tongue black and swollen.
They have laid me out for burial
in the dirt.

16-18 Now packs of wild dogs come at me;
thugs gang up on me.
They pin me down hand and foot,
and lock me in a cage—a bag
Of bones in a cage, stared at
by every passerby.
They take my wallet and the shirt off my back,
and then throw dice for my clothes.

19-21 You, God—don’t put off my rescue!
    Hurry and help me!
Don’t let them cut my throat;
    don’t let those mongrels devour me.
If you don’t show up soon,
    I’m done for—gored by the bulls,
    meat for the lions.

22-24 Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship,
and punctuate it with Hallelujahs:
Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers;
give glory, you sons of Jacob;
adore him, you daughters of Israel.
He has never let you down,
never looked the other way
when you were being kicked around.
He has never wandered off to do his own thing;
he has been right there, listening.

25-26 Here in this great gathering for worship
    I have discovered this praise-life.
And I’ll do what I promised right here
in front of the God-worshipers.
Down-and-outers sit at God’s table
    and eat their fill.
Everyone on the hunt for God
    is here, praising him.
“Live it up, from head to toe.
    Don’t ever quit!”

27-28 From the four corners of the earth
    people are coming to their senses,
    are running back to God.
Long-lost families
    are falling on their faces before him.
God has taken charge;
    from now on he has the last word.

29 All the power-mongers are before him
—worshiping!
All the poor and powerless, too
—worshiping!
Along with those who never got it together
—worshiping!

30-31 Our children and their children
will get in on this
As the word is passed along
from parent to child.
Babies not yet conceived
will hear the good news—
that God does what he says.

The Devotional Guy_preach the gospel

In Psalm 22, we find David weary and frustrated, feeling despondent, and wondering if God had forsaken him. Yet, he remained confident that God would look after him. Frustrated by God’s apparent lack of response to David’s prayers, he found encouragement through remembering God’s past faithfulness and goodness.

David teaches us a valuable lesson through his response. We see David demonstrating attitudes and concerns in similar ways that we do when the world seems to be piling problem after problem at our door. Amidst the turmoil swirling around his situation, David steps back long enough to remember the Lord’s previous mercies and grace. This made his present troubles appear small in retrospect.

David outlines his dire circumstances and then confidently expresses his personal trust in the Lord and belief that the same God who provided for him before will deliver him from certain death now.

When we find ourselves mired in the valley, we forget what we experienced on the mountaintop. My late friend Mark would often say something like “Don’t forget in the darkness what God showed you in the light.”

Yes, in this life we will have trouble. But, as we see in this Psalm written by David centuries ago, we can be confident that we serve a God who is trustworthy. God is able. With an able and faithful God on our side, we have nothing to fear in this life.

As a nation, I pray we will remember what we share in common is far greater than that which divides us. We must move past the vitriolic discourse and begin having honest conversations about what ails us. In my lifetime, I have seen our nation move far away from God. We have forsaken and forgotten Him, pushing Him out of virtually every facet of our lives. We’ve taken the wheel. We’ve become the pilots now. At best, we ask God to be our co-pilot, to ride along with us, as we pursue our will and seek out our own ways. Along the way, those who have pledged to protect and serve us are slaughtered on the battlefields far away and those close to home.

DPD Memorial 2016Please checkout Gary Miller and I discussing “Everythingness” on the WorshipMinistry.com podcast.