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

4 Ways to Use Social Media to Minister to Others

Despite pleas for positivity, our culture seems to reward negativity. This can be especially true on social media. While social media affords us the privilege of connecting and make the world seem like a smaller place, it tends to give courage to people who would never say to your face what they dare to type in the comment section.

That’s not to say it’s all bad. There are actually a lot of good stories on the world-wide web. Many people strive to contribute to the conversation rather than taking a big step backward for mankind. Yet, the negative voices resound more loudly.

Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

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So how can you, as a Christian, cultivate a voice of hope, especially on social media? It’s a question I ask myself a lot, particularly when I’ve just read through the comment section of a viral post or trending tweet.

  1. Share stories about how you have witnessed God at work. The anti-God crowd is tenacious when it comes to spreading their “God is Dead” or “There is no God” mantras. Truth is, there are numerous stories about God at work in our midst. We just need to be courageous and intentional about sharing them.
  2. Strive to be a unifying force on social media. It’s easy to be divisive; especially from a distance. Be a peacemaker. Unite believers. Bring people together. Be a source of healing rather than hurtfulness and hate.
  3. Start an online prayer circle. People need prayer now more than ever. The world is hurting. People are writhing in pain. Suffering is everywhere. It can be easy to lose sight of God in the midst of the storm. Prayer offers comfort and serves as a reminder that in spite of what things might look like, there is a God who loves us.
  4. Point people to Christ. Avoid pushing people away. Pray about your response. Pray about whether or not you should even respond. If you respond, be gentle. Be kind. Be encouraging. But also, be truthful.

God calls us to be the salt and the light. Jesus urges us to let our light shine. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us, praying on our behalf and working through us. Social Media is still a new and growing tool that the church can use to share the Gospel and invite others to join us in advancing the Kingdom. Social Media, in and of itself, is not good or bad. It depends heavily on the user. It’s up to us, as believers, to use social media effectively to communicate with a world that is watching and listening. Of course, we can choose not to engage in the conversation. Somehow, I don’t believe that’s what Jesus would have us do. Do you?

Please let me know how I can pray for you by emailing me your prayer request.

Blessings.

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My Monday Morning Cup: Life is Better When You Laugh

Good news doesn’t get as much attention as bad. We’re more apt to gawk at a car wreck than notice the planes successfully navigating the blue skies above. People doing bad things dominate the headlines, burying the good works of many. Good news is thrown in like a bonus, as if to say “Hey look, life ain’t all bad.”  Even then, it’s usually a story about someone doing something good amid an otherwise tough situation.

The old saying “Misery loves company” remains alive and well in our world today, despite our protestations of love and equality for all mankind. I get it. Bad things happen to good people. Living ain’t for sugar cookies.

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Back in the late 1970s, humorist Erma Bombeck wrote a bestseller entitled “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries What Am I Doing in the Pits?”  The book is a collection of humorous anecdotes about family life back in those days. People reading Bombeck’s tales were often caught laughing out loud, even in public.

My late niece, Natalie, used to say “Life is better when you laugh.” She was right.

It’s far too easy to get mired in the murky swamps of darkness and lose sight of the many points of light. We enjoy the freedom to choose where we focus our eyes. We can stare at the gloom and doom around us, crying “Woe is me!” or we can choose to look at the thousand lights of love and laughter surrounding us.

It’s Monday. Which will you choose?

I encourage you to run toward the light, remembering to laugh along the way.

Blessings.

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