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

How Do Our Lives Reflect the Image of God?

Old ways don’t lead to new roads. If we want to see different results in our lives, I believe we need to reimagine ourselves in the way God sees us. Scripture informs us that the Lord created us as His image bearers. Like the moon reflects the sun, we reflect the God we serve and follow.

As 21st Century believers how do we reflect the image of the Lord in our daily lives?

Genesis 1:24-31 (ESV)

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

We mirror God when we bring order where there is chaos. We don’t add to the chaos. We serve as peacemakers. Our role is helping to calm the storm, not stirring the pot. In our turbulent times, amid the divisive discourse, hidden behind the curtain of social media, it is easy for us to get caught up in the seemingly endless controversies that grab our attention. We quieten the chaos by remembering the facts and sharing the truth. God is for us not against us. He loves all of us and seeks a deep, personal, one-on-one relationship with Him.

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Our lives reflect the Lord when we shine light into the darkness. We bring hope where there is no hope. We walk with people as they suffer and we shower those around us with love. We strive to walk in light and love, always. We have all met people who beam love from the heart of their being. They ooze God’s love from every pour. We feel good in their presence. They make us feel safe. We know they are people we can trust. As people of love, we seek to treat others as we would want them to treat us. When we do that, God is glorified and magnified through our daily walk with Him as our guide.

As image bearers of God Most High, we speak life in all situations. What does it mean to speak life? It means our words encourage; they don’t hurt. Words are like bullets. Once our mouth fires them off, there is no putting them back into their chamber. We use our words to lift and heal others. We don’t wound or discourage people with our speech. Our words match our deeds. Both reflect the God we serve and the Lord we love. 

As I take a personal inventory of how I live my daily life, I am faced with answering these 3 questions:

1.  Is my life today marked by order or is my life one that creates chaos?

2.  Do I shine light into the lives of others and deliver hope into the darkness?

3.  Do my words lift and encourage others or do I wound and discourage people with my tongue?

When you ask yourselves these questions, what answers do you come up with? 

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As we seek to know God and to make God known, I pray that our lives would reflect the image of the Lord and that through our words and deeds we would mirror the God who created us.

Peace be with you.

The Devotional Guy

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.