Friday, December 9, 2011

Addiction and Self-Medication. . .

A recent cover story in Newsweek has turned attention to sex addiction.  You can read it all there.  I was struck not simply by the story but by the description of those addicted to sexual behaviors and pornography as using these as a form of self-medication.  In other words, this is not simply about sex.  There is an emptiness and a void that compels desire and that takes form in the self-destructive behaviors of addiction.  These become a way of avoiding insecurities and escaping the emotional issues that have led to the addictive behaviors.

It seems to me that addiction is less about the vice than about the need within.  While it can help to avoid the thing that is the focus of the addiction (sex, drugs, internet and social networking, etc.), the avoidance is no cure.  The emptiness within that the addictive behavior has exploited remains and so the person is always vulnerable.  In this day and age, with the great accessibility we have to addictive behaviors, we are not helping people by simply telling them to avoid their weakness.  In fact, it is this weakness, emptiness, and void that must be exposed and confronted.

The great advances of technology have brought with them increased contact with our addictions -- largely anonymous contact.  We have the internet to provide us with constant access to whatever it is that is the object of our quest -- be it the twenty four hour news cycle or porn or social media.  We are plugged in all the time and this virtual reality becomes both the escape from the actual reality of our world with all its real problems and issues as well as a master that cannot be satisfied.

Self-medication takes many forms.  It may be prescription pills or illegal drugs or booze or piercing or cutting or tattoos or porn or hook ups or exposure (sexting, for example)... who knows what will hit the list next.  But in the end it is less about the sex or the alcohol or the drugs or the other behaviors than it is the crying need inside.  We can work all day long to out law or arrest or remove the objects of the addictive behaviors but in the end we are still left with the addict.  But as a culture and society we do not have enough room in our prisons to lock up everyone who turns to one illegal or immoral behavior or another in search of something to medicate their pain.  It would seem to me that this is like the Law preaching that prepares the way for the Gospel.  If we can figure out a way to speak to those who hide their addictions behind a seemingly normal life, this is the very place for the Gospel to be spoken.

Yet at the same time, we must be careful.  The Gospel is not a self-help program.  It is not a tool toward healthy lives or wholeness in our spirits.  It is redemption by dying with Christ our death to sin and rising with Christ to live the new life that is not me but Thee.  That is where so many of our attempts have failed to reach the addicts with the Gospel.  We treat the Gospel as if it were a program or a method or a technique.  In doing so, it becomes a crutch until folks believe they have been cured or are strong enough to deal with their demons on their own.  For the Christian, we cannot outgrow the Gospel nor do we ever find a cure that enables us to leave behind the message of the cross.  The Gospel is no quick fix and it is no fix.  But it is the one and only Word that can speak to the empty hearts seeking distraction or fulfillment in substitutes for what Christ alone offers.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

There's a very good book titled "Prayer in the Digital Age" by Matt Swaim that has some very sobering admonitions about our techno-crazy culture and how we are beginning to confuse "virtual" reality, especially virtual online communities with real ones as God intends us to have.

While acknowledging that all our devices have their up side he writes about how they can at the same time become a substitute for real human contact. Some people have the opinion that because kids today are so linked by all their various devices it has had an effect on how they view the community that is called the church as a poor substitute for all their "real" online friends.

Anonymous said...

Alcoholism and Fornication are sins.
The big lie is that they are a
disease. Addiction to sin is what
we need to call it. Only repentance
and the transforming power of Christ
can change a person. This has been
true in every century of history.
Nothing special about the 21st century.

Anonymous said...

Pride is also a sin and let's face it, that's why so many of us spend so much time on-line. We all think (including myself)that the world needs to hear every opinion we have.

Anonymous said...

"We are plugged in all the time and this virtual reality becomes both the escape from the actual reality of our world with all its real problems and issues as well as a master that cannot be satisfied."

Well, the Internet can certainly be put to good use if not abused. But it's true, back in the old days when we communicated by the written word we had to go back and read and reread what we were trying to say. Now, with just a quick click of the mouse we tend not to do that and sometimes regret posting too quickly.

Terry Maher said...

The "big lie", whichever Unknown, is that all addictions are the same.

Another big lie is that "self-help" programmmes are self-help programmes, though just like the Gospel itself they have been turned into that by many.

Ironic to make such a point at an anonymous group like here.

Anonymous said...

What about internet and blog addiction? What's the cure for that? It appears some pastors are addicted to the computer/internet/blogs. Pull the plug. There is life after the internet.

Unknown said...

Dear Rev. Peters: Although I am fully aware of the fact that my judgment is not normative, may I offer a few thoughts on the matter of addiction. First, thank you for a thoughtful comment on what is a very complex issue, and one that often leads to very emotional responses.

I suspect the heart of the matter really lies in this one sentence, “But in the end it is less about the sex or the alcohol or the drugs or the other behaviors than it is the crying need inside.” Not being either a sociologist or a psychologist, I can only offer a thought, based on observations both in this country and abroad. It seems to me that one reason for this “crying need” may be the lack of love children receive at home. I noticed this most often in the Soviet Union, not because it was an atheistic state, but because from its inception it forced both parents to work full time, leaving the children in a nursery for most of the day. Both parents coming home tired and having do deal with household matters does not lead to a loving relationship with their children. To the extent that families have either chosen or have been forced to have both parents work full time, this problem has become more and more evident in our society.

Now to the Gospel. Yes, indeed “it is not a quick fix” but in a way it is a fix. It is most important to realize that the severe trauma that causes these addictions is not taken away as soon as people are told that God loves them, or even when they fully realize that God really does. The process of healing tends to be agonizingly slow. But if the addict is told that God will stop loving him when he reverts to his behavior, or that he will loose his faith and the Holy Spirit, because he has sinned knowingly, against conscience, then the original trauma will only be reinforced. I am not advocating that we modify the Gospel to be something other than it is. The Gospel makes it clear that the condemnation of the Law is only for those who are under the Law; otherwise it is of no help to the addict, or, for that matter, to those who are only addicted to “ordinary” sins. No, no, the child of God cannot sin so that grace might abound, or because “it really does not matter, because God forgives me anyway”. The child of God should know the truth about the Gospel, that even while he continues to sin, he continues to be beloved of God. I don’t think we can cause a member of God’s Elect to forsake the Kingdom, but we may cause that person untold suffering if we do proclaim “an other” Gospel to him. In part that suffering will include a consuming concern with one’s self, while the child of God is free to be concerned about his neighbor, because the Gospel has freed him from concerns about himself.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

What about internet and blog addiction? What's the cure for that? It appears some pastors are addicted to the computer/internet/blogs. Pull the plug. There is life after the internet.

I don't know. Some people have always been writers. If they didn't write it online, they would write it in a personal or public journal elsewhere. Folks who don't like writing or don't feel the need aren't going to take it up on the internet or anywhere else.

As for addictions, I have long thought that some people have a tendency towards addictions more than others. However, this post by Pr. Peters probably makes more sense than my theory.

Anonymous said...

"What about internet and blog addiction? What's the cure for that? It appears some pastors are addicted to the computer/internet/blogs. Pull the plug. There is life after the internet."

If I were to avoid computer/internet blogs and seek that oh so elusive life after the internet, I would turn to reading piles and piles of books. What about becoming addicted to reading books. Isn't hiding in the corner with the Kindle a form of escapism? At least when using the internet, I can feel a realtime connection with the outside world. HOW could I ever get that kind of connection from reading books?

Is Rev. Fisk correct when he stated that people who view flashy video podcasts are inadvertently fooled into thinking that they are learning a lot when in fact they are not? If true, then how would you recommend finding the proper balance between multimedia consumption and book reading with respect to Bible studies?

Anonymous said...

“But in the end it is less about the sex or the alcohol or the drugs or the other behaviors than it is the crying need inside.” Not being either a sociologist or a psychologist, I can only offer a thought, based on observations both in this country and abroad. It seems to me that one reason for this “crying need” may be the lack of love children receive at home."

Ok......I agree. But can you explain why teenagers from stable, "traditional" single-income homes become drug addicts. Does drug use stem from mere curiosity by a spoiled brat, or is some other factor at work.

Anonymous said...

Seems like internet addiction is also a stewardship issue, as a waster of time and money. Pastors can use it wisely, but then need to cut the cord, and get out and make the visits and calls, which are far more productive and helpful to God's people. It just seems that even the church overloads us with internet stuff and using it wisely, with discipline is the way to go.

Anonymous said...

At least when using the internet, I can feel a realtime connection with the outside world.

Maybe. Maybe not. It is all too easy for virtual users to assume personas that are nothing like they are in real life because it doesn't require face to face interaction.

Sadly that's what makes kids vulnerable to internet predators.

Anonymous said...

I can see how internet addiction can be a big time drain. The "time drain" issue is the main reason why I abandoned video games. I am not interested in connecting to others on the internet on an emotional level. As an anonymous poster and consumer of internet content, I enjoy the almost instant feedback to my questions on blogs, as well as learning about current events.

I see your point: Get off the couch and do something, (and preferably with family and/or close friends)!

Anonymous said...

Eleven comments by Anonymous
contributors and two by named
sources. Our internet culture is
anonymous and cyberspace is crowded.

Anonymous said...

Eleven comments by Anonymous
contributors and two by named
sources. Our internet culture is
anonymous and cyberspace is crowded.


For those of us interested in ideas, the identity of those discussing ideas is not so important especially because the ideas have value and are interesting regardless of the age, gender, station, etc., of the commenter. It is not like we are going to actually know any of these people anyway. And if we did, so what? It is nice just to discuss ideas without having to deal so much with personalities and the social aspect of expressing opinions and being liked or disliked. Anonymous writing has been around for a very long time for exactly these reasons. People can't judge opinions or analysis on the basis of who is offering it, if they don't know who is offering it. The internet makes this highly desirable feature fast and easy to access, hence its popularity. Now, of course those who wish to punish people for thinking this or that or shame them into silence don't like it one little bit because they can't use such tactics effectively in an anonymous format. Therefore, more people can be more forthcoming, which as we see is not always so welcome. And I do thank Pr. Peters for this blog!

Anonymous Freethinker

Janis Williams said...

What about "internet/blog addition?" Why are you reading this blog, then? Do you have your own blog, too?

Pulling the plug is no more the answer than learning the backstroke for those outside the ark in Noah's day.

The whole discipline of the person/pastor who blogs needs to be viewed. I know firsthand that Fr. Peters loves to write with a fountain pen (and has very nice handwriting, too). He has more books than the public library of many a small town. I suppose that qualifies him as an addict in those areas?

The comments on this postare just another symptom of anonymusitis; at least Mr. Maher isn't ashamed to put his name to criticisms. I am not ashamed to put my name to the foolish things I say. Come on, ladies and gentlemen; identify yourselves.

BTW Mr. Marquart, I see your signature at the end of your comments.

Unknown said...

Janis Williams: my comments are headed “Unknown”, because I haven’t gone through the process of filling out my Google profile. But I learned to despise anonymity because of the anonymous denunciations that have created so much misery in many dictatorship. I have sworn to myself that I would never write anything that I would not sign my name to. Not so with ending a sentence with a preposition.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Timothy C. Schenks said...

http://www.esgetology.com/2011/12/09/advent-reading-day-11-going-mad-for-the-sake-of-sanity/

This was recently posted as well. Very appropriate.

Terry Maher said...

Augustine was a lunatic. However he assigns anonymity to his, as we would call it, common-law wife. That is what a concubine was, not a "lover", but a wife to whom legal marriage was prohibited by laws of the Roman Empire prohibiting marriage between social classes. The church at the time understood that and did not condemn those in such marriages denied marriage by law.

He was with her for years, raising his son with her, and sent her away largely due to pressure from his mom, "Saint" Monica, who thought such a wife would hold back his position and prestige especially after he got the top professorship in his day, in Milan, then the Roman capital. She had arranged a marriage between him and a socially correct minor, so it, not Baptism, would have to wait.

After he sent her away, she nonetheless remained faithful; he did not, soon taking another common law wife while waiting for his arranged bride to hit puberty.

Herr Freidenker, it would be better to find another name if you're going to morph for anonymity to pseudonymity. Freethought has nothing to do with anonymity, but with think according to science and logic rather than authorities such as the Bible or the church. Punish you? Oy. Get over yourself. Countering an argument and/or presenting a different argument is the exchange of ideas itself.

I hardly imagine a modern Ingersoll, who would would speak publicly for hours at a stretch, would be an anonymous poster afraid of being "punished".

Anonymous said...

"I am not ashamed to put my name to the foolish things I say. Come on, ladies and gentlemen; identify yourselves."

To what end?

Half the time I can't remember who said what, and it doesn't matter anyway. Either you have something interesting to say, or you don't. Knowing your name or pseudonym certainly isn't interesting.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters is to be commended
for allowing anonymous posters
on his blog. He is demonstrating
grace to everyone. Others Lutheran
bloggers like McCain, Rossow, Preus,
Eckardt, Weedon, are afraid of
anonymous posters and ban them.
Pastor Peters keep sharing the love.

Anonymous said...

The i.p. address of an anonymous poster could be easily blacklisted by the blog owner. Therefore, the name and/or correct email address is unnecessary.

McCain has a very nasty habit of viciously attacking anyone personally who does not agree with him. He wants the names of anonymous posters so that he can attack their credibility. Don't believe me? Check out his posts on Steadfast Lutherans and on ALPB. Identify myself so that I can be attacked personally? No thank you.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Pastor Peters runs a good forum here and allows all comments. Good deal. His writing is educational and helpful, and the commentary is useful also. Kudos.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of addictions, why do so many sons and daughters follow in the self-destructive behaviors of their parents? Why would pre-teens and teenagers want to do drugs, do poorly in school, get piercings, tattoos, engage in promiscuity, have babies without ever getting married, etc. As such children grow older and eventually do marry, they are quick to divorce one, two, or even three times. Where are the children who witness the devastating consequences of the foolish actions of their parents and swear that they want a different life for themselves and for their future children?

Timothy C. Schenks said...

Anonymous said...Pastor Peters is to be commended for allowing anonymous posters on his blog. He is demonstrating grace to everyone. Others Lutheran bloggers like McCain, Rossow, Preus, Eckardt, Weedon, are afraid of anonymous posters and ban them. Pastor Peters keep sharing the love."

I'm already blacklisted by Rev. McCain so that doesn't concern me, but which Preus has a blog? I would be interested in reading that (unless you mean Mark...I already read his).

Tim Schenks

Terry Maher said...

Funny, I was an "anonymous" when I first ventured into the blogoshpere, then went with "Past Elder" since I am a past elder, and thanks to PTM kicking my butt about ano- and pseudo-nymity, came to see he is right re blogging on that matter.

Why not accord him the same as here -- it's his blog and he can run it as he damn well chooses.

Amber said...

I feel that this issue is a hard one to understand unless you have personally dealt with it or had a close relation to someone who has. Learning how to cope, help and not judge is something that is really important.