Category Archives: Addiction

Reminder on a Lonely Day in the Remembrance of Failure

Today was an especially lonely day. It is funny how in the midst of my addiction I sought to carve out alone time and now that I am in recovery but have plenty of alone time, it is as hollow and empty as the shell game at the carnival. And in these moments of loneliness, I often hear Satan walking down the hall and entering my room to pull up a chair. “I know how you feel, ” he whispers, “like you never quite fit in, like your never quite have what it takes. (Yes, Satan sometimes ends phrases in a preposition.) It’s not fair the hand God dealt you and how you chose to play the cards, well God wired you like He did. I get it.” Half-truths served on a platter garnished with sympathy.

And so we commiserate as the echoes of sad red dirt country song echo across the room from a jukebox that is not really there. A pity party ensues, where we both imagine that everyone has it better than us, everyone is out having fun with friends or tucking in their family, while we spend a Friday night alone, yet again. And I don’t know if it Satan’s ploy or not but I am not drawn to past addictions this night, merely sadness. Maybe this is where he wants to hold me tonight, in the remembrances of my deep failures, not in actual re-failing, for both can be equally crippling. And tonight he has done this effectively as I feel like the last kid picked on the emotional playground at recess, like I missed the easy layup so many times and everyone knows it.

From this sadness comes a question. It is a question we all wrestle with deeply. Do I have what it takes? I feel this now from a phone conversation I got off earlier this evening with someone whom I love who feels let down by me yet again. And when I ask this question, my “friend” is quick to speak. Sometimes my party companion tells me, “You almost do, just try harder,” for there are moments he knows that he needs to keep me far from admitting I truly don’t have what it takes. He knows this confession could be fatal to his cause IF the admitting it leads me back to the fountainhead of grace.

But other times, he sees a different disposition in me, and upon taking a stiff drink, he puts his arm around my back and says, “No, you don’t have what it takes.” I don’t. He is right–why keep trying, you cannot ever get it right, you always let them down, you’re a hopeless case. In these moments it is so easy to get sucked into vortex of fatalism. “This is what you are. This is how it will always be.” Down, down down, until you are doing what one of my high classmates ironically voted most=likely-to-succeed did. You type “clearing the wreckage” as your Facebook status and off yourself from living.

And I have listened to his tales long enough tonight….

Instead I’ll sing the refrain. Even when I don’t feel particularly feel like it.

The Addicted Brain and The Christian Mind

How are we to reconcile new neuroscience findings on the addicted brain with a theology of the Christian mind and sin?

Neuroscience is discovering some very interesting findings about brain function in regards to natural, process addictions. It has been noted that brain change occurs in substance abuse addictions, but new research is revealing the same changes happen in the frontal cortex of persons with sex and pornography addictions, food addictions and gambling addictions.

In 2002, a study on cocaine addiction demonstrated measurable volume loss in several areas of the brain, including the frontal lobes. In 2007, a VBM study out of Germany demonstrated almost identical finding to the cocaine, methamphetamine, and obesity studies. It concludes for the first time that a sexual compulsion can cause physical, anatomic change in the brain, the hallmark of brain addiction. A preliminary study showed frontal dysfunction specifically in patients unable to control their sexual behavior. This study used diffusion MRI to evaluate function of nerve transmission through white matter. It demonstrated abnormality in the superior frontal region, an area associated with compulsivity.

Hilton DL, Watts C. Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective. Surg Neurol Int [serial online] 2011 [cited 2012 Mar 22];2:19. Available from:

Of course there are detractors. David J. Ley wrote a recent piece in the New York Times, calling sexual addiction a myth. However, he stands against most of the scientific community in this regard.

The Affects of The Fall on Our Brains

If a biological component to addiction can be shown to be present, does it alleviate our culpability or responsibility for sinful behavior? You and I were not present at the Fall (Genesis 3), but we do know that something devastating happened to ALL of creation that day.

One consequence of the fall of man is the so-called “curse on creation,” described in Genesis 3:17-19. Since life and blessing come from God, and God inhabits the spiritual realm, earth’s reduced fecundity after the fall can be thought of as a disruption of the power flow of the sustaining energy of the spiritual realm into the physical realm of our “two-storied” universe. In some way we do not yet understand the fecundity of nature was reduced by these curses, indicating a reduction of sustaining power from God into the physical creation. Opportunistic weeds, bugs, diseases and maladies are some of the results.

Paul describes this fall of the physical material universe:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
(Romans 8:19-22 ESV)

This effect of the Fall on the physical world surely involves our material bodies. While we have a “mind,” let us not forget that what houses that mind is a physical organ called the brain. And that material brain experienced the ramifications of the curse of Adam’s sin. We see a glimpse of this transpiring over time when Paul writes:

  And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28 ESV)

The Christian Mind

Yet having a brain wired for addiction does not grant a free pass for the responsibility or consequences of sin any more than possessing a gun and a spastic finger makes it okay to murder.  If I know I have a gun and a spastic finger, I must take extra precautions to make sure said finger never gets inside the trigger guard. While it is sometimes tempting to for me to  say, “Well, God, you made me this way,”–or in its more polite and respectable form, “God, why did you make me this way?”– this is an entirely unhealthy attitude even though God is powerful enough that such an accusation doesn’t knock him off His throne.

There is a biblical insight given to the fact that is possible to set our minds on the things of God:

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6, ESV)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… (Romans 12:2, ESV)

… take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5, ESV)

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
(Philippians 4:8 ESV)

While it may be more difficult to do this with a brain that is hardwired for addiction, it does not make it impossible. And God never promises us an equal playing field with others. The Fall damaged different people in different ways, sexual addiction and other addictions being merely one manifestation. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are given the power to overcome the flesh, yes even flesh that involves a fallen mind.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV)

No matter what neuroscience discovers–and I am highly interested in this–the ability to overcome the power of addiction in my life, while challenging, is available in Christ through the Holy Spirit.





The Dumbphone and the Downgrade

Today I traded in my smart iPhone 4 for a dumbphone with only talk and text and zilch for a data plan. To be honest I really liked my iPhone. Its user interface is excellent, easy and fast to get around on texting, tracking recent calls, the whole gambit. Its syncing ability with my all Mac platforms at work and laptop were also nice. Its ability to pull down emails, news, my iMatch songs, to launch me into Facebook and Twitter on the fly, and the games. I liked my iPhone.

But I love my family more than I like my iPhone. My iPhone was a distraction away from them many times. It was a revelatory tool of my lack of proper energy and priority being given to them. It was also insidious in its lure to check out from real life and to check in to the virtual world, too often. It had become an icon for my wife of my lack of pursuit. In its unfettered state with open internet access it was too much for me to self-manage (a problem in and of itself, self-management that is instead of Christ-managed). And so, today I got myself a dumbphone. It is clunky and very user unfriendly compared to the Jobsian engineering of the iPhone, requiring 4 clicks for things that should require one, having audio that is a bit suspect, and no interfacing Google calendar so I am not cross platform synced. BUT it is beautiful if it allows me growth and recovery with my wife and kids. I’ll take its cumbersome navigation in exchange for communion with those I love most.

Will I ever be able to have an iPhone again? Perhaps, or maybe not. Only with the wife’s blessing.  If so,  from day one I’ll have several things in place that I didn’t initially have on the current phone until later (and if you have an iPhone and struggle with any addiction related to pornography or internet usage–gambling or whatever–you might consider this if you aren’t dumbing down):

  1. I’d have boundaries on the times and time limits I could use it, agreed upon by my wife. If it became a problem, she’d have the right to tell an accountability partner who could confiscate it for a period or some other arrangement.
  2. I’d have that accountability partner lock-out safari and the ability to download apps once the initial set needed was loaded. The only way I would want access the internet in browser mode is through the Covenant Eyes mobile browser.
  3. I’d give him the iCloud login for Find My Phone where he could see where I was on a Google map at any time.

I actually did the last two, but it took too much and too long to get me to that point. I needed to more quickly admit my flesh was weak.

I’d rather have my family back than a phone. For now and as long as needs be, the dumbphone it is. Hey, it doesn’t hurt that the sky high bill for the data plan just got kicked down a notch or two, as things are tight these days. So if I don’t text you back as quickly, don’t fret, I’m probably still trying to figure out where the send button is. Man, I think my pet rock was smarter than this phone, but I am smarter than a pet rock–some days that is.

Apple Pie

Sin’s tentacles reaching from Eden’s site
Calling me to take another bite
“That’s right. You know you deserve it.”

And so I capitulate to this hate
See Adam, I can relate
I take the bait.

Oh no—the hook is set

And I thrash and fight against the line
As Satan drags me through the brine
“I’m fine,” I tell concerned onlookers.

But I’m not.

See what looked like delicious apple pie
Has left me high and dry
I don’t know why I take another bite when I’m already chokin’

Oh, I could blame it all on you, Man
You did the dirty, set up my pension plan
I am, after all, just receiving daily installments.

But then that wouldn’t be quite so fair
Cuz I have this feeling deep down that if I’d been there
I’d have done the same damned thing.

Someone peel me another apple, I’m hungry.

A reflection on Genesis 3 and the horrific nature of sin and addiction. We go back to take another bite, even though we are already gagging on our sin. Okay, maybe you don’t, but I have tended to. And  if I had been presented the forbidden fruit, let me not be so haughty as to think I would have made a better choice than Adam. I’d have probably cut down the tree as well to make furniture. (And for all you legalistic types, I meant ‘damned’ in its true sense, ‘cursed.’) But this is a reflection only on the Fall and my fallen nature, and this is not the end. There is hope and grace and rescue….for there is always more to come in Christ. Join us.

Thank God I Am Not Like Them

Many times we are tempted to think we need less grace than someone else, after all my sin is so much more respectable. Even addicts often look at others with addictions and have the internal dialogue, “Wow, I’m glad my problem isn’t as bad as theirs.” How foolish and ignorant we are. But this is nothing new.

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
 (Luke 18:10-14 ESV)

Before we look down in condescension on other wretched saints engaged in the beautiful fight, we should heed Richard Baxter who wrote:

He that hides one rebel in his house is a traitor to the Crown, and he that indulges one sin is a traitorous hypocrite.

One traitor in the house calls for as much need of grace from the King as does housing 100. Both acts carry the same title– traitor.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
(James 2:10 ESV)

It is as if the Law, a reflection of God’s holiness, is set before us as a large pane of glass that is the shatter resistant safety type. If I were to take the smallest of hammers and attempt to break out the tiniest of pieces the whole pane would spider web shatter just as if I hit it with to the same degree as if I hit it with a sledge.

But grace is available, which God desires to pour out upon us in bucket fulls.

. . . but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
(Romans 5:20 ESV)

Hallelujah and Amen! Keep fighting.


The Serentity Prayer: Reflections

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

Lord, help me realize the beautiful fight is not fought in years or months or even days, but in minutes, even seconds. Let me swing the sword one stroke at a time. Let me fully and responsibly act on what is in my sphere of change and to release to You, Lord, what is not. Let those who love me do the same, so as not to take ownership of what only I can truly own. Give me the wisdom to see the difference in what is core and causative to the nature of my fight and what are outward manifestations and symptoms, spending my time and energy on core issues. Let me deal with root causes and not merely correlations. Let me take the long-look on the hope of glorification and perfection without need of fight in the next life, and let that hope affect current decisions.  Let me see the fight as beautiful in that it allows me to know I am alive, You are with me, and not abandoning me as you form the image of Christ in me. Let me see it as brutal in knowing their is an enemy who seeks my demise. Let me not miss moments of joy in the midst of the battle.  And mostly, let me trust in You each second. Amen.

Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Victories

Don’t let anyone steal my victories–no matter how small they seem.

When you are an addict your failures are highly visible but your victories are not. No one knows the times that I didn’t act out, that I gained a small victory. To them I am just being normal, doing what you should do. But for me, this is a part of the beautiful fight to resist temptation and hold onto victories no matter how small. Don’t let anyone take victories from you. They are key to your recovery and sense of hope.  Don’t let the enemy take them from you, don’t let a slip take them from you and don’t even let well-meaning loved ones take them from you. Those times when I were tempted and resisted, no one knows the fullness of except me and Jesus. No one but God knows the real internal battles won. Others do have a right to speak into my life, to offer challenge and encouragement–and I need to listen intently. But I shouldn’t let challenges or rebuke  override some victories I know I have had–no matter how small they seem to others. Listen to others, yes. But realize God will ultimately affirm and judge me. I shouldn’t overly expect cheers for the small battles won against sin, because rarely are they outwardly visible. And to maintain a proper perspective, help me realize these victories are not to be jewels in a crown of pride, but stepping stones of hope for future victories. Fight on!

My Story: The Event and the Lie, How The Battle Started

I heard a teaching recently where a pastor shared that every stronghold in our life starts with an event that we, in our flesh, or Satan, convinces us to distort. We then bite on the lie. I am finally slowing down and asking, what was the lie I bought in to? For me it wasn’t a singular event–at least I don’t think it was. Things happened yes. My biting the bait of a lie was tied to events–plural.

Growing up I never comfortable in my own skin. I felt very comfortable in my own brain. Being touted as Continue reading My Story: The Event and the Lie, How The Battle Started

Not Just a “Simple” Decision For Josh Hamilton or Whitney Houston (or Me)

How does an addict on the precipice of divorce, destruction, or even death keep making poor decisions? To most who watched Josh Hamilton or Whitney Houston make choices, they simply say, “Why didn’t they just chose something different?” If it were only that simple. The choice is still given to us who wrestle with addiction, but it must be realized that there is a brain-chemistry element going on as well. Few who have never wrestled with addiction will ever be able to understand this. Even our closest loved ones get very frustrated with us. They asked, “If you loved us, how you could you could relapse once again? To them the equation is simply:

If love us > love yourself = you won’t relapse.

If love youself > love us = you’ll relapse.

But if you have an addiction, you wonder why this straightforward equation doesn’t seem to work in your own brain. You long for it to work like this. You so wish it were that simple. I have questioned my own soul at this very point. How can I head toward participating in something that I abhor even as I head toward it. At times, my addiction feels like I was heading to put my hand on the stove with a strange mixture of curiosity and fear, yet I went ahead and did it knowing the pain and consequences that might occur. I am willing to bet Josh Hamilton and Whitney Houston thought the same thing as they tipped up a mug or heard the crack of the prescription pill bottle lid, a mixture of dread and delight. That is the wretched part of addiction.

That doesn’t let us out of the decision. It simply makes it more complex one than a non-addict understands. God never promises us an easy escape in 1 Corinthians 10:13 (<-mouseover), but one nevertheless. We DO have Christ’s power available to us through daily and momentary surrender to Him.

My prayers go out to the family of Whitney Houston and to Josh Hamilton and family. Fight on Josh.