Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Chemically Dependent – The Devil’s in the Details

16 Comments

Last night I attended a meeting about substance abuse. The meeting’s moderator/leader was energetic, excited, excitable, and, frankly, much like some preachers/Bible teachers I’ve sat under.  He reminded me of a used car salesman. You know the ones…they have amateur commercials, screaming about how they’ve got the best deals in town.  He did have the gift of gab and I found him very entertaining.  In short, he probably could sell ice to an Eskimo.

Using a dry erase board, saying medical terms he probably wasn’t pronouncing correctly – nor spelling correctly, he listed the things that happen in the body of an addict, and why it’s a disease or an illness and not just a will power thing.  Stuff I already knew, having done a ton of reading on the topic.  Enzymes don’t break down drugs and alcohol in the body of an addict the same way they do a healthy person. He likened addiction to diabetes.  I’m not sure if that’s true; it’s what he said.

Then he said something about faith in God and this is what I heard:

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Good grief, Charlie Brown!

BUT then he asked a very pointed question. “Is there anything you’ve ever had an obsession about?”  The other members of the group started spouting off things like food, shopping, men, etc.  I was pretty quiet because I’m still trying to suss out this crowd.  But my ears perked up when he said that part of the reason addiction is so hard to break is that they have some belief about the object of their obsession. Beliefs are what?  A form of faith.  What do we normally associate faith with?  God.

The belief doesn’t have to be true; they just have to believe it. For example, ‘alcohol makes me smarter, or more witty, or more likeable’, or ‘food makes me feel better’, or ‘I’m saving money buying this on sale’ – even if it’s something you’ll never use.  People who are addicted had a chemical reaction in their brain the first time they did any one of those things that told them it would always be true.  It’s the same chemical that is our connection to God, he said.

At this point he had my attention.

He went on about how strong our beliefs are and how we stand on those beliefs.  No matter what negative information we receive, no matter what we’re threatened with, no matter how our lives come off the wheels, we stand on our beliefs.  We’ll say or do almost anything to defend them.  That is why it is so hard for an addict to break the cycle of abuse because of their beliefs about whatever they are addicted to.  Their belief in their substance or action has become a god.

The members of the group made a connection that addiction was a chemically induced connection with a substance that, only when the addict understands this, can they change their beliefs or start forming new beliefs about the substance.  Only then can they start to combat the lies they’ve believed about the substance.

As with everything else, I guess, the devil is in the details.  None of the group members, nor the group leader, recognized that their faith in God is also chemically induced and could possibly be based on erroneous beliefs. They heard it, but did they believe it? Thus their faith remains unexamined.  I have previously written about being Addicted to God and what it’s like to break that addiction.

I’m not certain how scientifically sound any of what he said actually is.  In a cursory Google search I came across this NPR piece that seems to support the idea that God is a chemical in our brains.  Geez…why couldn’t I have believed in a cool god that has sacred herbs as sacraments?

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16 thoughts on “Chemically Dependent – The Devil’s in the Details

  1. Excellent piece.

    I had a theist a few months ago blow my mind with his honesty. He said, after much back and forth, that he knew it was all BS; the OT was myth, Jesus, if he was real, was just a man, and there really was no god. He understood all this but still believed in Christianity because, he said, “it comforted him.”

    It ended the conversation. There was absolutely nothing I could say except thank him for being so candid.

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    • This hurts my brain.

      I did an Olympic amount lot of mental gymnastics in order to not have my beliefs about Christianity challenged. But once they were, and once I believed this,

      “… it was all BS; the OT was myth, Jesus, if he was real, was just a man, and there really was no god…”, I could no longer do this, “still believed in Christianity”.

      It was no longer a comfort to me in any way. It didn’t even seem a matter of choice. Why go on with the pretense of something that isn’t real or true? I guess maybe that goes to show what the meeting leader said was, at least, somewhat true. Whatever we believe about a thing, no matter how true or false, we stand on it. Even if he knows all the players to be false he has a belief that it is, in some way, comforting to him. Nothing can change that – probably not even discomfort.

      And what is there left to say? What can you possibly say to that?

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      • The story seemed to compliment yours. It was odd, though, to hear it expressed so plainly: “none of it is real, but it still comforts me.” Even if he secretly felt this way, why tell me? Strange, and a little sad if the truth be told.

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        • Having thought about it a bit more I’m puzzled at his honesty, if he truly believes that.

          We have a tendency to protect the lies we tell ourselves. Usually confronting the truth about a lie breaks it’s bondage. That is why an addict will lie about and hide their addiction. It’s mental gymnastics just the same as belief in an imaginary deity. They actually believe the things they tell themselves.

          So to that end, and because I’ve experienced it firsthand, I can understand the intellectual dishonesty inherent in actually believing in Christianity. Once the facade of actual Christian belief has been eroded I just don’t know what’s left to believe.

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          • “We have a tendency to protect the lies we tell ourselves”

            Not a truer word said, and that’s why it shocked me so much. He was quite the outspoken theist, too. I can only think that in the final analysis he simply didn’t see anything else to prop himself up. Perhaps the fear of loosing his (religious) family outweighed any larger obligation he felt to the truth? I regret now not chatting to him further, but at the time i found myself flatfooted and simply wished him well on his journey.

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          • Outspoken theist? I’d think the rest of his brethren might want him to be a little less-so. I understand your not chatting to him any further. I probably would’ve been rendered rather speechless at that, myself. And yet, in hindsight, I have soooo many questions.

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  2. Great article. I’ve recently been reading a book called “The Power of Habit,” which has helped me look at my own destructive or annoying habits differently. There is so much that we aren’t conscious of behind the daily decisions we [think] we make, it’s mind boggling to consider. A lot of it is a simple cycle of -cue-behavior-reward.

    There were many habit loops I played out when I was younger that centered around something religious (praying, reading scriptures, going to church, yada yada), and the rewards for many of those actions was a feeling of peace and comfort. That was nice. But with me, like with you, once I no longer believed those things were true there was no way I could just keep doing them for comfort . . . my reward of comfort required a faith that God was real.

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    • I might have to check that book out. Right now I’m trying to overcome some of my “Miss Fix It” tendencies. I’m a whole lot better about it than I used to be, but I could still use some improvement.

      “There were many habit loops I played out when I was younger that centered around something religious (praying, reading scriptures, going to church, yada yada), and the rewards for many of those actions was a feeling of peace and comfort”

      I thought I could fix things by praying, reading scriptures, going to church, etc.

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      • I heard about the book from Brainpickings.org, a website that basically destroys my bank account (who am I kidding . . . my credit card) every time I read one of their articles. They gave it status as one of the best books of the year. It’s not a self-help book in that it has these ridiculous promises about how quickly you can change your life or anything. It’s real, and concrete, and scientific, and that’s why I like it.

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      • It’s good that it’s not a self-help book. I’ve got quite enough of those. 🙂

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  3. Kicking the habit of whatever addiction one has varies from person to person.
    I smoked for 30 years and like many smokers …John included! conned myself every day that I could handle it and it didn’t really effect me that much and all the other BS when I knew it was damaging my health. And I have run more marathons than I can remember as well, including three Comrades ( 90 km)

    That is until one day I could hardly catch my breath after a simple stroll up the garden.
    It was one of the scariest feelings I had experienced.
    Maybe there were other factors at work, increase in pollen or something, but I crapped myself and when I got back to my desk, trembling I might add, I threw every tobacco related product in the bin.

    That was just over 2 years ago, and i haven’t touched a cigarette i that time.
    I pretty much consider myself a non smoker as opposed to an ex smoker. Almost….
    It was easier this time around. Yes I have attempted before.

    Anyway, one can easily see how addiction to religion could follow the same pattern.

    Very interesting read. Er…why were you at a a talk about substance abuse, if it isn’t too personal a question?

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    • See, though, once you faced the fact you’d been lying to yourself that was all she wrote. Facing the truth about what you were doing to yourself broke addiction’s hold on you.

      I was there to support a family member as part of their after-care from alcohol addiction.

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      • This is the inexorable truth we cannot run away from.
        Now how do I break the cycle of believing I am drop-dead-gorgeous and face reality that I am as ordinary as the next person?

        Oh, and good for you for helping out. Must take a lot of courage to be the rock in such circumstances.

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        • “Now how do I break the cycle of believing I am drop-dead-gorgeous and face reality that I am as ordinary as the next person?”

          Oh, my. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to shatter your version of reality like that. Besides beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or so I’ve been told.

          I don’t think it takes a lot of courage. It just takes being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes a minute. Quite honestly it doesn’t feel like I’m being much of a rock on account of the fact that my family member has approached this much like you did smoking. It’s actually been quite a pleasure watching this person take full responsibility for themselves. They’re the one’s doing the hard work, not me.

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