Addiction

Screen-Free Week and the Still Small Voice

Serene pier, Eugene Sergeev / Shutterstock.com
Serene pier, Eugene Sergeev / Shutterstock.com

“Be still and know that I am God.”  - Psalm 46:10a

From April 29 to May 5 individuals, households, and communities will celebrate Screen-Free Week by disconnecting from their screens — TV, computers, games, mobile devices — during their free time and reconnecting with relatives, neighbors, the natural world, and the quiet voices that may be drowned out by the constant barrage of electronic noise. My neighborhood celebrated early so we could offer a variety of cost-free and screen-free family activities during the school's spring break week. I organized the celebration, as I've done for the last six years. It was satisfying to see kids slow down and engage in gardening, carpentry, music making, nature exploration … 

I also observed Screen-Free Week myself. Seven days of fasting from electronic media showed me how much time I spend using then mindlessly and forced me to confront my idolatries that are fed or masked by this mindless use. I'm using Michael Schut's definition of idolatry:

"An idol is anything we put before God, a partial truth mistaken for the whole Truth, a lesser good elevated to the ultimate good. … Idols [promise] what they cannot deliver."

Justin Bieber at the Anne Frank House: Our Addiction to Scandal

Justin Bieber performs on the Today Show at Rockefeller Plaza. Photo courtesy Debby Wong/shutterstock.com

On Saturday, the pop culture icon Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam while on a world tour. At the end of his visit to the museum, Bieber wrote a message in the guest book.

His three-sentence message has become Big News. Sunday afternoon I checked my Huffington Post app and discovered this headline on the homepage, “Fury Erupts over Bieber’s Obnoxious Anne Frank Comment.” On Monday morning, the scandal was front page news on Yahoo.com, “Justin Bieber Gets Blasted for Anne Frank Comment.” The New York Times reports that Bieber’s comment “set off a maelstrom of criticism.”

What did Bieber write in the guestbook?

After Giving up Alcohol, I’m Addicted to Lent

Easter mug. Photo courtesy Maglara/shutterstock.com

This spring, I gave up alcohol for Lent, the forty days of penitence between Ash Wednesday and Easter. And now almost one week after the Alleluias and Easter baskets, I may be addicted to Lent.

On Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent began, my thirteen-year daughter Maya explained alcohol to her seven-year old sister in the backseat of our car: “See, sometimes adults just like having a drink after a long day of work. It helps them relax.” That same week, one of my friends said, “You aren’t a heavy drinker, but you are a consistent drinker.”

It was time to take a break, even if I knew that one glass of red wine at night wasn’t the end of the world. I needed to give it up because I wasn’t sure if I could.

Mind and Body

A message on a barn at Dawn Farm.

Did you like our March issue’s interview “Across the Board, Peace” with addiction-recovery worker, supporter of the consistent-life ethic, and all-around character Jim Balmer? Wait, there’s more!

Below are some of his additional thoughts inspired by years helping others recover from addiction. Sojourners associate editor Elizabeth Palmberg interviewed Balmer early last year at the Consistent Life conference in Washington, D.C.

How did you get started working in addiction recovery?
I got sober in 1971; however I actually spent the first years of my career, until I came to Dawn Farm in ’83, not working with addicts. I worked for a number of years for the local community mental health center and had a fairly diversified career. I worked with couples and adolescents, I consulted to an emergency room, and I was on the local police hostage negotiation team. Mental health people often aren’t very literate about addiction, and addiction treatment people are often not very literate about mental health. I had the opportunity to straddle both worlds.

What are some of the misunderstandings that happen there?
I think it just tends to be a lack of understanding—addiction professionals often don’t have a good framework for understanding mental health issues, and I think mental health folks suffer from the same problem.

Realistically, if you’re an addict and you’re anxious and you show up at your average psychiatrist’s office, the chance of being diagnosed bipolar and being put on meds is pretty high. The misdiagnosing or underdiagnosing or overdiagnosing on both sides is an ongoing problem.

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Sometimes It Hurts; A Sermon on Healing

Jesus healing image, Jurand / Shutterstock.com
Jesus healing image, Jurand / Shutterstock.com

When Jesus showed up, I think it’s interesting that he took that deaf man away from the THEY. He removes him from that system. He sticks his fingers in his ears and spits and touched his tongue and looks to heaven and the text says, he sighed. He looked to heaven and sighed. And the thing is, Jesus didn’t then rebuke the man or his deafness. He didn’t say, I cast out the demon of deafness. He just touched him, looked to heaven, sighed and said “BE OPEN."

It’s a wonderful statement for healing isn’t it? Be open.

It’s an image that’s stuck with me all week.  This might sound weird but all week I kept picturing Jesus sticking his fingers in each of your ears and saying “BE OPENED."  And then in the same daydream, before I could stop it, I pictured Jesus’ Holy and unwashed fingers in my own ears. He sighed he looked to heaven and he said, "Be opened." To which I said, “No thanks."

From Shame to Grace

PASTOR T.C. RYAN spent 40 years haunted by the shadow life of compulsive sexual behavior. Despite the challenges, Ryan never gave up hope of trying to reach the fullest recovery. He tells his story in Ashamed No More.

Compulsive sexual behavior put Tiger Woods into the headlines and made him an object of ridicule, as it has for so many others. In telling his own story, Ryan tears back the curtain to reveal the fuller story of painful realities, challenges, and hopes for those faced with the daunting task of recovery from similar compulsions.

“Those who are not addicted to sex understandably assume that the addict at least experiences enjoyment from the sexual activity, but this is not the case,” Ryan writes.

As Ryan describes it, he was living a divided life. In one arena he was a capable and gifted pastor. In the other he was plagued by shame, self-loathing, and an inability to stop destructive behavior. His extensive explanation of the cycle of addiction, the lies he had come to believe from childhood, the role that therapy and other supportive measures played in his recovery, and his hopes for how the church can become the ultimate 12-step program make every chapter of this book essential.

Ryan explains the cycle of addiction, with each stage setting up the next: faulty core beliefs lead to impaired thinking, which then triggers the addiction cycle of preoccupation (being obsessed with escape), ritualization (routines for acting out), compulsive sexual behavior, and despair. This feeling of being “despicable,” where “the compulsive person [is] awash in despair, shame, and pain,” is unmanageable. It reinforces the starting point of faulty core beliefs and the cycle runs its course again in a slow downward spiral.

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A Sermon on My Alcohol Addiction, the Tyranny of the Will, and Romans 7

Crossphoto © 2004 Phil Whitehouse | more info (via: Wylio)Even I can't help admitting that there is a bunch of stuff in the Bible that's hard to relate to. A lot has changed in the last 2,000 to 4,000 years, and I have no form of reference for shepherds and agrarian life, and I don't know what it's like to have a king or a Caesar, and I don't know a single fisherman, much less a centurion, and I guess I can't speak for all of you but personally I've never felt I might need to sacrifice a goat for my sins. That's the thing about our sacred text being so dang old -- it can sometimes be difficult to relate to. Things have changed a bit over the millennia.

But one thing has not changed even a little bit is the human condition. Parts of the Bible can feel hard to relate to until you get to a thing like this reading from Romans 7, in which Paul says, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do."

Finally. Something I can relate to. This I know about. I too do not understand my own actions. I too can't manage to consistently do what I know is right. Paul's simple description of the human condition is perhaps a most elegantly put definition of what we now call addiction.

It's no secret that I am a recovering alcoholic. By the grace of God I have been clean and sober for more than 19 years. But, boy, do I remember that feeling of powerlessness that comes from not being able to control your drinking. I'd wake up each morning and have a little talk with myself: "OK Nadia, get it together. Today is going to be different. You just need a little will power." Then, inevitably, later that day I'd say, "Well, just one drink would be OK," or, "I'll only drink wine and not vodka," or, "I'll drink a glass of water between drinks so that I won't get drunk." And sometimes it worked, but mostly it didn't. In the end, my will was just never "strong enough" Like Paul, I did the thing I hated. But that's addiction for you. It's ugly. Yet on some level I feel like we recovering alcoholics and drug addicts have it easy. I mean, our addictions are so obvious. The emotional, spiritual, and physical wreckage caused by alcoholism and drug addiction has a certain conspicuousness to it.

Betty Ford and the Trials and Blessings of Life

Life is hard. It is full of pain, disappointments, and challenges of every kind. When hard times come our way, we often ask, Why me? And the answer comes: Why not you? We sometimes think that God has forsaken us, and sometimes God is silent. It is difficult to remember the Biblical wisdom that explains why believers, children of God, the beloved of God go through difficult times.

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