Wrestling with Addiction – Nov. 4, 2018

Back in the 14th century, there lived a Duke in what is now known as Belgium by the name of Raynald III. Grossly overweight, Raynald was commonly called by his Latin nickname, Crassus, which means fat. True story!

After his father and mother passed away, Raynald and his younger brother Edward got into a fiery quarrel over who should be the heir to the family dynasty. 11 years later, Edward led a revolt that captured the castle and imprisoned his brother Raynald. Instead of taking his life, Edward had a far more devious plan in mind.

Edward decided to have a room / house constructed with ‘slightly smaller than normal’ doors and windows that would be left unlocked. Then, Edward promised his brother – that he could enjoy his freedom whenever he could leave the room.

The problem was, Raynald enjoyed eating and his brother had the best foods and deserts delivered several times a day. So, instead of dieting his way out of the room, – he just grew heavier. Raynald remained a prisoner in that room for 10 years, until his brother was killed in battle.

According to the legend, the walls had to be cut away so he could leave the room. By then, Raynald was so obese and his health so bad that he only lived an additional year before he died.  Raynald, they say, was the only man known to be held prisoner by his own appetite.

Today, we would likely call what Raynald had ‘an eating addiction’. Experts would point to his lack of control and say that he was eating his way into an unhealthy state and that he had no recourse. In other words, he was powerless over his ability to stop eating. In fact, many today would call that a disease.

Not so long ago, those in the church frequently called over-eating a sin. And the Bible clearly warns us not to be gluttons. There are many passages that caution against over-indulgence and at least seven that deal directly with being a glutton.

For instance, Philippians 3:19 reads, “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are set on earthly things.”

And Proverbs 23:20-21 warns us, “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, ‘and drowsiness clothes them’ in rags.”

The truth is, to buy into answers that are too simple, too black and white is to dismiss the severity of the problem. Addictions are real and usually very complicated. To downplay addiction makes us less likely to be compassionate and to offer real help to those in need. And some who see others with addiction demean them by calling them weak, overly-sinful, stupid, cursed or lazy.

People will say they want to understand and listen when addicts or their families tell their stories, but the listeners often judge them or get defensive.

There is a difference between being sympathetic and empathetic and trying to understand and feel someone’s pain verses making it your own.  Just listen.

Gabor Mate’ is a Hungarian-born physician who moved to Canada to study and treat people with a wide variety of illnesses, including all kinds of Addictions. He is a popular speaker on TV and radio (due to several books) – and also has a very popular TED talk with over 1 million views called “The Power of Addiction and the Addiction of Power”.

Mate’ is a distinguished person in the field of addiction because of his humanitarian work with inner city drug addicts in Vancouver. He deals with addiction in his book, “In the Realms of Hungry Ghosts”. In it he writes, “Addiction is an attempt to solve a life problem. Only secondary does it begin to act like a disease.”

Mate’ asks questions like, “What is the addict getting from it that makes his addiction worth the price he pays? And if addicts can find peace and control ‘only when they’re using’, what agonizing discomfort must they feel when they’re not?”

A member of Alcoholics Anonymous once sent columnist Ann Landers this confession:

I drank for happiness – and became unhappy.

I drank for joy – and became miserable.

I drank for sociability – and became argumentative.

I drank for sophistication – and became obnoxious.

I drank for friendship – and made enemies.

I drank for sleep – and awakened without rest.

I drank for strength – and felt weak.

I drank “medicinally” – and acquired health problems.

I drank for relaxation – and got the shakes.

I drank for bravery – and became afraid.

I drank for confidence – and became doubtful.

I drank to make conversation easier – and slurred my speech.

I drank to feel heavenly – and ended up feeling like hell.

I drank to forget – and I’m forever haunted.

I drank for freedom – and became a slave.

I drank to erase problems – and saw them multiply.

I drank to cope with life – and invited death.

Mate’ is reviving the notion that addiction goes far deeper than ‘the drug’ people abuse. Addiction works on many levels; physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual. Then, he digs deeper into the idea of what addiction is really all about – in fact, he reflects on what many in the church have been saying for years.

The modern definition of addiction is a “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.” And research has shown that addiction is a disease that chemically alters your brain, making you “a slave” to a substance – or an activity.

In Greek, addicted means “to wholly give yourself to something, devote yourself to something or ‘turn to something.” In the early Biblical translations, that can be either good or bad.

1 Corinthians 16:15 in the NIV Bible reads, “You know, that ‘the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Acha-ia’, and they devoted themselves to the service of the saints.” The KJV reads, instead of devoted, that they addicted themselves to the service of the saints. In this instance, it is positive.

It is from the Latin translation of ‘addict’ that we get our modern interpretation. In Latin, an addict is one who gives up his or her rights, and becomes ‘like a slave’.

To say that addictions have overcome Americans would be an understatement. One Government study reports, that today, there are all types of addictions and many people who have them: they report,

1 in 3 Americans are addicted to prescription medications.

1 in 4 Americans are addicted to alcohol.

1 in 6 Americans are shopping addicts.

1 of every 7 Americans is addicted to nicotine.

1 of every 8 Americans has a significant addiction to drugs.

1 in 9 Americans are addicted to porn, although it’s probably higher and…

1 in every 10 Americans is addicted to gaming or gambling.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2014 — 21.5 million to as high as 40 million people battled substance addictions; including but not limited to; cocaine, heroin, crack, alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs and caffeine.

Some types of addiction can be handed-down in our genes but many ‘are simply the outcome of poor choices’. And prevention is always better than a cure.

Some experts tell us as that as many as 61% of all Americans are addicted to something, at any given time, which includes; work-a-holism, food addiction, over-exercise, shopping, reading romance novels, abusing or miss-using cell-phones, risky or promiscuous behavior (think kleptomania or sex addiction), while others are addicted to fame or drama – and the list goes on.

Many experts today are concerned with ‘allowing the so-called-list of addictions to grow so large’, because it runs the risk of trivializing real deadly addictions. You see, a true addiction is not just another bad habit, – some can kill.

1 Peter 5:8-9 reads, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion ‘looking for someone to devour’. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.”

Our addictions often come about when we try to numb, escape or control life situations we want to avoid. They are a coping mechanism, although a very destructive one.

Ephesians 5:18 reads, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

And Galatians 5:16 reads, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

The root of addiction is sin and our world is filled with it. No one comes out unscathed. We all fall and we all need others to get back up. So we shouldn’t treat others ‘with this sickness’ any different than others who are hurting.

Mark 2:16-17 reads, “When the scribes, who were Pharisees, saw Jesus eating with these people, they asked His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus told them,   “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the  sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

In a study that came out ‘on drug abuse in Indiana’ on May 20, 2017, Indiana is listed as the 14th worst state out of all 50 for addiction. And we are listed 17th in states for overdose deaths. And only 11% of those can afford treatment.     We must do better!

We cannot continue to see addiction as someone-else’s problem. It is a battle for the heart, mind, soul and body. It takes all of us working together to find a solution. And it takes a community of faithful believers to surround these folks with love.

2 Peter 2:17-19 reads, “These (evil) men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping  ‘from those who live in error’. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

We have to be the alternative to the negative influence around others. We have to embrace the hurting, just as Jesus embraced us. No one is ‘ever so far gone’ that the love of God cannot reach them and change them. Only Jesus can bind the broken-hearted and heal the soul-wounds we face.

Once people understand and feel the love of Jesus that forgives and saves, only then can they work to overcome their inner and outer addictions and find real hope and peace.

May it be so.

Your assignment is,…to write a letter to someone who is struggling with addiction. Give them encouragement and listen when they speak. Maybe God can use you to break through their pain so they may find recovery.

Amen!