Thursday, September 24, 2009

chemistry of addictions

I got a phone call from my friend Virgil yesterday. He lives in a small Athabaskan village off the road system in Alaska. I met Virgil in the early 90's when our family was ministering in his village. He became a believer--and a good friend--during that time and we've stayed in touch with him ever since.

Virgil now knows the Bible better than I do, has the biggest personal library of Christian books I've ever seen, watches Christian T.V. and Native New Life DVDs and feels called to be an evangelist to his own people. He's smart and funny and really loves Jesus.

And Virgil is addicted to alcohol.

Many of the phone calls he's made to either Greg or me over the years have been to ask for prayer for his drinking problem. Because of his addiction, Virgil has been in and out of jail, relationships and work. One part of him hates alcohol and the chaos and destruction it has sown in his life.

But the other part loves the mind and soul-numbing escape it offers him from the harsh realities of life, both past and present.

Virgil sounded pretty hung-over when he called yesterday to ask me for advice. He'd met a woman who wanted to marry him (Virgil's first wife committed suicide the year before we met him, leaving him to raise four young children), but he wasn't sure he felt God's leading in the matter. As the conversation unfolded, he admitted they drank together.

Before I could offer my counsel (run like the wind, Virgil!), he began to quote scriptures, beating himself up with the Word of God. It reminded me of the old Jesuit practice of self-flagellation where the priests whip themselves to atone for their own sins. In between verses, Virgil expressed doubts about his own salvation. There was no mistaking the hopelessness in his voice.

For the next few minutes, I shared with Virgil what I'd learned at the Genesis Process training about addictions being a brain disease rather than sin.

"Do you think you drink to get high or feel normal?" I asked.

Virgil thought for a minute then answered, "To feel normal, I guess."

Then I explained briefly about the limbic system and coping behaviors. I told Virgil I'd send him information about the Genesis Process, but wonder how effective the material will be without a small group to help him work through his issues. But I know he'll read it and just maybe truth will begin to penetrate his heart. And just maybe the Genesis Process is part of the great calling Virgil has on his life . . .

By the end of our conversation, Virgil had decided--on his own--that his lady friend probably wasn't God's best for him.

Didn't I say he was a smart man?


Alan Clother said...

I saw your post just after two hours noodling whether there is a difference between the sin disease (wrong thinking) and addiction (compulsion) or whether the latter was simply the by-product of the first. Don't we all just want to feel normal?

The end result for me was, instead, recognizing the difference between voluntary and involuntary responses to life. Our involuntary responses typically require more than simple learning and discipline, but rigorous experiential reprogramming to make a change (unless God chooses miraculous intervention). And that most often this effort requires others along side of us to stay the course!

End result: Jesus loves us, even when our wiring is whacked, and wants to help us reprogram.

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