Fair warning, this is reactionary. I have not followed my custom and taken the time to get over being angry and hurt before writing. Maybe I should, but to be honest, I want to be angry writing this. This comes on the heels of being told that God will change the DNA of an addict and rewire their brain chemistry so long as they believe. The implication being that if you are an addict and God has not done this, then you do not believe. While I do not doubt the ability of God to do this, it is certainly not the experience of the majority of addicts.
The first thing to start with is what is addiction? “Addiction is a chronic disorder with biological, psychological, social and environmental factors influencing its development and maintenance.” I want to make sure that you got that, biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors all contribute to addiction. According to the American Psychological Association, roughly half the risk of addiction is genetic. Pay me a courtesy and take a moment to read this. It is a clear and concise explanation that I am going to reference a lot. It’s also incredibly important to understand an addict. So we have a genetic component to addiction that is the single largest risk factor. We have, coupled with that, environmental causes that contribute to the risk of addiction. We have the reality that the brain chemistry changes from addiction. Understand what you are dealing with when talking about addiction, please. While it may indeed be true that a moral failing, which is to say a bad choice, leads to addiction, the addiction itself is not a moral failing. A bad choice leads you to it, and better choices can lead you from it, but while you are there, and really, for most people some part of you is always there, it’s frankly a lot more similar to possession than a moral failing. There is a point in addiction when it is no longer a choice, and really, no longer even you. After I met Jesus, it would still be a long journey to getting, and staying sober. I’ve been made aware that during that time, had I had the misfortune to leave this rock, I would surely be condemned as it was obvious that I was not really a follower since I was engaging in my addiction. Truth be told, during this time the only time I was actually anything resembling my self was when I was praying. It was about the only time that I had any clarity. I can tell you that my prayers were sincere, and I will stand by God being faithful and true during this time to those prayers. The truth is that the only reason that I kept going is that I was suddenly assured of my salvation despite the train wreck of my life. So, was I really covered by the blood? I tend to think so, and I am confident that God thought, and thinks, so, but I am equally sure that there seems to be a segment of Christianity that doesn’t.
The DSM-5 recognizes substance abuse disorder as a mental illness. A pretty good outline of it can be found here if you want to know more. This is both good and bad news. It’s good, because as an illness, there can be treatment and healing. It’s bad because as an illness, there is also stigma attached. What it points to however is that there is a point in time where the bad choice to use a substance ceases being a choice and evolves into being a mental illness. Let’s be honest and admit that the church catholic does not have a great track record with mental illness. All to often mental illness has been treated, by the church, as a lack of faith. It was not so long ago that the prevailing opinion was that if you suffered from depression as a Christian, it was because somehow the joy of the Lord was not fully in your life. In recent times the church, and maybe even society, has done much better in recognizing that mental illness is not faith related, and can not be solved by applying more Jesus, and that is good of course. We just have not gotten there with addiction yet it seems, and that is sad.
Here is the wrap up. Yes, I am an addict. I’ve been off the coke for a couple decades now, but yes, I am still an addict. God has not rewired my DNA, nor has He changed my brain chemistry. I know because there are still times when I desperately desire my drug of choice. I also know that, like with any mental illness, there are tools that you can use to manage and work through. I’m as assured of my salvation now as I was in rare moments of clarity during an otherwise out of control life. The church was not a huge part of my recovery unfortunately. God through Christ was, but not the church so much. I think that should change, and given the excessive use of fentanyl and other such drugs, I think it really must change. We’ve come so far in showing compassion to others who suffer from illness, especially mental illness, that it needs to be extended to substance abuse disorders as well. We need to not be satisfied with the AA meeting in the basement on an otherwise open night on the calendar. We need to find the addicts within the church catholic, and there are likely more of us than you think, and pair them with the professionals within the church catholic, and begin to not only help the church to understand addiction and addicts, but to be an active participant in their healing. Most of all, we need to stop saying and believing ignorant things about addiction and addicts and begin showing them the love, mercy, and compassion, that Christ has showed us all.
I am inviting the church into my recovery, and the recovery of any who would come. I am hoping that the church will participate instead of stigmatizing. I am hoping that the church will let me take responsibility for the choices that got me here, but also recognize the disease that took over. I’m hoping that we can stop seeing this as only a moral failing and start recognizing that it is so much more than that. I’m hoping that the church becomes the source of healing that it should be as he Great Physician is her head. Hi, my name is Scott, and I am a cocaine addict.