Growing up, I hated 5 o’clock.
That’s when my father came home and started drinking.
He could consume a 24 bottle case of beer a night. My father was a mean drunk. But my father was mean before he started drinking. Dad was physically and emotionally abusive to my mom. The air was blue with his profanity. His tirades would resound through the house into the wee hours of the morning. My little sister would huddle with me in my room for comfort during those eruptions. There were times of calm interspersed with days and weeks of seething anger, rage, and danger. I have a few fond memories of my dad. More often it is the awfulness of those days which haunt me more.
Growing up in the home of an alcoholic means your life will never be the same. To this day, I bear the emotional marks of those days. Insecurity haunts my every move. I second-guess everything I do. I find it difficult to confront anyone about anything. I battle emotional fatigue, a fog that settles over my mind without warning. I try to smooth over the slightest negative in any situation, never wanting to fight. Alcoholism ripped through our lives to such a degree that I still find myself—at 58 years old—still fighting the residual effects of “addiction.”
So it was with great interest that I recently read Johann Hari’s July, 2015 essay in Huffington Post on “addiction.” He laid out the usual responses to the “war on drugs”: incarceration or medication. Hari was right to expand his research to find other responses to dependence, the most important being our own bonding with others who suffer. Human connection, personal relationship, a caring community, and unconditional love are all important, good responses to helping folks break their craving for their drug of choice.
Surely, our human response is as the author suggests: it should alter how we view recovery. But he lifts “unconditional love” out of mid-air to substantiate his approach without any scientific research; the very heart of his persuasion. From where does this “love” originate? What makes it possible? Are we capable of loving others by ourselves?
If we have a poor approach to helping others, perhaps we need a “change of heart.” But as a researcher, the word “cause” makes me pause. Not only is cause hard to prove (science being limited by its physical evaluation) but the seminal concern for an internal change is absent. Yes, my environment may accentuate my behavior but it is not the root cause of it.
Of course, true, lasting, eternal change can only be had from a supernatural source, one ultimately lacking in any community of human support. From a decidedly Christian point of view, without internal change, salvation through the sacrifice of sin only Jesus can afford, external change can only be superficial.
But even then, I would want to expand Hari’s essay. I would want to speak to those who have suffered at the hands of an addict. No amount of my unconditional love swayed my father. He lived with three Christians in his home—a good, positive, caring environment for him—but that “bonding” was ineffective in his life. I appreciate Hari’s approach and his obvious care. But without an internal and eternal perspective considerate of human sin, Hari can only address conditions, not causes.
I will spare the reader my own specific horror stories of living with what is called “addiction.” My intention is not to lay blame or remove personal responsibility. Not for a second. While I appreciate some points of view in the Huffington Post essay, I must say “research” can never be displaced from “reality.” We who have lived with those in the throes of “addiction” can attest to unconditionally loving our family members, the work of bonding, watching “chemical hooks” destroy lives, and other explanations of so-called “disease.”
Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. So-called “causes” or “cures” come with as many warnings as benefits. We are complex, multi-dimensional beings. We cannot easily ascribe direct correspondence to any cause or effect. And we certainly should not attempt explanations of human behavior apart from human sin. Ultimately, it is only the grace of Christ which can make a lasting difference.
Dr. Mark Eckel will be teaching on “suffering” on Sundays at 10 a.m. beginning September 13th at Crossroads Community Church.
Picture credits: http://www.public-domain-image.com/