Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Default Settings

When I wrote my post about the roller coaster of addiction, I had just begun to formulate the idea of a default setting. I am still trying to put into words exactly how the concept of "default settings" fits into the treatment and recovery of those struggling with addiction. The trouble is that like many things, this is not a fix-all, easy answer that will render addiction immediately powerless and guarantee no more relapsing into the addiction-recovery cycle.

What is a "Default Setting"?

Simply put, the default setting of something is the pre-programmed setting at which the original programmer or designer intended an item to operate. This is a technical term, but anyone who has ever worked with computers has had at least some dealing with "default settings". An example of this is when I upgraded my computers from regular CRT monitors to LCD flat panel monitors. The LCD monitors had a much higher resolution than the CRT monitors, but when connected to the computer, they looked no different. I had to go into the controls and change the resolution of the display driver to a new setting in order to get the benefit of the high definition screens. Now, when I go into those computers and click the restore "default settings" button, the computer reverts to the lower resolution because that is the program that was last set as the default. now if I were a computer programmer, I could go into the internal programming and change the default so the new higher setting is now what the system defaults to, but since the default is most often the optimum setting recommended by the manufacturer, the new setting may cause things to not work as they were intended.

So how does this fit into the world of recovery? We have discussed the idea of the "God shaped hole" in past blogs, the concept that when God made us, he programmed a need into our lives, a need to be connected to or part of something altogether greater and outside of ourselves. A need that we have come to refer to as the divine void, that longing albeit undefined, for connection to a divine person or being, which drives us to look for divinity in the world around us. It is our contention that this programmed void is the necessary result of the lost relationship with God as a result of mankind's fall, and that God left the void there to remind us of our created purpose. Accordingly, the only think that can ever satiate this void is genuine connection with the loving creator God who Himself wrote the default program. 

From the very beginning, man has sought for some way to compensate for this void. Over its history, mankind has tried every conceivable method of self medicating in a vain attempt to cover this longing. the result, man has become addicted to everything from work and religion, to alcohol and drugs, all in the pursuit of a sense of connection or numbing the sense of disconnection they experience. It is also our belief that life circumstances can make the divine void more pronounced. Traumatic life experiences, like loss of a loved one, or physical or emotional abuse are just a few examples. These stimuli somehow magnify the sense of disconnectedness and are often key elements in driving he addiction cycle.

Each of thees things that we look to to cover or medicate or fill up the missing part of our life, can be described as alternate settings. They are not the original default setting, they are some other setting that a person is attempting to change the setting to. The trouble is, that in the case of the human computer, in order to alter the programming, one need only to do something often enough for it to become a habit, and in the cases of some mind altering substances, only one use is sufficient to alter the natural programming. IN any case, the result is that a longing, a sense of disconnectedness that was intended by the always good Creator -God to point our default towards seeking relationship with Himself, instead becomes corrupted and  points towards some counterfeit alternative.The new default settings are no longer optimum, and the end result will be more not-as-it-should-be-ness. We will talk next time about correcting the default setting.

Pastor FedEx.

The Roller Coaster

Working with addicts is hard, it is physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Probably the hardest part of working with addicts is riding the roller coaster of the recovery/relapse cycle. Over the years of working on the streets, I have seen it time and again. An addict will come to the point where they recognize the emptiness and futility of their addiction and commit to getting clean. Often, they will even go into a sober living program, or attend recovery meetings. For a time at least, they seem to gain traction, counted sober days turn from days to months. But then, like clockwork, old triggers pop up, old influences begin to creep back in, and the addict slowly is drawn back into their addiction.
In some cases, these cycles are progressive, they seem to be moving toward larger numbers of sober days or months each time with shorter periods of addiction between. In other cases, it looks like one big downward spiral with the addiction winning more and more frequently and the periods of recovery actually shrinking. Each time another addict gets clean and starts the sobriety countdown once again, my mind immediately begins to weigh the odds of their relapsing and pondering just how long it will take for them to relapse this time. Always hoping that this will be the time that their recovery actually sticks and yet in the back of my mind also knowing that the odds are not in their favor. As I was discussing this cycle with a friend of mine, the question of why came up. Why once you have realized just how destructive this addiction is to your life, would you ever go back there? What is the draw that causes an otherwise logical person to make the unbelievably bad decision of returning to the addiction that is quite literally destroying them? Even more incredibly, many of these relapsers are people who have found faith in Jesus and have tasted of the life reconnected to God that He promised. How is it possible, then, to ever again buy into the lies that there is life to be had in drugs, alcohol, sex, religion, or any other counterfeit source of life.

As I thought about these questions, I began to look at my own life and ask what are the things that cause me to move from trusting God to doubting him and seeking life through my own means? In almost every case, it came down to an issue of trusting God as my source of life, especially when things in my life are not going the way I think they should. I have come to have certain expectations of what life as a Christian should look like, and when those expectations are not met, I find myself going back to the things that I found at least some measure of fulfillment in before I was a believer. Even though I know in my head that these things do not bring real fulfilled life, I still go there, at least in part because I know the result I can get from them, and that gives me the illusion of being in control.

So it is, I believe, with so many of our friends who are struggling with addiction. , They realize that their addiction is only a temporary filling, and in many cases, even find the true source of life in Jesus Christ. In the beginning at least, they experience genuine life connected to God and are able to live without their addictions. But then, the difficulties of life rise up once again and they are left questioning whether or not God really does give them everything they need in life. Finally, when they feel like they have completely lost control of their life, they grasp for the control that they know is available in their addiction, and the cycle begins all over again.

So what do I take away from all of this? I guess, the first thing that I take away from these thoughts is that when I realize that my own grasping for control and life in things other than Jesus is not so much different than what the addict is doing, even if it is more socially acceptable, it is not so hard to believe that someone could return to a counterfeit source of life after all. Second, when I am talking with my addict friends, I spend some time trying to identify the unmet and often unrealistic expectations that have caused them to feel like they had to try to take control of their lives through their addictions. And mostly, I realize that while I don’t look for life in a needle, bottle or pill, I still struggle to trust that God is the true source of life and to completely let go of control of my own life. Maybe in the end, the struggle we see so radically defined in the life of the addict is the cycle of trust and control that we all struggle with and that plays out in each of our lives as we try to reconcile life in a world tainted by not rightness with our own expectations.



This post was originally published on 04/27/2015 at Revealministry.org as part of a series about shining light in dark places.

Neat little packages.

During my time at college, my favorite subject was creative writing, and in particular, the genre of the short story. You introduce and develop your characters a little, present a singular issue, then present a resolution all in the space of a few pages. Much like a television show, the resolution needs to wrap up the problem in a tidy little package that leaves no loose threads, no unresolved issues, and of course nothing to be continued.

Like many other people, I like my stories to have a happy or at least positive and complete ending. I want to be able to say like they do in the fairy tales, “and they lived happily ever after”, or at least part of me wants this.  When we do get to see the end of the story, its almost always because something tragic ended it all too soon. This was the case with Bree who after celebrating eight weeks clean decided that her life was too difficult and went back to heroin one last time. Her ever after began with an overdose that left her frozen lifeless body in the doorway of a nearby shop. Or the story of Chief, who would go for weeks at a time without a drop of alcohol, then go on a drinking binge that would only end when he passed out in the worst possible places. One time he passed out face down on a sidewalk and before anyone found him, he had severe frostbite on his face, arms and hands. On his last night, however, he passed out in a park frequented by a gang of teens who beat him into a coma from which he would never recover. These are the “ever-afters” that I see, single decisions that end some of the most incredible stories with little or no chance of happiness.

We have come to recognize that the kind of work that we do does not lend itself to stories that fit into such neat and tidy packages. As we ride the roller coaster of dependency and addiction with people, we are only able to see the present, always aware that the next plunge into the darkness of counterfeit life is always lurking just ahead. And so we learn to live in and celebrate the here and now, the present victories, the right now of life, rather than look at what the end of the story may hold.  We celebrate every new clean date, even if it is only a few days, with true joy and zeal. We relish and support every decision to change, no matter how small, and even when we suspect that the change will only be temporary. But mostly, we learn to trust in the goodness of God, the only one who can know how each and every story ends. We trust that when we love and serve those He brings to us, in His name, that their lives will be changed by the encounter with His love. We trust that God loves them even more than we ever could, and desires for them to be connected to the source of true life, the only way for anyone to have a truly happy ending.

Pastor FedEx


This post was originally published on 05/12/2015 at Revealministry.org as part of a series about shining light in dark places.