|Newsletter, July-October 2018|
Conference on problems of dependence
An international conference on 'Theological Understanding of the Addiction Problem: Orthodox and Catholic Approaches' took place on October 1-2, 2018, at the St. Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg. It was organized by the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Metropolis of St. Petersburg in cooperation with the Diakonia (St. Petersburg) and Stary Svet (Moscow) charitable foundations with the support of the Kirche in Not foundation. It was attended by some 60 people including clergy, church social workers and experts from Russia, Poland, Romania, Germany and Belarus.
The conference was opened by its moderator, Bishop Mefody of Kamensk and Alapaevsk, head of the Coordination centre for combating drug abuse at the Synodal Department for Church charity and social service of the Russian Orthodox Church.
A welcoming address was delivered by Rev. Constantine Perederiy, rector of the Mary the Queen of the Apostles Catholic seminary, who pointed to a positive aspect of the cooperation between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. Especially important, he said, is a prospect for creating a program for work with drug addicts for theological schools to a better training of seminarians for encounter with problems of dependence.
Peter Humenyuk, head of the Kirche in Not Russia department, in his word of greeting, noted the international nature of the conference and thanked Metropolitan Varsonofiy of St. Petersburg and Ladoga, on behalf of the Kirche in Not leadership, for support in preparing and conducting the forum.
Bishop Mefody in his paper on Addiction as a Passion called to turn to asceticism and the patristic experience, whereby there are eight basic passions, with the rest being their combination and 'derivations'. This is also true for the sin of drug addiction. 'There is always a parent passion and this passion becomes an integral part of its offspring - drug addiction. Beginning to struggle with one's drug dependence, one should figure out what has generated one's passion and only in this case it is possible to prescribe the right course of spiritual treatment', the bishop noted.
Rev. Julian Negru, the head of the anti-drug addiction program of the Romanian Orthodox Church, in his paper on the Parish as a Therapeutic Community, presented various models of treatment, in particular a medical one, and pointed to its shortcomings. In the framework of 'a moral model' adopted at parishes, a drug addict is not regarded as a victim but rather as responsible for his own behaviour and actions. 'Our aim is invariable - to re-integrate a person into the parish life', Father Julian stressed.
Rev. Kirill Gorbunov, general vicar of the Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, presented a document of the Roman Catholic Church entitled 'Church, Drugs and Drug Addiction'. According to the speaker, it can be also useful for Orthodox specialists. It states in particular, that the Catholic Church is categorically against the liberalization of drugs and substitution therapy and against the division of drugs into light and heavy. Interesting are recommendations to pastors in their communications with those dependent on drugs. 'It is important to be able to accept and to hear. Characteristic of drug users is a high demand for spiritual life. It may be stronger than it is among most healthy people. A priest should respond to this demand', the priest stressed. The most important part of pastoral approach, he said, is 'to help find hope'.
Deacon Alexander Semenov read out a paper of Archpriest Sergiy Bel'kov, head of the drug abuse rehabilitation centers network of the Vyborg diocese, 'Analysis of the Concept of Passion in Christian Anthropology and of Addiction in Modern Psychology'. According to the author, the notions of passion and addiction can be compared but the notion of passion is broader as it is linked with the notion of sin.
Prof. Dr. Sebastian Moldovan, professor of moral theology, social ethics and bio-ethics, Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, in his paper 'What Kind of Decease is the Vice of Addiction?' posed in particular these questions: is dependence a passion or a decease? Alcoholism, is it the same as hard drinking?... Traditional Christianity considers alcoholism a vicious behaviour. However, in the 19th century, there appeared another interpretation of this theme: alcoholism is a decease similar to diabetes II, obesity and Alzheimer's decease, he said.
Rev. Pawel Chmura, director of the Franciscan San-Damiano center for prevention and
treatment of dependency (Poland), spoke about the rehabilitation of dependent people in a monastery in which the brethren live together with rehabilitants, pray with them in the same chapel, and people in nearby villages give them support. Working in the center are specialist doctors from the National Health Foundation. 'Each patient has his or her own therapist and individual therapy, and each patient's source of dependence has to be identified; there are also prayer groups', Father Pawel said.
Ms. Yelena Rydalevskaya, executive director of the Charitable Foundation Diakonia, presented a paper on 'Addiction as strangeness'. 'Drug addiction or alcoholism lead to the maximal disorder of all the mental powers of a person - intellectual, sensual and passional. We find the most precise definition of the state of those dependent on alcohol and drug in St. Paul: They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed (Eph. 4:18-19). Strikingly, this description coincides to a great extent with the definition of six signs of addition described by Prof. V. D. Mendelevich in the 20th century: continued use despite harmful consequences, need to take a substance or to exercise a certain activity (in case of gambling), impairment of the ability to control one's actions, abstinence syndrome, signs of tolerance, progressing disregard for alternative interests'. Having looked in detail into these signs, Ms Rydalevskaya concluded: 'In a broad sense, the Church of Christ herself is primordially a beneficial therapeutic space for a person ill with dependence on the sin of humanity. Therefore, there is nothing new in our process of rehabilitation, except for specialization according to the most asocial dependences. But there is inevitably a new language of definitions and a detailed development of ascetic actions, that is, specific exercises in self-discipline, self-restriction and reflections aimed at inner transformation and change conformable to modern realities, which ultimately lead to full and profound understanding and change in one's own distorted nature of a person who take these actions'.
Archpriest Maxim Pletnev, head of the Coordination center for combating alcoholism and drug addiction at the Department for charity and social service of the diocese of St. Petersburg, head of the Orthodox charitable organization 'Favor', presented a paper on 'A Theological View of Substance Dependence'. Speaking about the theological aspects of dependence, he underscored that a person who uses drugs 'falls into a false dark spirituality'. Dependence on psychoactive substances is a false religiosity. 'True happiness is a life with God, eternal blissfulness. Not living with God, not having a firm foundation in faith, a person, in his attempts to find happiness, actually finds surrogates of happiness, its substitutions. Instead of true blissfulness, which can be attained through work and God's grace, a person received anti-blissfulness - a sinful pleasure', he believes.
Evgeniy Protsenko read out a paper of Archimandrite Meletios (Webber), a cleric of the church of St. Nicholas of Myra in Cilicia, Amsterdam on 'Problems Regarding Attitudes towards Alcohol and Alcoholics'. Unlike those who are ill with oncological diseases and who command sympathy and compassion, 'an alcoholic dying from alcohol abuse does not command any sympathy. The feelings he can provoke among those around him are far from any compassion. It is rather disappointment, shame, offence… An important qualitative difference between cancer and alcoholism lies in people's attitude to those who suffer from these diseases… Our attitude to anything is often based on prejudice… The most important thing in all this is the fact that this attitude constitutes a starting point in our spiritual journey - a journey in which the Lord wants to save us. The Church as the Body of Christ has not and cannot have a negative attitude to anything… If a person who is suffering from appendicitis comes to church, we will naturally send him to hospital that will give him an opportunity to receive physical treatment from other people outside the Church. In this case, the person will probably come back to church to receive 'spiritual' treatment that can be offered by the Church.
Psychologist Yevgeniy Protsenko, director of the Christian charitable foundation 'Stary Svet', presented his paper on 'Diverse Influences of Modern and Archaic Notions of Dependence and Codependence on the Formation of Theological Ideas about these Phenomena'. Speaking about modern studies, he pointed to the genetic nature of such disease as alcoholism. There are ethnoses (for instance, North American Indians), who develop problems with the first use of alcohol.
Hegumen Iona (Zaimovsky), director of the Orthodox rehabilitation center 'Metanoia', in his paper on 'Theology and Addiction: Some Basics of a Curricula for Theological Schools', pointed to the importance of a holistic understanding of dependence and the relevance of the experience gained by the Catholic Church in the work with dependent people.
The paper of Archpriest George Aquaro, MDiv (Potlatch, Idaho, USA), on 'Addiction as a Psycho-Sensory Disorder' was read out by Rev. Julian Negru. The author of the paper addressed patristic texts including Philokalia, and admonitions in the struggle with temptations. 'Addicts often report that their addiction began with two primary ingredients: a fear, and then a sensory experience which eliminated the fear… This propensity to experience intense anxiety, first at the physical level which then transitions to emotions and finally acting-out, is a key part of most addict's experiences. Only by surrender to God and the confidence it brings, can an addict begin to understand how his sensory perceptions of anxiety are distorted and he can begin to find the strength to endure these experiences without acting out on his addiction'.
Ms. Yekaterina Savina, director of the rehabilitation charitable foundation 'Zebra & K', spoke about Specifics of Spiritual Rehabilitation of Drug Users and Alcoholics. 'Recovery is possible only with God and in God. A meeting with God - this is what can help a drug-addict and an alcoholic', she said. As for coming in touch with a dark spirituality, according to her observation, 'the work of devil is visible in a drug addict'. 'It is not being possessed in the literal sense of the word, but it is the devil that a convalescent is opposing', she underscored. The criteria of recovery are honesty and gratitude.
Ms. Larisa Shekhovtsova, PsyD, professor at the chair of church-practice disciplines of St. Petersburg Theological Academy, read a paper on 'Psychological and Spiritual Symptoms of Addiction as a Passion'.
Archpriest Alexiy Agapov, leader of the Metanoia-2 rehabilitation program, in his paper on 'Non-judgemental Approach as a Hermeneutic Principle in Pastoral Work with Dependent and Co-dependent', shared his experience of psalmo-therapy - the use of the Psalter as an instrument capable of bringing out a response in the heart of a drug-addict.
In conclusion of the conference, Bishop Mefody again called upon the participants to search for answers in the works of holy fathers and to continue the dialogue on the theological understanding of problems of addiction at future forums.
DECR Communication Service
Published below are papers of the participants in the conference
Addiction as a Passion
Bishop Mefody of Kamensk and Alapaevsk, Head of the Coordination centre for combating drug abuse at the Synodal Department for Church Charity and Social Service
'Forward to the Fathers'
In the recent time, clergy have exerted considerable efforts to translate the spiritual work for overcoming drug addiction into the language of psychology and pedagogy. It is important for interaction with secular specialists and for the scientific community to recognize church approaches in the work with those dependent on drugs. But at the same time, the clergy, while studying the problem in terms rather strange to them and then studying non-church approaches to overcoming dependences, may find themselves left out of things and feel not demanded and will step aside to the margins of rehabilitation work. Therefore, it appears more important for the internal use to understand, without coming out of the framework of Orthodox anthropology and asceticism, what drug addiction is as a passion. It is necessary to bring the discourse on passion to the language of Orthodox asceticism, to return to the terminology of holy fathers. Then for a spiritual father, who is engaged in active study of the legacy of ascetic fathers, it will be easy to apply recipes prescribed by ascetics to the treatment of the passion of drug addiction. Those dependent on drugs, who come to church for help should be treated by a spiritual therapy verified by centuries and based on the Revelation. The edifications left by ascetic teachers are sufficient for giving an effective help to those who try to cope with this allegedly unheard-of and previously unknown passion.
The Orthodox asceticism recognizes gluttony, fornication, covetousness, anger, dejection, despondency, vainglory, and pride - eight passions altogether. The rest are a combination of the principle ones or just their manifestation. These are the passions of idleness, lust for power, idle chatter, envy, curiosity, self-elation, daydreaming, heavy drinking, drug addiction, etc.; they are without number. Sometimes it is useful to divide a passion into parts for an analysis; and sometimes it is expedient to consider it separately as a whole, as an indivisible alloy of basic passions merged in a certain proportion to acquire unique properties. This is done by great John Climacus in his book describing the principle and derivative passions and struggle with them.
The passion of drug addiction is not a principal one since craving for a drug is always conditioned by something; in the initial period of narcotization the use of drugs is not the ultimate objective. There is always a parent passion. The parent passion quite often grows together with its offspring - drug addition, becoming its integral part. This explains, among other things, a drug addict's commitment to a certain type of drug that satisfies the parent more than drugs. In some cases, the parent passion hides behind its offspring continuing to feed it. In some cases, the parent abandons its child - a drug addiction and, the drug addiction, being stronger and independent now, loses its tie with it. Setting down to struggle with a dependence, a person should figure out whose brood his passion is. Only in this case the right course of spiritual treatment can be prescribed.
Testimonies of Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitski ('Confession'):
'Intoxication, especially when it grows into hard drinking, is never a bad habit but proves to be connected with a continuous malevolent mood… He who knows such people better will tell you that they are filled with either the passion of lust, in which they cannot indulge while being sober, or, what happens more often, they are possessed with thwarted ambition or bitterness over their ill-fated life, or they are tormented with spite and envy. Unable to fulfill their desires in reality, they transpose themselves into a field of dreams and now duped with vine vapors, they fancy themselves as generals, ministers, famous scholars or artists, happy lovers, conquerors and avengers of their enemies… In their souls they always bear anger of envy or grumble or fornication and until they kill such desires in themselves they will not give up their heavy drinking. Hard drinking is a derivative of other passions sometimes not fully known to their victims but the healing of this disease is impossible until the passion causing it is driven away from the heart'.
We should not put the sign of equality between drug addiction and alcoholism, if we consider them from the point of view of passion. The attitude of society to alcoholics and drug addicts vary. In the public consciousness, the use of vine is quite acceptable and is not disapproved and, except for abuse, it accompany many important event in our life. We find this attitude in Holy Scriptures and the church Tradition too (for instance, Jn. 2:1-11). It is of no small importance that the degree of intoxication can be easily traced both by those around and, to a considerable extent, the drunk one oneself, as there is a bound which is disapproved if exceeded. As long as the limit is not violated, a person remains 'ours' not to be alienated and has no need to hide, to oppose those around. In our society, the attitude to the use of drugs is extremely negative. One who uses drugs appears strange for those around, not excluding one's closest friends - a narrow circle of outcasts like oneself, but they are also enemies who are not to be trusted. From the very beginning, one lies, holds everything back and feels fear, being tortured with suspicion. One lives a life of an underground person surrounded by enemies in a hostile territory. At the same time, neither he nor those around him control the extent to which the use of a drug has changed his perception of the surrounding world. For this reason he is more dangerous for those around him and for himself than a one who has had strong drinks. As a dependence is developing, those addicted to alcohol and drugs, living different lives become different people distinct in behavior, reaction to those around, understanding of good and evil; they have a different 'code of honour'. Any of them understands and prefers his own group ('company', 'get-together') and remains faithful to it even in the period of his struggle with the passion (Addicts Anonymous prefer to get together separately from Alcoholics Anonymous). The spiritual therapy for each of these groups should have its own peculiarities.
The passion of drug addiction is not self-generated; it is an offspring and a consequence of other passions. One has to take the trouble 'to work' more or less to acquire it. For this reason, it is extremely important that its genesis should be traced, its parent passion cut off or weakened, otherwise the drug addiction will remain ineradicable as the passion that caused it and remained not healed will provoke the craving, and the desire to use it will occasionally come back with insurmountable power. If the narcotization was caused by a person and the unity with him remains desirable even in one's perdition, he should be expelled from one's life and respect for him should be crushed in the very beginning of the treatment.
The closest analogue to the passion of drug addiction (sometimes also to the parent passion) is the passion of lust, which comes to possess a person through both an intention and fervor. One cannot help recalling the words of St. Paul, 'Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery' (Eph. 5:18). It is not difficult to see not only a warning standing behind these words, but also an ascetic indication to the similarity, the affinity of passions. For this reason, the ascetical practice and approaches to the struggle with the passion of lust is almost fully applicable to the struggle with drug addiction. At the same time, the passion of lust is not only deep but also for many reasons much graver then the passion of drug addiction while the struggle with lust is more lengthy and consumptive. According to Archimandrite Sofrony (Sakharov), ascetics learnt from experience that lust and pride are mortal passions, just as the struggle with them. In any case, those who struggle with a drug dependence should study the instructions for combating the passion of lust and come to clear ideas of the virtue of chastity.
Those who seek to suppress their craving for drugs tend to switch easily to alcohol. The next in the line substitute for the drug addiction is lust. Those who work to overcome drug addiction should know and remember it. The captivity by the first substitutive passion - alcoholism can be broken through taking a pledge. Many would surrender to the captivity of the passion of lust without a fight because the modern society is limitlessly tolerant to sexual promiscuity, but not God. In the perspective of eternity, this new slavery turns out to be bitterer than the former. Those who have come to believe divine promises should remember it and get ready.
At the same time, one must not put the sign of equality between the passion of lust and the passion of drug addiction. Here is what St John Climacus says in the homily on chastity: '47. Those who are inclined to sensuality often seem sympathetic, merciful, and prone to compunction; while those who care for chastity do not seem to have these qualities to the same extent'. Those drug-dependent are extremely far from sympathy and mercy towards their neighbours; more fitting for them is a description as people possessed by the love of money, which is given in the chapter on poverty: '14. The love of money is (and is called) the root of all evils (1 Tim. 6:10), because it produces hatred, thefts, envy, separations, enmities, storms, remembrance of wrong, hard-heartedness, murders'. Here is a precise portrait of a drug user.
The passion of drug addiction is attended with the love of money but has not the attainment of richness as its ultimate goal. Standing behind the love of money is the desire to acquire a drug. Therefore, drug addiction, generating in its captive all the negative things inherent in the love of money, in fact does not give consolation and joy from possession since all the trophy, obtained by fair means or foul, will be wasted on drugs. At a certain stage of its development, drug addiction becomes the core of every evil, and it can be called so.
The passion of drug addiction is mortal in the initial period of struggle with it, but if its aggression is crushed, it becomes powerless if the passion that generated it is overcome. It has no ground in the basic existential needs as basic passions have. One needs to eat, to provide for oneself, to become a recognized member of society, to show zeal in achieving one's goal, to ensure a necessary rest for oneself, to thirst for a full life up to the state of happiness, to experience one's own uniqueness and to seek to realize it, to cherish one's potency for reproduction as the greatest gift. This is what the basic passions parasitize on. To darken one's conscience even with good intentions is self-indulgence; rejecting it does not rob, nor does it ruin life.
The theme of overcoming drug addiction has been 'straddled' mostly by those who have an experience of chemical dependence, who have introduced fear in it and elevated temperance to the level of a cult. Being once defeated and captivated by a passion, they have come to believe in its omnipotence and almost dogmatized this false assumption. The struggle with the passion of drug addiction is only a more or less prolonged stage on the way to the God-commanded Heavenly Kingdom, a stage when one has to leave behind and set down to struggle with passionate impulses accompanying us up to the end of our days. The real struggle accompanying a human being up to his departure from this world, though not always as fierce as it is at the first stage of struggle with drug addiction is a struggle with basic passions: gluttony, vanity, sadness, anger, despair, love of money, fornication and pride. The battle with the last two, according to ascetics, is the bitterest of them.
Attachment: Chapters from the "Ladder of Divine Ascent" of St John Climacus about the passion of lust that can be easily applied to drug addiction
Step 15. On incorruptible purity and chastity
14. He who fights this adversary by bodily hardship and perspiration is like one who has tied his foe to a dry branch. But he who opposes him by temperance, sleeplessness and vigil is like one who puts a dog-collar on him. He who opposes him by humility, freedom from irritability and thirst is like one who has killed his enemy and hidden him in the sand. And by sand I mean humility, because it produces no fodder for the passions but is mere earth and ashes.
23. He who falls is to be pitied. But still more to be pitied is he who causes another to fall, because he bears the burden of both, and further, the burden of pleasure tasted by the other.
24. Do not expect to confute the demon of fornication by arguing with him; for with nature on his side, he has the best of the argument.
25. He who has resolved to contend with his flesh and conquer it himself struggles in vain. For unless the Lord destroys the house of the flesh and builds the house of the soul, the man who desires to destroy it has watched and fasted in vain.
26. Offer to the Lord the weakness of your nature, fully acknowledging your own incapacity, and you will receive imperceptibly the gift of chastity.
33. And our merciless foe, teacher of fornication, says that God is very merciful towards this passion as it is a natural one. But if we observe the guile of the demons we shall find that after sin has been committed they say that God is a just and inexorable Judge. They said the former in order to lead us into sin, and now the latter to drown us in despair.
40. He who attempts to stop this war by temperance, and by that alone, is like a man who has the idea of escaping the sea by swimming with one hand. Join humility to temperance, because without the former the latter is useless.
41. He who sees that some passion is getting the better of him, should first of all take up arms against this passion, and moreover against this passion alone, especially if it is the domestic foe; because until this passion is destroyed, we shall not derive any profit from the conquest of other passions. When we have killed this Egyptian, we shall certainly see God in the bush of humility.
50. Do not be ignorant of yourself, young man. I have seen men pray with all their soul for their loved ones, who in reality were moved by the spirit of fornication, while believing that they were fulfilling the law of love.
58. On these occasionsthe best aids for us are: sackcloth, ashes, all-night standing, hunger, moistening the tongue in moderation when parched with thirst, dwelling amongst the tombs, and above all humility of heart; and if possible a spiritual father or a careful brother, an elder in spirit to help us. But I shall be surprised if anyone will be able to save his ship from the sea by himself.
65. Let us by every means in our power avoid either seeing or hearing of that fruit which we have vowed not to taste. For it is absurd to think ourselves stronger than the Prophet David - that is impossible.
68. The snake of sensuality is many-faced. In those who are inexperienced in sin he sows the thought of making one trial and then stopping. But this crafty creature incites those who have tried this to fresh trial through the remembrance of their sin. Many inexperienced people feel no conflict in themselves simply because they do not know what is bad; and the experienced, because they know this abomination, suffer disquiet and struggle. But often the opposite of this also happens.
74. In the rulings made by the Fathers a distinction is drawn between different things, such as attraction, or intercourse, or consent, or captivity, or struggle, or so-called passion in the soul. And these blessed men define attraction as a simple conception, or an image of something encountered for the first time which has lodged in the heart. Intercourse is conversation with what has presented itself, accompanied by passion or dispassion. And consent is the bending of the soul to what has been presented to it, accompanied by delight. But captivity is a forcible and involuntary rape of the heart or a permanent association with what has been encountered which destroys the good order of our condition. Struggle, according to their definition, is power equal to the attacking force, which is either victorious or else suffers defeat according to the soul's desire. And they define passion in a special sense as that which lurks disquietingly in the soul for a long time, and through its intimacy with the soul brings it finally to what amounts to a habit, a self-incurred downright desertion. Of all these states the first is without sin, the second not always, but the third is sinful or sinless according to the state of the contestant. Struggle is the occasion of crowns or punishments. Captivity is judged differently, according to whether it occurs at the time of prayer, or at other times; it is judged one way in matters of little importance, and in another way in the case of evil thoughts. But passion is unequivocally condemned in every case, and demands either corresponding repentance or future correction. Therefore he who regards the first attraction dispassionately cuts off at a single blow all the rest which follow.
76. Some say that it is from thoughts of fornication that passions invade the body. But some affirm on the contrary that it is from the feeling of the body that evil thoughts are born. The former say that if the mind had not gone before, the body would not have followed after. And the latter adduce the malice of bodily passion in justification of their view, saying that often bad thoughts manage to enter into the heart as the result of a pleasant sight, or the touch of a hand, or the smell of perfume, or hearing sweet voices. If anyone can do so in the Lord, let him explain this; for knowledge of this sort is extremely necessary and profitable for those living the active life scientifically. But for those practising virtue in simplicity of heart, this is not of the least importance. For not all have knowledge; but neither have all the blessed simplicity which is the breastplate against the wiles of evil spirits.
77. Some passions pass to the body from the soul, and some do the opposite. The latter happens to people living in the world, but the former to those living the monastic life, because of the lack of outward stimulus.
80. This demon much more than any other watches for critical moments. And when we are physically unable to pray against it, then the unholy creature launches a special attack against us.
83. All demons try to darken our mind, and then they suggest what they want to. For as long as the mind does not shut its eyes, we shall not be robbed of our treasure. But the demon of fornication tries to do this much more than all the rest. Often, after darkening our mind which controls us, it urges and disposes us in the presence of people to do what only those who are out of their mind do. Then later when the mind becomes sober we are ashamed of our unholy acts, words and gestures not only before those who saw us but also before ourselves, and we are amazed at our previous blindness. Often as a result of such reflection, men have desisted from this evil.
85. Who has conquered his body? He who has crushed his heart. And who has crushed his heart? He who has denied himself. For how can he not be crushed who has died to his own will?
89. ... Tell me, tell me, my yoke-fellow, my nature, for I shall not ask anyone else in order to learn about you. How am I to remain unwounded by you? How can I avoid the danger of my nature? For I have already made a vow to Christ to wage war against you. How am I to overcome your tyranny? For I am resolved to be your master.
90. And the flesh might say in reply to its soul: 'I shall never tell you anything which you do not know equally well, but only of things of which we both have knowledge. I have my father within me - self-love. The fire which I experience from without comes from humouring me and from general comfort. The fire which burns within comes from past ease and bygone deeds. Having conceived, I give birth to sins, and they, when born, in turn beget death or despair. If you know the deep and obvious weakness which is in both you and me, you have bound my hands. If you starve your appetite, you have bound my feet from going further. If you take the yoke of obedience, you have thrown off my yoke. If you obtain humility, you have cut off my head'.
Specifics of Spiritual Rehabilitation of Drug Users and Alcoholics
E. A. Savina, Psychological counsellor, Director of the Rehabilitation Charitable Foundation 'Zebra & K', Moscow
I understand the meaning of the word 'spiritual' as the function of the soul related to its salvation. It is expressed in the following categories: passion, forgiveness, meeting with God, love, repentance, etc. A drug addict, an alcoholic (the difference in our perspective is only in the form of a psychoactive substance) is a person who, for some reasons including a personal sin, has been caught in the passion of dependence and now continues increasing his sin because of powerlessness before a drug and the loss of control over his life. The meaning of rehabilitation consists in efforts to teach a now sober drug addict or alcoholic to live without the drug and alcohol - to teach precisely to live, that is, to grow, to learn, to rejoice, to grieve, making distinction between good and evil and consciously following the good. Because a passion-dependence straps up one's whole life with itself, '…but the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing… What a wretched man I am!' (Rom. 7:19ff). In a comprehensive picture of drug addiction, a person has relations in life only with the use while the rest is a background and methods of achieving the use. Gollum, a character of Tolkien's excellent epic 'The Lord of the Rings' is a good metaphor for him. He will perish in the absence of external interference in his life. Rehabilitation as restoration of his relations with saving God may be such an interference.
Recovery is an active repentance, a change in life in the direction of God. It is a change in the way of thinking and living expressed necessarily in actions. Paraphrasing the famous text, it is not worth bending under the changeable world; it is worth bending under eternal God and then the passion will retreat. In convalescing, an alcoholic changes the world around and himself in the direction pointed by God, and in convalescence it is called good sense. The aim of good sense however is not repentance but redemption, resurrection. The goal consists precisely in God's making something in a person, and to achieve it the person offers himself to Him in humbleness and repentance. Recovery is possible only by God and in God. Is it possible to teach one to live with God? Cooperation of man with God can be only shown and that not in its fullness. Meeting with God and the action of God in one's life - this is the only thing that can help - He Himself, not we, can. It is an ordinary miracle - that of a drug addict and alcoholic living a sober life created by God.
A drug addict is an egocentric. There are personality factors of predisposition dependence, and I assume that in the situation of drug addiction and alcoholism, egocentrism is not so much a personal sin of the individual as a terrible consequence of his disease. It is often experienced as loneliness. One is torn away from both God and the world. A dependence stands between him and another person putting a screening him from the experience of consequences of his actions: whatever he may do, life becomes only worse. Therefore, an alcoholic or a drug addict feels very much blamed and offended by God and the world, however he may conceive them. It makes ever more difficult to appeal for help. His recovery is recognition that he is a drug addict and that he joins Alcoholics Anonymous thus violating this loneliness. Conditions will emerge for a possible encounter with God.
'The eye' of a drug addict is 'unhealthy' (Mt. 6:23) because his outlook is based on passion. It is not only a negative thinking arising as a reflection of one's evil deeds toward the other and to oneself, but also an idea of God as a part of passionate outlook. It is anger against Him for the bad life and a fear of punishment. How else can a drug addict treat God if he believes that there is hell ahead and no forgiveness? People around him often scare him with God and put him to shame by His name, which only worsens his attitude to God. Therefore, he takes a call to repent with distrust and indignation. Hence his defenses: stories about bad priests, a search for shortcomings, opposition up to blasphemy. A way out of it is rather simple: God is not such as a drug addict imagines. It is a 'God', according to an excellent expression of Father Meletios (Webber), 'as a drug addict DOES NOT understand Him'. And if you simply take the position of an honest observer, without attempts to impose or change his mind, God Himself shows what He is.
A patient with the position described above came to the center. 'Either there is no God or He is bad because I live a bad life!' Two months later, his life considerably improved. 'I did not even pray!' - 'Yes, but He still heard you, and you tried to recover and He helped. When did you have such a long period of abstinence while at large?' - 'Never…' The miracle of sobriety is done by God, and it becomes the basis for reviewing one's relationship with Him and a driving force for a penitential change.
With a few exceptions, a drug addict did not come in touch even with culture which could smooth away some angles. Reading and thinking, a drug addict could intuitively come to feel at least some moral control points, some supporting points for his outlook. But a drug addict is far from culture, including the modern culture; he is a savage and for this reason many notions of moral life are unknown to him or replaced by non-equivalents. For instance, decency is replaced by respect for a criminal system of values, fidelity to principles by standing up to his own opinion even if it is wrong and he understands it. The word 'mercy' is believed to belong to the past, and 'revenge' to be a righteous cause.
The words 'God loves you' are understood as a sectarian call or a sarcasm. The awareness that precisely this quality of God is the driving force of all His actions with regard to me, not my words to Him are beyond understanding. An unhappy life of a drug addict is not tied up in this awareness with the presence in it of loving and almighty God. Theodicy is a subject of a drug addict's personal conflict with God, not an abstraction. As is known, logically this conflict cannot be solved in any way but a reference to the death of the Son of God on the cross, but it is not a part of the life of a drug addict. For this reason, resentment against God and bewilderment is usually what is concealed by the veil of incomprehension and unbelief. It is not an easy task to tell those who are interested the story of Job because it is their personal story. A recovering woman drug addict met and came in love with a lad and married him. He was an active alcoholic; and she soon slipped off (if you know how difficult it is to stay sober alongside a user husband), and they used drugs together. God gave them a pregnancy but they could not stop using; the child died soon after the birth and the husband died after him. Now she is trying to recover and it is going hard with her. How to make her understand that God is merciful? How not to become an edifying Pharisee at that? What is our role? - Witness about her before God.
It is very difficult for a drug addict or an alcoholic to come to believe in God because he does not believe in himself at all. It is difficult for them to preserve hope for forgiveness; their attitude to themselves is too bad, indeed; they have long been taught to treat themselves so! But as a child who takes over from the parents a particular attitude to himself, a drug addict or an alcoholic takes over from those who help him their faith in him and his possible good life, in his salvation, in accepting him unconditionally, whether he is sober today or whether he is recovering - accepting anyone. It is precisely spirituality in recovery.
An encounter of a drug addict or an alcoholic with God happens without fail if he is recovering, that is, living a sober life and building his life in the right way. Without God it will not come out because a dependent person is under the power of dependence; he is helpless before it. Is it important that one should recognize the fact of Encounter? Or course. It happens so that a person feels it strongly, 'walking and jumping' like a lame man healed by St. Peter (Acts 3:8). We had an alcoholic patient with a strong recovery motivation because of the wife and children, but he had a trouble as he could not forgive his long dead alcoholic mother who turned his childhood in a human-made hell. (By the way, here is an example of how you should not scare an alcoholic with the experience of other people, even their own!). He did right actions to forgive her but it was all 'from wit'. Finally, he realized that it was impossible to find God while hating his dead mother. He was caught in an impasse. Once he woke up very early when everybody slept, feeling happy: he felt that God let him forgive her. Immediately he began writing a letter to God because he needed to express what he felt. Later he showed us the letter in secret. There were tears of true repentance - God Himself found him! It was a conscious Encounter. But so bright an event for a person as Encounter with God is not the necessary condition for sobriety.
God's action does not depend on my idea of Him since He is objective. He can act in the life of a dependent person as if from behind but it is evident to those around that it is an action of God. 'My unproud God' (Symeon the New Theologian) - is God's kenosis for an alcoholic. It is my conviction that each experience of recovery of a drug addict or an alcoholic - as certainly a process, not as an idea that now he is healthy and this is the Protestant 'salvation by faith' - is an act of God in the life of a persons, to which we all are witnesses. In recovery, a drug addict learns to be critical of himself, to reflect on his actions, to be thankful to God and people for help on the level of one day. These are principles of not only the preservation of sobriety but also that of spiritual growth of a person. It turns out that sobriety is impossible to preserve if you do not grow, if you do not 'pedal the bicycle' of recovery. It is contrary to the justifications and manipulations of an active drug addict. And the fact that he remains sober, which was impossible before, is perceived as a miracle and forgiveness. It is a sign that the Encounter did happen, that he now understands Him. God has proved to be closer than he thought.
Our patients who do not know God are certainly agnostics. They are not theomachistic atheists even if they aggressively respond to talks about God and the Church. For many of them, it is linked with distorted ideas of God; they simply cannot believe in the image they or somebody else pictured for them. It makes exacting demands on us to offer the true gospel's preaching because a drug addict tends to respond to preaching from wit and moral demands by the feeling of his inability, guilt and often by defensive aggression. Certainly, not only a priest but any believer can preach speaking from his faith and his experience of Encounter with God. Therefore, the personality of a helper - another recovering depended one, counselor or a priest - is so important. It is important to speak carefully and to live in accordance with what is preached. It is not easy. It appears that it is possible to grasp and pull a drug addict out of a dependence only by our own selves, not by special 'hooks', tricks, tasks, etc. And in this union of two people, God and His good will are surely present. It is about the Samaritan.
If a believer, a church person, comes to the center, we sign with relief. All for nothing because his relations with God may be insufficient for his sobriety. We prefer to begin 'finding all kinds of justification'. We presuppose that a Christian believes rightly. But it appears that many of them treat God as a helper and that is all. If He is needed, He will be called (if He is recollected, it is because the rest of life is going on as if there is no God). If they cope, it is good as it is. But still there is a certain idea that God may be needed. Therefore, an addict performs prescribed actions pattering prayers, coming to church, requesting special services, putting candles. And that is all - the action is made and you are free. It is a sort of heathenism in relations to True God and it is only a postponement that God gives us, His children. We have to learn to live with God. The prayer should be brief and a part of it should be said in our own words; to remember God in our insignificant everyday life and communion with Him as the Living Fellow Traveler is the greatest difficulty. And there is another revelation ahead that God is the Heavenly King, great and able to do not only what we ask but also what He wants, and that we need not only help but also forgiveness, and that paradise begins already in our earthly life, and we have already spoilt many things but EVERYTHING can be rectified.
Among the ways of repentance, there are at least two that should be mentioned: honesty and gratitude. Honesty is the only possible way of recovery. 'Three spiritual principles: honesty, a lack of prejudice and willingness to change - this is what makes our recovery possible' (the preamble of each gathering of Addicts Anonymous). Honesty is an unobvious truth not only for an addict but also for his family. I have often had to explain to the parents of an addict that there is no pious deception or various other ways of distorting reality to make it more acceptable. An addict himself had to lie to everybody around him that he did not use drugs and that he was busy studying, that he did not steal money, drugs, things, that he stayed for the night at his friends' place, etc. Otherwise he could not have used drugs because it is the main value for him. However, an addict has to learn to be honest because each distortion of reality is for the same reason puts his condition at risk of aggravation and even breakdown. Most edicts verify it by their own experience and only then realize that the principle of unfailing honesty is the only possible condition for recovery. The price of such honesty is high since it demands that the whole way of life should be rebuilt, and this is what is needed. It is the principle of honesty that can be placed in the foundation of recovery to build everything on it. But then two necessary conditions arise. First, honesty is a powerful weapon that can do a great damage. Therefore, as stated in a certain good book, the truth should be offered as a coat, not thrown into one's face as a dirty rag. It should be taught and it is not always possible to understand how to do it. Then, there is always the right to keep silent without speaking the truth, and this can be learnt too. Secondly, the principle of honesty places tough demands on us: can counselors, psychologists and other participants in the process of recovery be cunning? A double standard cannot be an instrument of recovery. Practice shows that, unfortunately, the staff often needs to be trained for it no less than their patient do.
Gratitude is a great healing power. It is necessary to teach to be thankful not only in the sense of teaching a child to say 'Thank you'. Gratitude helps one to feel one's helplessness because others came to your rescue. It also impels you to help others in certain situations. Gratitude creates unity with helpers, makes one to be good to them in return thus doubling the good, and it is certainly an action of God because He alone in the Source of every good thing. Gratitude helps build genuine relations with neighbours and to heal guilt and offence. There is a popular joke, 'Embrace a newcomer, he may become your future mentor'. There is joy in such relations.
There is a certain mystery in the way a dependence affects a person. Everybody has sins, and among dependent people there are many who commit deep sins. Abortion alone counts for a lot. And power? And money? But if a sinner comes to be dependent on substance, it makes him go fast downhill and the devil's action becomes visible in him. It may be frightful. A person in recovery is saved by God from the devil's action; it is doubtless and evident with regard to many of our patients. It is often said that today's drugs are 'salts'; for instance they quickly make a person a toy of the devil and it is difficult to be in time for him. It is true in the sense that we see in a person who used 'salts' a special perverted nature, cruelty and pursuit of evil. But the same can be said about an alcoholic with a long experience of use and psychoses in his anamnesis, and about others. Still it is not being possessed literally, and I try to be careful in treating the words 'being possessed', but we have to realize that it is the devil whom a recovering addict opposes together with us all. It is on the verge of the impossible, and it is only in God that we can find our salvation. God works. He does it with us, or, seeing our inaptness, often in spite of us. He accepts all, and us.
Other papers of conference participants will be published in the next issues of the Newsletter.Top of the page
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