I’ve long held an interest in psychology, probably spending way too many hours reading things that are fascinating to me, but maybe not all that edifying. Exploring questions like “Why do people act the way they do?” and “Why do some seem bent on a path of self-destruction, even when other options are available?” often occupy my thoughts when reading the news. I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to figure people out but even so, I’ve made a few interesting discoveries worth blogging about.
A few weeks ago, I couldn’t tell you anything about Amy Winehouse, except that she was a singer ..or maybe an actress. However, thanks to Yahoo headlines, I end up reading about all sorts of unimportant things, such as the lives of the famous.
Amy Winehouse, Image from Harper's Bazaar Photo Shoot in 2010
Amy Winehouse’s death intrigued me, from a psychological viewpoint, because of her apparent history of self-destructive behavior, including the use of opioids. It’s no surprise to most of us that fame and self-destruction seem to go hand-in-hand. What seems apparent, that fame begins a break-down of the essence of a human being, must become so distorted for those swimming in the mire. I’ve noticed that “successful” (my definition, which has nothing to do with monetary value) celebrities are those who have learned to live outside of themselves...finding satisfaction and relevance in giving back to others through charities or other organizations they deem “the greater good”. The ones who have become sophisticated in protecting their privacy and value the balance between work and family. They’ve learned a technique for staying sane among an environment that promotes lascivious, sycophantic relationships; a way to remain connected to that beautiful emotive core of the human soul.
For others enveloped by fame, well, the lure of drugs is too powerful, too immediate and pleasing to pass by. With drugs, opioids in particular, the user discovers a way to insulate themselves from the wild emotions and pain the body/soul/spirit now has to deal with. Painful emotions that stem from lack of self-worth, mistrust in relationships, being false to self, employing a counterfeit paradigm for making decisions --in essence, the death of morality brings these painful thoughts and feelings. Fame and it’s twisted tentacles appear to be a very wicked tool in the possession of our enemy. With one hand he coaxes and flatters, with the other he numbs the spirit, with the goal to kill the body and snatch a soul. And with opiates like heroin, the physical body becomes utterly dependent upon these pain-killers, which replaces the body’s natural way of coping with pain through endorphins.
As I was reading about Amy’s death and following up to learn more about opioids, a question in an addiction recovery forum caught my attention. A young man wrote to say that he had been addicted to hydrocodone/oxycodone for about 6 years. He was now on his way to full recovery and talked about the healing process. The question burning in his mind was, [paraphrase] “Does anybody have any opinions on opiates or other depressants and their potential ability to inhibit spiritual growth?” I’ve been thinking on that one.
Knowing that we are created by God, in His Divine Image, of three parts: body, mind and spirit, how can an illness in one part not affect the others?
As an Orthodox Christian, I know that to nourish my spirit, I need communion with my Creator. I know I need to be in His Word, to be praying, fasting, receiving Holy Communion and doing my part to aid the suffering. These are activities that nourish the spirit. It seems reasonable to say that to do the opposite of these things, would diminish the spirit. I’m speaking of gluttony/over-indulgence, being self-centered, being ignorant or apathetic to God’s Word, or inflicting pain on self or others. These indulgences, derived from laziness and lack of self-control, dull sensitivities and cause a disconnect between our three-part nature. So, yes, absolutely opiates can suppress spiritual growth, inasmuch as these drugs can be used by our enemy to sever the bonds of harmony in a human being.
Interestingly, as I was talking with a friend about this topic, we went on to discuss morphine, codeine, and other drugs in the opioid family that are used in the medical community to alleviate severe pain from trauma (i.e, Izzy!). How can the spiritual needs of these patients be met whilst they receive heavy doses of pain-killers? It’s a far-reaching question if you consider this statistic: The USA makes up only 4.6% of the world’s population, but consumes 80% of its opioids -- and 99% of the world’s hydrocodone, the opiate in Vicodin.*
What is the spiritual ramification of a country that is dulled from its senses?
I believe it’s easy to read an article about someone famous like Amy Winehouse and think - wow, that’s really a life-style on the edge - and how unrelated it is to our own faults and sins. But is it really so unrelated? or does it just have so much momentum and exposure that in all its raw ugliness, it grabs our attention - for the tiniest bit - like train-wrecks wont to do?
I was asked once, “Do you believe there are any healthy addictions?” The jury is still out on that one. I suppose it depends on how you define “addiction”. I would never say, “I’m addicted to God” because it sounds ridiculous, but yet, I cannot live apart from Him. The term, addiction, has such a negative connotation. Is an exercise addiction healthy? Well, not if the exercise routine steals time away from another important aspect of life, like family needs or going to work.
My brother-in-law & I were talking about the nature of addiction once and he spoke of a beautiful mental image that stayed with me. He spoke about how, with addicts (of various sorts - drug users, shop-lifters, video-gamers,etc.) the thought process becomes so routine and ingrained as to become a sense of comfort to the person, even if the consequences to their actions cause pain to themselves or loved ones. To overpower that “pathway” of routine thought patterns, is to break something very commanding and forceful - and this, too, can be painful but oftentimes necessary.
The beautiful part of this mental image comes as I considered those “pathways” for healthy thoughts and actions. He said, [paraphrase] ‘Picture a path in the wilderness...one you wish to go on and you walk it over and over and over until it becomes such a familiar place, so ingrained that you won’t want to depart from it’ An aha! moment came... isn’t this exactly the nature and mystery of prayer? I sometimes go to my prayer corner angry...or tired...or apathetic. Sometimes I forget those I want to pray for, sometimes I fumble over my words and my mind wanders. But I go.
I go to that place in the dark morning hours, light the candle before our icons and speak to God. I return there at night to pray before sleeping and it occurs to me that even when my attitude isn’t just right, I am going - I am moving on a pathway that is beautiful and meet and right. A pathway that nourishes my spirit regardless of my bad temperament. And how much more so of the saints?
Those spiritually mature people who walk the high road and experience a taste of heaven on earth, inhaling the fragrant breath of God on their journey. They walk a path set before them by other spiritual giants who desired to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven- the road marked by honesty in confession, repentance with humility, forgiveness with love, integrity, honor and a continual pursuit of Truth. A road that we, as followers of Christ, are invited to follow. To paraphrase a quote I read recently, ‘God does not tell us to avoid sin in order to punish us --He tells us to avoid sin because it hurts us’. If only men knew the glory that awaited them in heaven!
If only they knew.
*according to ABC news 4/2011