World Full Of Triggers

In a recent post, I described how I had been sick one weekend and had spent an entire day just watching movies on my computer. I wrote about watching the movie Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. What I didn’t mention were the other two movies I watched that weekend. One was Locke, starring Tom Hardy, and the other was Thanks For Sharing, an ensemble-type movie with Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, and Pink.

Locke was a very interesting exercise in minimalist film-making, with the whole movie comprised of Hardy driving in a car, talking to people on the phone. It’s actually much more interesting than that synopsis, but I don’t want to give too much away. Thanks For Sharing has been billed as a romantic comedy, but don’t be fooled. This is a movie about sex addicts struggling to live lives of sobriety. It’s not without its lighter moments, but it is definitely not “date night” fare.

For the most part, I respected how the film dealt with the struggle sex addicts go through to try to beat their thanks-for-sharing-movie-12step-therapy-group-sex-41addictions. Ruffalo, in particular, goes to great lengths to keep his addiction at bay, including using a flip-phone, avoiding the internet, and having televisions removed from any hotel rooms he stays in. He becomes a mentor to Gad’s character and forms a romantic relationship with Paltrow. He looks like the guy who is going to make it.

But he doesn’t. He falls. And he falls hard.

I figured a movie dealing with sex addiction would go to some uncomfortable places, but I was not prepared for the graphic nature of Ruffalo’s relapse. It features an explicit sex scene, with nudity, and a horrible incident with a former lover after that which nearly ends in tragedy. The fact that these scenes exist in themselves could possibly be understood from the viewpoint of someone making the film. From the standpoint of sex addicts who possibly were watching the movie to observe how it treated the condition, the two scenes could basically be considered triggers for relapses in their own lives.

Let’s face it: If you are addicted to anything in this life, you don’t have to search very hard to find something to trigger your addictive behavior. Gad’s frustrated character in Thanks For Sharing remarks at one point, “Is all of Manhattan just one big (explicative) catwalk?”. It’s not just sex, though. Alcoholics are bombarded with how cool drinking beer is. Food addicts are daily served up a steady diet of unhealthy options. Those suffering from depression can get their daily downers simply by turning on the radio for a few minutes.

All this makes me wonder… Are we actually killing ourselves?

I mean, if we’re all trying to stay away from something, how does it make sense that we get assaulted every day with the very things we’re trying to avoid? In this pretty stunning video, comedian and actor Russell Brand talks about how soft-core pornography is readily available and even the accessibility of hard-core porn has skyrocketed over the years. Numerous studies have been produced about the negative effects of pornography on the brain, but we just keep pumping it out. Are we naive or stupid or do we just not care?

Life is hard. Life with an addiction of some sort is even harder. It would be difficult living alone in an enclosed box. We don’t live in boxes, though. We live in a world where the guns are loaded.

And there are triggers everywhere.

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Tuneful Tuesdays: Ragamuffin

I had a chance this past weekend to watch the new film Ragamuffin, based on the life of the late Contemporary Christian singer Rich Mullins. I was still too in my hair band days when Mullins was alive (He was killed in 1997 in an automobile accident.) to appreciate the music he produced, but he has become a more intriguing figure to me in recent years, mainly because he seemed to be the rare Christian entertainer who never seemed interested in portraying himself as someone who had it all together.

If Ragamuffin is to be believed, in fact, Mullins was about as far from having it together as a Christian can be. He was depressed (maybe even manic). He was slightly paranoid. He was a full-blown alcoholic. The most striking aspect of Mullins’ life to me, though, is that he composed some legendary Contemporary Christian hits while he was going through all this. It’s not like he sobered up, wrote “Awesome God,” and then went on Focus on the Family to testify about his new lifestyle. No, he was a drunk, wrote “Awesome God,” was still depressed, went back to Bible college, and remained a drunk after that.

As a movie, Ragamuffin is not without is problems. The first half-hour of the movie is almost annoying in the way the filmmakers seem to want to cram every editing trick they know into the narrative (flashbacks, black-and-white sequences, odd camera angles, etc., etc.). Actor Michael Koch does a nice job portraying Mullins, but he doesn’t really look or sound that much like him. Brennan Manning (played by actor Charles Lawlor in the film) is probably romanticized a bit too much. And there seems to be a weird obsession with showing Mullins’ bare feet. I wanted to buy him a pair of shoes by the end of the movie.

All in all, though, Ragamuffin is a surprisingly sturdy, effective, and moving effort, especially if you’re a Christian who has ever stood face-to-face with depression and wondered whether you would survive. It’s not an easy movie to watch at times, and it certainly doesn’t offer any pat answers about how to live “your best life now.” It does offer some hope in the darkness, though, for those who have professed Christ as their savior but still don’t quite feel as if they belong. If Mullins life was any indication, there’s enough room at God’s table for all of us ragamuffins.

Just Stop It

“So, that’s my story. I really want to stop, but I don’t know how.”

“Well, the first thing you should do is stop…”

Ah, yes, the circular reasoning most of us apply to the addict. Obviously, what would help the addict most is to simply stop whatever it is they are addicted to. If it’s smoking, stop smoking. If it’s overeating, stop eating so much. If it’s pornography, stop looking at pictures of naked women (or men). I mean, it’s not exactly rocket science.

Right?

matthew perryConsider the following quote from the Psychology Today website: “When referring to any kind of addiction, it is important to recognize that its cause is not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has nothing to do with one’s morality or strength of character.” Or consider the words of actor Matthew Perry: “A lot of people think that addiction is a choice. A lot of people think it’s a matter of will. That has not been my experience. I don’t find it to have anything to do with strength.”

What makes an addict an addict? Not being able to resist compulsions. In other words, what makes an addict an addict is the fact that they’re addicted to something. If it were as easy as just stopping, they would probably have stopped by now.

Do some people need a firm word or a swift kick in the pants to get their heads straight? Yeah, definitely. Not everyone is able to respond to that, though. Call it a lack of will power or chemical dependency or an addictive personality or whatever, but there are those who just can’t flick the switch and turn it off. They struggle.

And for years I’ve sat in the judgement seat and pointed my finger at them.

I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get how someone could be an alcoholic and still be a decent person. I didn’t get how someone could drift in and out of rehab and still have a place in society. I didn’t get how someone could look at pornography and claim to care about their marriage and family.

I didn’t understand addiction. And I didn’t understand mercy or grace.

I want to just stop judging the addict. I’ve been where they are, and most days I am where they are. I want them to feel free to come forward and ask for help without fear. I want them to be able to just stop hiding and get the help they need.

Sometimes “just stopping” isn’t that easy, though.

Death In The Family

I had intended on starting a series of posts today reflecting on whether or not bad behaviors necessarily mean people are bad themselves … but my heart just isn’t in it.

There must be some way to stop all this death.

Suicide is such a frightening word to consider, and it occupied a space in the news both in the county I live in and on the national level Robin WIlliamstoday. Out of respect for the family (and because I don’t really know what happened), I won’t say too much about the local instance, other than to say it allegedly involved a gunshot wound to the head. Everyone probably knows about the national news by now: Robin Williams is dead.

Authorities are stating that Williams cause of death is believed to be “a suicide due to asphyxia.” I’m sure if you glanced at the top of this page, you noticed the word “Christian” in the blog title. I know little to nothing of Williams religious affiliations, but he seemed at times to not exactly be fond of Christianity as a whole (even though he was raised in a very religious home). His language, particularly in his stand-up routines, could be off-the-charts crude. He was one of the funniest men alive, but I’m not sure what was in his soul.

None of that mattered today. When I read the news that Robin Williams had died, I felt as if I had lost a family member. And that made me very, very sad.

There was a certain tenderness beneath all the madcap antics Williams put on display. That tenderness emerged later on in his acting career in movies such as AwakeningsGood Will Hunting, and even Patch Adams (which may contain the funniest joke ever involving gynaecology). And there were also the numerous trips to rehab for alcohol and drug addiction, and, finally, the severe depression he was apparently battling prior to his death.

Through his comedy and acting, he was a part of my life. Through his struggles, I learned he was a human being, just like me.

I don’t know that a faith in God could have eased Williams’ mental suffering and the anguish that led him to apparently take his own life. Part of me wonders how he managed to make it through so many other trials only to commit suicide at the age of 63. At some point, the struggle overtook him, and he couldn’t find the strength to go on.

There must be some way to stop all this death.

Interestingly, in a post on Williams’ own Take That blog site from 2011, he wrote about how he didn’t have to be enslaved by feelings of sadness and depression. I only wish these words could have sustained him today…

“We do get ‘hard wired’ by certain things about ourselves, negative soul/life destroying stuff … seems impossible to get out of. It isn’t, it’s a choice.

“Things can change. I can choose happy … what a gift.”

 

Sins vs. Mistakes

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

I hear the word “mistake” used a lot these days. Thing is, I don’t think many people are using the word correctly.

Take Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, for example. By now, most people know that Rice knocked his wife out and dragged herray rice from an Atlantic City elevator (Thank you, TMZ.). He would later apologize and call the incident “the biggest mistake of my life,” but I don’t think his wording is quite adequate. I mean, to me a mistake would have been aiming for her stomach and hitting her in the head. Taking a swing, well, that doesn’t accidentally happen.

As far as wording goes, I don’t believe a “mistake” is something that can happen deliberately. For instance, if I decide to drink a bottle of tequila and get drunk, my inebriation is not an accident. It would be poor judgement, but the alcohol wouldn’t have accidentally spilled into my mouth. I would have put it there. In fact, the Bible refers to drunkenness as “debauchery,” which leads into a very uncomfortable three-letter word…

S-i-n.

I have only recently begun to understand what this word actually means. To put it more accurately, I’m gradually realizing what Jesus dying for our sins really entails. For years, this is how I thought forgiveness works: If I commit a sin by mistake (like cutting someone off in traffic accidentally or something), God is cool with that because I didn’t know what I was doing. If I knowingly did something wrong, though, I would suffer dire consequences because God does not take kindly to His rules being broken. Thus, any bad circumstance that occurred in my life must be my fault because I can’t … stop … sinning.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Okay, I like that verse. I always say that the apostle Paul wouldn’t have spent so much time telling all those churches to stop doing bad stuff unless, well, they were doing lots of bad stuff. And these were the Christians he was writing to, not the heathens on the street. It would appear, then, that God stands ready to forgive a Christian if they sin, whether it is on purpose or not.

But…

“No one who is born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he hasbrennan been born of God.” This scripture is not so reassuring. There are countless stories out there of alcoholics who poured all their liquor down the drain the night they got saved, but there are also those stories of people who continued to struggle with addiction for the rest of their lives (Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, would be an example of this.). Did the second group not really get saved? If they confessed every time they got drunk, were they still covered? I’ve never been drunk, but I’ve done plenty of other dumb things since becoming a Christian. What does that mean for me?

To be honest, I’m still struggling with the answer to that question. I look at the story of Peter in the Bible, and I see forgiveness written all over it. In fact, Jesus even told Peter how he was going to sin. Peter didn’t accidentally not recognize a photo of Jesus that night; he deliberately and purposefully said to the crowd, “I don’t know the man.” You can’t inadvertently lie and say you don’t know the son of God when, in fact, you do. If Jesus could have mercy on Peter after that, it would stand to reason that deliberate sins could be covered.

Regardless of the answer to this question, though, the key point I’m trying to make is that sins should be owned. They shouldn’t be reclassified as “mistakes” because they’re usually not committed accidentally. And if they aren’t owned and confessed as being deliberate acts – no matter how awful the judgement may be – then they can’t ever be dealt with properly.

john newtonThe mistake would be to think I’m not the kind of person who would do that kind of thing, because I obviously was. We all are, and that’s why we need Jesus so desperately. As John Newton once said:

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

Recovery

For lack of a better way to put it, I spun out at the end of last week. Situations were pressing on my nerves, and I went to bed Thursday evening nearly nauseous. I lost my perspective, handled things poorly, covered things up, and lost my peace. I regained a little of it yesterday, and then woke up today without it again. I stood in front of the mirror and called myself names. I just wanted to be alone, which is very difficult to achieve in a house with a wife and five children. I escaped for a two-mile walk, but not before irritating pretty much every member of my family with my rotten attitude.

I’m leveling out a little this afternoon, but my stomach still feels weird, and I’m still wrestling with what upset me in the first place. I headfeel angry and stupid and foolish and hurt and weak. This isn’t exactly new for me. I’ve been here before. But I haven’t been at this level in a while. I remembered my counseling, took my medication, exercised, prayed, even poured my guts out to a friend over some burgers and fries Friday night, but I couldn’t shake that old ghost. I knew I had messed up, and the thought crept back into my head that I was always going to mess things up because that’s simply what I do. It’s in my DNA.

Thankfully, I’m slowly learning that recovery does exist when these feelings hit, but I’m also painfully discovering that I have to own blame and accept consequences when I do idiotic things. And while my grace tends to extend pretty far when it comes to other people, I have virtually zero tolerance for myself. I expect the hammer to fall on me because I deserve it, but at the same time I really don’t want it to because I’m a coward. I scheme and I plot to mitigate the damages, all while chastising myself for repeating the same old mistakes over and over again.

Recovery from depression can be a vicious and unforgiving process. Feelings have to be acknowledged before they can be dealt with. I mean, if I broke my leg but I kept insisting that the bone was intact, I would never heal properly because I would keep trying to walk around on it as if it was a healthy limb. As crappy as it feels, there is a necessity in admitting fear, anxiety, sadness, addiction, and any other number of emotions that commonly accompany depression. The key is to not wallow in them or just accept them as states that are always just going to be. A daily process and battle exists to achieve victory, but no one should ever claim it is easy.

I forgot all this over weekend and sunk into a hole. I wanted to think of myself as “cured,” when wellness is a process I’ll probably be walking out for the rest of my days on this earth. I gave wounds power over me, and I let my emotions get away from me. To be honest, I don’t feel a whole lot better today, but I have no choice but to keep pushing. It recently dawned on that in certain areas of my life, I’m not even sure what “normal” is, but I know it exists.

fergusonComedian and actor Craig Ferguson once offered a tremendously accurate description of how suffering in a disease is often what promotes healing when he said, “… What mattered was that when treated as a disease, those who suffered from it were most likely to recover.” Even though Ferguson was addressing alcoholism, I believe his words ring true for depression as well. Recovery doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes it downright sucks. It’s necessary, though, as we progress through life, whether we have a broken bone or a clouded mind. I just wish it was a faster process.