Friday, November 21, 2008
If we had some power to perform miracles at our command and could take away alcohol and illicit drugs from our society our jails would have hugely excessive capacity. It would be close to the truth to say that we could immediately close 3 out of every 4 prisons. I've seen figures showing that alcohol alone accounts for close to half of all incarcerations in penal institutions. It is not only drinking while driving that puts people in jail, but it is the things that people do while intoxicated that end them up in prison. Domestic violence, sexual crimes of all kinds, robberies, assaults, financial troubles, failed businesses, failed marriages, child support arrearages and on and on all have their roots in many cases in the abuse of alcohol. For many years, I was a suicide hotline worker. It was huge the percentage of our calls that had as a foundational component, the abuse of alcohol. It was not often that the one who had the drinking problem who called us, but it was most often family members, or friends, or co-workers who were effected by the drinking who called us.
I would often be on a call for an hour or more before that relationship would be revealed. The nameless, faceless person whom I was talking with would begin talking about a father or spouse or other family member who through their drinking had terribly impacted the caller's life and thereby caused great great problems. A little bell would go off in my mind, and yet another call with the revealed ever widening circles of anguish and destruction caused by alcohol.
In my family, my father is, was (he no longer drinks, so I'm not sure of the term he would use for himself) an alcoholic. My brother has dropped out of our family secreting himself a long ways away largely as a result of his addictions. My sister, her life is shattered, job, family, health all ruined as a result of alcohol abuse. In my own life alcohol caused great problems. I was the lucky one. I came to God before the damage was too great.
I give God all the credit. When I came to God, immediately my urge to drink was gone. It was not a battle. There was no fight. I simply was given, through the infilling of the Spirit of God, great joy, great power and by that, the desire to drink was no longer there. Almost from the very first day of being filled with God's Spirit, I had no more desire to drink at all. Roughly maybe six months after I came to God, I did drink again. I had several beers and I hated it. It was the same feeling as always. I wasn't drunk, but I had a good buzz as you would call it and it was awful. It was like there was a wall between God and I. I could not feel his presence. It was like I was alone and isolated. Other than communion I've not had even a single sip of alcohol since then.
My battle with tobacco was another thing. That was a war. For those of you who have been blessed not to know being addicted to something first hand, you may look down upon nicotine addiction as not being a true addiction, but nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man. It used to be called 'the most', but I'm not sure how it rates currently in addictiveness in relation to meth and crack. At one time I knew the figures, but something like over 50% of all people who smoke more than 2 packs of cigarettes will go on to smoke for at least 5 years. It's worse than heroin in that respect.
I know lots of crack addicts and meth addicts who stopped using their illicit drug, but could not stop using tobacco. And that is very much a stumbling block for them, especially if they do not recognize that bondage is bondage is bondage. The addiction to meth and the addiction to nicotine both originate in the same place and it is my experience that the addicts who are most successful in staying off their illicit drug are the ones who also overcome their addiction to nicotine. In other words, the seemingly innocuous, legal addiction tobacco will lead you back into an addiction to illicit drugs.
I fought for about 18 months to overcome my addiction to nicotine. I would do well for a few days and something would always happen. You are especially vulnerable for a relapse in times of stress. I was doing well when the planes crashed onto the buildings in New York City on September 11, 2001. I hadn't smoked for maybe 3 days. Within an hour of learning the news that morning, I went out and bought a box of cigars and was smoking again, but importantly I kept fighting. It's almost funny now, I don't know how many times I was anointed and the church prayed for me. I probably really blew out their budget for olive oil the year that I was trying to quit.
When you fail, the devil tells you to to give up. A little voice in your head says: "You can't do it. You'll never succeed. Give up." That is a lie. If you keep trying you will succeed. It was two weeks before Christmas 2001, at a ladies service in the jail, two ladies asked me to pray for them, for their families, etc. It is a difficult time for everyone in jail over the holidays, but I think especially for women with small children. It is terribly difficult being away from their families, especially with the knowledge that they only have themselves to blame. They know how much their children miss them. It is very painful. It is really a very difficult, a very emotional time. Anyway the three of us made a little circle. We joined hands and I told them that I also needed their prayers. I was fighting a dragon in my addiction to nicotine and I needed their prayers to overcome this.
That night, in that little prayer circle God took my addiction away. From that point forward I had no more withdrawal symptoms. No more anxiety, no craving. . . it was absolutely gone. But if I had stopped my battle any time before that, I would still have been addicted today. I do not know why God chose that moment to deliver me and not sometime six months before. I was able to go back to those two ladies and tell them about God answering their prayers for me. On many subsequent occasions, I have given my testimony as to how God used prayer in the jail to deliver me and to free me from that terrible bondage.
It is a terrible thing, that craving, the desire for the artificial appetite you created in your body for the addictive substance. It is a hunger. That is the best way to understand it. Consider what a powerful attraction food naturally has for us. When we try to fast the same pangs, the same rationalizations, the same spiritual/physical battle takes place. . . it is exactly the same as trying to quit a drug that you are in bondage to. The difference being that a fast ends. To have victory over your addiction, your fasting of it can never end.
When I talk to the men and women at the jail about usage or addiction to nicotine or alcohol, legal drugs by man's law, I ask them what is it about using nicotine that is against God's will? By far the majority of the time they will at least know of or sometimes even quote:
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (17) If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
And you surely cannot argue with tobacco being bad for your body and through use of it, you are thereby defiling the temple of God that is your body, but to me that is not the primary problem with tobacco. I smoked for roughly 30 years. At a minimum of 20 cigarettes per day (or surely their equivalent in cigars), that is approximately 200,000 cigarettes. I have now quit for almost 7 years and I have little, if any in the way of ill effects to show for my 30 years of smoking. I am undoubtedly still at greater risk for cancer, but other than that I am not aware of any ill effects of my 30 years of smoking. I am assured that if I had eaten 200,000 Twinkies or 200,000 Tootsie Rolls, or if I had consumed 200,000 cans of Pepsi in those 30 years my temple would have been in far worse shape than it is from my smoking. There are lots of things we do to our bodies (or not do) that are as bad or worse than smoking. Laying out in the sun is terrible for you. Sitting on the couch and not getting enough exercise is not good for your temple at all.
So if being bad for your body were the only problem with nicotine, I think it would be well down the list of things to be concerned about. The problem with nicotine is the bondage that it places you into. It places you in chains. It takes your freedom. You are a servant to your addiction. When I ran out, I would walk barefoot in the snow if necessary to get more cigars. When you are addicted to something, satisfying your addiction, keeping your addiction happy is the most important thing in your life and that to me is the reason that you must fight with everything you have to free yourself from every addiction. God must be the most important thing in your life and He cannot be number one, if that position is already filled by your addiction.
Again men and women who have been addicted to crack or meth fool themselves that they can just get rid of those illegal addictions and keep their cigarettes or keep on drinking, but all these bondages come from the same source. Did you ever think of how all these addictions like to hang out together? Drinking and gambling go wonderfully together. Illicit drugs and fornication are commonly found with each other. Drinking, smoking, and strip clubs go hand in hand. You cannot separate them one from another. You cannot pick and choose which sins to keep and which to get rid of.
If you had lung cancer and woke up from the surgery to remove the cancer and the surgeon told you that he'd taken most of it out, but he decided that some of it wasn't important, so he left it in. What would you think? To leave some of the cancer and not to remove it all, is a death sentence. The small remaining bit will grow and grow until it consumes you and you die. It is the same with sin. No matter what it is, we can never rest satisfied allowing it to remain in our lives. What ever sin we make a compromise with and allow to remain within us, will eventually cause us to fall away from God and die. . .
My point in writing this is not to justify or to defend addictions or to make excuses for people who are addicted to things, but maybe to gain understanding and compassion for those who battle and sometimes stumble in their fight for freedom. I remember about a month or maybe even a little less, after I started coming to church, a men's fellowship fishing trip was planned for a charter boat on Lake Erie. I signed up to go. We left Friday after work and rented a condominium so we could get a daybreak start Saturday morning on the walleye boat. One of the last things before turning in for the night, I went out and sat on the curb next to the parking lot and smoked a cigar. As I sat there, a man from our little fishing fellowship group was coming back from dinner. He walked up, and he didn't say this rudely or anything, but He said, "You're Smoking. . ." It was just a statement of fact, an observation. . . he wasn't condemning me or anything, just pointing out the obvious. Until I wrote these words, I didn't realize how much of a debt I owe this brother. He could have lectured me on how bad smoking was. He could have cited scripture on how sinful smoking was. He could have told me to just have faith. . . just say no. . .give it to God. He could have given me lots of cliches, lots of pat answers, lots of things I already knew. He could have made me feel very small. He could have made himself feel very good and very righteous at my expense. If he had been unkind, he could have caused me to turn away. . .Thank you Lord. . .
Instead, he was kind and we talked. I told him I was fighting to quit, but it was a great struggle for me. He seemed surprised that I was openly smoking and not trying to hide it. I explained that I didn't feel that I needed to hide it from anyone in the church. What would the point in that be? God was the one I had to answer to and there was no hiding from Him. My brother walked inside, leaving me with my thoughts and my cigar. . .
An addiction, no matter to what, is a terrible thing. You create an appetite within yourself that really never dies. It is always there waiting for your guard to drop. . .waiting for a weak moment. . . waiting for you to become spiritually malnourished. . .
I give thanks to the power of God to deliver. . .
I give thanks to inmates at the jail who joined with me in prayer. . .
I give thanks to the power of God that keeps me from going back. . .
I give thanks to a brother who was kind and loving. . .
Thank you my Lord. . .
I love you my God. . .