Mark 2:5 & Everything We Think We Know about Addiction might be Wrong

In today’s Gospel reading from Mark, four friends have such faith, and so much love and hope for their paralyzed friend that they cut through the roof of a house in order to get him to Jesus. Now those are friends. Those are the friends you call at midnight when you’ve just been dumped, or need bail money. Those friends are there for you, even if they have to vandalize a house to be so. (And because they’re Bible people, I’m sure they fixed the roof.)

This reading resonated with me, and it reminded me of this TED talk by writer Johann Hari which turns on its head everything we think we know about addiction. It’s only 14 minutes long and well worth the time if you have an addict in your life. Is there anyone alive today who doesn’t?

Mr. Hari gives a nutshell version of the research of Bruce K. Alexander, who posits through his results that addiction is neither moral failing nor chronic disease, but rather an issue of isolation. In today’s society, says Mr. Hari, ”   we have traded floorspace for friends…. we have traded stuff for connections…” and become increasingly isolated during the most connected time in recorded history. It is then perhaps unsurprising that the number of people suffering from addiction issues rises every year, despite the oft-times draconian laws in place to punish them.

Like about everyone these days, we have an addict in our lives. He has sinned gravely against other members of the family and though years old, the wound is deep and appears to be festering rather than healing. An apology was offered but refused, and now backs are turned and that’s not helping. Years of “moneying away” the problems addiction invited in to sit a spell didn’t help. Yelling, crying, pleading, offers of counseling and rehab and outright threats didn’t help. Thus far, detaching with love and refusing to money-away the continued issues isn’t helping, either. We remind him he is loved, but also no, we won’t send money.  All of which puts me in mind of another Gospel, and something about forgiving seventy times seven.

What to do? What is our metaphorical roof? If loving an addict could heal he’d be dancing in the streets, not sitting in rehab. Again. I suppose the idea is that we give it to God, as the saying goes, and we do, daily. If prayer would heal, yadda yadda yadda. Control freaks that we are, Paul and I both long for something we can actually do, or the right word which would incite health and well-being immediately upon exiting our mouths.

Our society is not particularly welcoming to the addict in recovery and for the one with a criminal record, not at all. I imagine it must be a Sisyphean task, rebuilding a life with both country and kin unwilling to help one.

Increasingly often, I find my faith headbutting deeply held beliefs. Mine has been, from time to time, a strident voice assuring friends it is not their duty to go down with the ship and while of course they love their addict they are not required, no one will think less of them, if they detach with love. Squaring “detach with love” against “love one another as I have loved you”often causes profound cognitive dissonance, particularly in light of  Alexander’s research and given the astoundingly positive results of Portugal’s decriminalization of drug use and possession fifteen years ago.

Sometimes “detach with love” feels more like cutting a hole in the floor so the addict can fall further, rather than through the roof where he can be healed. Is detaching with love to ally oneself with those skeptical scribes and wait for failure, rather than joining the four friends and taking one last desperate action in hope and love?

I wish I knew.



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