08/6/14

Don’t Ever Give Up

Many years ago a friend convinced me to try rock climbing. I knew how to rappel, but climbing up a rock face is very different than bouncing down one on a rope. He selected a cliff face that was about fifty feet from the ground to the top; set the top rope anchor to a tree near the edge of the cliff face; and climbed it first to show me how it was done. Piece of cake he said.

The hardest move of the climb was about ten feet up. I climbed up to a rock corner where I was supposed to stand sideways with one foot on a sliver of rock less than half as wide as my shoe. That was the easy part. Then I had to STEP UP onto ANOTHER sliver of rock and slip my left hand into an envelope-like fissure, where friction from pressing the back of my hand against the rock envelope would give me the balance needed while I lifted and secured my right foot on the same tiny rock ledge and found something for my right hand to hang onto.  Did I mention that the ledge was LESS THAN HALF AS WIDE as my climbing shoe?

I tried repeatedly and failed to secure my right hand or my right foot. My friend continued to urge me to try again. So I did and failed again; and again. Now I was tired. We had an argument because he wouldn’t give me enough slack in my safety rope to come off of the rock face and reach the ground. Angrily, I agreed to try one more time. In the midst of thinking this was never going to work I completed the move and was standing on the small rock ledge … with both of my feet and my right hand secure. After I caught my breath, the rest of the climb was the piece of cake my friend said it was. About 30 minutes later I tried the climb again and though I still struggled with the same move, I made it with less of strain because of the knowledge and experience that I had been able to do it.

This climbing experience became a word picture for others in my counseling career to never give up—to keep trying to reach and achieve your goal even when you’ve failed multiple times. It has been a personal lesson of the importance of perseverance and the encouragement of others in growth and change.

The words of Jesus to the father of the boy who would fall repeatedly into the fire speak deeply to me now, for I see myself in the father: “And Jesus said to him, ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:23-24)

chapel pond

image credit: “Chapel Pond Slab” by Boulder Traveler; panoramio.com.

And Paul’s declaration in Philippians 4:13 is one I tell to others and remind myself of from time to time when I need to: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I haven’t done any rock climbing in about twenty-five years. But the last time I went was with a guide in the Adirondacks and I climbed the 700 foot rock face of Chapel Pond Slab. The memory is still with me as is the memory of my first rock climb. The first one was the hardest. And if I had given up, I would have never reached the final one.  Don’t ever give up.

Have you had a similar experience that taught you the value of never giving up?

08/4/14

Playing Chemical Whack-a-Mole

image credit: iStock

image credit: iStock

Eight people at a Friday night party in Oklahoma took a liquid version of the drug 2C-E, a chemical cousin to “Smiles” (a synthetic imitation of ecstasy). They all began having seizures and coughing up blood after about an hour. A 22 year-old woman—one of eight—died. “She just kept having one seizure after another.” The 20-year-old guy who bought the drug off the internet from a company in China, was charged with first-degree murder.

A naked 35 year-old mother died of cardiac arrest after she was tasered by police. High on bath salts, she had tried to chock her three-year old son. She was seen chasing her partner and the three year-old through the neighborhood. The police initially tried unsuccessfully to restrain her with pepper spray, but she was violently combative, so they tasered her.

I’ve been following reports and news stories about the new psychoactive substances (NPS) for awhile, and found a Facebook page, “Synthetic Marijuana and Bath Salts Deaths,” that posted links to the above two stories. The insanity of individuals willing to ingest these unknown and largely untried chemicals amazes me; and I’ve been counseling addicts for over thirty years.

The synthetic drug market is booming worldwide. By 2013, 348 new psychoactive substances (NPS) had been reported to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), most of which were identified between 2008 and 2013. They exist in every region of the world; 94 countries have reported their existence. See the graphic below, found in the 2014 Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment. Roughly five NPS enter the market every month.

NPS graphThe greatest percentage of the NPS fall within three groups: synthetic cannabinoids (28%), synthetic cathinones (25%), and phenethylamines (17%). Synthetic cannabinoids mimic THC. Synthetic cathinones mimic stimulants and other ATS, including MDMA. Phenethylamines have effects that range from stimulant to hallucinogenics.

Easy to obtain, NPS are increasingly popular with teens and young adults. When they become known and are under legal scrutiny, a domino-like effect triggers the creation of newer, and often more potent, versions. A detective with the Grand Forks police department said that: “Anytime we try to figure something out it changes.” Another problem is that synthetic drugs typically don’t show up on drug tests, which makes them popular with anyone who gets treated for drugs—like military personnel and college athletes.

The U.S. and Canada are among the largest and most diversified markets for NPS in the world. Synthetic cannabinoids first appeared in 2008 and were marketed as “legal alternatives to marijuana.” The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that between 2010 and 2012, the number of calls about synthetic marijuana rose by almost 80 percent.

There is some evidence that local “hobby chemists” are making batches of these drugs from chemical products shipped from China. “ Two California men are facing life sentences for their role in the production and distribution of synthetic drugs made from 660 pound of chemical products (worth $1.4 million) smuggled into the U.S. from China. Their arrests were the result of a three-year federal investigation.

“Anybody with a little money to front can import chemicals, mix, and sell it.” China’s new chemical entrepreneurs have also become involved in direct-to-the-consumer sales. A recent report confirmed that last November Eric Chang of Shanghai was arrested by Chinese officials and charged with producing ecstasy. Investigators said he made around $30 million selling drugs to the U.S. and Europe.

Erica Larsen captured the growing problem of NPS beautifully in the closing comments of her AfterPartyChat blog post, “Chem-Sex: Europe’s Synthetic Madness”:

Oh brave new world. You know the future has arrived when even former junkies haven’t heard of half the drugs on the market. Will 12-step groups of the next decade be filled with recovering Miaow Miaow [a synthetic cathinone] addicts? How many arcade tokens will it take before authorities give up on whack-a-mole?

 
08/1/14

It Bites Like a Serpent

Because it gives such a vivid picture of compulsive drinking, Proverbs 23:29-35 is a favorite passage of mine.

image credit: iStock

image credit: iStock

29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?

30 Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine.

31 Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.

32 In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.

33 Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.

34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast.

35 “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.”

Not only does this passage truly capture the out-of-control drinking of an alcoholic, it also displays the rich imagery of biblical Hebrew in the process. The description of unmanageability and negative consequences would fit right in with the personal stories in the AA Big Book or on one of the modern recovery blogs.

The passage begins with a series of rhetorical questions that lays out the unmanageability suffered by alcoholics and problem drinkers throughout the ages: woe, sorrow, strife, complaining, wounds without cause and red eyes. Who has all things? “Those who tarry long over wine.” The litany of questions also suggests someone who is familiar with the negative consequences from “tarrying over wine.” It seems that the author knew of what he wrote from personal experience.

According to R. Laird Harris in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, wine was the most intoxicating drink known in ancient times. The reference to mixed wine suggests a process of first evaporating wine with a high sugar content; then mixing it with more wine to get a higher alcoholic content in the “mixed wine.” Even in Old Testament times problem drinkers knew how to maximize their high with the “hard stuff.”

The imagery of verse 31 is wonderfully seductive: red, red wine that sparkles in your cup and goes down smoothly. But watch out! It bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. The message then and the message today is the same for an alcoholic. The seductive appeal of sparkling wine is just as dangerous as a biting serpent.  And if you do not listen to the warning , you could end up dead.

Now we enter into the heart of a drunken stupor: your eyes see strange things; your heart utters perverse things. Watch this YouTube video of Robin Williams describing how alcoholics “see strange things and utter perverse things.” Nothing much had changed there.

The imagery in verse 34 is of being on a ship in the midst of a storm. Tossed about by the waves, one minute you are in the midst of the sea; the next at the top of the mast. In Psalm 107:27, sailors in a storm are said to be reeling like drunken men. Drunkenness is feeling like you are on a storm tossed ship. Can anyone relate? Like a storm, drunkenness must be “ridden out;” endured until the end. And you are powerless to calm the seas and end the storm.

The drinker says that he was struck, but not hurt (35a); beaten, but he did not feel it (35b). When you’re drunk, pain fails to register. Sometimes you don’t even remember what hit you. The terror of the strange things seen and perverse things uttered is like a dream: when will he awake? And if he does, more wine becomes the goal: “I must have another drink.”

Wine leads to negative consequences for those who pursue it; and the aftermath of a drunken storm leads right back to wine. A bleak, hopeless circle is depicted. The main point of the passage is then: Do not look at wine; it bites like a serpent and leads to an unending circle of sorrow.

So why do we do it? Why do humans turn to wine and other intoxicants? Ronald Siegel suggested in his book, Intoxication, that pursuing intoxicants is a “fourth drive,” following hunger, thirst and sex.

“History shows that we have always used drugs. In every age, in every part of this planet, people have pursued intoxication with plant drugs, alcohol, and other mind-altering substances. . . . This ‘fourth drive’ is a natural part of biology, creating the irrepressible demand for drugs.”

I think Leo Tolstoy is closer to the truth. In his essay “Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?” he said:

“For man is a spiritual as well as an animal being. He may be moved by things that influence his spiritual nature, or by things that influence his animal nature. . . . People drink and smoke, not casually, not from dullness, not to cheer themselves up, not because it is pleasant, but in order to drown the voice of conscience in themselves.”

In the end, the apostle Paul had it spot on. In Romans 7:21-23 he said: “So I find it to be l law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”

Why do you think humans get high? Is there a universal drive for mind-altering substances?