So here goes one of those painfully transparent, self-therapy posts. Today I took my kids to the beach. I don’t like the beach. I never have. But my entire family does. So every now and then I relent and take them (even though I live two-tenths of a mile from the beach). Where our beach is (in Ocean Springs, MS), there is very little parking available. All of the massive lots on the beach have no parking in front of their houses (even though their “front yards” are longer than a football field). I respect property rights and don’t park there. There are a couple of subdivisions, however. One, in particular, has only about eight completed houses. I pulled in the subdivision and parked off of the road not far from a stop sign (although I wasn’t parked on the road, so I wasn’t blocking the road or stop sign). I parked here specifically because I wanted to take my Labrador retriever to play on the beach where there weren’t other people or dogs around.
After about 10 minutes this man drove down and started yelling at me that this was private property and I had to move my car. I asked what I was hurting. He said “You don’t want me parking in your front yard,” to which I replied he was more than welcome to park in my front yard if it meant I could park there. He proceeded to take a picture of my license plate and tell me he was calling the police after I had already told him I was going to move my car twice (and had already started walking that way, with my dog in my arms). So i took my family home.
Why are you telling me this, Greg?
Because the flesh dies hard. My flesh wanted to cuss at this man, which I didn’t. My flesh wanted to fight this man, which I didn’t. My flesh wanted to smart off to this man, which I only slightly did. The Holy Spirit was telling me that I knew I was even in the wrong (even if it was a VERY minor thing). The Holy Spirit was telling me to move somewhere else. The Holy Spirit was guiding me. But out of nowhere (because it had been a very pleasant day up to that point), the flesh was alive and well, battling fiercely to have me be unChrist-like. The Flesh dies hard.
Addicts battle not only the flesh but their “midbrain” as well.
The midbrain is the part of the brain that controls instincts. It isn’t controlled by logic or reason. It is controlled by very strong impulses. It is the part of the brain that controls fight or flight. In an addicts brain, the midbrain has determined that using whatever drug the addict is hooked on, is necessary for survival (either emotionally or even physically). The midbrain argues with the logical part of the brain that knows the high is never good enough. It never lasts long enough. The logical part of the brain knows that all the stuff addicts do to get high are wrong, unacceptable, and destructive — these two parts of the brain war against each other. The midbrain usually wins. When the addict is trying to get sober, the midbrain usually defeats the logical brain because it convinces the brain that using is necessary for survival. When people ask questions like, “Why can’t you just quit?” We can’t “just quit” because the midbrain calls the shots.
Getting high feels good!
Let’s not pretend that getting high doesn’t physically feel good. The physical body enjoys it. The mental and emotional parts of the body enjoy it. There’s a reason why you (almost) never hear of people being addicted to eating dog feces or burning themselves with hot irons or watching C span. Those things are not fun. They do not feel good. But all addicts know, even if they won’t admit it, that the high never satisfies. And it always disappears too soon. We also all know that the things we endure to get high are not worth it, but we cannot stop. The flesh dies hard.
We have to kill the flesh daily to get clean and stay clean.
As I sit here typing, still trying to mentally force my blood pressure to go down, it is important for us to know that killing the flesh is job number 1 in order to maintain sobriety. When I say “kill the flesh” I’m not talking about any kind of self-mutilation. I mean doing the next right thing. Once we choose to commit our lives to Jesus Christ (the ONLY REAL higher power), we commit to submitting our will to him in the big things and the small things. Day by day, even minute by minute, we come to forks in the road. We come to places where we have to choose to follow Jesus or follow our flesh. We already know where our flesh leads us. If we want to end up in a different place than where we were before, we have to follow a different leader than the one we followed before.
If you know all that, why do addicts relapse?
Addicts relapse because it’s not that simple. The flesh dies hard. When we are overly-stressed, or hurt, or lonely, or scared, or even bored, all of these types of emotional circumstances lead us to a place where the midbrain overwhelms the logical part, and before we even blink we’re high, again. That doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible, or that we don’t make our own choices. Sometimes, however, those choices happen so quickly, they are almost a blur. Then we’ve thrown ourselves back into the shame and regret cycle we were in before (that was so very hard to get out of). The addict is not the hardest person to set free from that cycle. The addict that has relapsed is the hardest one to free from shame and regret. It’s a tough battle, although very win-able.
So how do you kill the flesh in the moment?
The answer to being able to kill the flesh in the moment is two-fold. It is practicing prayer and accountability. If we as addicts grow accustomed to talking to God, handing over our thoughts to Him, seeking His will, and giving Him the freedom to change us and show us how to live, then when those moments arise, it will be a habit for us to turn to God, FIRST. Also, if we are in the habit of reaching out to people to check in, or keeping people informed about the things we face that push us to places where temptations’ sway increases, then those around us who know us best, know what warning signs to look for. And if we are in the habit of calling when things begin to get tough, when a crisis strikes, our first instinct will be to call our accountability partners (plural) and tell them what is going on. Growing these new habits takes intentional effort and practice. If the addict thinks he can face addiction alone, without rehab, he is deceiving himself. If an addict thinks he can go to rehab but get out and not rely on his accountability partners and be successful, then he has been deceived.
God’s plans have always called for pairs.
Jesus had disciples. When those disciples were sent out to minister, they were sent out in pairs. We are called to rely on one another. We as addicts, desperately need to have others (that are not family) that we can rely on. It is in an addict’s nature (through self-training) to hide, lie, and withhold things. Learning to be open, honest, and transparent will take some work, but it is very doable. You just have to choose to be accountable. Good accountability partners will not judge you or condemn you for what you feel or what you think. They won’t even condemn you or judge for a slip. They will be the one beside you, pointing you back to Jesus, offering support, strength and advice. They will counter the “other voice” inside your brain, leading you towards relapse.
But that flesh dies hard
Just know that you are in for the fight of your life, whether you are the addict or somebody that loves an addict. This fight, however, you have the best coach and trainer possible. You have Jesus Christ in your corner, guaranteeing you victory, as long as you follow His instructions. And at the end of the day, why wouldn’t you follow His lead (even when it might not make sense)? My best way got me to The Home of Grace. All of our best ways got us separated from God and condemned to Hell for all eternity. Not a great track record. Kill that flesh, enjoy your freedom, and see the wonderful things God has for you.