Addiction of some sort is one of the most common struggles shared by men and women who end up locked up in America.
It’s very likely that the person you are building a relationship with in prison has suffered immensely through the chaos of substance abuse. Meth. Heroin. Cocaine. Pills. Alcoholism. Those are the obvious ones. But there’s also addiction to toxic relationships—codependency and physical abuse. To gang belonging, its power, drama and identity.
So—why do people repeat behavior that clearly destroys their lives?
The Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament as prison letters, confesses the heart of this struggle in a letter to a group in Rome: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
This month’s segment cannot cover the volumes of traditions around addiction. But we want to offer some new lenses to try on. For considering not only your releasing friend’s possible addiction history and recovery road ahead, but also the hidden addictions in our own families, congregations, and personal lives.
The point in all of this, remember, is mutual transformation. That we find unexpected kinship with our incarcerated friend. That Christ will meet us as we more authentically meet one another.
For this months’ group discussion, please
Read the two brief insights below
WATCH THE TED TALK ON ADDICTION & HUMAN CONNECTION
LISTEN TO THE BRILLIANT PODCAST EPISODE at the bottom. It’s quite possibly the richest, broadest conversation on addiction we’ve found. It may offend you, inspire you, but will certainly open new conversation and compassion.
1. Addiction Is Self-Medication. To numb pain.
Globally recognized addiction expert Dr. Gabor Mate says we shouldn’t be asking, “Why the addiction?” but rather, “Why the pain?”
Folks locked up for the chaos of their addictions are often survivors of immense traumas. Child abuse, violence in the home growing up, lack of nurturing environments, gang violence, being passed through the foster system like unwanted goods, broken relationships. There is shame and guilt with what has been done to them—and even more piled on from what they’ve done to themselves and others.
The heart of recovery work—and our role with in supporting our incarcerated friend—is not in managing behavior and sobriety, but creating a relationship of safety and curiosity to explore the root pains beneath the numbing behaviors.
Whether our friend is sober or relapsing, openly engaging recovery or trying to avoid it, our role is to build relationships of compassion and trust. In this kind of relationship, healing of past and present pain can gently, slowly, happen. The fears and wounds we run from with secrecy, drugs, isolation, anger can be opened—to God’s love, forgiveness, and healing.
2. Addiction Is Isolation. Recovery Is Learning How to Trust Again.
Our friends at New Earth Recovery in Skagit Valley point us toward the video below and it’s profound statement: the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It’s connection. Most of our wounds are interpersonal. So most self-medicating addictions (and the lies we believe) are how we deal with the pain of cutting ourselves off from others and the hurt we’ve experienced.
Our goal is not to become competent addiction counselors. What your team offers is a nest of new connection. New relationships. Our incarcerated friend will hopefully engage their (often probation-required) outpatient treatment evaluations and groups. You can support them in that if they choose it. But again, you are not their addiction counselors or accountability structure. The magic and power of what we can do is engage in the kinds of deeper relationship that retrain the fearful brain into ongoing, safe attachment.
Our work is to be open to this bumpy ride of learning to trust each other.
As we admit how terrifying it is to come out from behind our middle-class “I’m-doing-great”-facades, we can appreciate how much courage it takes our releasing friends to risk vulnerability in dropping their addictions, street facades, and other survival behaviors that have protected them for so long.
This is the heart of the material this month:
3. BONUS MATERIAL: Addiction Is Everywhere!
If you have time, treat yourself to this wild interview below that explores a new addiction angle on everything from shopping to political leadership. Watch with a friend. Listen on your podcast app while driving. While we can’t endorse all the opinions and even language in between these two unique minds, we think it is powerful to stir us into much larger thinking together.
You can listen to the episode on whatever podcast platform you use on your phone. Search “Under the Skin w/ Russel Brand” (see the icon cover here) and find the “Gabor Mate” episode. Enjoy.
How might seeing addiction as a numbing-of-pain help you better appreciate whatever addictions your incarcerated friend might struggle with? Connecting these dots will help you un-learn judgmental impulses towards him/her, and deepen your ability to care.
What kinds of pain do you, people in your group, hide and numb in other normal, acceptable, middle-class ways? How are these numbing behaviors (while legal or acceptable) hurting you? How do they further isolate you from more authentic relationships with each other, the world, and God?
How can your OPOP team, your growing relationships with your person, and your larger church/community, be like a “Rat Park” for your partner with long experiences of isolation?
If connection is what we most seek, how does that re-focus our goal—away from trying to figure out reentry details . . . to maintaining and building human connection with our person? What keeps us from offering that connection we all need?