I have been particularly struck by a recent television campaign in regard to meth which states: “Meth… not even once!” This is one particular drug which is vicious in its addictive ability to actually physically re-wire the brain, even after only one use, and to create a self-reinforcing neural network geared towards satisfying its craving for dopamine. The county in which I live in Georgia is Effingham county, know in the area as Meth-ingham county due to its proliferation of home meth-labs. Every so often there will a loud BOOM! as yet another home-lab blows, followed by the house shaking and fire-engine sirens wailing down the road.
While meth and other drugs have the chemical ability to become addictive, for many people the real issue is not the substance itself but that person’s relationship to life which drives them to interact with the substance in a destructive way. Do we deal with what life brings up, or do we run from dealing with things? So, the real question becomes not the drug, but what drives the person to reach for the drugs, which is often based in not knowing how to interact with life in a healthy way.
Reading this, one could be tempted to think: What does any of this have to do with me since I’m not addicted to drugs, booze, over-eating or sexual compulsion? And that exactly makes my point… that it is not the things themselves that are the problem, but the way that we think about them, which then affects the way in which we live in relationship to them. It is as possible to be addicted to a way of thinking as it is to be addicted to a substance. Addictive ways of thinking and approaching life which are pernicious to our spiritual life can be: “What can I get away with? Who’s to know? Why should I do it, it’s not my responsibility?! At least I’m better than he is!”
Just as drugs re-wire the brain, so too addictive thinking establishes its own self-reinforcing neural network. Simply understanding one’s problem does not make the problem go away; only a different way of living and relating to the problem can help in dealing with the problem. Steps must be taken to address our way of thinking and interacting with life which is facilitating the problem. It has been said that the definition of insanity is to do things the same way and yet to expect different results; change comes when I am willing (willingness is a choice, a decision) to change, to go about things differently, to think differently, and to live differently. In order to change our thinking we must become aware of how we think and what we think about.
Generally, advances in our spiritual life do not occur in one nuclear flash, but through incremental steps of growth in awareness. So how can we go about growing? It can be helpful to identify one strand of our addictive thinking which we would like to change; now, switch our wristwatch to the other wrist. Whenever we go to check the time we will be brought up short when our watch is not where we are accustomed to seeing it. Instead of being miffed about the inconvenience (as slight as it is) of having to then look at the other wrist, use that occurrence as a sort of post-it note reminding the self about that strand of thinking of which we wish to become more conscious. The more that this awareness of the problem-triggered-by-the-wristwatch occurs, the more awareness of that which we want to change will move to the forefront of our awareness, thereby enabling us to be more aware throughout the day. Being aware as life is occurring gives us a much better chance of changing our thinking and living than by our being unaware.
If we think that the cost of buying meth and other drugs is expensive, think about how much it costs our spiritual life to continue plodding through our days unaware. Wouldn’t it be better to finally wake up?