“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.
And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.
But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
1 Corinthians 10:13
Addiction has been called a separation from God. Clearly, when you act on an addiction you aren’t acting in a Godly manner but, are you separated from God? This would justify ultimate negative judgement for someone struggling with an addiction. The thought that God is no longer with you would lend credence to every pejorative statement that might be cast upon you, much like the woman caught in adultery.
This form of judgmentalness would then become more pervasive than it already is as many, if not all of us, struggle with some form of addiction. The verse above provides another point of view as it would seem to indicate an active ongoing relationship despite addiction. Step 2 of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to “finding a power greater than yourself”. I think when you look for your higher power you will only need to look inside yourself as a temple for the Holy Spirit. He is and has always been there, much as in Mary Stevenson’s poem, “Footprints in the sand”.
God and Neurobiology
From a neurobiological standpoint, your subconscious mind, defined as anything you are not presently thinking about, is vast. Under normal conditions, it is totally dedicated to your well- being. You stand up and it raises your blood pressure, you sit down and it lowers it. It uses information stored from before your birth to optimize each moment of your life. It assesses future possibilities so that automated circuits optimize each moment of your life, with an eye towards the future.
Your subconscious mind’s decision-making involves constantly assessing and reassessing every cell of your body. It is estimated that it possesses 95% of your total processing ability turning your conscious mind into a fancy pair of glasses through which your subconscious mind sees. It is always on, always refining and always cueing you about what is going on around you. Your subconscious mind’s influence is even more ubiquitous than this. It controls every thought, feeling and every move you make.
Let’s consider who and what is in control of your movements. Before you move, it sends signals allowing you to think about creating the movement. When you finally begin a movement, conscious mind moves your body crudely, while your subconscious mind adds smoothness, preciseness and personality to each movement. When you change a movement, subconscious mind activates and allows the change just before the change is made. When you aren’t moving, it prevents any extraneous movement. It also assesses and considers the context in which you are moving. It helps form your “context dependent learning”. It also performs all the same types of processing for every thought and feeling you have.
Why Separation from God is Impossible
Now let’s see how God has wired himself into all of this. Andrew Newberg MD, is a neuroscientist who has spent his life studying the effects of spirituality on the brain. He has found that the “interoceptive system”, which includes the receptors that innervate the inside of your body, are a part of what produces your “sense of self”. These signals from the inside of your body make their way up to the thalamus where much of your subconscious mind first organizes. The thalamus is also responsible for solidifying your sense of internal and external reality. These signals then travel up to your parietal cortex where your “sense of self” is actually generated.
With dedicated periods of prayer, your parietal cortex enhances its capabilities creating a more distinct and pervasive sense of self. Over time, as prayer includes a sense of your relationship with God, this part of your brain creates a new “sense of self” as a child of God strengthening your connection to your faith and faith efforts. Your thalamus also undergoes changes with intense ongoing prayer. At first these changes only occur with prayer, ultimately these changes become permanent creating dramatic changes to your personal purpose and sense of reality.
These systems are always on. There is no coming or going of these circuits God provided to communicate with Him. There are several other subconscious circuits involved in addiction. One involves your amygdala. From the thalamus, some of the incoming information goes to your amygdala. This is an emotional part of your brain that monitors the emotional relevance of everything around you. Information that arrives here before arriving at the cortex creates a “first look” at anything or anyone.
Your God given amygdala is a wonderful tool. It allows you to begin to respond to someone before you have all the information. You anticipate better. You respond more quickly at first and as a conversation changes in tone or flavor. It is always watching for anything new, any change. When needed, it can send signals that prepare you to fight or run from a potentially dangerous situation. Before you consciously realize that there is a bear behind you, your subconscious mind with the help of your amygdala has your mental focus, heart rate and respirations ready for action.
The Problem in Addiction
Here’s what I believe to be the problem in addiction. This “quick read” flight or fight circuit is in a dynamic balance with your fuller, more complex sense of self system that includes your cerebral cortex. In fight or flight situations, it takes over. In situations where connection with others predominates it takes on a smaller role. There is a third system that guides personal motivation and this system lacks the usual integration with the other two and your sense of self system. Thus, the largest organizing system of the three systems isn’t functioning well, giving your “quick read” amygdala system far too much responsibility.
The results are similar to someone who is chronically overwhelmed, but in this case, often without evidence of an initiating overwhelming event. Eventual results are overwhelming and at times addiction can begin with an overwhelming event. Your fight or flight system predominates. You become more anxious and/or angry with little, if any provocation. This alternates with the tendency to self-sooth and self-medicate with a range of behaviors from food and pornography to drugs and alcohol. As time elapses, the orbital-frontal cortex becomes involved leaving a person blaming themselves and others for anything and everything.
God is there. God is always there and God is the answer. The 12 Steps of AA are a systematic approach to restore the balance and God’s purpose behind your sense of self and your flight or fight circuits. Spending time in prayer strengthens your sense of self system. Focusing your prayer in a “one day at a time” manor intensifies your sense of being “a child of God” restoring the depth and distinctness of your healthy sense of self. Over time, your efforts will restore your spiritual sense of reality as your thalamus responds to intense, life changing prayer and meditation over time.
God hasn’t left you but as stated in the verse above, he is your only way out, as is true for us all.
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