Orthodoxy and Recovery," and Dr. Albert Rossi, a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of New York, discuss addiction and ways to overcome it. " />
Addiction, Recovery, and Orthodox Christianity
Kevin Allen · November 24, 2013
Fr. George Aquaro, author of the blog "Orthodoxy and Recovery," and Dr. Albert Rossi, a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of New York, discuss addiction and ways to overcome it.
Mr. Kevin Allen: Welcome to a two-hour edition of Ancient Faith Today this evening. We’re streaming live, and we’ll be opening the lines and taking your live calls at 30 minutes past the hour tonight. The call-in number, as the announcer mentioned, is 1-855-AF-RADIO; that’s 1-855-237-2346. I’ll announce the numbers again when the phone lines open after the first break. Our chatroom is now open: go to ancientfaith.com/ancientfaithtoday, and you’ll find the link right there to the chatroom on that page. You can also follow us on Facebook at AncientFaithToday. Please click “Like”; we appreciate that.
Tonight our program, our special, is on an all-too-timely topic. It’s on “Addiction, Recovery, and Orthodox Christianity.” Quoting Dr. Kimá Joy Taylor, who is the director of the Closing the Addiction-Treatment Gap, the CATG Initiative; she writes:
23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs. That’s a big percentage, and that’s approximately one in every ten Americans over the age of 12, roughly equal to the entire population of Texas.
In an article in the UK paper, The [Telegraph], they reported that
In America, one in three women regularly watch porn and 70% of men aged 18 to 24 visit porn sites at least once a month. (And the English-speaking West isn’t even pornography’s most enthusiastic market—that honour goes to Pakistan.)
Tonight my guests and I will be speaking about alcohol, substance addiction, and the epidemic of internet pornography addiction over the next couple of hours, as well as the impact of religion in recovery, focusing, of course, on Orthodoxy Christianity. We’ll be speaking specifically about internet pornography on the final half-hour of the program. So please, when you call in, save that subject, if you’re interested in that, for the last half an hour, and that way it’ll be within the same category.
By the way, if you’re an addict in recovery, or you’re not in recovery, and you want to call in and speak anonymously with a question or a comment, just let our call-screener know, Steve Early, and we’ll take your call and put you on anonymously.
My guests tonight are Fr. George Aquaro; he is in studio. Fr. George is a priest at St. Matthew Antiochian Orthodox Church in Torrance, California. Fr. George is an international speaker on addiction. He recently spoke at an addiction symposium in Moscow, Russia; he’s done them in Romania and other countries. He’s the author of the blog, “Orthodoxy and Recovery.” Fr. George Aquaro, welcome; it’s great to have you back in studio.
Fr. George Aquaro: Thank you very much. It’s an honor.
Mr. Allen: It’s my pleasure.
And Dr. Albert Rossi. Dr. Rossi is a clinical psychologist in the state of New York. He teaches courses in pastoral theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. He was a professor of my guest, Fr. George, we figured about eleven years ago. He’s written numerous articles on psychology and religion, and published a book through Paulist Press entitled Can I Make a Difference?: Christian Family Life Today. Dr. Rossi also provides an excellent bi-weekly podcast which I hope some of you have heard on Ancient Faith Radio, titled Becoming a Healing Presence. Dr. Rossi, it’s great to have you on the program as well this evening.
Dr. Albert Rossi: Thank you, Kevin. It is great for me to be here.
Mr. Allen: Thanks so much to both of you.
Let’s begin with this. In preparing for this, one of the things I read was Fr. Meletios Webber’s Steps of Transformation, a book about the 12 Step program from an Orthodox Christian perspective, and he writes, “It is possible that everyone alive, particularly anyone who lives in relative affluence, is affected by addiction in one form or another.” So let me start with you, Dr. Albert Rossi: what does he mean and how does that impact our conversation tonight about addiction?
Dr. Rossi: I think that he means that I and you and our listeners walk around our world with friends and people in our family and close friendships and are in contact with an addict knowingly or unknowingly (that is, I can identify that person or not), and then I’m impacted by the fact that I’m in relation with an addict. We’ll talk about denial in a bit, but it’s very easy not even to want to think in those terms. Why? Because life is easier. But it’s very interesting, as I thought about that question as well, that what Fr. Meletios talks about as affected by addiction is every human an addict? No. Is every human a sinner? Yes. So we’ll kind of walk that road through this podcast.
My hope is that we provide a safe space now, for the next two hours, for listeners, those who want to speak and those who don’t, to be able to reduce their own defense systems some and let Fr. George’s information come in and all this information from the callers come in, and let it become personal. This is not about academic data. This is about me and the people that I rub shoulders with.
Mr. Allen: Right. Fr. George?
Fr. George: One of the difficulties when you talk about “what is addiction?” that gets to be a real complicated topic… A couple years ago I was somewhere and we did a talk, and immediately everything devolved into: “Well, is my friend an addict? Is my brother an addict?” We have in our society many of the necessary elements to create addiction, and all of us, I think, are in this environment—you brought up internet porn and things like that—we have a lot of these things that are available to us, and people may be in the state where they’re abusing these things but not necessarily addicted. The lines are very blurry, and that’s one of the things about… It’s not necessarily looking at addiction as an on-or-off, you either are or you aren’t… I mean, really looking at [the fact that] there’s a lot of shades within that, and therefore there are a lot of people walking around with a lot of the elements necessary, and they’re struggling with those things.
Mr. Allen: I want to discuss… We’ll discuss a bit later the difference between dependence and addiction, but you’re right: we live in a consumeristic society where intake is always reinforced in all the media we see, whether it be food, whether it be drugs, whether it be sex. We’ll be talking about that.
Dr. Rossi, let me follow up with this: Are addictions—and I’ve read different definitions of this—physical? That is, are they rooted in physical brain effects, or are they also [of a] psychological or spiritual nature?
Dr. Rossi: In my opinion, they are all three, but, yes, addictions are physical. In my lifetime, I’ve seen a big discussion about that diminish. 15 years ago there was a great big discussion: is alcoholism a disease? That discussion doesn’t get much headline or much time these days in serious conversations, because it’s clear that the answer is, yes, it’s physical, meaning there are neurotransmitters and neural circuitry affected by addictive behaviors, and they change, [as do] other parts of the body—liver, with alcohol, and so on. Physical? Yes.
Mr. Allen: And, Fr. George, let me follow up on this with you, and if you have a comment on that one, too, that’s fine. Again, fortunately, thank God, I’m a neophyte in this area. I haven’t experienced this myself, so I’m asking questions maybe the general listener will want to know. Is the addictive practice—the practice itself, whether it be alcohol, abuse, sex, drugs, work, whatever it might be—is that the cause of the disease, or is that the spiritual condition behind it or the psychological condition behind it that is the cause?
Fr. George: I think the easiest way to understand it is to think of a runny nose. Having a runny nose isn’t the disease, but that’s what we consider the illness to be: I have a cold.
Mr. Allen: A symptom.
Fr. George: We know that, deep down, underlying all of that is a virus at work. When you talk about recovery… The interesting thing is when the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is titled Alcoholics Anonymous, when it first came out, one of the things that it does not tell the alcoholic to do is to quit. It doesn’t say, just stop, because, as you explore the 12 Steps that AA came up with and is now used in many different groups, the problem is less and less about drinking or not drinking or using or not using. It has to do with the underlying reasons why.
There is a why to all of this, so the spiritual struggle of recovery, when we’re talking about recovery from addiction, is uncovering these whys underneath, because there are many addicts, and say, an alcoholic, somebody who’s drinking out of control, and one day they’ll come up and say, “Well, you’ve stopped drinking.” They’ll say, “Yeah, it’s great. I’m using marijuana, and it’s gotten rid of my alcoholism problem. I’m smoking three joints a day.” Wait a second, you’re just… So you can, in an addictive sense, roll from one to the other, so that should tell us that it isn’t necessarily the substance or the behavior that is the real problem. There’s something underlying, and the addiction is a symptom.
Mr. Allen: That begs a follow-up, and my follow-up then has to be: Do all addictions have the same root cause and purpose for the addict, and what is that underlying root cause?
Fr. George: Well, if you follow the thinking of the Church, and I think it’s also reflected well in the 12 Steps, the thing that everyone struggles with is fear, that we are all struggling with our fear: our fear of pain, our fear of suffering, our fear of death.
Mr. Allen: The anxiety of life.
Fr. George: The anxiety of life and living and living without God, or not believing that God is going to help us, going to save us. So when you are living by yourself in this state of isolation, you’re constantly insecure. How do you deal with that constant anxiety? Because it’s overwhelming, and there comes a point when you want to escape from that, the anxiety from those stresses, and the addictive substance, the addictor, is the perfect escape. It’s the distraction from it.
Mr. Allen: If you’re just tuning in, by the way, this is Ancient Faith Today. My guests are Fr. George Aquaro and Dr. Albert Rossi, and our subject tonight is “Addiction, Recovery, and Orthodox Christianity.” We’ll be taking calls in about 15 minutes, and I’ll be announcing the numbers at that time.
Dr. Rossi, what are the major areas, if they can be categorized, where people tend to get addicted?
Dr. Rossi: Speaking simplistically and generally, males tend statistically more towards addiction these days [to] internet pornography or sexual issues generally, addicted to sexual behaviors, or alcohol. Granted, there’s a huge push in the women who are alcoholics and those who use internet pornography, but that’s primarily a male disease. Females are primarily more addicted to foods, overeating and undereating, anorexia or bulimia.
The metaphor that I use is a pyramid. A pyramid, of course, is solid on the sand, and has sides and so on. At the bottom, let us say, different addictions and a difficulty getting over them. The bottom foundation of that pyramid would be alcohol. That is to say, as addictions go in detox, alcohol is not the most difficult to overcome at all, by far. Then above it would be that whole category of other addictions: gambling and shopping and surfing the internet too much and all those things, including religion, which can be an addiction. Above that would be food. Food addiction is a very difficult addiction to break, because you have to eat, so modulating that becomes difficult. But at the top of this pyramid is sex. By far, the most difficult addiction to deal with is sexual.
In my own experience, people can go up the ladder, up the pyramid: alcoholic, and then after five weeks, it’s “I also have a food problem and a nicotine problem and a sex problem.” One may go up the pyramid that way. When one begins to deal with one’s sex addiction, at the top of the pyramid, it illumines other behaviors and addictions more quickly, much more quickly: alcohol and cocaine or whatever else it happens to be. So that’s how I understand that.
Mr. Allen: Let me just follow up with that. I’m not sure I completely follow that. When you say you’re dealing with your sex addiction at the top of the pyramid it illuminates the others. Tell me what that means. It means that it makes the others clearer, that you’re addicted down the line as well often?
Dr. Rossi: Yes. So I’m told that in SA, Sexaholics Anonymous, there are many who get there via AA, then I went to NA, then I went to OA, and here I am at SA. But there aren’t too many who end up in AA and say, “I got here after dealing with my sex [addiction],” because sexual… I don’t want to say it, but it’s so close to our bloodstream. It’s a lot deeper. It’s much more difficult to eradicate.
Mr. Allen: Is that basically, Dr. Albert Rossi, because humans are wired, hard-wired in a way—not in a way: we are hard-wired for food and sex.
Dr. Rossi: Yes. And I would put sex above food in terms of detox and difficulty, simply because it’s—I don’t have good words here—more foundational. It’s much more part of our identity.
Mr. Allen: Right. Do you think, just carrying this a bit further, we hear about sexual addiction today, but I’m not sure that sexual addiction was ever even heard of or thought of in the 19th century, the 18th century, but did it always exist, in your understanding of this?
Dr. Rossi: Oh, yeah. I think that it’s always existed. We could talk proportion and so on, but I think it’s always existed, and that’s a whole separate topic. Yeah, it’s been part of human nature right back, all the way back. People say the first real occupation, you know, were prostitutes around the armies.
Mr. Allen: That’s a good point. “The oldest profession.” Fr. George Aquaro, are there differences in your understanding and your study and so on between substance addictions and other addictions, like porn and work and whatever the other addictions are? Are they all dealing with these neurons and the brain functions and all of the connections the same way, or is there a difference?
Fr. George: There are similarities and there are differences. I think Dr. Rossi could probably talk more eloquently about the physiological side of it, given his studies in that area. They can look at the brains of a person and tell, because there’s physiological changes that happen when someone becomes addicted. The interesting thing is that the brain changes that occur with, say, someone who’s an alcoholic, are identical to those of a heroin user. This was discovered years ago, that there are these physiological changes that take place as the addiction locks in.
But as Dr. Rossi was saying, there’s a difference between… We have to remember that alcohol is a poison, and the effect that we get from alcohol is our body reacting to a poison. So there’s a difference between using something that is unnatural to the body versus using a natural process of the body, like food, like sex. Because in particular sexual attraction has such a profound effect on the brain and how it’s wired and everything else, it’s going to be a lot harder to keep natural processes… When you distort a natural process, to get it back to where it should be, versus dealing with something that is unnatural.
Mr. Allen: Distorting a natural process. Interesting. Would that be a… Well, we’re going to get to what a working definition of what addiction is in a minute, but I like that. Would it be fair to say—and either of you can answer this—that part of addiction is escaping the emotional pain of life and the present moment?
Fr. George: I would say, absolutely. We’re designed to grow. We’re designed as human beings to grow, and in growing we move from being kind of unaware or numb as to who we are… As child we’re not aware of our world; as you get older, you become more conscious of your world, and you realize you’re not where you’re supposed to be, and that’s what hurts. So what we’re called to do is sort of get through that suffering and grow up. What the addict does is, or any of us who turn to something, we see this pain, we don’t know if we can get through it, we don’t know if there’s hope on the other side, and so we look for an alternative to the pain.
Well, the alternative to the pain is to go back down where you didn’t feel anything, where you didn’t know anything, to shut off your awareness of what you’re really called to do. That is where people turn to something—the passions, we would say—to distract us from that process of growth. And that’s why the addict then has this emotional stuntedness, because the addict doesn’t grow up. The addict stays locked in that place, away from where you need to go, because you don’t want to go through the pain. That’s what I teach as far as how these things come into play.
Mr. Allen: So we’ve become inflamed by the passions, and then addicted to the distortion of natural…
Fr. George: The passions are the distraction. The passions are the escape. They’re the way away from, rather than going through the hardship of what lies ahead. This is why we believe that spirituality is so important, because if you see that God is with you, that God is going to take you through your pain, your suffering, and all of that, you don’t need these other things to keep you from that. You can get through this pain. You can get through this suffering. You can get through this hardship, and get it behind you. But the passions are when we experience that fear, that terror, and we experience that suffering, and we run away from it. That’s what the passions [are]. It’s an escape back into death. It’s a running-away from life and reality.
Mr. Allen: Dr. Rossi, some people become addicted to substances and behaviors and so on, and others don’t. Why is that? And some become dependent, say, on alcohol, a heavy drinker, but not really an addict. Where do these lines get drawn? So first is: Why do some become addicted and others not? Is there something going on there?
Dr. Rossi: Much. If you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to some of the wonderful things that Fr. George was saying, and continue just a little more about alcohol, because alcohol really is a poison: ethanol. We drink alcohol; you just wouldn’t want to drink a tumblerful of it straight, which is why we drink it cut. It’s 20-proof or 15-proof or 12-proof. When it’s cut, a glass of wine—Jesus drank wine—is bearable, but alcohol is a very interesting substance because it’s fundamentally a depressant, and that’s counter-cultural. It’s counter-intuitive, because people say, “Oh, I’m going to go with my friends and we’re going to get high!” Well, how can you get high on something that takes you down?
That’s a paradoxical effect. That is to say, when one drinks alcohol the initial, first 90-minute impact is to make one feel light and less socially inhibited and high. However, after 90 minutes, one starts way down below baseline, and then what does one do? Take another drink. After a while, start to go down, start to get depressed: take another drink. Then at two o’clock in the morning, stop it all, and then wake up in the next morning the person has this enormous hangover. That’s a euphemism for major depression. I just wanted to say that.
Mr. Allen: Getting back to addiction, though: some getting addicted and others not.
Dr. Rossi: I would fundamentally answer that: because humans are different, and some are at risk more than others: at risk in DNA ways and in other ways. For example, some cultures—the Italians, the Irish, the Russians—are much more disposed to become addicted easily to alcohol, whereas others, particularly the Asian groups, are not. The Asians can drink through it, but initially there’s a reflex reaction to actually throw up with alcohol.
So people differ in many, many ways, but more importantly, I think, in terms of your question, some people become addicted more easily because they’re emotionally at risk. Now, that could be because of their bodies; you can tell this in a little kid. Some kids can bear insults better than others, and take more stuff and so on. So, yeah, it’s all individual.
Mr. Allen: Interesting. We’re going to take calls in about five more minutes, but I do have one coming in, a question coming in from Eleni in the chatroom, who would like our guest or our guests to briefly address the addiction of cutting, which seems so strange to me, but I guess it’s an issue today. Father or Doctor, would you like to address cutting and how one gets addicted to that?
Fr. George: How about Doctor.
Mr. Allen: Okay, Dr. Rossi?
Dr. Rossi: Yeah, as Fr. George was so nicely saying, it’s a question of lesser pain. For some people, and I would have to say statistically more women than men, although I do know one man who has cut himself pretty badly, it’s less painful to feel that cutting of the skin than it is to feel the pain of my emotions in the present moment. “I just can’t stand the way I’m feeling.” And feeling that pain, weirdly, makes one feel more alive. “I’m in control of this razor”—and it’s usually done with a razor. And if the cuts are vertical, along the vein, that’s pretty dangerous; very dangerous. Horizontal cuts are quite different. One can get addicted to what we can call the lesser pain, the lesser pain of being cut than being myself at this moment: “I just can’t stand this any longer, and the alternative to the cutting is much more grim, so I’ll cut myself.”
Mr. Allen: So the emotional pain can be more painful, if you will, than a physical cutting.
Fr. George: Oh, yeah.
Dr. Rossi: Oh, surely.
Fr. George: You have to remember, also, that whenever we’re injured, the body releases chemicals in the brain that are meant to numb you out, and there is that effect as well.
Mr. Allen: Good point. So you’re triggering some natural pain-killers, if you will.
Fr. George: Yes.
Dr. Rossi: Mm-hmm.
Mr. Allen: Interesting, interesting, interesting.
Fr. George: And when you’re young and your body chemical hormones are raging and everything else, you’re kind of in this state of chaos. What Dr. Rossi is saying about this gives you control, this gives you some kind of feeling that you’re… I think all of us have this sensation or thought, let’s say, “If somebody’s going to say that I did this, I might as well really do it, and show them.” The human condition is looking for control, looking for power, and cutting is, in a strange, back-handed way, a type of attaining of power.
Mr. Allen: My, my. Well, I’m speaking with experts on the subject of addiction and recovery. I’m speaking with Fr. George Aquaro and I’m speaking with Dr. Albert Rossi. Our subject tonight is on addiction, recovery, and Orthodox Christianity. We’re going to take a short break, and when we come back, the phone lines will be open; we’ll be taking your calls. The numbers are 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346. If you’re a recovering addict and you don’t want your name mentioned, just let our call-screener know; we’ll take your call anonymously.
Mr. Allen: Welcome back to Ancient Faith Today and my guests tonight on this program, which will be a two-hour program [which] we’re only a half-hour into, on addiction, recovery, and Orthodoxy Christianity and the relationship between those. We’re going to try to get to all of those subjects in due time. My guests are Dr. Albert Rossi. He is a clinical psychologist. He is a professor of pastoral theology at St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary in New York. And Fr. George Aquaro. Fr. George is the priest at St. Matthew Antiochian Orthodox Church here in Torrance, California, southern California. He’s also an international speaker on the subject of addictions, and he’s the author of the blog Orthodoxy and Recovery.
Following up on that, Fr. George, addicts are usually in some form of denial, right?
Fr. George: Yes.
Mr. Allen: What’s that all about? I guess we’re all in denial, aren’t we?
Fr. George: Oh, yes, some more than others. Denial… I mean, if you want to look at it from kind of a theological-lingo perspective, denial really is another word for pride. Pride is [an] exaltation of one’s self, and that is therefore kind of a departure from who you are. So when we talk about denial, denial says, “Well, I don’t have to address this problem. I don’t have to do this”; it’s a moving away from reality, and we do that through our own pride when we exalt ourselves and say, “I don’t have to deal with this on this thing’s terms; I’m only going to deal with it on my terms.”
It comes out in many different ways. We can have pretty significant issues. How many times have we watched TV shows like Cops, and you see them pull someone over and they barely can stand as they get out of their car, and they stink of… at least the police say, “You smell of alcohol,” and there’s beer cans in the car. The man will say, “I’m not drunk. I’m perfectly fine. I’m okay.” You watch them, and the guy falls over, and everything else. This is what human beings do on many different levels.
Mr. Allen: And one of the things—maybe jumping ahead—one of the beautiful things about the Orthodox Christian tradition is this idea of repentance, and in order to be repentant, you have to be really clear and honest with yourself about what your stuff is.
Fr. George: Right. You have to be grounded in the reality, the reality of who you are and the reality of God. I think this is critical. If we’re not grounded in the reality of God, the fears that overwhelm us eventually lead us to distort our own personalities through pride.
Mr. Allen: And our own sense of self or lack of sense of self.
Dr. Rossi, what would you use as a… Well, before I ask the question, let me just say that I’m speaking with Dr. Albert Rossi and Fr. George Aquaro. Let me give the numbers, because our lines are wide open; I know there are people that want to call in. We’re ready to take your calls. Steve is our call-screener. The numbers are 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346. Dr. Rossi, what would you use as a working definition of substance abuse? So a clergyman, a loved one, a friend, would be able to look at self or other and know: “Okay, there’s an addiction going on here.”
Dr. Rossi: Yes, if I might back up and say a word on denial…
Mr. Allen: Go ahead, please.
Dr. Rossi: And Fr. George really said it eloquently. The word I use as a synonym for denial is “diminishment,” that I might admit that I drink too much alcohol, but I diminish its impact onto my life. The problem is that the humans—me and others—in denial are sincere: “I really don’t believe that… I’m convinced down to my bottom of my shoes that this is the way things really are.” One of the reasons that we’re in denial—pride is, of course, the core—is it’s easier to be in denial. If I get out of the denial and faced reality, I’m going to have to do something: uh-oh! So that becomes a whole new issue.
Mr. Allen: Not only do you have to do something, but you have to deal with the cause that is making you deal with the addiction in the first place, or do the addiction. So you’ve got a double-whammy going on there.
Dr. Rossi: That’s right.
Fr. George: Diminishment is an excellent way of looking at it, Doctor. Thank you.
Dr. Rossi: And it’s not only the addict who’s in denial. It’s the people around the addict: family and friends. For example, my grandfather, a famous sculptor, was a full-blown alcoholic. No doubt about that. However, no one in the family would ever admit it. Well, in point of fact, I’m a recovering alcoholic and have a 22-year chip, so I’m able to dissect these things. Well, when I would go back home after my grandfather died, with all of the Italian relationship, I would very quietly say, “Gee, Grandpop was a really great guy. It’s a shame he was an alcoholic,” and everybody would jump all over me: “How can you say that about your grandfather? How can you be so disloyal?”
And it got to the point when we’d drive across the Pennsylvania Turnpike, my children would say to me, “Dad, don’t pick a fight when we go for Thanksgiving.” I’d say, “Well, all right,” but I would continue, gently, to say, “Gee, it’s a shame…” After a while, a couple of my aunts began to wake up and go to Al-Anon. That’s why some people don’t want to admit it, because you maybe have to go to a meeting or talk to other people and so on.
But for our listeners, it’s not only the addict, but the circle around the addict, which makes the whole thing much more difficult to cut into, because he or she has got support in the addiction.
Mr. Allen: Interestingly, I just got a note from Mark from our chatroom, who writes:
How does one live with a spouse who’s a drunk? I hear from several people outside of the Church who recommend divorce. I don’t want to think of that as an option, but every time she drinks, it feels like she’s having an affair.
Do we want to deal with that? Fr. George, deal with that pastorally.
Dr. Rossi: Fr. George.
Fr. George: I want to hear what Dr. Rossi has to say about this.
Mr. Allen: Dr. Rossi, start.
Dr. Rossi: It’s very clear to me. I deal with this a lot. No, I would not at all counsel divorce, but I would counsel strength for the sober spouse—and it can be either way. And the first thing I would say is, “Please, please, please”—I would get down on my hands and knees, but—”You go to Al-Anon. Don’t enable that person. Don’t make that person drink more by your enabling behaviors.” And people come back from Al-Anon waking up, saying, “Gee, I didn’t realize there were all these other people in the same kind of boat.” This is what you do, and these are the behaviors that I have on my side of the street. And if I do that, then you’re the person… I can’t control the other person’s behavior, but I’ve got a better shot at (a) living with a person in marriage and in the family, perhaps, and (b) getting that person to get some help because I’m going for help for myself. I’m not going for my spouse; I’m going for myself.
Mr. Allen: So, Dr. Rossi, you’re saying, “Mark, you go to Al-Anon, but your wife doesn’t go to AA?”
Dr. Rossi: That’s right. He cannot make her go to AA. He can’t take her and put her in the car and tie her up and say, “You’re going to AA.” We cannot control another person’s behavior. All Mark can do is deal with Mark’s behavior, to the extent that—and I would bet, if we really got to know these two humans, like any marriage, it’s a tennis game: the ball goes back and forth across the net. They are relating to each other, so he is playing into her alcoholism. So it’s a whole big systems theory thing here. But the only thing Mark can do is take care of Mark, and to the extent that he does with integrity and some strength, to that extent it may or may not roll off onto his wife, but it will start to make his marriage, from his point of view, stronger.
Fr. George: I agree with what Dr. Rossi said on this. I just want to add: in the Church, usually people have come to me when they say they want to get married. They’ve already made that decision, so I don’t tell people to get married, and I don’t tell them to get divorced. I don’t think any of us, as priests, is really in a position to be telling people those things one way or the other, but it certainly isn’t good to be making those kind of catastrophic, huge life decisions when you yourself are sick. I think it’s an absolute truism that if you’re in a relationship with an addict, you’re sick to some extent. You have a problem, because there’s a reason why you got involved with that person to begin with and that you’ve stayed on.
First you have to know yourself and find yourself and your own knowledge of what’s going on with you, and at that point in getting better, very often the addict will force your hand one way or the other, because once you’ve discovered where you have been enabling the behavior to continue and you stop the enabling, the addict has a lot less reason to stick around. So the addict then has to make that decision, whether he or she wants to go find another source or get better.
Mr. Allen: Let me get from somebody, though, what a working definition of addiction is, so that the clergy listening—and you all have experience with this, obviously, but maybe somebody out there is saying, “I’d like to understand when I can definitively determine whether somebody is addicted to a substance, whether that be alcohol or something else, and not…” Dr. Rossi, I’d asked you originally. Do you want to give me a working definition?
Dr. Rossi: Yeah, the usual definition that I use is the dictionary refers to behaviors, not thoughts but behaviors. They’re measurable, they’re compulsive, partially or more than partially out-of-control, often escalating, but dysfunctional. So a compulsive behavior and an addictive behavior have, in a sense, a great deal in common. The difference is that the addictive behavior is destructive. For example, some professional tennis players must bounce the ball three times before they serve, and if they drop a ball, then they’ll start over: one, two, three. That’s a compulsive behavior, but it’s functional. It helps them serve better. However, the same behavior, I mean the same paradigm, of drinking too much alcohol or something and ruining the family finances, is destructive.
So the two ingredients in the distinction are control and dysfunctionality: how dysfunctional is it? There’s some compulsions that are really helpful to people, but addictions are always destructive to the individual and the individuals around him or her.
Mr. Allen: So one can determine whether someone—a loved one, a parishioner, friend—is an addict if the addiction leads to destructive behavior, basically.
Dr. Rossi: Yes. And you were asking before what kind of internal question would one ask about my wife or my daughter or my friend: is the person an addict or not? And the approach, from my point of view, needs to be gentle, loving. You can’t force people to do anything, but I would say the question is the answer, or at least it is the seed of an answer. If I’m in a position to ask, “Do I think John’s an addict, an alcohol addict?” because I’m asking the question, and I am likely to be in some denial, the question is already helping me think, “Ohh… Probably the answer’s yes.” So one rule of thumb is: if I’m asking the question, then I can suppose that I can follow it a bit more, but approaching the other person and dealing with it is a whole new topic.
Mr. Allen: I’m speaking with Dr. Albert Rossi and Fr. George Aquaro. Our topic tonight on this two-our special, if we have enough calls and enough material, is: addiction, recovery, and Orthodox Christianity. Our number is 1-855-AF-RADIO, 1-855-237-2346. We have, strangely enough, tonight on this topic, I wouldn’t have thought, wide-open lines. So give us a call if you’re interested.
Fr. George, what are tell-tale… I know there are parents listening or they’re going to be listening by podcast. What are some of the tell-tale signs of what I might call “potential addiction” for teens, say? If a parent… Would it be that if a parent is an alcoholic in recovery, and their parent was an alcoholic in recovery… What are some of the tell-tale signs that may prevent teens from moving into addictions, that maybe a parent, an Orthodox Christian parent, can be aware of? I don’t know.
Fr. George: You mean signs that a child is developing addiction?
Mr. Allen: You’re right. I asked you two different questions. Let’s talk about… Give me tell-tale signs for a child that is an addict or heading towards addiction, first.
Fr. George: Well, there’s always, when you’re dealing with young people, the problems of secrecy. If an addiction is going on, it’s not something that kids advertize. They’re not going to walk into your dining room and say, “Hey, Mom, Dad, I just watched pornography for the past four hours.” They’re not going to do those kind of things. I think one thing that every parent has to look at is: remember their own experiences at their child’s age and say, “What were my anxieties and how is my child dealing with the anxieties of life?”
Mr. Allen: That is a great one. That really is a great one.
Fr. George: Because when you don’t see your child dealing with anxiety in a way that you can see… This is why kids, they say, get into athletics and all of a sudden there [is a] potential for using drugs and other problems. It goes down to [the fact that] the child will have this vent for getting rid of anxiety. When we get tense, when we get scared, what do we want to do?
Mr. Allen: Do something.
Fr. George: We want to do something, and you go out… You see your kid go out there and, you know, hit on a punching bag and just beat on it. That’s good. When your child slinks off into his or her room and closes the door, this is where you start getting kind of worried, because kids, as they’re growing up, they’re going through a lot of anxieties. Their bodies are developing, their minds are developing, and it can be overwhelming: teen angst. And drugs and alcohol and particularly the internet addictions are great ways to get away from it, but it comes with just a horrendous cost.
Mr. Allen: And internet and internet addictions creates, fosters, in my observation, a sense of isolation. So you can be caught up in your addiction and kind of out-work your addiction, whatever it might be, through that.
I’ve got a question that sort of ties into this, from Lazarus from the chatroom. He wants to know if there’s a prayer regarding recovery for addiction or from an addiction. I know there’s an akathist to the Mother of God for addiction. Are there other such things?
Fr. George: There are some things out there. There really isn’t anything that’s in the Euchologion, the Book of Needs, in the Slavic tradition called the Trebnik.
Mr. Allen: There’s not, really?
Fr. George: No, not that I’m aware of. Most of these things are… Our understanding of addiction is a very modern concept. When you look at the Scriptures and you look at the writings of the Fathers, they don’t use the word “addiction”; it’s not there. That’s not to say that the understanding of it isn’t present, but the patristic, early Byzantine, mid-Byzantine, late Byzantine mindset hasn’t created necessarily that specific category.
Mr. Allen: Which surprises me, frankly, because in Slavic countries alcohol has always been a problem. I mean, that’s part of the literature, that’s part of the ethos, that’s part of the whole…
Fr. George: Alcohol… just about every corner of the world has something to do with fermenting something and abusing it.
Mr. Allen: Let’s not pick on the Slavs. I just came back from Ireland, so I understand completely. Dr. Rossi, is our culture… We were talking about denial before we moved in some other directions. Is our culture clear about the destruction of addiction or is there great denial in the culture as well? I see our culture as really promoting chemical and drug dependence when we see ads, we see all this stuff. Are we clear about it in our culture at large?
Dr. Rossi: Kevin, if you don’t mind I’d like to back up and say a word about teens and children.
Mr. Allen: Sure, go ahead.
Dr. Rossi: I’m a parent of two kids and three grandchildren. There are a number of questions here. What are the tell-tale signs? which you asked. But the next question is, okay, now I have some tell-tale signs, what do I do about it? My kid is likely to be an alcoholic. I was talking to a woman the day before yesterday who has two daughters who are anorexic. Well, it’s pretty clear that’s a whole separate topic, anorexia and bulimia. These are both girls, but there are males who are that way. For the sake of this program, any child or teen who is an addict is an addict within the family system, so it’s not like this kid’s got the problem and the rest of us are riding white horses.
No, I would recommend a book for this, called Parent/Teen Breakthrough: The Relationship Approach, Parent/Teen Breakthrough by Kirshenbaum. The point of it is the only tool that the parent has with a teen is the relationship. There is nothing to be gained by force or manipulation or micromanaging or any of that kind of stuff. It just doesn’t work; it plays into their resistance, normally, and that has to be said. It has to be said that the teen or child, pre-teen, might have addictive tendencies, but that’s within the family.
And there are probably family dynamics going on exacerbating the addictive tendencies. Again, we’re back to that Al-Anon principle. The parent not only needs to identify that this kid, yeah, is probably an alcoholic or addicted to something, but I have to look at me and this family, and what it is we can provide for more stability. You know what? That’s often the missing piece. People go out and realize that their kid is addicted to nicotine, so they buy Nicorette or something, and it’s always “I want to find out what I can do to fix it or them, without having to look at me.”
Mr. Allen: Good point. Do you want to make a comment about denial in the culture?
Dr. Rossi: Yes. The culture generally does. Frankly, I’m not a culture-basher; I happen to like the culture we live in, but the whole idea of freedom is really… From my point of view, yes, the culture does blur the distinction, and there are a couple of really good reasons for it. One of them is—now, this is from my point of view—that culture, way deep down, has this pendulum where, frankly, I think, that the culture is pretty Darwinian, meaning the survival of the fittest, and we just have to keep going, and we cannot change, and that’s the big difference between that theory… I happen to like Darwin’s science; I think he was a very thoughtful and productive scientist. I think his philosophy stinks, and I think that at base his philosophy says we can’t change: that the giraffe has to go after high leaves on trees and humans have to do what they do.
If that’s the truth, and that’s believed, then the pendulum goes the other way: if that’s the way my life is, then I’m totally free to do whatever I want, because it doesn’t make a whit of difference. You put that in one big vegetable soup, and we have a culture that has no real concept for addiction, because it’s very ego-centered, but it’s ego-centered for these deep reasons. We really don’t understand the Church Fathers when they talk about how limited our freedom really is. We are not very… We’re sinful. St. Paul said this stuff I want to do, I don’t do. We have to come to grips with the Church’s teaching on freedom, and we have a very limited zone of freedom, and addiction simply lessens that zone of freedom; I become less free over something. But I’m not very free as it is, if I were totally unaddicted. And it’s all a question of thinking. The Fathers say it’s logismoi; it’s our thoughts, how I perceive things.
Mr. Allen: Yeah, there’s a great book about that: Our [Thoughts Determine Our Lives].
I’ve got a call from Matthew from Dayton. Matthew, you’re on Ancient Faith Today. Good evening.
Matthew: Good evening. Thank you for taking my call.
Mr. Allen: Our pleasure.
Matthew: I’m very excited to hear this subject matter. I think it’s often ignored by many faiths. My question was actually kind of related to what Dr. Rossi was just saying about, I think, accepting… I can’t remember exactly how you said it, but basically I’ve been through the recovery process and I’m still working through that. I’ve always had a difficult time with accepting the ailment as just that, as an ailment, not saying that it is something that can be healed or worked through, but rather seeing it as something that has to be managed, almost. I’ve wondered what the equation is, if that question is clear.
Mr. Allen: So the question is: Is addiction viewed as a permanent ailment, something that is never going to go away?
Matthew: Right, exactly. That’s correct.
Mr. Allen: Dr. Rossi, why don’t you take a swing at that one, please.
Dr. Rossi: Yeah, [in] the 12-Step language—and I’m not hearing a lot of 12-Step language in the question—it’s a disease, and it’s always a disease in remission, and the person with the disease has to take full responsibility for the fact that “I’ve got the disease.” It’s like I have spiritual diabetes. Well, then stay off sugar and don’t eat chocolate-chip cookies and so on. Total responsibility and total honesty is demanded of the person who is the addict under the 12-Step umbrella, and it’s considered to be, yeah, life-long. You’re likely to have this… I might or I might not, but you can have diabetes the rest of your life. You can do what you want about it. I’m going to have this disease of alcoholism.
Now, I may not have to go to AA my whole lifetime, but I certainly do have to own that I’ve got this limp, this part of me [that] isn’t functioning for lots of good reasons, probably brain, probably neural transmitters—and that’s me. It’s not a matter of managing it. It’s a matter of surrendering to the Lord Jesus Christ or a higher power, and another human being. A part of the equation that’s usually missing is another human being. Now, “I can manage this myself by a lot of prayer”—that doesn’t cut it.
Mr. Allen: So being isolated from and not being present and confessing one’s sin and disease is part of the problem. Is that right?
Dr. Rossi: Yes, part of the problem. But again, these days, the way real life really is, confession, especially internet pornography, but I imagine any addiction, can actually make the problem worse, because the person could go to confession, get a quick absolution, go away and come back in a while, whether it’s a week or a month or three months, and get another absolution, you know, for the next twelve years. It has to be more intense and deep than that. Now, not that confession isn’t deep, because it is absolving sin, but in terms of demanding change from the confessee.
Mr. Allen: Go ahead, Fr. George.
Fr. George: One thing I wanted to add is that in the process of recovery, as one moves along in the healing of it, the problem becomes less and less about whatever it is that one was addicted to and [more about] the underlying spiritual struggle. After a certain number of years, let’s say, in AA, if you’re an alcoholic and you’re struggling with alcoholism, after a certain point, you’re not going to the meetings because you’re really, really, really worried about relapsing. There are very few people who are alcoholics who are still obsessing daily about drinking after six, nine months of really working a program. You begin to realize that there’s a lot of other things that you’re dealing with, so you’re working the steps not necessarily to stop drinking, but you’re working the steps because you want to be happy.
You want to work the steps because you want to be relieved of the fears and the underlying causes. There’s an old saying around AA. They say, “How long should I go to meetings for?” They say, “You should keep going to meetings until you want to go to meetings.” It’s a truism that in the beginning people are resistant because there’s a lot of fear. There’s a great fear of change and all of that. But once you are really on to that path, then you’re going for entirely different reasons, and being worried about drinking is going to be less important than worrying about whether I’m being kind to my spouse or whether I’m treating my children appropriately or am I being a good employer or am I making myself miserable.
The path of recovery is one that transforms itself over time.
Mr. Allen: Matt, we’ve got to run. We’ve got to take a break, and then we’ll come back. Thank you very much for your question.
Matthew: You’re very welcome. Have a good night.
Mr. Allen: You, too. I’m speaking with my two guests, Fr. George Aquaro, an international speaker on addiction and recovery from Torrance, California, at St. Matthew Antiochian Orthodox Parish, and Dr. Albert Rossi, a clinical psychologist and a professor of pastoral theology at St. Vlad’s. We’re going to take a break and when we come back I want to talk a little bit about religion and its role in recovery. Is it effective; is it not effective? Stick with us.
Mr. Allen: Welcome back to Ancient Faith Today. We’re speaking about addiction, recovery, and Orthodox Christianity. We’re going to get to the role of religion just in a minute, but we have a call from Val of Dayton, Ohio. Val, good evening. Thanks for your call. You’re on Ancient Faith Today.
Val: Yes, I have a really quick question for probably Fr. George or Dr. Rossi. Is there a patron saint in the Orthodox tradition for addicts or addiction?
Fr. George: I’m not aware of a particular patron saint. I know that there is a wide movement of veneration of the icon of the Inexhaustible Cup, and there’s an akathist to that icon. I don’t know that there’s necessarily a patron saint of addiction, given that even that term, “addiction,” has only been popularly used in the last 150, less than 200 years.
Mr. Allen: Dr. Rossi, are you aware of anything?
Dr. Rossi: No, I am not. I do not know of a patron saint within Orthodoxy, but I do know addicts who pray to Moses, St. Moses the Black, and some who pray to St. Mary of Egypt, but that’s their particular prayer way.
Mr. Allen: Thanks for the question, Val. Sorry we couldn’t be more specific, but maybe that’ll help.
Val: Yes, it does. Thank you very much.
Mr. Allen: You’re very welcome. Thanks for your call. Appreciate it.
Mr. Allen: Let’s talk a little bit about religion and its role. I’ve heard conflicting reports on the efficacy of organized religion as a therapy for addiction. Can religion be used as a form of denial? I heard somebody—I think, Dr. Rossi, you mentioned that you could be addicted to religion. Maybe I’m addicted to religion. I don’t know. I’m afraid to ask the question. “But I go to church, I confess, I talk to my spiritual father, but I’m still drinking too much.” What is the role of religion? Should clergy send people to the 12 Steps program, or is there a discipline and ascetic practice in the Church that should be sufficient? I mean, we’re taking the body and blood of Christ; why isn’t that enough? Let’s hear Dr. Rossi. He has dibs on it; he said it first.
Dr. Rossi: Well, I was going to say let’s hear Fr. George. From my point of view, I do believe in the Church as the body of Christ, and I do believe in organized religion as the Church is necessary for those who are in the Church. So I don’t see any conflict at all between organized religion and the 12-Step movement or overcoming addictions. I think organized religion is a wonderful thing. Like anything, it can be and is abused greatly in so many ways, perhaps even by myself. But that being said, there is a difference between organized religion and its inside, its guts, its spirituality, what it does.
So we make a clear distinction between external and internal, and it’s very easy to get all caught up—without using the word “addiction”—to the externals. One priest I know says he knows a priest who has every brocade made. Well, okay. So the distinction between external and internal, that’s a distinction that Christ made all the time. Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), in the introduction to Fr. Meletios Webber’s book, Steps of Transformation, says it very clearly that the Orthodox Church and the 12-Step movement are quite compatible, and the Orthodox Church is an organized religion. Fr. George, did you want to say something?
Mr. Allen: Let me better clarify my question. I’ve heard a priest say, for an example, that the ascetic practice of the Church should be sufficient to deal with, in this particular case, alcohol addiction, and that we should put our trust in the sacraments of confession, anointing, and holy Communion, and the counsel and prayers of our spiritual father. Another one I’ve heard sends people to a monastery which deals with some drug addicts to overcome their addictions. So my question is: do these practices work, or should we always rely on the 12 Steps?
Fr. George: For some people, they work; for others, they don’t. You should try… The level of effort that is necessary to expend in working, honestly working, a 12-Step program, I think it necessitates almost that it be your last option after you’ve tried absolutely everything else.
Mr. Allen: What should be? I’m sorry I missed that.
Fr. George: 12 Steps.
Mr. Allen: 12 Steps. Really?
Fr. George: Yeah, I think it’s because by that point you are ready to do anything, and you’re going to have to do a lot in working the Steps properly. It’s a lot of work; it’s a real struggle. As long as you think that you’ve got other options out there, you’re probably going to look at this and say, “I have to get honest and write all this stuff down and tell somebody all these things? Maybe I can go off and do enough metanias and get the same effect.” Well, go out and try it. What I think is kind of cruel is when you have priests who will just say, “Go off and pray harder,” and they see the person continuing to relapse or not even stop, and they still offer the same advice over and over again, and that’s kind of the definition of insanity.
In the book that’s mentioned at the beginning of the show, Steps of Transformation, Fr. Meletios gives this wonderful juxtaposition between religion and spirituality. I like in it, too, the difference between a gift and the box that it comes in, and that the gift is the spirituality. Just like when you get a toy, when you give a toy to a child, it comes in a box, and the box, what does the box do? The box is the means by which the toy is delivered; it protects the toy. You look at the instructions; they’re on the box. It shows you how to play with the toy, what it does, assembly required, four AAA batteries. So there’s all these instructions that are contained in the box.
Religion is that way, that spirituality is delivered from one generation to the next. The problem is, and I notice this with my own children, we would give them gifts at Christmas, and they would tear the wrappings off and they’d be all: “Oh, I got this wonderful toy!” and they’re so in love with it, and they’re looking at the box. What would happen is my wife and I, later on, would take the toy out of the box and set the toy down. What we noticed is that the kids later on would be playing with the box and not with the toy. This is what happens with a lot of people with religion, is they fall in love with the box, and they forget that the box is delivering something. When that box offers you an excuse, let’s say, to not get better, not recover, not deal with your issues…
Mr. Allen: Then that’s a problem.
Fr. George: Yeah, because you could say, “Well, I’ve done everything that I am supposed to do, so now I don’t have to do anything else.”
Mr. Allen: It seems to me, though, that the 12 Steps externalizes some of the process, that is, you have a sponsor, you have somebody to call. You can’t call your priest every time you want to take a drink, generally speaking. It doesn’t work that way usually. And aren’t you a little bit more isolated when you’re trying to deal with a disease by yourself? Lacking accountability and all that sort of thing.
Fr. George: Most priests are not really equipped to deal with an addict. An alcoholic, you’re not trained.
Mr. Allen: That’s my point.
Fr. George: I think that there’s a temptation that we priests often fall for, and I know that I’ve fallen on it on more than one occasion, is to say, “I’m capable of counseling this person through whatever their problems are, just because they happen to be Orthodox and they happen to come to my church.” That’s absolute delusion.
Mr. Allen: Or that all problems can be solved through a faith-based methodology as opposed to something else.
Fr. George: Faith can help, but it isn’t necessarily… It’s not going to fix absolutely everything.
Mr. Allen: So what I’m hearing you say—and, Dr. Rossi, correct me if you disagree with this—is that if Church and the process and the structure of Church isn’t working, then you need to go outside the Church, and it’s not a conflict with Orthodox Christianity, the 12 Steps.
Dr. Rossi: Yeah, I’d agree with that, and I think Fr. George made some really fine points in describing the box and the toy. I think that’s a really wonderful metaphor. The only thing I would add for the 12 Step movement that one cannot find in confession or the Church is clear comprehension of the problem. The addicts are fond of saying, “Nobody really understands an addict except an addict. I know these people know what I’m going through, because they’re going through the same thing.” We can’t expect priests to have gone through the problem of anorexia or pornography addiction or something, and there’s something to be said for that deep down communal sense of connection, feeling connected.
Mr. Allen: We live in a world of specialization. To me, priests are specialists in spirituality and guiding spiritually. They’re not necessarily doctors of every disease, including, from what you’re telling me and what we’re discussing tonight, the addictive disease.
I have Stacy from Bel Air, Maryland, who’s been holding. Stacy, you’re on Ancient Faith Today. Thanks for your call.
Stacy: Oh, hi. Thank you.
Fr. George: Hi, Stacy.
Stacy: So, yeah. I was asking if I’m… First of all, I’m not Orthodox, but I do appreciate this program. My ex-husband, who is, pointed me in the direction of it. I’m in recovery now and have been for about 16 months, and I’ve been divorced for 24 months. I kind of wish I’d gotten sober earlier, but… I am convinced that it is a family disease, and I have an interest in taking our kids to like an Ala-Teen or something. It kind of gets my husband a little bit upset, so I was wondering if there was some kind of Orthodox resource or program that we could use that would kind of be like an Orthodox equivalent to Al-Anon or something, to make him a little more comfortable. Does that make sense?
Mr. Allen: I’m assuming your husband is Orthodox; that’s why you’re asking that question?
Stacy: My ex-husband is Orthodox, correct.
Mr. Allen: Your ex-husband. Got you. That’s the context. Fr. George or Dr. Rossi, are there? I’m not aware of any programs like that; are you?
Fr. George: No, the only places where you really see those things developing is… I just got back from Russia, and the treatment programs over there are because of the population is overwhelmingly Orthodox, therefore these types of programs are going on within an Orthodox context, but we are such a tiny minority in this country, it’s very difficult for us to kind of pool these types of resources together, unfortunately.
Mr. Allen: Now, there are AA chapters at Orthodox churches.
Fr. George: Oh, sure. There’s one at my church. And NA; we have an NA group.
Mr. Allen: And we have an AA in our parish as well, St. Barbara’s Orthodox Church. So those exist, but I’m not seeing the family AA…
Fr. George: And there are also, in most cases, those are made up of people who are not part of that parish necessarily.
Mr. Allen: You’re right. It’s more of a community service and so on, outreach.
Fr. George: 12 Step groups and these types of things are not the body of Christ. That’s why they’re not really ready to talk about proclaiming the Orthodox faith or things like that. To get back to her question, I’m really not aware of anything, but it would be wonderful if we got to the point where were could offer things like that.
Mr. Allen: Sorry, Stacy, we’re not able to direct you someplace specific.
Stacy: No, I think a better idea for him is to just kind of approach it with the Fr. Meletios’ book, and maybe just try to sit down and talk about some of those chapters with him or something, and just kind of bring him in a little bit more, so he’s a little more open to the whole family in recovery kind of thing.
Mr. Allen: Thanks, Stacy. Appreciate your call very much. God bless on your journey.
Stacy: Thank you. Bye-bye.
Mr. Allen: That’s right, Father. You’re supposed to be blessing. What am I doing, doing that?
Fr. George: Ha ha ha!
Mr. Allen: It just slipped out. I don’t know.
Fr. George: It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Mr. Allen: At any rate, I would like to make mention of the fact that the book we have been doing quite a bit of discussion of is called Steps of Transformation. It’s by Fr. Meletios M-e-l-e-t-i-o-s Webber W-e-b-b-e-r. It is published by Ancient Faith Publishing, and you can purchase this book at store.ancientfaith.com. So please have a look. It’s really a good book, not only about the steps, but about spirituality and Orthodoxy in general. He’s really a brilliant guy; it’s a great book.
I have Lorraine from Pennsylvania. Lorraine has been holding. Lorraine, you’re on Ancient Faith Today. Good evening.
Lorraine: Good evening. I’m calling because I’ve been on a 12 Step program journey for a few years, and I worked the fourth Step, moral inventory, and during that time there were lots of tears, and they continued for quite a long time, grieving, talking about the losses. My question is for Dr. Rossi, and I would like to ask him about the relationship of grieving and loss to addictions and compulsions. I have found that, since I worked this fourth Step, I have patterns of approaching confession which is better and different and more… I don’t know, more developed than I have ever had before, examining things that I hadn’t examined in the past. So it has helped me, but I’m interested in what Dr. Rossi can say about loss and grieving in relationship to addictions and compulsions. Thank you.
Dr. Rossi: Oh, what a wonderful question, and in the 12 Step program, they’re fond of saying that as we change, God changes: our understanding of God changes, and our understanding of the Church and confession and all else. I’m really glad that that’s happening with you. Loss and grieving, it’s a really under-played, under-understood part of recovering and growth. Grieving has no law, so it really is an individual matter. There’s no such thing as one month or three months or something, but it’s intense, and it’s got to be gone through.
Yes, the addiction, whatever it would happen to be—alcohol or whatever—has become a friend, a friend who supports me and is there for me and does all of these wonderful things. There’s a loss there. How does one deal with that loss? The first thing one does is surrender it, and that’s what’s learned in all the 12 Step programs, surrender to God and another human being. That’s the way grieving, just like recovery, cannot be gone around; it has to be gone through, and it has to be gone through with another human being.
Those issues… The more one names them… As a psychologist, we’re fond of saying that 51% of the healing is the admission of the problem, that one admits, “I have this immense loss at nine o’clock at night for this sense of well-being that my martini gave me (or whatever it was), because it was real. My body and my psyche and my spirit responded that way, and now I’ve lost that. I’ve lost a whole lot of other things.” Most of it is really psychological. One can bring in some form of dread. The only thing I could say about it is: it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen [for] a lifetime. I have my 22-year chip, and there’s still grieving of a loss that goes on, because it’s really a loss of one’s ego, false self, but the way through it is the way of the 12 Steps, namely, to be transparent, accountable, and give it to God.
Lorraine: Thank you very much. I appreciate the things that you’ve said, and I will apply them and just continue.
Dr. Rossi: Thank you. I would also say that Kübler-Ross stages, though they’re not sequential as she presents them, do have a lot to help us. They can help us with knowing that the grieving produces anger. There’s an anger stage; there’s a depression stage. It may not be quite as inflexible as it sometimes is taught, but there’s a helpful part to all that.
Mr. Allen: That’s Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, by the way, for those that are interested in that book. Thanks for your call, Lorraine.
Lorraine: Thank you very much.
Mr. Allen: You’re very, very welcome. I’m speaking with Dr. Albert Rossi and Fr. George Aquaro. We’re speaking about addiction, recovery, and Orthodox Christianity. We probably have about ten more minutes on this subject, and then we’re going to move to internet pornography addiction. If you have a question about substance addiction, please call it in now; otherwise, we’re not going to be taking those calls in a few minutes. I’ve got a call holding from Jill from Washington. Jill, you’re on Ancient Faith Today. Good evening.
Jill: Good evening. Thank you for taking my call.
Mr. Allen: Yes.
Jill: This is a wonderful topic. I’m so glad that you’re addressing it. It’s unfortunately, as you know, rampant in our society, and one that should be addressed, so thank you. I’ve had a hard time formulating my question. Basically, I’m trying to discern where to draw the line between forgiving and loving an addict… My brother is an addict and has been for a while. Where do we draw the line between forgiving and loving, and enabling?
Mr. Allen: That’s actually a great question.
Jill: I mean that in the sense that we can… I just don’t know how to not turn him away, how to love him, but not enable him in his behavior.
Mr. Allen: Dr. Rossi, why don’t you take that one first?
Dr. Rossi: Well, I would like to defer to Fr. George, but I would say: boundaries. That is to say, when we’re dealing with, in this case, a person without the addiction and a person with it, the person without the addiction has to draw the boundaries, because the addict in this case… Now, he might be a better person in other ways, but he’s incapable of drawing the boundaries. One of the things that was asked was: I don’t want to push the person away. One of the things would be: “I will do this much and no more. I will loan you this much money, or none, and no more.” Whatever my boundaries are need to be determined in prayer, and then told to the addict, and then held to. That’s the opposite of enabling. That is to say, the game is played on my playing field and not yours. Fr. George?
Fr. George: That was… I don’t know if I could top that one, Doctor, really. I would just add that the one thing that you can’t do, and none of us should ever do, is act out of fear. That’s kind of one of the marks when we’re in some type of emotional dependency or co-dependency—there’s a lot of different terms that are used—we’re often pushed into decisions out of fear, and that’s not how we should be making our decisions when we’re dealing with someone who’s an addict. We’re always worried: “Well, if I don’t give this to him or her, they’ll do this or they’ll do that, and I need to do this because otherwise this will happen.”
When you’re acting out of fear, you’re automatically setting yourself up to make bad decisions. That is where a program like Al-Anon [comes in], which I recommend for anyone who is dealing with an addict: is to get your own fear-life under control. Then you can go into making those decisions without that pressure that you’re putting on yourself, the worrying and concern and all that, because when we’re afraid, we tend to make bad decisions. Most of our sins come out of those fears: what if, what if, what if, what if, what if! Those are things that we need to get out of the way. That would be the only thing I would add.
Jill: So, for instance, turning someone away from the home just might be a good example. If we were to say, “You may not come into our home because of your behavior. It’s not safe for our family to have you in our home,” and then that person that we’re turning away ends out in the wintertime on, you know… I guess I have that fear: what if. What’s going to happen to him? He has to make his own decisions, is what you’re saying.
Fr. George: Yeah. This person is making his own decisions. He’s a grown-up. He’s a big boy. You set your boundaries up, and you can’t be pushed out of them based on these fears, particularly—and I think this is another component to the temptations of co-dependency—is that you have the control by letting him in or not letting him in. You somehow have control over his well-being. You don’t. He has control over his well-being. He has to make these decisions.
Jill: Yeah, sure. I guess I just didn’t want… Thank you very much.
Mr. Allen: No, no. Finish your sentence. You guess you just didn’t want what?
Jill: I just didn’t want it to turn into a case of being un-neighborly in the sense of the Good Samaritan, the parable, so to speak. It’s unfortunately a fine line nowadays. We can’t just invite homeless people into our homes. It’s a hard…
Mr. Allen: Yeah, there’s a danger issue involved, especially if you have young children and so on. Exactly. Thanks for your call, Jill. Thanks very much.
Jill: I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
Mr. Allen: Thank you. You know, what about—real quickly, because the lines are all jammed, and we’re going to be dealing with them—what about this “hitting bottom” we hear about in terms of addicts needing to hit their bottom. It really is a follow up to Jill’s question. That is, no, we don’t have… We shouldn’t be enabling, but I remember the “tough love” days when you took a “tough love” approach: loved them, but you were tough on them. That was one of my mom’s favorite methodologies, actually. Do we need to participate in the addict hitting bottom, Dr. Rossi?
Dr. Rossi: In a word, no. [Inaudible] ...bottoms differ, in that feeling. Fr. George?
Fr. George: Very often, when somebody is engaging in co-dependent behavior, they are trying to hit that bottom, or rather prevent the person from hitting bottom. They don’t want the person to suffer too much. They don’t want them to go too far. The problems of determining what a bottom is…
I mean, everybody’s got different bottoms and they’ve got different reasons. I know a man, for example, he got so many DUIs in one state, he moved to another one. He did prison time over his DUIs, and that wasn’t enough, but his wife leaving him suddenly was that bottom that he needed to have in order to get going to AA and get sober.
He sat next to a man, and they became best friends, who had been through five or six marriages, four families, and it was a DUI and getting locked up for the first time in his life that was just this unbearable shame that drove him into AA.
Then there was another man who had none of the above, and he just basically woke up in his living room one day, staring at the ceiling, saying, “Why am I doing this to myself?” had never had a DUI, had never missed a day of work. All three of them are in the same room, struggling with the same problem. You just don’t know.
Mr. Allen: But does enabling prevent the hitting the bottoms, I guess was implied in Jill’s question. That is, if we’re worrying about a person not falling off the cliff, are we getting in the way of what’s going to turn them around from occurring?
Dr. Rossi: To that question, I would say yes.
Mr. Allen: Okay, so it’s a fine line. It’s not an easy thing to figure out as a loved one. We have a Barbara from San Diego holding. Barbara, you’re on Ancient Faith Today. Good evening.
Barbara: Hi. Good evening.
Mr. Allen: Hi. Good evening.
Barbara: I have a question. I have actually just started grad school here in San Diego out of seminary; it’s actually a Protestant seminary, and I’m studying to be a marriage and family therapist. My question is: if you guys, as an Orthodox Christian, were to go down this way, do you have any points or is there any kind of resources I could look at to get more insight into how to give, offer therapy or counseling to people who aren’t Christians, who aren’t even any kind of Christian, who have no faith at all, or have very different faith from what I do, who are struggling with some kind of addiction? If you just have any kind of advice for someone like me, that would be great.
Mr. Allen: Doctor?
Dr. Rossi: Yeah, as a clinical psychologist, I have been in that a lot, and I simply to clients speak the Christian message in language that’s not offensive or particularly Christian to them, but it’s the same thing: love, hang in there with the marriage, and all the things that we would say, compassion, without needing to use the biblical references for it.
Barbara: Okay. That makes sense.
Mr. Allen: Doesn’t the 12 Step program—and, Barbara, you can hang on—have this, again, I would kind of call it a vague spirituality, that is, God as we understand him? Is that a way to discuss recovery with somebody who’s not religious, or is that in itself…? I’ve talked with some people who don’t like the 12 Step program at all because one of the first Steps is God as we understand him. They don’t want to have a part of any of this, and 20% of the American public now, as you know, are nones. They’re not affiliated with any religious tradition at all. I think her question’s a very good one. How would you respond to that one?
Fr. George: I, well… The first thing is that, whether someone is a Christian or not doesn’t have anything to do with my love for them. As a counselor, if you don’t love the people that you’re dealing with, whether they’re Christian or not, you’re not going to be of much help to them, because ultimately we believe that it’s love and particularly God’s love that is what heals us. When you’re dealing with somebody… AA or 12 Step groups, NA, OA, they are not the body of Christ, so it’s not their job to proclaim his name. Those are places where, I believe that it’s kind of like, when you look at the Orthodox Church, I look at the AA as being the steps outside the Church, almost the narthex, that it really prepares people to bring down the walls that are between them and God, that allow them to enter the Church. There’s a lot of people that I meet through the blog: that’s their experience. They were hard-core nones to begin with.
Mr. Allen: “Not-affiliated"s.
Fr. George: “Not-affiliated"s or atheists or they came from traditions that were very antithetical to the Orthodox tradition. It was through the openness that they had to acquire in going through the 12 Steps that they were actually able to enter into the Church. You may have somebody that you’re encountering who is not Orthodox; what you do is you love them. I think if we were all better icons of the Christ that we believe in, there’s nothing that would stop a person from saying, “Hey, I want what you have. What do you have and how do I get it?” and take it from there.
Dr. Rossi: I would add that, fundamentally, the issue as I would see it is between my ego and not my ego. Am I God or am I not? The 12 Step program provides a nice bridge for that. I don’t care what you call this “other transcendent,” but I want you to get out of yourself. For those people who can’t even deal with the idea of spirituality, just let the people in the room be your god as you understand them. But there are people who don’t want that either; they want to stay inside their own little coconut shell and have nothing besides themselves. Well, they’re impossible cases.
Mr. Allen: Fr. Meletios Webber, in his book, calls that the “diseased ego.” If you’re not going to surrender your diseased ego, you’re in trouble. But that goes for those of us who are not addicted as well. Thanks for your call very much, Barbara. We appreciate it. We’ve got to run.
Barbara: Thank you very much.
Mr. Allen: You’re welcome so much. Michael from Atlanta, you’re next. You’ve been holding patiently; thank you. Good evening. You’re on Ancient Faith Today.
Michael: Hey. So I’m actually in the car right now with my kids, returning home from a trip. My mother’s father was an alcoholic. My mother and father were very zealous, fervent Christians, but they brought up all of their children to totally abstain from alcohol, and alcohol was considered a sinful thing: to consume alcohol. What would be a scriptural and Orthodox way of teaching my children about alcohol? What does God want me to teach my children about alcohol?
Mr. Allen: Good question. Fr. George, why don’t you take that one first?
Fr. George: There’s enough scriptural references to alcohol: the Psalms, wine that makes glad the heart of man. Alcohol is not in and of itself sinful. When you talk about alcoholism, your parents’ attitudes come from an age where that was the primary addictive problem in America. These days, it is a smaller portion of a larger problem. There’s a lot of other things that people are getting addicted to. I think teaching your children about moderation, that you use things but understand that those things can be abused, and teaching your children not to…
I think again it comes back to what I was saying earlier about teaching our children to manage their anxieties through their spirituality and through our relationship as parents with our children. Once we have opened those channels of relationship and they can talk to us and they are certain of our love for them, then that’s, I think, the best thing. Teaching… I watched in my own life many children who were raised in completely dry homes, and they get off to college, and what’s the first thing they do? You could set your watch by them. Being utterly abstemious isn’t going to do anything once they get out on their own.
Mr. Allen: On the other hand, I was raised in a half-Italian family, and we used to have, as seven- and eight-year-olds, a little glass of water with a little wine put in there by grandpa, and when I got to the age of teens where everybody was going crazy, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, because I’d been drinking since I was eight years old, to some extent.
Fr. George: Fun times in the Allenini house, huh?
Mr. Allen: But, thanks, Michael. We appreciate your call very much.
Michael: Thank you.
Mr. Allen: You’re welcome. Listen, we’re going to take a decided shift at this point and now move into a very sensitive but a very prevalent topic. We’re going to primarily be discussing this with Dr. Rossi, because he specializes in this. However, Fr. George, hang around, and if you want to do some color commentary, please do.
Dr. Rossi, pornography is the fastest-growing form of addiction. It’s a deadly addiction, because it isn’t so obvious. What would be a working definition of internet porn as an addiction?
Dr. Rossi: For me, watching internet pornography once every three months constitutes addiction. Now, that’s hard, that’s cold, that’s measurable. However, it is a conversation-stopper and a conversation-beginner. Now, I use that number. I’ve run that number by Fr. Tom Hopko and by Fr. Meletios Webber, who was in my office and we’d talk about this. I made a little six-minute video on this, and both agreed that, okay, it’s a working definition.
The reason for it is that Jesus said, “If any man looks at a woman lustfully, he has committed adultery with her in his heart.” Now, of course, that means any woman looking at a man or any man looking at a man or a woman looking at a woman. But Jesus said that the look is adultery, and adultery in Jesus’ time was punishable by death, so we’re not playing games here. And the problem with our culture is seeing a movie or looking at pornography sort of blends in with all kinds of other things. Our whole antennae has become distorted, but if we get it clear… And a quote I love is from Fr. John Breck, who says, “Our threshold of tolerance towards sexual explicitness and exploitation has been dramatically lowered. The spiritual and psychological toll exacted by the situation is incalculable.” We don’t even know the waters we’re swimming in. We just suppose this is the way people live, but it’s not. Of course, we can think any way we want, but there are consequences to pay. That’s for openers.
Mr. Allen: One of the statistical reports that I looked at say that 70% of men between 18 to 24 visit porn sites at least once a month. That means that there are a whole lot of men who are addicted to internet porn. What is the basic problem, Dr. Albert Rossi, as we’re starting to descend a bit on our program this evening, with watching porn and what long-term effect does it have on the addict? A two-part question.
Dr. Rossi: The bottom line would be that internet pornography, in its indulgence, small or large, gradually or not so gradually, makes one a love cripple. I cannot love as well as I could before I watched it. It changes my capacity to love, which of course is my capacity to become like Christ. In the long-term effect is, if it continues, I become more and more crippled, that is, I see other people, particularly if it’s a man and a woman, through the neural circuitry, the lens, the retina, of an object.
Mr. Allen: Interesting.
Dr. Rossi: I can’t stop it, because it’s the way I have wired myself to become.
I would also say there are some addictions that are not reversible, physically, and there are some that are. For example, cigarette smoking, nicotine, makes the lungs black, but if one stops nicotine intake, the lungs can become pink again. Alcohol, by contrast, is not physically reversible, so the damage done to the liver, which [in] cirrhosis becomes hard,—if a person stops drinking, [the liver] doesn’t become soft. So you say to an alcoholic, “If you’ve been off alcohol for 24 years and you take a drink, your body responds just like it did when you stopped 24 years ago, because the liver as well as the pancreas…”
And so, on internet pornography, it is reversible. As in nicotine cigarettes, when one does it and when one stops, one can recover one’s ability to love…
Mr. Allen: That’s the good news.
Dr. Rossi: ...if one stops looking at the internet pornography.
Mr. Allen: Yeah, that’s the good news. I’ve got a question from Jennifer from the chat room. She asks:
What about a husband that has looked at internet porn in the past, and the wife believes that he has stopped. Should the wife ever ask how he’s doing, i.e., hold him accountable, to see if he’s staying clean, or no?
And then in parentheses, she writes:
Maybe he needs someone else to hold him accountable on this issue.
Dr. Rossi: Yeah, it’s a really great question, and it depends on their relationship on how invasive she should be. There’s a great software called Covenant Eyes, e-y-e-s—CovenantEyes.com is where one would find that—that provides a wonderful service, and for her it could be someone objective, where I’m a member of Covenant Eyes. I joined, and Fr. Tom Hopko is one of my accountability partners. You join, and then you volunteer accountability partner. I said, “Fr. Tom, would you do it?” He said, “Yeah.” Every week, he gets a report from Covenant Eyes on my computer use, but it’s in a summary fashion. It says: These sites are questionable.
Now, I’ve a number of people, particularly Orthodox priests, that I’m the accountability partner for, so every week I get many reports from Covenant Eyes, and, frankly, I got one today from a priest that was watching internet pornography. But that, then, opens the door of transparency. Someone else knows what I’ve been doing with my computer. And the way Covenant Eyes is, it provides this little summary report, and it gives you a total list of all the sites that the person visited during the past week and how many minutes or hours that person was on it, and at what time of the day or night, so it’s very comprehensive. That’s the first thing I’d say to her, it put him up…
But if the marriage is stable and they have a loving relationship, I have no problem suggesting to her to say to him, “You know, you did have a problem in the past and I know that you can be honest with me, and any time a person had a problem in the past it could recur. I’m just wondering is this something we should talk about.” I would ask what is he doing, [but]: “Are you tempted to do it?” Sort of give him the break.
Mr. Allen: So you mention Covenant Eyes as one of the tools for a person who admits an addiction to internet pornography and wants to be accountable. Are there other tools like it that you could recommend?
Dr. Rossi: That’s the first step. For example, I teach at a seminary: males, mostly, although we have 12 females this year. But, you know… mostly males. I’m on the phone with seminarians from Holy Cross and St. Tikhon’s and St. Vladimir’s regularly who are addicted to internet pornography. Virtually every week, someone will call me from one of those seminaries or from St. Vladimir’s, and the first thing I ask them to do is: “Would you go to Covenant Eyes?” The second thing is… Within the last two weeks, I have had two people come into my office and say they’re watching internet… One guy, he’s married, has kids, [has] been watching it; just the day before watched it for four hours. You know, while the students are explaining they don’t have enough time to do the studies—and is addicted.
Well, your question about steps… There are two basic tools. The pastor, man or a woman, priest or non-priest, [needs] to have available. Covenant Eyes is a start. The second is a group called Sexaholics Anonymous (SA). SA can be accessed by the internet: http://www.sa.org and then one begins to look at whether they need to go or not. The phone number for SA is—I’ll give it to you—615-370-6062.
Mr. Allen: Now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, since priests and seminarians are humans and males, that there is addiction to pornography. I know Fr. George and I were speaking off-air that that was a problem, Fr. George, when you went to seminary yourself many years ago. But it probably scandalizes some of our listeners. I do want to ask a question. I actually have two questions that have come in from a priest, and I think they’re both important. Let me ask this one of [Dr.] Rossi, and then, Fr. George, if you want to jump in, that’s fine, too. The priest asks:
What is the relationship of watching porn and then acting out? I am speaking here about child pornography. Is there a direct relationship between watching and then doing? I had a person in my confessional who admitted to being addicted to child pornography.
Dr. Rossi: It’s a really tricky question, but I would say: Clearly, no. There’s no statistical evidence that I know that one necessarily that is watching it will cause one to do it. No. However, what must be said is it’s a felony and a person’s got to stop doing it, and the priest needs to talk to that person outside of confession in counseling, and the priest, of course, is a mandated reporter. Child viewing… I know people who have been in prison for 18 months for watching child pornography. It has nothing to do with a living child; just watching it: went to prison. But the answer to the question is no; there’s no direct correlation in terms of acting out on another human being. The correlation is one’s ability to relate to any other human, particularly a live child, diminishes greatly; one becomes a love cripple.
Mr. Allen: And then a second priest asks the question:
What can we do with people who come to church, make the admission of porn addiction, saying that they are trying to stop, and at the same time denying any immoral or illegal activity?
Dr. Rossi: In my own experience, internet pornography addiction denial is much greater even than it is with all the other addictions. I had a priest I spoke with within the last month who said to me that for years he didn’t confess it because he didn’t think it was a sin! Well, what do you do with that? Now he’s talking to me because he understands it’s a sin. The denial, the diminishment, is really great in this area.
On Ancient Faith Radio I do have a podcast, Becoming a Healing Presence, and I would suggest to anyone who’s listening—and I would suppose anyone who is listening has pastoral presence of [one] sort or another—to go into my archives, and about the middle of all of my podcasts, I have two episodes on dealing with internet pornography. The way I teach the seminarians is that anyone who comes to confession or counseling and says, “I have this problem,” the first thing to do is: “Go listen to Rossi for both sessions, and come back and we’ll talk.” That is, we now have a common language and a common set of ideas that we can deal with. We’re not just batting stuff around. On those two podcasts I spell it all out.
The case that this priest is presenting is a case of denial. How do you deal with denial? You do it slowly, gently, and persistently. You try to get the person to wake up. I will recommend a book. The title is The Drug of the New Millennium by Kastleman, K-a-s-t-l-e-m-a-n. It goes into the biochemistry beautifully. It goes into all the chemicals that are released with internet pornography, and that’s a whole separate, wonderful topic.
For our purposes, I do want to make clear again, for those people who might not have heard the beginning of the program, that revolving-door confessions make addictions, but specifically internet pornography viewing, worse. Denial deepens. We wouldn’t treat a cocaine addict that way, saying, “Well, you fell down. Get up, and keep coming back and talking to me,” and that goes on for years. That makes the problem worse, and for this kind of addiction one gets saturated pretty quickly. So what did titillate me a while ago now isn’t as strong, and now I need a stronger dose, whatever more kind of behaviors that it is.
My own conviction is that as internet pornography addiction grows… And it certainly is going to grow mightily by my understanding. I think that alcoholism is going to decrease significantly, because the person gets the same brain chemical changes without a DUI or without having initially to go pay for it or without having a hangover the next day. The consequences are deeper and more grim, but they’re not felt as easily as they are with alcohol.
In any case, internet pornography, the four As: it’s accessible, right there, click click. It’s affordable, effectively free in the beginning. It’s anonymous. It’s a stealth drug. I do it alone. It’s aggressive. I don’t have to go looking for it; it’s looking for me. With my family, recently, and my little eight-year-old grandson asked for my iPhone: “Yeah, yeah, here it is, Colin.” He gave it back to me: “This isn’t so good, is it, Papa?” And there’s internet pornography on my iPhone! I said, “Oh, no! That’s not so good, Colin. How’d you do that?” “I don’t know, Papa. I just pushed YouTube and I pushed in a word and this came up.” I didn’t even know I had YouTube, but if so… So I got YouTube off, Google…
But the drugs that are released with internet pornography, I’ll just name them (and they’re in this lovely book): dopamine, norepinephrine, testosterone, oxytocin, and serotonin. All of these at the same time, and they change the pathways in the brain….
Mr. Allen: My, oh my.
Dr. Rossi: ...that become semi-permanent. The relationship to other humans is drastically altered. Internet pornography is the drug of the new millennium.
Mr. Allen: Fr. George, do you want to say something? We’re going to have to start descending pretty soon.
Fr. George: Yeah, through my blog I get a lot of inquiries about it. I’ve had a number of people tell me, “Oh, it’s actually beneficial.” I say, “No. What?” “Well, rather than acting out with my girlfriend or whatnot, I use that.” I’ve actually had young ladies contact me and say, “I thought my boyfriend was really great. He wasn’t pressuring me for any kind of physical contact, and we had this wonderful Christian relationship.” Then it turned out that the young men were using pornography for hours a day.
I have run across a person who did contact me who said that his path into child pornography came through this search through stimulus, and he got into… This is the problem with that ever-increasing tolerance of it, where you see within pornography there’s all these gradients. It is affecting our culture in profound ways, because as people, men are searching for that new level of arousal, they’re getting into worse and worse stuff.
I read of one study where they believe that the attitudes towards gay marriage that we now have come in large part because heterosexuals are viewing gay pornography, because the regular heterosexual pornography wasn’t working for them any more. There’s a lot of damage; I don’t think we’ve even really begun to understand all of what’s happening with this in our culture.
Mr. Allen: Let me shift gears, and, Fr. George, let me ask you a closing question, because this may be the milieu that you’ve been in, or it is—I know that—in terms of your speaking in Romania and Russia and different places. Are there different cultural contexts of understanding for addictions and the treatment of addictions? Places like Russia, Romania, Greece, all of which have very high alcohol and substance abuse problems, from heroin to meth to alcohol and everything in between. Is there a different way that they understand addiction or the 12 Steps program or things like that, versus the way we do in the West, or not in the West but in the U.S.?
Fr. George: Overseas, the further east you go, the less general knowledge there is of 12 Step recovery.
Mr. Allen: Really?
Fr. George: Yeah, in our [culture], we’ve had 70 years of it. In the Eastern Bloc, AA wasn’t even a possibility until 1985.
Mr. Allen: It is an American program, yeah. I keep forgetting.
Fr. George: Yeah. So they are just starting to really kind of learn what it is. The interesting thing is that the American context, AA started as something that was largely outside of modern American religion, because in many ways the 12 Steps are very much a departure from what we would consider canonical Protestantism, with the idea of talking about your sins with another person and whatnot. In Eastern Europe, in the places I’ve been to, what’s interesting is the bishops are the ones that are really taking an interest in it, and there is a lot of encouragement there for the Church actually to help in setting up the programs.
On a cultural level, I recall when I was younger my father’s office had a wet bar, and it was understood that men did business. You could have drinks during the day. There was a daytime drinking culture in America in the last generation. It is that way in the Eastern world. What was interesting in Russia there, I asked these priests dealing with clinicians, “What is the occurrence of internet pornography there?” and they looked at me like: “What’s that?” It hasn’t yet… They have a huge problem with alcoholism, much more transparent and obvious over there than we have over here, yet the problem of internet pornography hasn’t even completely touched down there yet. But it will.
Mr. Allen: Sadly, if Dr. Rossi is correct in the pyramid of addictions, we’re going to get there.
Gentlemen, that’s all the time we have tonight. Fr. George Aquaro, thank you very much for being my guest on Ancient Faith Today.
Fr. George: It’s an honor.
Mr. Allen: It’s been great. And, Dr. Albert Rossi, thanks for all the work you’ve been doing and for your transparency and your honesty and your clarity. It was really a pleasure having you on tonight.
Dr. Rossi: Thank you, Kevin. It was great.
Please join me on December 8 for our topic “Is Religious Freedom Really in Peril?” with my guests the nationally syndicated columnist of On Religion and director of the Washington Journalism Center, Terry Mattingly, and Fr. Hans Jacobse, priest and editor of Orthodoxy Today and founder of the American Orthodox Institute. We’ll discuss whether there really is religious discrimination worldwide or if it’s just so much empty whining.
Many thanks to our production team this evening: to our engineer John Maddex, our producer Bobby Maddex, our call-screener Steve Early, our chatroom moderator Fr. John Schroedel, and to my production assistant Jennifer Trenery.
Please tune in next week at the same time for the live call-in program, Orthodoxy Live with Fr. Evan Armatas.
For those of you listening live, we’re about to have the first ever live share-a-thon with St. Catherine College. It begins shortly. Please stick around and join us. Thanks for listening. Have a great week.