Lately, a scene from the movie Poltergeist stays on replay in my brain. You know the one where Dana, played by Dominique Dunne, screams “What’s happening?” outside as she watches her house get eaten by ghosts? This is what comes to mind when I think about or watch the news. So much to be sad about. Too much, really.
My current focus seems to most often be related to the frightening speed with which drug overdoses in this country are becoming a leading cause of death. Last year, fatalities to drug overdose were higher than car accidents. Four of the nation’s top 20 cities of opioid deaths are in North Carolina with Wilmington leading the way at the top spot. Hickory (5); Jacksonville (12) and Fayetteville (18) were also on the list. In our state, opioids are killing an average of four people every day.*
Opioid overdoses are so prevalent that EMTs and police officers carry Narcan (naloxone, the treatment for a narcotic overdose). In many schools, nurses keep it in their office and students as young as 12 are taught how to administer the antidote. I read an article recently that stated Ohio currently has so many opioid deaths, morgues are having to bring in trailers to provide more tables to hold the deceased bodies.
So, what gives? Why are there so many people addicted to something: drugs, food, porn, smartphones? Johann Hari is a British journalist who did a fascinating TED talk, and decided to explore this question a couple years ago. He started by examining the work of Vancouver psychology professor Bruce Alexander. Alexander theorized that rats who were given two water bottles (one plain water and the other with heroin or cocaine) always took the drug-laced water because they were isolated in a cage. He created what he called Rat Park, where the rats could always eat, play and socialize. The rats still had access to both plain and drug laced water, but now, the rats almost always drank plain water. The idea is that everything needs to bond with something. The rats prefer to bond with others and enjoy life, but when that wasn’t available, they bonded with drugs. This is what we are seeing with people. Food, porn, smartphones and, especially, drugs are becoming easier to bond with than bonding with others.
Keeping Rat Park in mind, what if addiction is more of a social disorder than a chemical disorder? What if the answer to addiction were as simple as belonging and purpose? In this age of technological connection and interpersonal disconnection, it can be easy to fall into the trap of getting and staying lost in our own world. We might as well be that isolated rat in the park. This trap ensures we never bond with the people in front of or around us.
From the beginning of time, God created us to be together: The Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I’ll make him a helper, a companion.” Genesis 2:18 (MSG). But technology has made it so we don’t need to be connected physically to be together. This is both a wonderful and terrible thing. Long distance? How great that not only can we speak (via phone call or text), but we can also see each other using video chat. In our current climate when we should be more connected than ever before, the opposite often happens. We are sacrificing our relationships for our stuff. And at a huge cost. I think about this on occasion: what am I not putting my phone down for?
I know I’ve been guilty of making my phone and technology a bigger priority than the people in front of me. Social media, games, emails, etc., etc. make it so easy to be and stay distracted. This is creating more isolation between people. Who hasn’t seen (or been) the family at dinner in a restaurant who didn’t interact or speak to each other because no one could take their eyes off their phone?
Philippians 2:4 (NLT) Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
Yes, we are all busy. We need to take care of our family, friends, ourselves, work, the house… the list goes on seemingly forever, doesn’t it? Take just a second to remember a time when someone took a moment out of their day to focus on only you. How did that make you feel? When I have an experience with someone who gives me their full attention, is polite, upbeat and HUMAN, it stands out and makes my day.
The apostle Paul reminds us: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15 (NLT) and in 1 Corinthians 12:26 “If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
And this powerful gem in 1 John 4:20 (NLT): If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?
Connection feeds the soul. And connection with God is immeasurable, and He thinks connecting with others is equally important. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus said that loving your neighbor as yourself is a second, equally important commandment to loving God with all your heart, soul and mind. The Bible teaches us that God is love. If He made us in His image, isn’t connection an incredible way He shows love to us? So how can we be love to others and connect with them? Any way that tugs at your heart, really. Prayer, phone calls, texts, visits, cards, notes, your presence, giving presents. LISTENING. Asking others about themselves. Giving smiles, giving hugs. Whatever and wherever God leads you. Often, it will involve turning off a screen.
No doubt connection can feel more difficult on the surface than it really is. What if the answer to addiction IS as simple as disconnecting from that which can create isolation? I came across an article entitled “The Opposite of Addiction is Connection.” I completely agree. Now excuse me. I need to go love on and bond with my family.
*written by Billy Liggett - The Opioid Epidemic – 3/3/17 - The Rant – News Out of North Carolina
* written by Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S in Psychology Today 9/30/15