Impaired or Enlarged?
I hadn’t thought much about my seat mate as we buckled up to take off. She was frazzled and middle-aged and certainly didn’t look like the talkative type. “It’ll probably be a very quiet ride,” I mused to myself. However, when the stewardess asked her what she wanted to drink, her answer stirred my interest.
“May I please have two vodka’s and a tomato juice?” she said. “I’d like to make myself a Bloody Mary.”
Breathing a prayer I ventured, “May I ask you, what does drinking an alcoholic beverage do for you?”
My seat mate made a guilty grimace. “It takes all the tensions away that I have when I travel and have to face the crowds. In a few minutes I’ll get this warm and pleasant sensation inside and all my worries and troubles will just melt away,” she said. A dreamy look crossed her face. “You see, I have a disorder called agoraphobia. I lock up with panic and tension when I’m in a crowd.”
And she went on to tell me her story. As a teenager in Peru, she had been traumatized by being kidnapped and held hostage for ransom. She had come out of the experience without physical harm, but inside she had many emotional struggles.
It really felt like I was venturing further into dangerous territory, but I decided to risk it anyway... “Ma’am, I have a question. I am a minister of the gospel. Last night I preached from Proverbs 31. It was on the subject of where people turn for an ultimate resource when their emotions overwhelm them. I warned them about the dangers of strong drink and how it impairs judgment. I’d like to know from your experience if it is true?”
Taking my Bible, I offered her to read from Proverbs 31:4-9. She slowly and thoughtfully read the words,
“It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.”
After reading the passage she asked, “Now what was your question again?”
And so I explained. I told her we all need somewhere to go when our emotions bottom out or tie us up in knots, or when we feel life is almost too much to handle. “So here is my question: ‘Is it true that alcohol impairs and distorts our judgment; that in making us feel like we can handle life it keeps us from the larger reality of life, and keeps us from feeling other’s suffering?’ ”
“It most certainly is true,” she replied, “And what’s more, I shouldn’t be giving myself this little liberty today. It’s just that I need the courage to face these two airplane flights and all these people.”
But then she turned toward me with a question, “Are you telling me, that in all your life you have never had a drink of beer or whiskey? That is really amazing!”
“That’s true,” I said. “Our people have been taught we should never even taste the stuff. But I will admit, that a number of our people are on psychotropic meds of different sorts.” Then I went on and risked yet another question, “Tell me, do you have any experience with meds, you know, those kind that help people deal with their emotional problems? You see, the reason I want to know is that so many of our people are told by doctors that they need medications to handle life. And I want to know if it affects them?”
“I sure do have experience,” she responded. “My experiences have taken me down that road where I have had about all the drugs out there that are supposed to help people. And I have to say they aren’t that much different than alcohol. They take effect in different ways, but they are to do the same thing. In fact, because of my experience I’ve become an advocate for those who are being medicated against their will.”
And then she went on, explaining how people use medications to control people who should be allowed and helped to work through their negative emotions. “Tell your people not to go down that road! There is no one out there who really needs medications” she asserted, “Except for those who are on them and just can’t stop taking them right away. Tell them that medications will impair their judgment of life.”
And so this conversation raised even more questions. Many doctors and even conservative ministers encourage people struggling with emotions to turn to prescription medications. May we look at the negative impact of this? What do experts know about medications? What are the long-term effects with taking this route for our emotional struggles? The following is a brief summary of these findings.
Will we impair our brains?
Let’s ponder what Lemuel’s mother told him almost 3,000 years ago. Consider the words she chose to describe the effects of alcohol. “Forget, pervert, forget, remember no more.” It doesn’t say, “Give your brain enlightenment and balance.”
Like my seat mate on the plane, a person who uses alcohol to self-medicate can tell you that he chooses to drink because it makes him feel better about his problems. The tensions he feels inside melt away. Social awkwardness and other inhibitions disappear and the person feels good about himself. He will often admit that it doesn’t change reality but it makes him feel different about his reality. In fact, using strong drink often makes reality much worse, but under influence negative reality no longer troubles him.
Sadly, it is also true that the new distorted reality narrows a person’s perception to other’s problems; troubles and needs are of no concern to them. Lemuel’s mother warned him that his ability to decide cases of judgment would be affected, especially where human suffering was involved. The sharp edge of living with eternal realities also fades; the will of God as written in the law subsides.
A psychology team put it this way. “If people do feel better when drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana it is because they feel better when their brain is impaired. Psychiatric drugs are no different. The people who take such drugs may feel less of their emotional suffering. They may even reach a state of relative anesthesia. But to the degree that they feel better, it is because they are experiencing intoxication with the drugs.”1
This thought often surprises people. We have been led to believe that medications are medicine. Medications that target the brain do not bring balance to brain chemistry, nor do they fill some void.
The following is a quote from foundationsrecoverynetwork.com. “Every type of drug, no matter how potent or addictive, has some type of effect on the person using it. These effects can range from mild to severe, and can include both physical and psychological symptoms. While each drug is different, one common effect of drug use is impaired judgment. Every drug side effect has the potential to be dangerous, but impaired judgment can be especially risky to a person physically, psychologically and socially. It is essential to use drugs with extreme caution, knowing that they can impair a person’s judgment in multiple and sometimes unexpected ways.”
Another quote from the same source: “The NIDA (National Institute for Drug Abuse) also describes the changes that occur in a person’s brain while on drugs. The chemicals in the drug disrupt the communication system of the brain, changing the way it processes information by either acting like the brain’s natural neurotransmitters, or by causing the brain to release too many neurotransmitters.”2
Choosing this remedy for internal suffering is sometimes described as closing out communication between the two worlds we all experience. Each of us has an ongoing dialogue between the sensations we gather from our bodies and what we tell ourselves about our world in our minds. When our bodies fail to respond the way they should, or when we evaluate that they are not doing what we want them to, we choose a corrective choice. For example, if we feel dizzy, shiver, or become aware that we are not making sense to others - we stop - and choose a response to correct our problem.
When the brain is impaired by alcohol or mind-altering meds, that self-dialogue and correction is minimized or stopped, depending upon the dosage. An alcohol impaired person becomes decreasingly aware of his staggering steps or his self-centered conversation. He not only stops seeing full reality around him, he stops sensing it within himself. It is common for the alcoholic to resist treatment because he has lost perception about how the alcohol is affecting his actions. Not being aware of his actions, he is naive to his addiction to it. When he finally becomes sober he finds he has “wounds without cause”. See Proverbs 23:29-35. This same self-blindness is experienced to some degree across the spectrum of all medications.
How much of our impairment are we responsible for? Only God knows and only the judgment will reveal how all of this will look in the end. What is the soul accountable for when the brain is under an impairment brought on by alcohol or by meds?
If Lemuel had resisted his mother’s direction and chosen to self-medicate he no doubt would have left the oppressed in his kingdom suffer. He’d have chosen a life with few inhibitions like the one described in Proverbs 23:29-35. He’d have come to after a night of little or no self-awareness and would have wondered what all he had done. How much of this would he have been responsible for?
Another question about the impaired mind is this, “When our world is made smaller, what happens to self?” Is it true that a smaller world makes a larger self in comparison? Do any of us need to have a world where our journey becomes more and more important and other’s worlds are more and more insignificant?
So we observe that psychotropic meds create impairment. Many will raise the question, “Isn’t it right to treat emotional suffering like physical suffering?”
This is a question that is often asked.
When a person breaks a leg or suffers from a deep cut, we seek medical assistance. Part of the remedy is to relieve the pain from the wound. Why would we imply there would be cautions in seeking medical help for a broken heart or for fears that seem to rage out of control?
Even closer to emotional pain are physical conditions that influence our emotions. When a blood sugar condition is out of balance, we know it will bring a mental condition with it. When hormones are involved or when there is a thyroid problem, we do not hesitate to seek help, even if it may involve chemical medications. Let’s make it clear here, when some organ of the body is not functioning properly, we believe the Bible supports finding medicinal relief. So why not address emotional pain such as fear, worries, anger, distress, or grief from the same perspective?
God’s Word clearly makes a difference. We all know of Luke, the beloved physician. Paul gave Timothy a medicinal remedy for a stomach infirmity. God’s Word gives place for physical remedies for physical problems. But in these cases, the medicine enables or enhances the functions of the body.
Is this the case for the mind? Are minds helped because brains are enhanced or enabled? Do people find their way out of fear or guilt because their brains are sharpened? The words of Scripture would show, and even many professionals agree, this is not the case. The verdict is in, in most cases emotional help is received because the brain is hindered, or impaired.
That’s why we see mind issues are an entirely different matter. The mind uses the brain in this life, but the mind is first and foremost spiritual in nature. God directs us to give care to our minds, but that care is to come from our soul through spirit enhancement. The command to be sober teaches us to establish boundaries on our thinking, in order to experience peace and Christian victory. The direction to speak to ourselves through songs is to establish our mind activity.
Promises in both the Old Testament and New Testament focus on God’s ability to bring peace to hearts that are in turmoil. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Ps 119:165). “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isa 32:17). The activity of worship is a wonderful mind stabilizer.
Jesus has both comforted and commanded us, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Joh 14:27). We know the promise, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Ga 5:22-23). “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Php 4:7).
And so this brings us to the other option for helping us with emotional needs...
Or will we enlarge our hearts? “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged” (2 Co 6:11).
The Apostle Paul is a great encouragement, perhaps most of all because of the tremendous spiritual legacy he left in his writings. We marvel at his example. When he met Christ on the Damascus road and surrendered to Jesus as Lord, he gave his life unreservedly to spreading the Gospel. Because of this choice Paul suffered unbelievable rejection and persecution. Several passages highlight what he endured, but one passage reveals the effects of this suffering, in other words what suffering did to his heart, the affection part of his mind. This is recorded in 2 Corinthians.
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:” (2Co 1:3-8).
In 2 Corinthians 4 and 11 Paul gives us more insights into this account. He was repeatedly traumatized. At least one time the persecutors thought they had solved the problem of Paul once for all. They left him for dead. But Paul believed that his suffering was for a grander purpose. “Our light affliction” he calls it, and tells himself that it is “just for a moment”; happened for the purpose to work “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” In chapter 12 we have his thoughts recorded about a very private time when Paul struggled, asking for a weight to be lifted. But through prayer, God said “No.”
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he [God] said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2Co 12:7-9).
In short, Paul turned to God for his comfort. To give him comfort, God did not dull or impair Paul’s perception, but rather helped him see the big picture. When Paul embraced the big picture and received comfort from it, his heart and world were enlarged. He was able to connect with hurting people from any walk of life.
When we hurt, when we go through what the flesh does not want, God often does something for our spiritual man that He cannot do any other way. We may be brought to the edge of eternity. We may see God’s purposes more vividly. We may be brought to a fuller grasp of God’s grace and what it does for us. And thus our hearts are enlarged. Through suffering we are brought into a more complete understanding of what others are going through.
In 2Cor 6 Paul again unloads what he went through for the church at Corinth. The list is intimidating - one could almost expect to hear him say at the end, “I am all worn out! I have no more patience for you!” But rather Paul exclaims just the opposite, “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians we are hiding nothing, keeping nothing back, and our heart is expanded wide for you! There is no lack of room for you in our hearts...”
One of the blessed outcomes to us, when our heart is enlarged to care for others, is to our view of self. Isn’t it wonderful when self shrinks to lesser importance, when our needs, our hurts, and our thoughts are not the center of our focus, but rather what God is doing with others?
We all experience suffering
All of us suffer. We live in a fallen world. People betray us. Events disappoint us. We receive wounds both inside and out. Sometimes, after we suffer long enough, the hurts and disappointments seem to add up to a great sense of disillusionment. No one would argue whether or not the suffering is real. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Ro 8:22-23)
At some seasons of life, many of us will struggle so much with pain we wonder whether or not we will lose our ability to reason. It seems like the hurt and wounds are so deep and last so long we can no longer control our thoughts. Everything gets jumbled together until we can’t seem to think straight any longer.
Maybe our struggle is depression. We feel so badly we don’t even want to get out of bed, much less face the public or our church family. The struggles of the mind affect the ability to face life with energy. Job 3 is a good passage to read when we feel badly about life.
It is helpful to remember that it is God who created us for earth living. We did not make ourselves. We did not choose to live in a fallen world. God understood what we would be dealing with, even from the very beginning. The God who made us also assures us we will not face temptations or struggles greater than we can bear. Just like He created us with a controllable sexuality or a controllable anger surge, He created us with controllable suffering levels.
It is also helpful to remember that Jesus understands whatever we face. He went through human struggles. In eternity past He told the Father, “I delight to do thy will.” When He got to earth and actually faced the cross, He cried out in an appeal asking for a different path. “Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me...”
In conclusion, which will we choose?
Impaired? or Enlarged? Which will we choose? There is no doubt but that God will allow us to suffer in our earth journey. And the suffering isn’t only physical; some of the most challenging times we experience are in our emotional journey. We actually need this suffering. It honors Him and it helps us relate to others. But we still have a choice. One option apparently leads to a narrowed view and ability to serve others. The Bible holds that the choice to see life from an eternal perspective and seeing God involved in our lives, helps us reach out and beyond, even to make a difference for eternity. Which will we choose?
- Your Drug May Be Your Problem, Pg 2.