Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Addiction, Neurological Issues, Satan and the Framing Wars

I am keeping this top posted for the moment, as I have a couple of comments out that refer to it - please check out more recent posts below.

A couple of quick additions. First, I want to let those who care know that the new meds seem to be coming together for me. It's still a little early to tell, but switching off the Seroquel was definitely a positive and I do feel better overall. Second, a friend who is familiar with the coffee shop and it's denizens - as well as me, thought it likely that the scowls I got from those around us, were probably as much because of the slam on Bill. She also mentioned that they were probably already scowling at me, I just didn't notice. There are usually a few AA folks there and I do tend to discuss addiction quite a bit. So a lot of the regulars know that while I'm not as harsh as some folks on AA, I am highly critical.

I would just like to provide an example of why I have, the position I have, on a discussion over at Greg Laden's blog and on what amounts to a three year discussion about framing science and it's intersection with religion. This is something that keeps flaring up and always perks my interest, because one, I've been involved for about three years (give or take several months) and two, my position on it has changed considerably for several reasons.

Taxing my google skills to their max and beyond (learned a couple things doing this), I have managed to find one of the earliest posts on this discussion, by none other than my own brother Ed, over at Dispatches. If you're a glutton for punishment, you can wade through some of the comments and check out my contribution, which is a far different position than I express today. And one of the contributors to the evolution of my stance and shedding of my Faith, has been this very discussion. It was my intent to actually dig through and find a couple of my comments, but after the time and effort it took just finding these posts, I haven't the will. Please keep in mind that this isn't actually the first post, nor was this the only one at the time. There were at least a couple dozen other bloggers who weighed in on that particular flame war, several with more than one post.

On and off, this discussion has continued over the last couple of years, most often fomented by a Matt Nisbett who blogs at the Seed sciblog collective. I'll link to one of his more recent examples of foolishness, though to be honest, I dislike Matt enough and suspect his motivations to the point that I am hesitant to actually link him. Back around thanksgiving last, he posted this bullshit, wherein he explains to us ignorant gits, that calling people who deny certain fundamentals, such as evolution, the importance of vaccines, or, in the context of this very post, basic neuropsychology denialists, is a bad, bad thing. Several of my favorite bloggers had a lot to say about that. Matt has also given out several other fuckyouverymuch's, like this gem. And I don't know why it didn't occur to me before, but Bora, the sciblogger aggregator has this passel of links from days gone by. (Bora totally rocks, btw...)

Hell of a build-up, to a rather short example - but this is why I am not going to shut up and play nice. (also note that this was my first day off Seroquel and on the new drugs)
I was in the coffee shop the other day, when I chanced into a conversation with an absolute Uber-Faithful nutter. A bible and Big Book thumping True Believer. I was discussing addiction and harm reduction, with a casual coffeehouse friend, when TB decided to jump into the conversation. I had just finished explaining my own experience with addiction, (yes, I actually talk some about the things discussed in the last link on occasion, though honestly I don't remember whether I did in this conversation) when TB busted in with; "You're going to school to study Addiction! You think you're managing your addictions?! You're either nuts or stupid!!!" He wasn't actually that loud, but he was nearly hysterical by the time he got to the last bit, at which point he decided to sit down at our table - to his credit, he does know Casual Friend.

The money quote, my response to which sent him away horribly offended, ranting under his breath:
You are never going to actually deal with your addictions or get to the root of your supposed "neurological issues" until you accept Jesus back into you heart and accept the truth. Mental illness is bullshit. It's nothing more than Satan convincing you that instead of drinking and getting high, you can take these other drugs. Man is not going to help you get through your problems, therapy isn't going to solve anything, unless it's Christ centered therapy. Satan has control of you man and you need to fight him - drugs aren't going to fight Satan! Only Christ and the power of prayer can get you through this!!

Then he put his hand on my shoulder and actually asked me if he could pray with me. Seriously.

"Get your fucking hand off me, you fucking nutter! Take your Faith in Christ and your Faith in Bill and your Faith in Satan and shove it up your ass, you denialist fucking loon! Fairytales have nothing to do with what's going on in my head jackass, it's fucking neurochemistry - the way my fucking brain works!"

"You're addicted to drugs and addicted to Satan!"

"I'm a fucking atheist you fucking moron!!!"

And yes, I was more or less fucking hysterical by this point - seriously fucking pissed. Pissed enough that I shouted rather loudly, in the middle of a coffee shop in the midwest, that I'm an atheist. And I'm really only an atheist in the broadest sense of the word, deist is far more accurate a label. But I was pretty sure he wouldn't have a clue what that meant, and as I said, I was borderline hysterical - which side of said border, it's hard to say. My rather loud admission garnered me a few scowls. On the other hand, when next I went for a refill, my friendly barista mentioned that a gent over yonder had covered my next cup - when I looked over, he smiled at me and shortly after wandered over to our table.

Now I need to explain that there was about half an hour, forty-five minutes of discussion before TB and I got into our shouting match. It had mostly been a reasonable discussion, with TB mostly just listening. When he started into the above long quote (not quite a perfect reproduction, but very close - the last one was his exact words), it was like he just couldn't take it anymore and had to respond to a lot that had been said. I avoided saying anything at all about AA while he was sitting there, but I did talk about harm reduction and started touching on linguistics - he really took exception to the idea that anyone can be considered successful in treating their addiction, if they aren't entirely abstinent from all psychoactive substances - including psychiatric drugs.

After he had left, Casual Friend explained that TB regularly relapses, carries a great deal of guilt and seems to be increasingly unhinged about it all. Mind you TB's relapses aren't multi-week, or even multi-day binges in which he gets totally hammered and blacks out. Every several months, he apparently breaks down and has a couple of beers before he can stop himself.

I also want to explain that I grew up with TB's same sort of bullshit, though not quite as extreme. My mom firmly believed that my "problems" growing up, were the result of demonic activity - probably passed down from my biological father. While she has come to accept some of the ideas of neuropsychology, she still believes that many of my problems are influenced by demons - at least she accepts that the drugs are probably a very good idea (Yes CPP, I will get to discussing my cognitive therapy soon). By default, I also believed that sort of bullshit and it was nothing but trouble for me, until I got over it and accepted who I am and how my brain functions.

The thing is, while TB is an extremist, fringe fucking loon, my mom isn't. Her beliefs aren't really outside the fundamentalist mainstream on this - indeed she's rather comparatively tame these days. I am not trying to claim that all, or even most Christians attribute mental illness to demonic possession or activity, but a great many fundamentalists do. They'll accept the occasional need for medication, grudgingly, but many of them have serious issues with members of the flock seeing secular therapists instead of Christ focused counseling and prayer. And I have been to talk with several pastors in that context - it's truly insane what these folks are legally allowed to get away with in the name of religion.

Just in this, my small corner of the conflict between Faith and reason, the stakes are high and the battle is tough. Those fundamentalist positions, watered down to the moderate baseline are still quite often an uphill battle. Instead of the extreme, anti-science - blame it on Satan approach, it is merely a distrust of science that conflicts with dogma. And no matter how much you water it down, there is still conflict between science and dogma. Because unless that dogma makes absolutely no claims about it's god's influence on the natural world, there is either conflict or a god that does virtually nothing at all.

I am not militant. I'm not even really much of an atheist, I rather tend to think it likely that there is some sort of physical/spiritual duality to living beings. I no longer Believe it, but I certainly wouldn't be surprised if someday we discover that this is indeed the case. When people decide that they want their god to bless me, I just smile and nod. When they ask me if it's ok to pray for me, I politely tell them that I don't think it makes a lick of difference, but it doesn't bother me. But when people want to make claims about Faith, that conflict with reality, I am not just going to smile and nod - I will respond to it. And if they are going to insist on fucking idiot notions like those of TB, I may well get fucking rude about it. If they are going to insult me with their presumptions about the nature of my shedding my Faith, I am probably going to get pissed if they insist on keeping up with it, after I've made my position clear. (Though as a general rule, I don't tend to get hysterical - that was more the headspace I was in already, than anything TB said)

And if you want to tell me that my doing this is a bad thing, that I need to change my language or shut up and let others talk about it, you can go fuck yourself.



Ambivalent Academic said...

DuWayne, you rock. Seriously. I don't have the energy for a more thoughtful/insightful comment at the moment (sorry), so I'll jsut leave it at "good on you".

DuWayne Brayton said...

Thank AA...

Anonymous said...

I think you handled very well. Sometimes the only response is a good F-off!
You could call me a hard-core atheist. I don't believe in anything but the material realm. No god, spirits, heaven, hell, devil...nothing. So I don't have much contact with the people who believe mental illness is the result of Satan. A company puts out a once a month shot that greatly reduces the craving for alcohol. It does not get much use, partly owing the reject of any and all psychoactive drugs. I just find that belief odd. Sure abusing alcohol is bad, but a drug that helps you to stop the abuse?

alysdexia said...

Next time you see TB, tell him to read Romans 14:14. And seitan is wheat protein—gluten, cheeses are milk protein—casein, and you can full well liv off sandwichs.