Doing Life Together

soldiers-559761_1920This Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember those who have given their lives for our freedom. Thank you to all the families for your tremendous sacrifice.

When loss enters our lives, we change in a moment’s time.  Losing a brother to military service was not easy for me or for any family that is remembering their loved one today.

You may not have experienced loss related to military service, but many of you have personal stories of other types of loss and suffering. They may involve a stepfather who was sexually abusive; a mom who died from breast cancer; parents who divorced; a father jailed on drug charges; a depressed mother unable to care for her children; abandonment; chronic illness; rape; or domestic violence. Loss, suffering and trauma occur daily in our fallen world-not something we want to think about.

But suffering is a universal experience. Jesus wept when His friend Lazaras died. Jesus too suffered His own pain that led to death. We don’t know why good people suffer. We simply know how to respond to suffering and what God has to say about it. In order to cope with loss and trauma we need to:

  • Grieve and mourn. Confronting the intense array of emotions that accompanies grief is not easy, but God’s promise is that we will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). The feelings of shock, anger, depression, bargaining must be experienced rather than avoided. Ask God to give you the grace to work through these emotions. Joy will come in the morning.
  • Share your loss. Grief must be shared. Healing often comes in telling the story. Jesus wept with his friends Mary and Martha over the loss of their brother. You may have few words, but when you are ready, share your story.
  • Accept support. You need the support of family and friends. We are hard-wired to connect with each other. Don’t isolate yourself. Allow other people to serve you in your time of need.
  • If the loss or suffering involves forgiveness, give that forgiveness. Don’t get stuck in grief because of unforgiveness. Eventually, bitterness will develop. Forgiveness is necessary to heal, but not always easy to give. If your loss involves trauma and anger towards someone, ask God to give you the strength to forgive. This may take time and constant prayer. It is not in us to forgive those who don’t deserve it. But remember, God forgives us when we don’t deserve it. He asks us to do the same.
  • Read scriptures on suffering and loss. To quote Twila Paris and her powerful song, ” God is in control”. Nothing happens away from His watchful eye even though loss often feels like being abandoned.
  • When you are a Christ follower, there are several reassuring promises concerning loss. Here are 2: Sorrow and mourning will disappear and be replaced with gladness and joy (Isaiah 51:11).;  Rest will come when we give the burden to the Lord (Matthew 11:28-30).

love-2182061_1920It began when he was advised to use a “little” porn in the bedroom to bring excitement to his sex life. Just the thought of that idea made him interested. But the more he began to view porn, the more obsessed with it he became.

He found himself going to his computer on lunch breaks and winding down his evening with viewing. He started to crave the images and knew this was a problem. He couldn’t generate the same excitement with his partner that he could while masturbating to porn. But he couldn’t stop, even knowing this was beginning to control him. His sex life took a new turn. He found himself in the office of a local urologist complaining of erectile dysfunction. Porn had changed his sex life, but not in the way intended.

Matthew Christman, MD, a urologist at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, California can attest to the changes described above. Dr. Christman and colleague, Dr. Berger, surveyed active duty men and women to see if there was an association between  addiction to pornography and sexual dysfunction. What they found was that the incidence of erectile dysfunction increased in men who preferred intercourse with pornography (31%), and was highest among men who preferred masturbation with pornography (79%).

And Dr. Christman also attests to the reality than mental health clinicians see this correlation of porn and sexual dysfunction in their offices on a regular basis. Once the pornography addiction is treated, the sex life improves and the related erectile dysfunction is no longer present.

The clinical impact of pornography addiction is real. Porn on the brain activates the same circuitry as addictive substances do. And like all addictions, the fall out is destructive. In this case, the addiction can lead to sexual dysfunction.

Porn changes the brain. Viewing porn causes it to rewire and pump out chemicals to form new neural pathways. The more you use that neural pathway, the stronger it becomes. And that pathway is tied to the reward centers of the brain, providing you with pleasure. The pleasure is remembered and craved. But if you stop using porn, the pathway begins to lose traction and the brain can reboot.

So if you want to change your sex life, stop the porn and don’t listen to bad advice that a little porn can be helpful. It’s a bit like saying, “A little cocaine can help!”

Reference: American Urological Association (AUA) 2017 Annual Meeting: Abstracts PD44-11 and PD69-12, Presented in a briefing May 12, 2017.

kiss-520054_1920Is this young man at risk for substance use?  Could he become one of the 12 million people in the U.S. who are problem drinkers?

He’s 25 years-old. Comes from a divorced family. Parents had poor parenting skills and dad was verbally abusive. He’s dating a woman who binge drinks on weekends. He already has financial problems in his young life and hangs out with friends who drink. In high school, he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety after a long custody battle surrounding his parents’ divorce. He began drinking with friends and often found himself intoxicated at high school parties. His social drinking continued after high school. He’s drinking as a way to cope with his life. So far, he sees little impact of his drinking, but has noticed he is drinking more and more. And he likes the fact that drinking takes the edge off of his anxiety and provides an escape.

Substance use often begins in the teen years with intoxication. Add the right risk factors,  a genetic predisposition to addiction, and you have the making of a problem drinker and substance abuser. Substance use involves a pathological pattern of behavior–the substance continues to be used despite significant substance-related problems (e.g., DUI, job loss, relationship problems, etc.). And in that use, the brain changes, leading to repeated relapses and drug cravings when exposed to drug related stimuli.

Our young man is ripe for the addiction picking. He had family problems including divorce, poor parenting, and verbal abuse. He is now in a social circle with a drinking girlfriend and friends who use alcohol as a way of escaping and stress reduction. He is using alcohol to medicate his anxiety and has a history of depression. And he is facing negative life events like financial problems. These are all risk factors for problem drinking.

How do we prevent our young man from becoming a problem drinker?

First, address his family issues and provide him with healthy coping skills to deal with how those issues are now presenting.

Second, build his resiliency to stress and assess his mental health for depression and anxiety.

Third, change his social environment. Both his peers and girlfriend drink. This makes it difficult to stop the pattern of drinking so perhaps he needs a different set of friends. If not, he will need to learn refusal skills and set himself apart from his growing reliance on drinking to medicate stress. This will not be easy if he continues to place himself in the company of those who regularly drink.

Fourth, talk to him about developing a spiritual life with faith in Christ. A church community would direct him on a spiritual path to help with stress and life issues. Other adults could support his sobriety and friendship needs and provide community. He would be surrounded by those who would teach resiliency through Scripture and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

With changes, he doesn’t have to go down the path of problem drinking.

ache-19005_1920Monica struggles with depression and she is not alone. She is one in five people who will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder this year. And if she doesn’t address her depression, she could be one of ten who will end up being hospitalized some time in their lives. Anxiety, depression and trauma related problems are the most common of all mental health disorders. So what protects us from becoming one of the statistics?

While we don’t have clear explanations regarding who will develop mental disorders, we do know that it is a combination of genetic and non-genetic risk factors that cumulate or come together in such a way that a person is at risk. Consider anxiety and depression, your genetics play a role–about a 30-40% risk factor. And that number is even higher when it comes to substance use (50-60%). But we aren’t victims of our genetics or environments. There are protective factors and steps we can take to  help prevent mental illness:

  1. Social support and safe communities: Having an environment that supports you when difficulties come, helps a person overcome and build resilience. If you are isolated and/or live in a violent neighborhood, you are clearly more at risk. We all need a sense of safety and support from others. Without it, we can easily give in to the pressures around us or begin to think in ways that are not healthy.
  2. Family connectiveness: Having a secure attachment with your parents contributes to the development of self-esteem and self-image. It also builds social skills. Knowing your parent is available helps you feel secure, understood and calm in the middle of stress. It helps build trust and empathy for others as well.
  3. Religion and religious activity: Strong religious beliefs are a protective factor. Study after study supports the idea that religion helps people heal  in so many areas and is related to better mental health, better social health and better physical health.
  4. Safe maternal behavior during pregnancy: Giving a child a good start in life by taking care of your body and managing your stress during pregnancy impact the health and mental health of children. Mothers who drink, smoke and don’t have good nutrition and care place a chid at risk.
  5. Coping skills for stress and problem-solving: One of the most important gifts you can give a child is good coping skills. And your children will learn them from watching you. Life problems will come, but a person who can problem-solve and handle problems will lessen their risk of developing mental health issues. If you model this, your children will do the same.