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  • Writer's pictureJimmy Alexander

Using Drugs to Escape Reality

Edgar Allen Poe once wrote:

I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been in the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories — memories of wrong and injustice and imputed dishonor — from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.

If an honest inventory was taken of the amount of trauma, abuse, and tragedy that has occurred in the life of an active drug user, the findings would most likely be staggeringly high. Men and women who are living a life of habitual drug use did not wake up one morning and say to themselves, “I think I want to begin injecting drugs in my veins, addict myself to many chemicals, and lose everything." No, that was not their initial intent, but it has become their present reality. It's true that in rare cases, people have accidentally addicted themselves to prescription pain medication after an injury. Others may have been pressured into drug use by peers at a high school party, and still others were curious and sought what they thought would be a temporary thrill. However, it has been my observation that most addictions don't start this way. Most are born from a desire to run from something -- to escape either deep trauma, a devastating life event, or even pain that was initially brought on by the addict himself. Such was the case with Edgar Allen Poe. He lived a life that included multiple tragedies, depression, and self-inflicted pain. Many viewed him as irresponsible and reckless, but toward the end of his life, he confided to a close friend that his use of stimulants was not for pleasure but was a 'desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories.'

Addicts are often characterized as deviants and malcontents. This may be the case in some situations, and for sure, some addicts' actions would warrant such labels. But consider why someone would be drawn to drugs to begin with. It's because drugs and alcohol manipulate emotions and influence the mind. Science tells us that these chemicals influence receptors in the brain and change the way we think, feel, act, etc. High doses of illicit drugs cause people to be “outside of themselves” and create a temporary escape from reality. History shows that for centuries mankind has used herbs and drugs to escape reality and enter into a euphoric state that feels better than real life. Modern day drug use is no different, and the despondency of addiction has risen to epidemic levels. As such, addicts should not be labeled as 'scum' in society who need to be looked down upon. Instead, they should be viewed as people who are hurting, broken, and mistakenly searching for healing through a destructive habit that does not cure but destroys.

Consider my own story: I was abused at a young age, consistently bullied throughout school, habitually unhappy with my self-image, constantly filled with self-hatred, struggling for years with overwhelming feelings of shame, and having weird thoughts of impending doom. Dark and terrible feelings seemed to consume my thought life before I ever started using drugs. There seemed to be nothing I could do to escape the reality of it. I tried almost everything to fix things on my own but could not. I needed to get out of my head at whatever cost. Suicide seemed appetizing, but I was not ready to pull the trigger quite yet. The only thing I could find that brought any kind of relief was the use of illicit drugs. The drugs temporarily provided relief from this dreadful reality in which I was living. However, drugs were not a solution, nor a band-aid, but rather, a complete mistake that made everything worse. Escaping my miserable life through drugs didn’t help anything; it compounded the problem. Once the high or trance was over, I was left in the same condition as before, only much worse. So back into the trance I would go. There was this continuous cycle of me trying to escape my reality, which didn't work, and me trying to fix my reality, which also didn't work. This habitual cycle continued until I recognized it for what it was.

Out of desperation, I finally began to ask myself, if this is not the solution, then what is? I couldn’t fix my thinking pattern, I couldn’t fix the fact that I was abused, I couldn’t fix the hurt of being bullied in school, I couldn’t fix the pain from past relationships, and I couldn’t fix the emptiness inside me. But out of that cry of desperation came the answer: There was SOMEONE who COULD fix these things. God (whose very name is Healer) could do what no drug could ever do. He could bring true healing, forgiveness, purpose, belonging, and spiritual life through Jesus Christ, the Savior of souls. That was it. I couldn't save myself; I needed a Savior. If I had the ability to share what I now know with my younger self, I would say, "Stop running from reality! You’re only making yourself more miserable! Instead, look at what God has done in Jesus Christ. Look at what Jesus offers you! The solution is not to run from your tormented heart & mind; the solution is to allow God to transform you!" So there I was, humbled and contrite, and God began the miracle of bringing me out of the loathsome cycle of addiction and into a new reality. He restored my soul.

In one way or another, we all, at times, align ourselves with one of the many counterfeit cures in this world. There are many. We all may not have had as tragic a past as Edgar Allen Poe, or even as myself, but we all carry the same sin nature and are tempted to escape its reality by grasping on to some counterfeit means. Drug use is just one of those means. Drugs offer an escape that doesn't last. They offer a temporary 'fix' that won't heal your past, present, or future. Instead, they enslave you at the expense of your own well-being. God is the solution, He is the cure, and He calls every one of us to believe in His Son Jesus for salvation from our sin, brokenness, and rebellion. God is rich in mercy and eager to heal those deep wounds in your soul and bring redemption to all the chaotic brokenness in your life. Do you believe that He can? He is faithful to do so. Look to Him and realize that His remedy for your sickness is not only lasting but is eternal. Look to Him and believe this great news: You can be healed.

If this is not the solution, then what is? Are you asking? Christ is willing:

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, "LORD, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him. - Luke 5:12-13

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