Narcotics and Religious Detox: A Comparison

Posted on November 8, 2011


In March 2008 I was taken to a drug and alcohol treatment facility to detox from various narcotics and alcohol. I met the Lord for the first time in that facility. But it wasn’t until May 2008 that I finally answered His call, “Come, follow Me.”

Quickly after devoting my life to my savior, my redeemer, my friend, and my sponsor (that’s AA talk), Jesus Christ, I was introduced to the world of religion and Churchianity. I was living in two parallel universes. I was in Christ who is full of life, mercy, peace, and freedom. But I was also living in religious practice and ritual which is full of death, war, strife, and legalism. Somehow I had confused these two universes. I had mixed them up, I had blended them together—or at least I tried to. They are polar opposites. And as we know, water and oil don’t mix–the repel from one another. But fortunately I didn’t stay in the religious universe for too long.

Around the end of the year in 2009 I made my final decision to leave the religious system. I made a few futile attempts to return thinking that maybe I had made a mistake. But it seemed that every time I would go back, it would be only a couple of weeks before I left again. I had realized that what I was witnessing simply wasn’t God’s intention for the church. If He required the same laws and religious rituals that Jews performed for thousands of years, then why crucify the Law on the cross of Christ? Why do away with the old just to bring about the same Law and practice? It didn’t add up.

The things I was witnessing in “church” simply didn’t reflect any of the New Testament practices. The teachings we hear every Sunday of constant strife and self-effort to please God and be “holy”, the guilt-driven teaching of evangelization, and the constant persuasion to give your money in the name of “tithing” didn’t remind me of the character of our Christ. It reminded me of the character of man.

Mankind is always on a “mission” to build, to defeat, to subdue, to conquer, and to achieve. And this character ultimately rubs off on our view of God. When a person becomes a follower of Christ and is right away brought into a system of religious, man-made practice, his/her walk with God will reflect that strife and self-effort. But the Scripture, specifically the New Testament, does not show us this type of practice.

Once I realized this I began my time of detox (which I am no doubt still in). Most people, if not everybody, will have to go through a season of intense detox once they leave the religious system.

Here I have reflected how religious detox is very similar to drug detox. Believe me, they are very similar.

The Process of Drug/Religious Detox

When coming off of narcotics there is first and definite step: withdrawal.

When the addict makes the decision that he/she has had enough, the only path to freedom is complete abstinence from drug or alcohol use. Typically, that person will be checked in to a detox and/or rehab center. Withdrawal can be a painful, dangerous, and life-threatening experience. Without the proper medical treatment, some specific narcotics’ withdrawal can be life-threatening. Heroin, alcohol, and benzodiazepines  (Valium, Xanax, etc.) are known to be some of the most painful and dangerous of all drug withdrawal. Others aren’t quite as life-threatening as these, but equally excruciating if not treated properly.

When we come to the place where we’ve decided to leave the religious system, its best to have a couple of brothers and sisters around us who are like-minded. Preferably ones that also have left the system. These people will act as our counselors. They will be the ones to assist us and give us moral support once we make that leap. Leaving some religious systems can be life-threatening too.

Many have been seriously injured spiritually and psychologically by various religious systems. Sadly, many leave these so embittered and frustrated that they leave the Lord because of it. They see the character of man’s religion and equate it to God as though it’s His character on display. This is the saddest part of all! It breaks my heart to hear such stories.

So in some instances, we may need a brother or sister there to show us who Christ truly is apart from a man-made religion. Without it, some indeed parish.

Once withdrawal is over, the real recovery begins. This brings us to the next process: unlearning.

When the drug addict finally completes his/her time of withdrawal symptoms, the treatment of mind and body must begin. The addict is typically a very habitual creature. They have learned by association that certain things lead to a good time. Because of the lifestyle that is attributed to drug use, the addict has been immersed in a life of certain unhealthy behaviors. Those behaviors need to be unlearned if the addict ever intends on staying clean and sober the rest of his/her life.

Many things for the addict are associated with drug use. Even the way he/she may sleep, eat, talk to people, carry oneself, etc., can carry with it the lifestyle of the addicted mind. Because every part of the addicts life becomes an association to drug abuse, the addict must change every part of his/her life. Certain places need to be avoided for a good time, certain music or bands that he/she used to listen to, and certain people who aided with their destructive lifestyle must be cut-off completely if treatment is to be successful. This isn’t something that has to be final, but it does need to be indefinite.

We have been taught so thoroughly how to be legalists that it takes a serious treatment of the Holy Spirit to unlearn it. We have been taught that we are to strive day and night to “be more holy”, to act more righteous, to refrain from certain practices, and to fight the devil’s schemes by resisting the urges of our flesh (I have still yet to meet someone who has ever been successful by doing such things). There then comes a season where many may actually take a break from many things like reading their Bible, attending religious activities (like prayer meetings and bible studies), and even praying depending on the level of legalism they were subjected to. But isn’t this a bad thing? Isn’t refraining from Bible reading a sin? No. It’s not. Otherwise the Christians of the 1st century would have been guilty of sin, for they didn’t have a bible yet (besides maybe a few books of the Old Testament in the local Synagogue).

Like the addict, the religious detoxee may need to spend some time away from old practices and habits. Many have associated the Bible with an instructional manual on how to live a more holy life—to keep away from sin and defilement—instead a book to find Christ, wisdom, peace, and comfort.

Also, a person may have been taught to pray a certain way. Usually, they pray how their pastor prays. They pray using old English with its “thees” and “thous”. Or, they may pray in a way that is very pious and sound ultra-spiritual. They may use certain words to summon God’s power by saying “Almighty God”, “Lord God, Jehovah”, etc. (Please note that I am not saying that these are bad ways to pray, but for some they bring about negative feelings because of their bad experience with religion). That person may need to spend some time simply not praying. Yes, I said it, not praying. The prayer of the heart is much more powerful than the outward, simply superficial prayer. With God, it’s all about the position of the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

In some movements, one’s place with God is determined by how much one “feels God’s presence”. In these circles, if you can’t “feel God” then He isn’t around. They equate God’s presence to a feeling or outward manifestation. Such movements are based on emotion. The people leaving these circles must unlearn these things too. I know that I had to. They must unlearn that God is a God that only touches feelings and emotions, that He dwells not only in the soul (where our emotions dwell), but He dwells in our spirits (the part of the human that is eternal and is the most secret place of man [see 1 Corinthians 2:10-15]).

For me, there was a time where I didn’t “feel” God as much. I didn’t have the same type of worship as I did before. But with death comes resurrection; and with resurrection comes life.

Here’s where we come to the next phase: relearning.

Once the addict has unlearned many old habits, he/she must now relearn how to live life apart from drugs and/or alcohol. That means doing such basic tasks like grocery shopping, working, going to social outings, etc., sober. The addict has in fact done everything now for years under the influence of narcotics. They have found a way to live life this way—essentially worshiping emotions. Now they must learn to live a steady life without so many ups and downs.

The religious person may have spent many years on spiritual highs and lows. They have gone weeks or days on cloud-9 and then spent time in the ditches of death. For most people, this can be very traumatic. So they must learn to live a steady, balanced walk with God. So a time may come when the major ups of emotions tend to dwindle. But this isn’t a bad thing. It means you are being healed and matured.

Sometimes in order for us to see what is right, we must first see what is wrong; in order to build, first we must at times destroy. By the time we get to this phase of spiritual unlearning, we are now clear-headed enough to begin our phase of relearning. I love this part! But usually to get to this part, we must first go through the hard part.

Once we realize that the Christian life isn’t about constant strife to please God, that we aren’t to always be doing and achieving to somehow earn His love, we come to a place of rest and peace.

The first thing that came to me during this process of unlearning, was that I now had to discover ways to live the Christian life successfully. Because, after all, the bible does tell us quite clearly that we are not to sin. This is where I learned how truly rich our Lord Jesus Christ is!

You see, religion taught us that we are to be the ones in control of our desires and flesh. That we are to work and strive to please God and to refrain from sinning too much. In religion, man is the ultimate factor in spiritual growth. But in Christ, He has been made unto us “righteousness from God”.

We must begin learning the all-sufficiency of Christ. How rich and unsearchable He truly is. Not only by a mental assumption or by a doctrinal stance, but by a living experience. This means that instead of asking God for more wisdom, we ask for Christ to be our wisdom. Instead of asking God for more peace in our lives, we begin to see how Christ is our peace. Instead of asking God to make us more holy, that we are already holy because Christ is holy and He lives inside of us! (I would suggest reading Watchman Nee’s ‘The Normal Christian Life’)

This is the part where an ultimate decision had to made on my part. For me, the only way I was able to fully know Christ (like He can be fully known this side of eternity), was to be built together with other saints like me; that the portion of Christ I have in me was limited. I needed other brothers and sisters with their portion, or perspective, of Christ too! In order for me to know Him more, I must seek Him in His children. This goes way beyond Sunday service, way beyond even an Organic Church meeting. This means being molded together with heat and fire from God with other sons and daughters. This isn’t easy for the individualistic Christian.

I personally know no other way to fully learn the riches of Christ and the all-sufficiency of Christ. If there’s another way, I know it not. So I’ll simply stick to my own experience here.

To the addict, time is his/her most valuable asset.

In all the above phases there is one thing that is, above all else, the most valuable commodity in detoxing fully. That commodity is time.

It simply takes time for the addicts mind and body to recover from years of drug abuse. The brain has lost countless brain cells, has been on a roller coaster of emotions going up and down constantly. The body has had to deal with daily ingestion of poison into its system. The liver and kidneys are usually the most damaged of all the organs. So time for the addict is literally a life saver.

In proper time, the brain begins to recover (usually after about 18 months of sobriety), thinking and basic motor functions become more sharpened. Vocabulary and fluent speech become more evident. The addict with some time under his/her belt sober is able to form more complex and healthy thoughts.

The addict also begins to feel better physically without the aid of numbing drugs to assist. As the body gets healthier, eating and sleeping patterns become more consistent. In fact, one of the number one suggestions given by doctors and addiction therapists is to begin eating healthier and sleeping on a more strict schedule. The health of a person is usually in direct harmony with their eating and sleeping patterns. The addict has spent years with a completely undisciplined lifestyle which includes not eating and not sleeping. But time takes its course, and the addict gets back on a more normal lifestyle.

With the man or woman who is detoxing from religion with its man-made practices and self-effort, time is our best friend!

Most spiritual ailments that have been afflicted by religion upon our souls can usually be treated with simple time—granted that time is spent in a healthy way.

This means changing our diets. We begin to learn how to quit eating the fast food of religion. Religion is so appealing because it typically offers a quick emotional fix, satisfying our “itch” for purity. But as I’m sure many of us know, it’s short-lived.

We have to begin to learn how to eat and drink of Christ as our food and nourishment instead of rituals and methodologies. Relearning how to eat of Him, who is deeper than how we may feel at times, can take years. After 2 years completely away from the religious system, and 18 months in Organic Church, I’m still learning how to eat and drink of Him. As far as I know, this could be a life long process.

The Journey Continues

Now, I want to be quite clear that our Lord isn’t confined to these phases. These are only what I have personally experienced and witnessed in others. He is more than capable of detoxing us in a flash. He’s also capable of moving and leading His children in such movements mentioned above. I want to make it quite clear that I don’t think God can only work in Organic Church. I would never make that assumption. But I do believe (mostly because I’ve seen it) that many people are severely hurt by certain movements and religious institutions. In these movements, Christ is not Head. Instead, man is head over his own ambitions and kingdoms. There are, of course, many of these institutions that God blesses and uses to further His purpose and the leaders of these movements love God more than most. So please don’t get me wrong here.

Truth is, we are all learning, relearning, and unlearning. Even for someone like myself who didn’t grow up in the church, I’ve still had to go through some religious detox. Even with the limited time I spent in that system, I was still exposed to enough to have to unlearn quite a bit. I have yet to meet a person who is completely immune from having to go through the detox phase. Perhaps if an individual was brought to the Lord without any prior assumptions about Him into a non-religious group of believers, than maybe he/she would be immune. But religion, believe it or not, is saturated in our culture. We can draw simple conclusions about God from movies and books.

I hope this article helps someone who may be going through religious detox and be encouraged that the Lord is with you. That He is fully invested in you and loves you. He won’t give up on us even when we may give up on Him. But sometimes it takes trust and yielding to be brought to where He wants us to be.