​A New Way to Think About Addiction

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
For the Rev. Bude Van Dyke, recovering from addiction can hinge on embracing “spirituality without a religious bias,” a life view he calls “pre-interpretive spirituality.” Since 2014, Van Dyke has been the spiritual director for a large southeast provider of addiction services. His new personal mission is to reach out to Plateau area residents “to connect them” to a new way of understanding addiction as a path to recovery.
Van Dyke employs the 12-Step addiction treatment framework, but he points out people are often repelled by the references to “a higher power” which seems to require them to identify with a particular religion. He sees pre-interpretive spirituality as a way to overcome this roadblock.
“Therapy is absolutely important in treating addiction,” Van Dyke acknowledged, “but there’s also a spiritual piece which is just as essential that doesn’t fit the therapeutic and physical model.”
Van Dyke conceives of spirituality as “the nature of our relationship with what is sacred to us. Sacred is what communicates value. Sometimes it’s just there. Sometimes it happens to us or finds us.”
Van Dyke gives the illustration of a biology professor who took offense at the notion of a supreme being, but the man had little trouble identifying what was sacred to him: “life.” The biology professor and Van Dyke went on to discuss “his relationship with life and how his passion for it led to the study of biology, the study of living matter.”
Our relationship with what’s sacred to us includes our relationship “with other people, places, and events,” according to Van Dyke, “and also our relationship with ourself.”
“During active addiction we demolish our relationship with ourself.” Van Dyke describes the addict brain as a “brutal opportunist” that seizes on every opportunity to interject “negative self-talk. The addict self says, ‘You’ll blow it. You’ll fail. You always do.’ Dismantling self betrayal is the addict’s biggest challenge.”
“Society doesn’t see addiction as a disease,” Van Dyke stressed. “Many people believe the addict just needs to buck up. Just say, no.”
He explains the physical component of the disease as impaired delivery of endorphins, a brain hormone with calming, energizing, and pain relief attributes.
“In the addict, normal brain channels for endorphin delivery aren’t open,” Van Dyke said. “Drugs and alcohol open the channels.”
“The addict brain is a thinker,” Van Dyke insisted. “When the addict decides to change and get sober, the addict brain rationalizes addiction” based on past behavior. “The person who wants to abstain, who wants to get sober, has nothing to hang the belief on that getting sober is possible.”
“Christianity is all about thinking. The Christian faith is just a cerebral enterprise, just head space stuff. I’ve always been in the church, but that didn’t help me get sober.”
Van Dyke found his sacred footing in his Cherokee roots. His great grandmother resided in Tennessee illegally. “She was supposed to be on the reservation,” Van Dyke said. “Initially, my addict brain used that against me—‘You’re not good enough.’”
Then Van Dyke began finding sacred solace in rising before sunrise, “to sit outside and smell and observe.” He embraced Cherokee morning rituals. “My native heritage became a way to make my Christian faith useful to me.”
Van Dyke’s advice to family and friends of addicts is “learn the disease.” He highlighted the importance of understanding addiction as a “broken brain.”
“I want people to see another way to look at addiction. Pre-interpretive spirituality may not be the only approach to spiritual recovery, but it’s the one that’s worked for me for 29 years.”