Disease, Disorder or Decision?

Right Decision, Wrong Decision Road SignWords matter. How you describe something is important. Let me explain.

In the wake of actor-comedian Robin Williams’ tragic suicide, blogger Matt Walsh posted an article entitled “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice.” His main point was that, while Williams suffered terribly from depression, he was not a victim. He ultimately chose to leave this world.

“Whether you call depression a disease or not, please don’t make the mistake of saying that someone who commits suicide ‘died from depression.’ No, he died from his choice. . . . Your suicide doesn’t happen to you; it doesn’t attack you like cancer or descend upon you like a tornado. It is a decision made by an individual.”

Within 24 hours, Walsh’s post was viewed over 3 million times and received tens of thousands of comments (so many that, as Walsh noted, the Facebook commenting system on his blog crashed). Most of the feedback was negative—in fact, vicious, brutal and hateful. He was called every name in the book. More than one person “prayed” that someone in his family commits suicide. Even his wife was targeted and harassed.

Why all the backlash? I personally didn’t find Walsh’s article caustic or mean-spirited. He wrote with compassion and sensitivity. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, the post was well-thought out and intelligently presented.

So why the rub?

I think much of it has to do with the victim-mindset so prevalent within our society. It reflects a culture that refuses to take personal responsibility.

I deal with this every day in the world of drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

As a professional in the industry for over 25 years, it is my firm conviction that alcoholism is not a disease. It may have disease-like symptoms (e.g., physical dependencies), but it is not something a person “catches” like a common cold or a sickness a parent passes on to a child through his or her genes.

Drug addiction is not a disorder. There may be bio-chemical imbalances triggering destructive behavioral patterns. There may also be deep psychological issues and misfirings of the brain contributing to an addict’s ruinous path.

But alcoholism and drug addiction are ultimately choices—personal choices individuals make. Just how “free” each person is to decide, only the Creator knows. Maybe Robin Williams was unable to choose life or death on Monday morning, August 13, 2014. Maybe he was paralyzed in his decision-making ability at that point. But somewhere in the days, months, and years before, he had the ability to make choices that would impact him—for better or worse—in the days ahead.

Each one of us, too, has the power to decide, to choose—however great or limited—and, thus, each one of us is responsible (lit., response-able). I am not trying to add more guilt to a person already overwhelmed with self-condemnation and shame. I am simply trying to restore human dignity and give hope.

You are not a helpless victim of Satan or your own sinful predispositions; you can fight sin, beat it, and succeed. This was the message of God to Cain just before he murdered his brother: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Gen. 4:7)

God was appealing to Cain and telling him that he could alter his hell-bent course. That he could do right. That he had a choice. But if he failed to properly exercise that ability, he would experience terrible consequences.

Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice.

Your alcoholic mother isn’t suffering from a disease. Your heroin-addict brother isn’t suffering from a sickness. Your pill-popping friend isn’t suffering from a disorder. They are all—each and every one of them—suffering from a series of choices they have made. But just as they have decided for the worse, they can decide for the better.

This isn’t about finger-pointing. This is about taking responsibility.

And that goes for all of us. We all have our demons. It may not be booze or Oxycontin; it may be food, pornography, anger, shopping. We all have bondages which prevent us from being all that we were designed to be. Let’s be honest about it.

And let’s call it like it is. It is not a disease. It is not a disorder. It is a decision.

I know this message may sound hard and unloving; but really it is kind and liberating. There is a way out; you can decide.

I encourage you to make that first decision toward God. Reach out to Him. Admit your wrongdoing. Ask for His forgiveness. Trust in Him.

And finally, like God did with Cain, reach out to those battling addictions and suffering from life-debilitating vices. Bear with them. Enter into their pain. Help them make right choices.

 

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5 Comments

  1. I was raised in a pentecostal christian home and have had a grandparent with addiction, a parent with depression and anxiety, myself and sibling with depression and anxiety, a sibling with PTSD, myself with addiction, my own children with depression and addiction and I SERIOUSLY disagree with what your saying in your article. Have you yourself or your loved ones ever suffered from these things? If so I can not believe what you are saying, I totally agree that the Lord can deliver us from these things and we do not accept have to accept them as life long illnesses, as I have seen The Lord work in my own life. But I do belielve it can be are own choice to get help or not to get help, but their is no way that addiction or depression/mental illness is a choice, by medical findings or if you have been through it. So you are saying being a christian just means throwing medical facts out the window such as for depression? ” Brain abnormalities. Scientists have found that people who are depressed have certain brain characteristics that are different from people who are not depressed. Imbalances of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, which are brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, are thought to be involved with the development of depression.” And also the fact that these factors play a big cause in getting depression and anxiety, biology, childbirth, genetics, age, health, trauma and grief, stressful events in your life, how are those things a CHOICE? You know before I had depression I really could not understand it, I thought how can you be depressed? Sure every one get’s down for a little while but then your over it…Until one day a year or so after my best friend died of a drug overdose, and my Grandfather had just died and I had a little four year old and a brand new baby, and one day I just could not get out of bed, all I could do was cry…I did not know what was wrong with me, but let me tell you it was suffering and it was surely not a choice!! And as far as Addiction being a choice that is also not medically true,”Brain and Heart Metabolism ImageAddiction comes about through anarray of neuroadaptive changes and the laying down and strengthening of new memory connections in various circuits in the brain . . . the evidence suggests that those long-lasting brain changes are responsible for the distortions of cognitive and emotional functioning that characterize addicts, particularly including the compulsion to use drugs that is the essence of addiction.” also what about the medical well known fact that 50% of drug addiction in a person is caused buy a genetic predispostion and genes, how is that a choice? I was an addict and in rehab/hospitol for addiction and depression 4 years in a row and the last time My Dr. decided I needed to go to a place just for addiction not a hospitol setting, and that last time I said “My children will never see me in the hospitol for this again”, and I have never been back! The Lord delivered me…you might argue well YOU said you would never be back, that was a choice…..It wasen’t a choice it was called deliverance!! I don’t believe getting the disease of addiction and depression was a choice, but I believe with God all things are possible and he gave me the strength to overcome it. But being the disease it is, I know I always have to be on my guard against it for the rest of my life, and stay close to the Lord because I believe also I am genetically pre-disposed to it.I really like your program and what you do, but this article disturbs me going through all the years of pain and suffering I went through. I was supposed to go to a Rally tomorrow where you will be and now I am not sure I can attend knowing this is what you believe about addiction and depression/mental Illness, I will pray about if I should attend or not, God Bless.

    • Thank you for your comments. While we may not agree on every point, I think we can agree that our only hope for deliverance in Christ–his mercy, his choice. “We love him because HE FIRST LOVED US” (1 John 4:19). He chose us–not we him (John 15:16). Because of HIS decision, I am saved . . . free! “Therefore, let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” God bless.

  2. I AGREE WITH LISA ELOFSON. I HAVE WORKED IN THE FIELD OF PSYCHOLOGY FOR MANY YEARS AND ALSO I AM A CHRISTIAN.I BELIEVE THE CHOICES WE MAKE DURING OUR LIFETIME EFFECT THE OUTCOME OF OUR LIFE BUT DEPRESSION IS AN ILLNESS THAT CAN BE CAUSED BY A HOST OF THINGS THAT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH CHOICES WE MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE MADE. MY OWN SON ATTEMPTED SUICIDE AFTER HIS WIFE RAN AWAY WITH HIS FRIEND. HE FELT HIS LIFE WAS WORTHLESS BECAUSE HE LOVED HER SO MUCH AND HER REJECTION AND BETRAYAL CAME AFTER THE DEATH OF HIS FATHER. SO THESE CHOICES BY OTHERS AND A LIFE EVENT COMBINED TO OVERWHELM AND PLUMMET HIM INTO A DEEP PIT OF DESPAIR, SELF LOATHING, AND DEPRESSION. HE WAS UNABLE TO COMPLETE HIS SUICIDE BECAUSE A FRIEND FOUND HIM IN TIME.HE WAS ADMITTED TO A MENTAL HEALTH FACILITY THAT WAS FAITH BASED AND WALKED OUT OF THERE ALIVE, HAPPY AND WITH A NEWLY FOUND FAITH IN GOD. HE WAS ALSO PLACED ON MILD MEDICATION FOR THE DEPRESSION THAT HELPED TAKE THE EDGE OFF HIS ANXIETY AND BALANCE HIS CHEMICAL IMBALANCE IN THE BRAIN. THAT WAS ALL THROUGH GOD. THE DOCTORS AND THE MEDICATION PROVIDED ARE A RESULT OF GOD PROVIDING THEM WITH THE KNOWLEGE TO HELP THESE DESPERATE PEOPLE. iT IS MUCH EASIER FOR SOME TO POINT A FINGER AND SAY IT WAS THEIR CHOICE. BUT ACTUALLY IT WAS NOT A CHOICE MADE BY A MENTALLY STABLE PERSON. ==

  3. I do not understand comparing mental illness with alcoholism or drug addiction. How can they even be in the same category? Although, in its simplest definition suicide may ultimately be a choice I think is dangerous to go into without even understanding anything about depression, brain chemistry and mental illness for that matter. I find using a blogger, who has no clinical or professional expertise in the field of depression let alone a college education, in your argument irresponsible. I think that the bigger picture we ought to look at is how would Christ have us respond? Do we not have a call to look at our neighbor and perhaps notice signs of struggle? Do we get to know our neighbor or are we too busy? How can we make a difference to prevent someone from taking their own life? How do we express our compassion and love for people who might be secretly hurting? I think it better to focus on this instead of trying to decide if suicide is a choice, a disease, selfish etc. I know if I were struggling with taking my life I would not want to go to a person who was expressing these things but rather showing the love of Christ to me.

    Meant to be thought provoking and not angry!

  4. I love the “response-able!” You speak truth! Unfortunately, we live in a day where people would rather believe the lie rather than the truth. I pray for the Spirit of Truth to break through all of the deception of the enemy!

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