I had a long discussion with a patient yesterday about how he needed to stop drinking alcohol.
This was not a general, the-5-beers-you-drink-daily-are-bad-for-you kind of discussion. It was a specific, you-have-permanent-liver-disease-and-could-bleed-to-death-from-your-esophageal-varices conversation. He has been drinking too much alcohol for a long time, and it has sadly caught up with him. He has abnormal liver function tests. His body cannot make enough platelets because of the toxic effects of liver on his bone marrow. Then we discovered the dilated esophageal veins that could rupture and make him bleed to death.
The minute I began talking with him about how much he was drinking on the night I admitted him, he completely shut down. But when I really tried to have a heart to heart about what was going on the next day, he got very upset.
"What kind of life is that? That's a terrible way to live!" He told me. I gave him a confused look. "What do you mean?"
"A life without alcohol would be miserable."
It was almost like I told him he needed to go home and shoot his dog or something. He loves his alcohol so much that even though it is actively killing him, he can't see surviving or thriving without it. I have honestly never had this type of reaction. I tell people to stop smoking, drinking, and using drugs all the time. Most of the time, they tell me they know they should quit, but just can't. They don't seem to love drinking or drugs; in fact, they seem miserable. They just can't quit, so they go home and continue. Maybe he's just the most honest alcoholic I've ever taken care of. Yet I wanted to say that millions of people live perfectly normal, fulfilled lives without it. I wanted to show him the other alcoholic patient I was caring for who will probably die sometime this year from this exact same problem because she continues to drink.
The whole time we were having this discussion I just couldn't believe what I was hearing - that someone could insist on the high value of something in their life that was actively killing them. That made me think - what habits do I hold dear that are bad for me? I don't smoke, use drugs, and only drink alcohol on rare occasions. I eat a moderately healthy diet (chocolate addiction not withstanding). But I love being right. Sometimes I gossip. And have bad thoughts about other people. I am impatient. I get jealous. I wouldn't say that I love doing these things, but the frequency with which I do them might suggest otherwise. And while they may not physically kill me, they still can do spiritual and emotional damage.
It is easy to see when someone else is enslaved in a public and outward sin like alcohol abuse. It is harder to see the enslavement to the more respectable sins, but that doesn't make them less sinful.
The solution, of course, is the gospel. It's not me trying to do better. Or him, for that matter. It's remembering that one has come and conquered sin. It's continually giving all those bad thoughts and feelings to that resurrected one, and letting him restore what is broken.