And raise you up.

JMJ

Sitting outside the coffee shop about a week ago, I was approached by a man who asked if he could join me and sit at my table. It’s a small coffee shop: there are three tables and strangers always sit together. I said sure. He sat down and immediately begin to talk. This was annoying, slightly, because I had my computer open and I was in fact working. Actually, as I was only looking for a particular font on graphic design, I wasn’t completely engrossed. Then at one point, he said, “Sorry! Do you have time for a conversation?” I explained that I was only looking for a particular font and if he would give me a moment I would be with him. A few moments later I closed my computer and we begin to chat.

He was working in a substance addiction program. This is work experience that I have as well. He was studying substance addiction at college. This is something I really wish I had done, but his next comment was even more engrossing: what I’m really interested in, he said, is internet addiction. And I acknowledge that I worked for a tech company, but that I also had worked in recovery and was interested in internet addiction. I excused myself and got a refill on my coffee. When I returned to the table the woman next to us joined our conversation, “I too work in recovery.” This is the sort of thing that happens all the time in San Francisco. I love this town!

My conversation partner acknowledged that as it was already nearly noon and that he had just gotten out of the house: he had been up late watching YouTube videos. He’s one of several folks who admitted to me that they stay up at night watching YouTube, clip after clip. I said I once had sort of the same problem, but my internet now turned off at 10 PM. He asked me to walk him through this – first wanting to know how to do it for himself and then wanting to know the thought process that led me to this choice.

Probing, personal conversations with total strangers is also something that happens in SF. At this point, we exchanged (first) names.

My own story does not begin with an addiction to adult content. Immediately after 9/11 I found that I was almost obsessively saving news photos of the tragedy. Photos of people waiting in airports. Photos of people running away from The Towers. Photos of people jumping. I have thousands of images of that day. Why? Was merely hunting and gathering what was this about? It was three years or more before I could bring myself to throw those photos away. I never printed them. I’m not sure that I ever went back and looked at them. But I had them. It was my way of processing grief, I think. When I later begin to collect adult content though, I recognized the same pattern. And I recognize the same pattern in other places around the internet. This didn’t strike me as a healthy process. Even now, late at night I will find myself switching between Facebook Twitter and my email as if something new could have happened. This is why things turn off at 10 pm.

He shared that in his research he had discovered that Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media platforms use the same algorithm as a prominent adult content company. I asked him for more information. He said that this adult content company (aka TornNub) used a certain algorithm to decide when to display content you seen and liked versus content that was only sort of what you liked versus content you wouldn’t like it all. The idea was to get you to click more. It didn’t matter what you clicked on – only that you clicked. So when you find yourself in an endless scroll on Facebook, or Twitter looking for something to like but not really caring about anything you see you’re doing the exact same thing that TornNub gets you to do. Amazon also uses this same stochastic rewards system to get you to keep scrolling through their endless shopping lists. They sell adult content there, too: only you are not on trhe right track to find it. One day I found myself looking wood floor tiling: I have never owned my own living space. Amazon fed me floor tile that is removable, and useful for apartments. I clicked through just as easily Baby Yoda did when his parents left the house.

An old commercial used to say it’s 10 p.m. Do You Know Where Your Children Are? If they’re on the internet they could be home. But their brains could be anywhere at all including, most likely shut down, zombified as they scroll. He shared that his exploration of the stochastic process had caused him to discover it on Netflix and other content sites as well. Anywhere a service says, you might also like… All of these sites use TornNub’s same process to keep you clicking, to get you addicted to their content.

To struggle with an addiction is often disheartening: knowing that failure only means more struggle, more work. Yet, one can forget that one is sick: morality plays a part in early choices that lead to addiction, but culpability fades as the actual mental illness grows and develops, become stronger. I have been taking my addiction to confession for literally two decades. Sometimes it was worse sometimes it was better but always it was constant. A couple of months ago having heard my confession my spiritual director asked me if I wanted anointing.

When the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given, the hoped-for effect is that, if it be God’s will, the person be physically healed of illness. But even if there is no physical healing, the primary effect of the Sacramento is a spiritual healing by which the sick person receives theHoly Spirit’s gift of peace and courage to deal with the difficulties that accompany serious illness or the frailty of old age. The Holy Spirit renews our faith in God and helps us withstand the temptations of the Evil One to be discouraged and despairing in the face of suffering and death. Also, a sick person’s sins are forgiven if he or she was not able to go to Confession prior to the celebration of the Sacrament of the anointing of the Sick.

Another effect of this Sacrament is union with the Passion of Christ. By uniting ourselves more closely with the sufferings of Our Lord, we receive the grace of sharing in the saving work of Christ. In this way, our suffering, joined to the Cross of Christ, contributes to building up the people of God.

US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catechism for Adults, pg 282

I said yes to his invite and receive the sacrament, for the first time, that day in the office. In the Orthodox church although the sacrament of anointing is offered it really is only offered for the terribly sick. I’d only seen it twice: once for my priest when he had cancer and once for a child who had a tumor. In some places, this sacrament is offered to everyone on the first Wednesday of Lent. In the Catholic church, it’s part of what used to be called the Last Rites. All images of it from history show old, sick people in bed, their priests holding oil while loved ones are around praying and weeping. At st. Dominic’s you can receive the sacrament anytime you wish if you ask for it. And monthly there is a mass of healing where all the sick come forward and are anointed. I have since received this Sacrament at this Mass: once a month going forward with all the sick and the infirm, to receive the holy oil on my hands and my forehead. As a priest said this last weekend, no one will “check your sick card” if you present yourself for this. No one asks why I’m there. And so this Saturday I presented myself for inviting.

The priest lays his hand upon your head and silently, or perhaps verbally, says a prayer for you. Then, signing your forehead and each hand with the holy oil (blessed by the Bishop), the priest says, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”

This is literally Jesus touching you.

It is impossible to describe how the sacrament feels. In fact, it is impossible to describe how any Sacrament feels. St Thomas says the sacraments cause Grace. But at the same time, they are something so deep, so intimate, so dark, so cthonic, and so personal that it is impossible to give them words. A Sacrament is what God whispers to you on Sunday morning in dawn’s light, as you both lie in bed looking deeply into each other’s eyes across the pillow. There are no words for that.

The monthly “booster shot” seems to work where no other action has. A priest in confession once told me that all of our sins can cause deep wounds and in those wounds demons hide in the darkness. This priest gave me a blessing, an exorcism of sorts, to set about cleansing these wounds. We go to confession for the restoration of our relationship with God so that the healing can begin. The Anointing of the Sick is for the healing of these wounds. Healing is what is needed, the next step in the process. The Saints call us not towards a life devoid of health, but to a life filled with the goodness of the Holy Spirit raising us up. This sacrament is that process.

In light of what my new friend shared about the way that internet media draws Us in and keeps us, it seems we may all be suffering from an addiction of sorts. It’s not adult content, but an addiction doesn’t have to be morally objectionable to destroy our freedom and wreck our lives: only addicting.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.