Respecting Client Boundaries

We previously highlighted the importance of counselors carefully guarding their own personal boundaries while working with troubled people.   Respecting the boundaries of those we seek to help is equally important.   Here are a few thoughts on the topic:

A. We must teach and model healthy boundaries – People who grow up in dysfunctional families tend to believe that they are not allowed to have personal boundaries. Though abused and mistreated, they do not feel they deserve anything else. As mentioned earlier, a personal boundary is, essentially, the line that divides me from you.   Without boundaries I can’t tell what’s my stuff and what’s yours. Something as simple as saying “No” to drugs and alcohol – or to sin in any form – is a boundaries issue.   To do so takes a commitment to caring about myself, while seeking to maintain a growing relationship with God. So, teaching and modeling healthy boundaries is vital if these folks are to begin the road to recovery.

B. “Fixing” vs. “Empowering” – Healthy recovery cannot happen until an individual is able to establish a program of “self-care.” At the Pool of Siloam, Jesus said to a crippled man, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” (John 5:8)   In a very real way, this illustrates how we ought to minister to troubled people.   The goal is not to carry (or enable) people through the rest of their lives.   We don’t want to do their part for them.   Our part is to give them the “tools” they need in order to make good decisions.   Their part is to take those “tools” and learning to live sober and godly by applying them to “real life” situations.   Of course, imparting the tools can be a very lengthy process, which also involves removing the many “roadblocks” to recovery, such as denial. Still, we need to be mindful about keeping the focus on each individual taking responsibility for their own lives, helping them to understand fully the consequences of the decisions they make.

C. Allowing People to Feel – The return of the emotional life is a signal that people are beginning the road to recovery. Repressed emotions, some very scary and painful, often begin to surface.   These can include anger, sadness, loneliness and fear.   Christian workers sometimes do not feel comfortable with strong feelings being expressed by others. By dismissing, rejecting, or shutting down those feelings, we can end up sending the same signals they received in their dysfunctional families.   Instead, in a kind, supportive manner, we must allow them to talk their way through those feelings, even when they don’t seem very realistic or accurate reflections of their current situations.

D. Clear Expectations – Every well-run program needs written policies, rules, and procedures.       Setting appropriate boundaries begins the moment the client walks into our facility.   Each of them comes to us with a different set of needs and different expectations about what we can do for them; what participating our program really will be like.   So, a formal orientation procedure is essential.   This is most easily accomplished by creating an actual checklist of the rules that apply to all program participants, along with the program’s expectations of those who are involved.   And, we must be sure that once we have informed them of our policies and expectations of them, we must be sure to enforce the rules in a fair manner.

E. Individual Attention Given – Clients need to know that we have their individual best in mind.   The mission is there for them, and they not are just there to give their labor to keep the mission going.   Along with providing one-on-one counseling sessions, establishing personalized, written goals and objectives provides clients with a sense of purpose and direction in the recovery process.   They need a set of objective measures for their own progress (or lack of progress).   Efforts expended toward adequate needs assessment and development of individualized written plans tells clients that they are truly important to the program staff.   This is so important because if people in your program are feeling used or ignored, they will certainly shut themselves down to the recovery process.

An important element of the mission’s “therapeutic environment” comes when we give residents all the dignity and respect that they are entitled to as children of God.   And even though their defenses are up and they are angry, still they are God’s children and deserving of every bit of dignity that we can give them.   Respecting their boundaries is respecting them.   Doing for them what they should do themselves is not affording this dignity.   Instead, the message we just may convey the message that we don’t believe that they can actually change.

What Keeps People in Recovery?

1-hannaAs I have mentioned in an earlier article, I am firmly convinced that we must help people in residential programs to be come integrated into two vital communities – the Church  and the recovery community. There  is life after the residential recovery pro ­gram and if we don’t spend enough time and energy preparing our clients for it, we have done them a great injustice.

If we are truly successful, the program graduate leaves the mission as a newly so ­ber, struggling baby Christian. We must be sure that this new be ­liever knows where to find help when he/she experiences struggles, even 2, 5, 10 years and more in the future, no matter where they live.

A. Building Healthy Relationships Outside of the Program – There is a lot going on at rescue missions in the areas of life skills, employment, literacy and education, etc. But, an often-neglected aspect of preparation for life after the program is helping our residents to develop and maintain healthy relationships. Get ­ting involved with the wrong people is a major contributor to re ­lapse.   Inadequate relationship skills are  a tremendous source of stress for newly recovering people with they try to live with others. The truth is, most addicts come from dysfunctional fami ­lies. They already struggle with codependency long before their first use of drugs or alcohol. Getting high. for many, provides a temporary release from their lack of self-confidence and toxic shame issues that handicap them in their relationships with others. Guess what? Just because they stop using alcohol and drugs, all of this doesn’t automatically go away. Sobriety gives them a chance to finally begin to work on these issues. If they don’t, their chances of success are greatly diminished.

B. Role of the Church – The Church certainly offers a lot to recovering people by pro ­viding both spiritual and social support. SRI Gallup’s 1992 survey of   recovery from homelessness concluded that spirituality (a growing relationship with Christ) was the number one factor that con ­tributed to the success of those they studied. They noted, “This spirituality seems to not only strengthen a person individually, it also seems to be the basis for commonality in building relationships with other people.” So, we must be intentional about connecting mission program participants to a solid, healthy relationship with the Body of Christ, which is often one of the most difficult challenges we face in mission programs.

The solution lies in identifying those fellowships in our com ­munity that are most “recovery friendly” and to cultivate relationships with them. This could involve personal visits with their leaders, luncheon meetings and tours at the mission, and training programs specifically geared toward helping both pastors and lay people to understand and support our people as they become in ­volved in their congregations.

C. Getting Connected with Other Christians in Recovery – There is still another extremely valuable resource out there that has yet to be fully understood and utilized – the Christian who is himself in recovery! There is a wonderful phenomenon afoot that has been loosely called the “Christian Recovery Movement”. It has been manifested by literally thousands of support groups springing up in churches around the globe where Christ is the “Higher Power.” These groups are to be found in practically any major city of North America, and in some overseas – Overcomers Outreach, Alcoholics for Christ, Alcoholics Victorious, etc. There are no better people to serve as a “bridge” between the mission and the Church than believers who are themselves over ­coming addiction. They can relate in a very special way to the struggles of mission clients, because they’ve been through many of them.

We must find these people by visiting support groups our ­selves, contacting large churches in our cities to see if they have such programs, and in some cases sponsoring such groups our ­selves.   Like churches, support groups vary significantly, one from an ­other. So, I encourage program personnel to never send people to groups we have not personally visited. And, it’s impor ­tant to meet with the leaders of these groups to get to know them personally and help them to become familiar with the mission and its recovery program.

 

From RESCUE Magazine, June 1997, journal of the Association of Gospel Rescue Misisons

 

Surviving the Holidays: Tips for People in Recovery

santa-drunkFor most people, the holiday season – which includes Christmas and the New Year celebration – is a special time of joy and celebration.   We have a chance to give our thanks to God for all His goodness and a chance to rejoice in the birth of the Savior.   It is also a time to welcome in a new year with all the hope and promise it brings.

Yet, we must never forget that for people who are just beginning to walk the road of recovery from addiction to alcohol and drugs, this is an extremely difficult and stressful time.   For several reasons, this time of year means we are very vulnerable to a relapse.

Let me offer a few simple thoughts that might help them make it through this holiday season:

A.   Remember the spiritual significance of the holidays –  This time of year is a major commercial event for America’s retailers.   For some, more than half of our revenue is generated in the final ten weeks of the year.   As a result, we are bombarded with marketing messages that encourage us to spend beyond our budgets.   Despite the commercial pressure, we need to keep our focus on the spiritual significance of the holidays.   Our focus in November ought to be thankfulness – an attitude of gratitude.   And we must never forget that when it comes to Christmas, ”Jesus is the Reason for the Season”.   Above all else, we are celebrating God’s sending of His only Son to be our Savior and Redeemer. Keeping a spiritual focus puts all of our other expectations for the holiday season in proper perspective.

B. Don’t isolate –  For most Christians, the holidays are a time for family and other important relationships. For the newly recovering addict, especially those in residential programs, the holidays can be the loneliest time of the year.

Newly recovering addicts face two special challenges during the holidays.   On one hand, the holidays serve as a painful reminder of all the relationships they’ve messed up.   To many recovering people spend Christmas haunted by memories of loved ones and friends that have been alienated because of destructive and manipulative behavior.   So, there is a real tendency to fall into self-pity and remorse.   In order to compensate for the loneliness, some will take an equally destructive path; falling in with the wrong people.   To keep our sobriety, people who are still using alcohol and drugs, must be avoided at all costs

So, what’s the solution?   This is the time take advantage of new, sober acquaintances God has brought into our lives.   Reaching out to those around us and using this holiday season s as a special opportunity to get to know them better is the best antidote for that special sense of loneliness that comes with the holidays.

C. Use the holidays as a special opportunity for making amends –  Instead of dwelling on failed relationships, the holidays provide a special opportunity to restore some broken relationships.   This is the time to make a list of those people and creatively consider ways to reconnect with them.   While it is not always possible to make amends to everyone that might come to mind, there will always be a few of them, especially family members, to whom amends can be made.   Some of those who have not heard from us for some time might actually consider your getting in touch with them to be a special gift this holiday season.   Talk to a counselor or sponsor about this and get some input before embarking on this important step in your recovery process.

D.   Give gifts from the heart –  It’s easy to feel a load of guilt and shame about not having resources to give presents and other tokens of love to those around you.   There are other types of “gifts” that can be just as meaningful: a simple card (even homemade), phone calls or visits, lending a helping hand with a special project.   There is a virtually unlimited number of ways to show people around you that you care that don’t require a lot of cash.   Be creative!

E Share your feelings –  The holidays can bring back a host of confusing feelings and memories.   Sometimes we’re tempted to dwell on “good times” that involved drinking and drug use.   For some, this time of year provokes painful childhood memories if we grew up in a troubled home.   Others experience loads of stress, disappointment, and loneliness during the holidays.   The worst thing to do is to keep all these feelings bottled up inside.   Find trusted sober friends and support groups where you can share what is going on within you.   This is a sure fire way to keep them in perspective and work through all these emotions in constructive and healthy ways.

F. Find healthy ways to celebrate the season –  For some of us, it’s hard to imagine a Christmas or New Year’s Eve without alcohol and drugs.   But, for newly sober people, this time of year can be a chance to rediscover how to have fun without mind-altering chemicals.   Take a few moments to find out what is happening in the church and what other Christian and sobriety-based events are happening in your community – and participate in them!

G. Have realistic expectations –  Most post-holiday disappointments are the result of expecting too much.   Keeping Christmas as primarily a spiritual celebration also keeps our expectation in reality, too.   We may find this holiday season is not the exciting and joyous experience others seem to make it out to be.   Maybe no one seemed to have reached out to us in any special way.   Maybe we did not handle all the stress of the holidays, as we would have liked to.   So what?   Making it through the holidays without using drugs or alcohol could actually be the most significant thing we managed to do this holiday season.   This, in itself, is a major accomplishment.