A Christian Philosophy of Addiction and Recovery

There’s a long standing debate in Christian Counseling circles as to whether addiction is a sin or a disease.   I have addressed this issue  in a previous article.   What I want to say here is simply, any rescue mission,   Salvation Army ARC or other Christian organization working with alcoholics and drug addicts must establish an official philosophy of addiction.   This is best done at the level of the board of directors.   How we approach addicts from a philosophical and theological perspective will ultimately guide everything we do. Certainly, it will serve as the framework for our counseling approach.   But it will also influence whom we hire, the curriculum we develop, and the expectations we have for the people in our programs.

For potential use with your program, and to serve as a framework for developing your philosophy, I offer the Philosophy of Addiction and Recovery I developed for New Creation Center, the residential treatment program I led in Atlantic Mine, Michigan for over ten years. Feel free to use as much of it as you wish.

We accept the American Medical Association’s definition of alcoholism:

Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.

The disease is often  progressive  and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably  denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.

We recognize alcohol as a powerful and addictive drug. We further believe that alcoholism has a genetic basis in many individuals. In others, it is the result of repeated heavy drinking, even in the absence of a genetic predisposition.

Concerning the spiritual implications of alcoholism; we believe it has its roots in alienation from God and the violation of conscience. We accept the Biblical definition of “drunkenness” as a sin which prohibits those who practice it from entrance into the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21) Romans 7:21)

We believe that God’s power is able to deliver individuals from the compulsion to drink, and to set them free from the emotional, psychological, social, spiritual, and physical consequences of an alcoholic lifestyle.

Although an individual may be delivered from the compulsion to drink (and is no longer a “drunkard” in the spiritual sense), we recognize that he is still an alcoholic in the therapeutic sense. We believe the continued abuse of alcohol results in changes in the emotions, mind, and body that do not disappear upon an alcoholic’s salvation. On a physiological level, he will always be “sensitized” to alcohol. Total abstinence, therefore, is a must; any use of alcohol can “activate” the chemical mechanisms of addiction leading to compulsive drinking and behavior.

We believe this physical aspect of the disease of alcoholism will remain with the recovering alcoholic until he is glorified and receives his new body from the Lord. With the acknowledgement of this fact, the Christian alcoholic will be all the more diligent to abstain from drinking, recognizing the dire consequences of alcohol use. We further believe that, if he never drinks again, this physical aspect of the illness will have no other actual effect on his life and Christian walk.

We believe that professional counseling and therapy is usually necessary to help individuals to overcome the consequences of alcoholism. Also, we recognize that alcoholism is a “family illness,” and believe that all of the members of the alcoholic’s family need to be a part of the recovery process by receiving specialized help themselves. We accept the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as a reliable and orderly approach to recovery from alcoholism. We also believe that are some very specific scriptural principles that must be applied to such an individual to assist him in a victorious and fruitful Christian walk.

Many of the attitudes, temptations, feelings, and patterns of thought resulting from the alcoholic lifestyle are not immediately removed upon an alcoholic’s spiritual rebirth. We believe these things constitute elements of this “sinful nature,” or “flesh,” that he will struggle with as long as he remains in this world. Therefore, through a process of discipleship, he must “transformed by the renewing of his mind” (Romans 12:2) and must learn to “walk in the Spirit that he might not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)

See also Theology of Christian Recovery

 

 

 

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