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.

Once an Alcoholic, Always an Alcoholic?

What about those who say, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic? Doesn’t that deny God’s ability to change a person?” I have been asked this question often as I have conducted workshops with rescue mission workers and people from other Christian groups.   Usually, though, it prompted by a failure to distinguish between the spiritual issue called “drunkenness” and the therapeutic/medical condition called “alcoholism.” Anyone working to bring real healing and lasing change to addicts and alcoholics, must have this issue clearly resolved in their own minds.

Here are a few issues to consider:

A.  Release from compulsion is a reality  Those who react negatively to this phrase usually interpret it to mean that an addicted individual is condemned to live under the constant danger of slipping into drunkenness against his own will.   This, of course, would be a definite denial of God’s power to change the addict and empower him to live a victorious life.   The truth is that many believers do testify of an experience where the power of the Spirit of God actually lifted   the compulsive desire to use alcohol and drugs from them.   Some others, though, do struggle with re-occurring bouts of intense temptation to use again.   In some cases, this actually has a physiological basis which has been called “post-acute withdrawal syndrome.”   If we are mindful of this, it can actually comfort someone struggling and help them through these times, instead of making them feel guilty.   Additionally, after an experience of salvation, the newly reborn addict still needs special support to assist him to contend with all the lingering consequences of a life of bondage to addictive substances.

B.  The physical dimension of addiction –  When God delivers an addict from the compulsion to drink, he is no longer a “drunkard” in the spiritual sense.   Yet, he is   still a recovering alcoholic or addict in the therapeutic sense.   What separates the “heavy drinker” from the addict is the lack of ability to stop using alcohol  once drinking has started.   I often tell people,   “It’s not how much you drink, or how often you drink; it’s what happens to you once you start – you just can’t stop, even when you want to!”   On a physiological level, anyone who has become an addict will always be “sensitized” to alcohol and/or drugs.   Even very limited use of the “drug of choice” can “activate” the chemical mechanisms of addiction leading to compulsive use and behavior.   Total abstinence, therefore, is a must.   This physical aspect of addiction will remain with the recovering person until he is glorified by the Lord and receives his new body.   With the acknowledgment of this fact, the recovering person will be all the more diligent to abstain from drinking or casual drug use.   He or she recognizes the dire consequences of even “moderate” alcohol or drug use.   If the recovering addict remains abstinent, this physical consequence of addiction will not otherwise effect his life and Christian walk.

C.  Overcoming the “fall-out” of addiction  A life of addiction results in destructive attitudes, distorted emotions, and warped patterns of thinking.   These do not simply disappear when an addict experiences spiritual rebirth.   Calling a person a   “recovering” addict or alcoholic also implies that he or she is actively overcoming the lingering problems of an addicted lifestyle through involvement in a definite program of personal growth.   Some of the deep-seated attitudes that keep an addict locked in his addiction include; pride and grandiosity, rebellion against authority, dishonesty, manipulation, blame-shifting, resentments, procrastination, etc.   While these “character defects” are common problems with practically all addicts, unless they are “hit head-on” they will lead to defeat.

 

— Michael Liimatta is the former Director of Education for Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, where he served for 17 years.   For more of his writing and audio workshops online go to the Guideto Effective Rescue Mission Recovery Programs.