Motivating Addiction Recovery Program Participants (Part 3)

1groupI am firmly convinced that we must help people newly recovering addict to get integrated into two vital communities – the Church and the recovery community. There is life after the residential recovery program 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, program graduates leave recovery as newly sober, struggling baby Christians. We must be sure that these new believers know where to find help when they experience struggles in the future, no matter where they live.

A. Imparting skills for developing healthy relationships – There is a lot going on at recovery programs 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. Getting involved with the wrong people is a major contributor to relapse. Many experience tremendous stress those clients with inadequate relationship skills experience as they try to live with others. The truth is, most addicts come from dysfunctional families. 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.

A number of resources that help in this area. One of the best is a workbook called, “The Twelve Steps – A Spiritual Journey”. It walks people through an exploration of these issues and provides many real and workable Christ-centered solutions to overcoming problems that keep them from experiencing healthy relationships with others. The Church certainly offers a lot to recovering people by providing 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 contributed 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.”

B   Getting involved in the right church – 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 community that are most “mission client-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 involved in their congregations.

C. Connecting with Christian recovery groups – 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, Celebrate Recovery, etc.

There are no better people to serve as a “bridge” between the mission and the Church than believers who are themselves overcoming 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 ourselves, contacting large churches in our cities to see if they have such programs, and in some cases sponsoring such groups ourselves. (see the database of Christian support groups). Like churches, support groups vary significantly, one from another.

I encourage addiction program personnel to never send people to groups we have not personally visited. And, it’s important 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.


Organizing the Addiction Counseling Process Index

Photo by Alan Cleaver

In 1997, I wrote a series of articles appeared in five consecutive issues of RESCUE, the journal of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions. The focus was to give counselors some guidance that would help them more effectively work with homeless addicts.

Here are the five articles:

Organizing the Addiction Counseling Process – Part 1 When I see a man in a recovery program I like to ask, “How is he doing?”   I usually just get a pat answer like, “Well, he’s been with us for six months.”   The problem with this answer, of course is that a sober, healthy lifestyle is not automatically picked up just by hanging around the mission for a certain length of time. The only way to really know is by keeping accurate written records that show how we are meeting the individual needs of the people in our programs.   A formal needs assessment process is needed.   The information that is gathered provides the foundation for a written recovery plan.

Organizing the Addiction Counseling Process – Part 2 In this installment, I would explore a very basic question; “Just what can we expect to accomplish in the life of a homeless addict during their stay at a rescue mission program?”   The answer comes from recognizing some basic needs that need to be addressed so those we work can develop productive, satisfying sober lives.   The goal of a written recovery plan is to set down these goals, in order of priority, and then develop a strategy for working through them while in the program.

Organizing the Addiction Counseling Process – Part 3 I recommend a program for homeless addicts that is based totally on accomplishing a set of treatment goals – instead of one based on the calendar.   Still, there are some special considerations for the first 30 days of sobriety to which we need to pay special attention.   If we make a special effort to help a newly recovering people through them, more of them will stay around longer and go forward in recovery.

Organizing the Addiction Counseling Process – Part 4 Most rescue recovery programs for homeless addicts have no trouble filling up their beds. Yet, it is better to have a smaller program with committed participants than to have a large one filled with people who are not serious about changing their lives. A well-organized long-term recovery program is – “A planned, organized, and systematic delivery of services — using both internal and external resources— with the goal of meeting the unique needs of each individual.”

Organizing the Addiction Counseling Process – Part 5 In our last installment in this series we discussed, briefly, the importance of meeting the needs of each individual in the recovery program. To do this most effectively, a process of documentation is essential, using paper forms or computer-based data collection.   In residential recovery programs for the homeless, it is also important to adopt a team approach to working with our clients.

What to Do When Program Graduates Relapse

relapseWhat should we do with graduates who turn to our recovery program after they have relapse?

At addiction recovery programs, addicts spend several months to a year or more in a relatively safe, drug- and alcohol-free environment. While involved with the program, they are introduced to Christ and learn the principles of a sober lifestyle. Despite all this help, many, if not most, graduates from solid programs with caring, competent staff will use alcohol and drugs again. Relapse is normal part of the recovery process. For many, it can turn out to be the key to gaining a deeper commitment to Christ and to a program of personal recovery. So, we must help program graduates who fail to use failure in a constructive manner.

Let’s take a look at the main reasons recovery program graduates relapse:

A. Denial — Addicts who are not fully convinced that they are powerless over alcohol and/or drugs will withdraw from support groups, counseling, and other activities intended to support them in recovery. They usually end up experimenting to see if they can, in fact, handle drugs and alcohol.

B. Relationship Issues — Romantic involvement with a dysfunctional person is one of the most common reasons newly sober people relapse.

C. Isolation – By failing to make new friendships and to stay in touch with a support network, in another big reason. Failing to adequately deal with broken past relationships can also be a setup for relapse.

D. Financial, Legal & Vocational Issues — Not finding or keeping a job, not paying their bills, and unresolved legal problems lead to major stress, especially for program graduates on probation or parole. Too often, they end up dealing with this stress by using alcohol and drugs.

E. Spiritual Issues – 1 Cor. 10:13 is a simple warning — “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, least he fall.” Success, itself, can result in an attitude of pride, which in turn leads to a neglect of the very disciplines that brought the success in the first place. Commitment to rigorous honesty is the foundation of recovery. Newly sober addicts must remain committed to their relationships with God and His people.

Program graduates must know that if they fail, returning to the for help is an option. Help can be provided through on-site counseling, referral, or coming back to live at the facility. If the third option is chosen, keep these thoughts in mind. Once the returning individual has completed the essentials of the first phase for a second time, he or she can progress through the remaining phases at an accelerated pace. This should be based mainly on the successful completion of the required tasks for each phase.

A. Focus on Forgiveness and Humility – People who relapse get stuck in shame and become discouraged. We need to help them recognize that their failure was anticipated by Christ at the cross. It can be used to motivate them to avoid the sort of self-reliance that got them into trouble.

B. Start Them At The Beginning – In a multi-phased recovery program, the initial phase should focus on addiction education and overcoming denial. A refresher in these principles is important, since the relapse is proof that he or she either forgot them or never believed them to begin with. Reviewing the essentials of the spiritual life is also a good idea.

Once the returning individual has completed the essentials of the first phase for a second time, he or she can progress through the remaining phases at an accelerated pace. This should be based mainly on the successful completion of the required tasks for each phase.

A. Map Out the Relapse – Relapse is too often thought of as the actual act of ingesting alcohol or taking drugs. It must be viewed as a process that begins with certain types of thinking, attitudes and behaviors. The objective of a “relapse map” is simple: to help addicts recognize their patterns and, then, to develop strategies for circumventing them before the actual use of alcohol and drugs occurs.

B. Aftercare Planning – Before the individual leaves the program for the second time, they must work with a staff member to develop a detailed aftercare plan. It should include concrete activities in which he or she will participate in order to avoid falling into patterns that were identified in the “relapse map”. It may also be helpful to schedule follow-up sessions with a program staff member in order to build in a level of accountability.

This copyrighted article originally appeared in RESCUE Magazine, published by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, December 2004   Reprinting without permission is prohibited