Self Care for Recovery Workers

Urban mission work and recovery outreach are certainly unique.   The rewards can be tremendous, as well as the discouragements.   So, here are a few of my thoughts and how to avoid burn-out by practicing good self-care:

A. Keep a life for yourself —I often struggle to find the balance between personal priorities and ministry opportunities.   It’s easy to get caught up in ministry and put my own needs on the “back burner.” Because urban missions can be a very stressful place to work good self-care practices are essential.   One of the most important of them is to cultivate a life that is separate from the mission and its staff and clients.   We need to leave work stress behind and pursue our own interests and relationships.   For people who live in the mission facilities, failing to develop meaningful outside relationships and activities is a sure path to “burn-out.”

B. Make time for the Lord, your spouse, and your children — Spiritual service is no replacement for spiritual relationship.   We need to protect our walk with the Lord and continue to grow in our faith.   In regard to the family, Paul said it best, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church? (1 Timothy 3:3 NIV)   Too many Christian workers have not made their marriages and their children a priority and have suffered greatly as a result.

C. Get committed to a local church – We all need our own church home where we can be spiritually nourished and develop relationships with people who can minister to us, instead of looking to us for help.   An effective urban mission worker knows where to go to get his or her “tank refilled’ spiritually.

D. Develop yourself professionally – Cultivate your gifts and take advantage of education and training opportunities. Find ways to grow to be more effective in your calling from God.   Maybe you need to take advantage of formal aptitude testing offered by employment and career counselors.   In urban ministry, there are a variety of different roles in which we may serve. These include fund raising and administration as well as direct supervision of clients, counseling and case management.   Getting the best “fit” for yourself will certainly lead to a more satisfying and effective ministry.

E. Find a Mentor/Confessor — Again this past week, I heard another Christian leader, whom I greatly respected, destroyed his marriage and his ministry through infidelity.   We all face temptations like resentment, jealousy, sex, greed, and power.   Some of us also have a past that includes addictions.   My friend with the Navigators likes to ask — “Who’s your Timothy and who’s your Paul?”   There is a real benefit to having the accountability and input of a mature believer who can serve as our “Paul.”   And, at the same time, why not take some time to seek out a “Timothy” if you don’t already have one.   There is surely at least one other younger Christian worker who could benefit from what you have learned in your years of service.   Few things are as rewarding as Investing in the life of other leader.

F. Be a team player — When working with troubled people, it’s important to see ourselves as part of a team that God has assembled to reach out to them.   He has been at work in every individual’s life long before they ever came to the mission     So, If I’m not God’s only representative to this person, whether they leave or stay, He will continue to work in their lives (with or without me). Though this may be your time to work with a certain person you are not expected to have all the answers or resources.   But, there is probably someone else who does.   Sometimes, the greatest help we can give someone is to point him or her to another resource where he or she can get needed help.   And, if you are stuck, remember that it’s OK to ask a fellow worker for input and assistance.

G. To God, our faithfulness is more important than our fruitfulness. –   A “performance orientation” is another path to burnout.   Deep, lasting life change is a process — and an often time-consuming one at that.   Each individual makes progress at his or her own rate.   So, we need to be mindful to set realistic goals for our clients — and for ourselves.   Above all, it’s God who ultimately does the changing.   So, we need to avoid shame and guilt-driven efforts, which are from self not the Spirit.   Sometimes the most effective thing we can do is to get out of God’s way.

Michael Liimatta  is now serving as Chief Academic Officer for City Vision College.

advice-for-urban-workersFrom January 2012

Helping Recovering Addicts Reconnect With Themselves

Previously, we discussed the addict’s need to reconnect with God.   Now, we turn to another important issue, the addict’s need to reconnect with himself.   By this I mean gaining a new level of self-awareness that leads to positive change.   This means knowing how he feels and why.   And, importantly, it means recognizing his own needs.   There are four essential areas of self-awareness that all who wish to succeed in living sober and healthy lives must have:

A.       I am powerless over alcohol and/or drugs — This does not mean, “I am unable to avoid using alcohol or drugs.”   This recognition focuses on what happens when the addict uses his/her drug of choice (which may be ethyl alcohol).   This is the clinical definition of powerlessness — the admission (both intellectually and emotionally) that even in the most limited use of alcohol or drugs results in an outcome that the addict cannot predict.   They need to see drinking or drugging as playing Russian Roulette with a gun.   Just as every chamber does not contain a bullet, not that every using experience ends up in days of out-of-control use and behavior.   But, eventually they will lose control. The addict’s relationship with alcohol and drugs can be viewed as sort of romantic in nature.   The downward spiral of addiction really is the story of years of subtle “trade-offs” made to maintain this relationship.   These trade-offs include forsaking other meaningful human relationships.   These trade-offs also involve the loss of jobs, personal integrity, and self-esteem.   In order to be fully committed to the process recovery, individuals must be totally convinced of the destructive nature of this relationship — to the point where they will, indeed, go to any lengths to overcome that their addictions.   This sense of powerlessness also comes with it knowledge that addiction cannot be overcome simply through force of will.   They will find success only if they look outside of themselves for the power to change.

B.       I need God – All addicts begin the journey of recovery in a state of spiritual and moral bankruptcy.   While they need forgiveness, they also need God’s guidance and His power if they are to experience lasting change in their lives.   In many ways, helping them to gain a deep sense of how powerless they are — and an understanding of the impotence of self-will — is the essential step toward having a genuine spiritual experience, the lynchpin of 12 Step recovery.

C.       I can change –   Many addicts have tried unsuccessfully to change on their own.   They fail to realize that living sober is more than “putting the cork in the jug.”     I’ve known people who were more miserable after stopping chemical use than they ever were while actively pursuing a life of addiction.   Once alcohol and drugs have been removed from a person’s life, they face an even bigger challenge: living without them!   They can be overwhelmed by their own feelings, fears, and character defects.   While they formerly used mind-altering chemicals with life’s heavy emotions, in order to keep from going back, they need a whole new set of “tools” to tackle the multitude of issues they face. Salvation, according to the Bible, has two parts as illustrated in John 3:16.   God’s son came both to save us from perishing and to give use eternal life.   Eternal life is more than something that we get after we die.   It is a quality of life that God intends us to experience in the here and now.   The realization that real substantial, life-transforming change can happen for them is very difficult to grasp.   Too often, pleasing God is viewed as more of a “performance” thing than a “relationship” thing.   This is because all addicts and other people from dysfunctional family systems have a heavy dose of “toxic shame.”   It causes them to feel unlovable, hopelessly flawed, and unable to change.   Growing relationships with God and healthy people will instill and support the hope of change within their hearts.

  D.       I need a people — Most addicts have a condition I call “terminal uniqueness.”   — a notion that no one has experienced what they have.   No one really understands their troubles.   This leads to a sense of hopelessness and subverts any notion that change is possible.   The term “recovery” is synonymous with the scriptural term “sanctification” and means a life-long process of change.   It is becoming involved in a structured ongoing program of personal growth.   Recovery means dealing “head-on” with the issues that draw one back to old destructive ways and learning new ways to deal with the challenges of life.   Most importantly, recovery is about relationships.   Repairing and restoring relationships that have been damaged because of addiction is essential if a recovering addict is to move confidently toward establishing new, healthy relationships.

Isolation is often one of the earliest signs that an individual is headed toward a relapse into active drug or alcohol use.   The antidote to isolation is a commitment to support group meetings, ongoing fellowship within the church, and staying actively involved with the right sort of people.



Helping Addicts Who Are Mentally Ill

mental-health1How can we help the addict who is also mentally ill?

A. Understanding “Dual Diagnosis” – Up to one-third of today’s homeless adults are mentally ill. The trend toward “deinstitutionalization” of the mentally ill has meant that our city streets are now being flooded with people who at one time would have been hospitalized for their problems. As many as half of them are also addicted to alcohol and/or drugs. Many are “self-medicating” – using addictive substances to cope with their mental problems. Social service professionals usually do not like working with these “dually diagnosed” people because they can be so demanding and time-consuming. They can be too destructive and troubled for the typical addiction recovery program. And, mental health workers shy away from them because they often do not stay sober long enough for treatments to be effective. So, they end up at the rescue mission.

B. Gaining a Basic Understanding of Mental Illness – The first step in working with dually diagnosed individuals is to gain an understanding of mental illness in general; its causes, symptoms, and treatment. Our staff members must learn how to identify such conditions as schizophrenia, bi-polar disease (manic-depression), and clinical depression so they can know when it is time to make a mental health referral. The good news is that, thanks to great advances in pharmacological technology, even those with severe mental problems can live a relatively stable life. Combining the right medication with some simple tools for recovery can help even the most severely mentally ill people to find sobriety and function on a reasonably healthy level. Because mental illness cannot be treated effectively as long as the active use of drugs and alcohol continues, we do quite a bit when we provide these individuals with a safe Christian environment where they can get off of drugs and alcohol. Because people with these problems do respond to the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, we can reach out to them spiritually, as well.

C. Networking with Local Mental Health Agencies – The key to helping the dually diagnosed is good “case management” – long-term support working in tandem with local mental health professionals. It is vital that we develop contact in local mental health agencies who understand our programs and philosophy. They can be especially helpful in performing screening of those who we suspect might have mental problems. I have found that most are very willing to work with a mission program if they know it is safe and well-organized. In general, mental health workers are glad to know their patients will have the supervision they need in order to stay on their prescribed medications. It is important to encourage residents to sign a release of information form that authorizes the clinic’s personnel to talk with you about their on-going treatment.

D. Health Screening Before Starting a Recovery Program is Essential – Anyone who wants to come into a rescue mission recovery program should have a thorough medical examination. Many behavioral problems have a biophysical basis, not related to mental illness. For instance, such medical problems as diabetes and hypothyroidism can be causes of depression. Additionally, a health screening is especially important if a person comes to our program with a bag full of pill bottles. If he is taking mood altering drugs he really doesn’t need, he never actually gets sober. The truth is, doctors sometimes hand out pills to alcoholics and addicts almost indiscriminately. Addicts often complain to doctors about the symptoms they know will get them certain types of mood altering medications. They will talk about how they can’t sleep at night, or how nervous and jumpy they are in order to get drugs prescribed to them. So, when a person comes to us with a sack full of medications, how do we know whether or not they really need those pills? It is certainly not appropriate for staff members without medical training to decide which medications a resident should take. This is another type of situation that is best handled by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health professional in the community who is sympathetic to our ministry, to help us sort this all out.

E. Adult Foster Care: An Option for Long-term Care – Our ultimate goal with most of the addicts in our recovery programs ought to be “working ourselves out of a job.” We ought always to be looking toward the day when they return to society as employed, sober citizens, relying on God, the church, and the recovering community for their on-going support. In other words, we truly succeed when they no longer need us. However, those with mental disabilities – the mentally ill and retarded – might never be able to function in society without on-going supervision and care. There is a growing trend among rescue missions to minister to these individuals through providing a safe, structured Christian home and by serving as Representative Payee for those who receive Supplimental Security Income (SSI). Contact the IUGM Office for more information about this type of ministry.

From RESCUE managazine, Spring 1995