Moving from Client to Staff Member

CreativeMinds2012Recovery programs hire many program graduates and others who have overcome addictions or have grown up in troubled families.   They can be excellent examples for mission clients and usually have special compassion and understanding for those who are still hurting.   On the other hand, some are hindered in their efforts to minister to others because of their own codependency.

Here are a few common symptoms experienced by these “wounded warriors”:

A. Inability to detach.   Staff members who lack personal acceptance and a good self concept tend to look to their clients for affirmation and a sense of worth.   They take their work home with them and tend to feel terribly guilty and personally responsible when a client leaves the mission and messes up his or her life.   

B. Caretaking & Enabling. They do not allow their clients to become responsible for their own actions and attitudes.   Instead, they cover up for them, make excuses, and blameshift.   By doing this, they become “enablers”, allowing people then to stay in their sins, addictions, and other problems.   

C. People pleasing.   Staff members who struggle with codependency tend to be very non-assertive.   Because they need the affirmation of others, even clients, they simply cannot say “no.”   Without a good a sense of personal boundaries, they sometimes don’t even understand when “no” is the most appropriate response.   

D. Control freaks.   Codependent Christian workers can be spiritually legalistic, controlling others by shaming and laying guilt trips on them.   Since they believe their personal worth is dependent upon their performance, they never feel what they do is good enough.   This perfectionism can cause them to be domineering, driving others with their own unrealistic expectations.   

E. Out of touch with their own emotions.   For the sake of their own sanity and survival, people in dysfunctional families shut down emotionally.   They are not allowed to feel and learn to view their feelings as useless, worthless, and unimportant.   Since they aren’t in touch with their own feelings, they cannot truly empathize with the feelings of others either.   

D, Dishonesty.   In addiction, lying is a way of life – looking good on the outside no matter how things are in the inside.   It’s the same for people in troubled families.   Their   fear of being rejected for their neediness causes them to become liars and fakes and phonies, and unreal people.   

E. Lack of intimate friendships.   One of the deepest wounds of toxic shame (inner self-rejection) is the inability to develop intimate relationships.   People who are shame based feel disconnected from all of humanity.   They might have a lot of acquaintances, but few close friends.   No one shares their pain, not even spouses.   

F. Justifying, rationalizing   & “spiritualizing” their own pain & unhealthy behavior. A lack of serenity is the tip-off that one’s life is not what God wants it to be.   Yet, too many people who are stuck in this mode of feeling bad all the time, either do not recognize their need for help or refuse to do anything about it.   Instead of taking steps to change, codependent Christian workers often blame others and make excuses, even with spiritual overtures.     “

G. Burn-out” & Physical Problems   With all these unresolved issues in their lives, people with problems tend to be very exhausted and tired.   I believe codependency is a very common cause of ministry burn-out.   It can be manifested in frequent absenteeism and health problems.   

The Steps Out of Codependency

1.           “It’s OK” – Help them to understand codependency and recognize that they are not alone. Others have experienced similar struggles.   Remind them that they will be supported in their efforts to get help.

2. Honesty – Help them to stop “blame-shifting” and accept responsibility for their own issues by taking the steps they need to take in order to overcome these difficulties.

3. Education – They need to read some books on the topics of shame, codependency, and adult children of alcoholics, etc..

4. Consider Professional Counseling – The best approach is to ask around to find a counselor has been of real help to others.

5. Become Involved in Support Groups – Much insight and encouragement can be gained by spending time in groups where people who struggle with similar issues share their experience, strength, and hope.   
Some resources worth getting:

Tired of Trying to Measure Up by Jeff VanVonderan

Released from Shame by Dr. Sandra Wilson     October 1997


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.