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.

 

Secular Recovery Principles in Christian Programs

How can we properly use ideas, principles, and techniques from the secular treatment community in rescue mission recovery programs?

A. Stay true to the scriptures – Anything we use in rescue ministry — whether in the area of fund-raising, business practices, or rehabilitation — must be subjected to the light of the Word of God.  Therefore, we must throw out any principles or philosophies that contradict God’s Word!  Christian counselors must reject any philosophy or approach that lifts from a sinner his sense of responsibility for his own actions and his need for repentance and brokenness at the Cross of Christ. The Bible is perfectly clear on the fact that real, lasting change can only occur when an individual can experience true repentance — which implies a sense of personal accountability for his actions and their consequences.

B. Be discerning A creationist scientist will reach a set of conclusions on a certain geological formation that is very different from those of his evolutionist counterpart.  In a similar fashion, while dealing with factual data, conclusions reached by non-Christian researchers or counselors often reflect a godless “world-view.”  Despite this dilemma, we must not reject the whole body of factual knowledge about addiction and successful treatment approaches that is accessible and useful to us as Christian counselors.

C. Use what you can and discard the rest – Certainly, some of the ideas that are coming out of the secular treatment world do contradict the scriptures (especially on the topics of morality and spirituality).  Yet, many of the successful methods they use to establish addicts in a life of sobriety have their origins in the Word of God!  In a very real sense, they have re-discovered some deep spiritual principles that have been almost lost to the modern Western Church.  Some of these are: the power of accountable relationships, the healing nature of deep and intimate sharing between believers, the indisputable connection between rigorous honesty and true spirituality, and the principle of comforting others through sharing how the Lord brought us through similar situations (2 Corinthians. 1:3-7).  While secular and atheistic people may see these principles in a totally different light, we ought to be able to discern, with the Holy Spirit’s help, what aspects of this field of knowledge we can integrate into our mission programs without compromising on revealed truth.

 

 

Rescue Magazine Summer 1993

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.