A Christian Philosophy of Addiction and Recovery

There’s a long standing debate in Christian Counseling circles as to whether addiction is a sin or a disease.  I have addressed this issue in a previous article.  What I want to say here is simply, any rescue mission,  Salvation Army ARC or other Christian organization working with alcoholics and drug addicts must establish an official philosophy of addiction.  This is best done at the level of the board of directors.  How we approach addicts from a philosophical and theological perspective will ultimately guide everything we do. Certainly, it will serve as the framework for our counseling approach.  But it will also influence whom we hire, the curriculum we develop, and the expectations we have for the people in our programs.

For potential use with your program, and to serve as a framework for developing your philosophy, I offer the Philosophy of Addiction and Recovery I developed for New Creation Center, the residential treatment program I led in Atlantic Mine, Michigan for over ten years. Feel free to use as much of it as you wish.

We accept the American Medical Association’s definition of alcoholism:

Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.

The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.

We recognize alcohol as a powerful and addictive drug. We further believe that alcoholism has a genetic basis in many individuals. In others, it is the result of repeated heavy drinking, even in the absence of a genetic predisposition.

Concerning the spiritual implications of alcoholism; we believe it has its roots in alienation from God and the violation of conscience. We accept the Biblical definition of “drunkenness” as a sin which prohibits those who practice it from entrance into the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21) Romans 7:21)

We believe that God’s power is able to deliver individuals from the compulsion to drink, and to set them free from the emotional, psychological, social, spiritual, and physical consequences of an alcoholic lifestyle.

Although an individual may be delivered from the compulsion to drink (and is no longer a “drunkard” in the spiritual sense), we recognize that he is still an alcoholic in the therapeutic sense. We believe the continued abuse of alcohol results in changes in the emotions, mind, and body that do not disappear upon an alcoholic’s salvation. On a physiological level, he will always be “sensitized” to alcohol. Total abstinence, therefore, is a must; any use of alcohol can “activate” the chemical mechanisms of addiction leading to compulsive drinking and behavior.

We believe this physical aspect of the disease of alcoholism will remain with the recovering alcoholic until he is glorified and receives his new body from the Lord. With the acknowledgement of this fact, the Christian alcoholic will be all the more diligent to abstain from drinking, recognizing the dire consequences of alcohol use. We further believe that, if he never drinks again, this physical aspect of the illness will have no other actual effect on his life and Christian walk.

We believe that professional counseling and therapy is usually necessary to help individuals to overcome the consequences of alcoholism. Also, we recognize that alcoholism is a “family illness,” and believe that all of the members of the alcoholic’s family need to be a part of the recovery process by receiving specialized help themselves. We accept the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as a reliable and orderly approach to recovery from alcoholism. We also believe that are some very specific scriptural principles that must be applied to such an individual to assist him in a victorious and fruitful Christian walk.

Many of the attitudes, temptations, feelings, and patterns of thought resulting from the alcoholic lifestyle are not immediately removed upon an alcoholic’s spiritual rebirth. We believe these things constitute elements of this “sinful nature,” or “flesh,” that he will struggle with as long as he remains in this world. Therefore, through a process of discipleship, he must “transformed by the renewing of his mind” (Romans 12:2) and must learn to “walk in the Spirit that he might not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)

See also Theology of Christian Recovery

 

 

 

Hallmarks of a Healthy Support Group

Simply stated, a support group is a regular meeting of individuals who have joined together to offer one another support and encouragement in order to overcome a shared problem.  In informal, small group settings, participants, in turn, share their own experiences, feelings and struggles

Ideally, a good support group is, first, a place where recovering addicts will find true acceptance and a sense of what unconditional love is all about.  It is a safe, non-judgmental setting where they can express struggles, thoughts, ideas, and feelings without fear of rejection.  Hearing the stories of others with similar difficulties and how they overcame them, gives the struggling addict great encouragement to go on in a life of sobriety.

Healthy support groups can provide a sort of “family” atmosphere that stimulates the hope for a better life in all involved.  Because addiction wreaks havoc upon an individual’s relationships with others, a good support group is a wonderful place for recovering addicts to begin the difficult and painful process of re-connecting with other people.

What does a healthy support group look like?

1.  It protects the confidentiality of its participants by not disclosing what members share during the meetings to those outside of the group.

First and foremost, a healthy support group protects the confidentiality of its participants by not disclosing what members share during the meetings to those outside of the group. If a detail of what is shared in a support group gets out, if a detail of what goes on in a program or session gets out to people who aren’t authorized to share that, you’ve lost that person. You will never ever get them back. Not just that, but you will have harmed the reputation of your group. There has to be really up front understood confidentially. 

2. “Cross talk” (interrupting out of turn) is avoided along with offering unsolicited advice and counseling during the meeting.

Avoid cross-talk, which is basically interrupting out of turn and offering unsolicited advice and counseling during the meeting. This happens in NA, EA, Al-Anon, ACOA, as well as any of the Christian support groups.

Just about every group has it’s self-appointed “experts: and all I can say is avoid those people. I would encourage you, that if you are going to use any support group, Christian or not specifically Christian, that you make sure you visit it two or three times to know what is going on before you send people to it, or at least have someone you know involved with it that you trust. Don’t just sent them cold. There are some groups hostile toward Christianity, others that are not. The only way you are going to find them is to visit them or get some advice from people that you know.

Support groups are a lot like churches. If I went to a church, I am involved with the Assemblies of God, if I went to one Assembly of God, there are several that I visited, where if I went to them the first time, I would never go back, because it couldn’t relate, or whatever. And that is within one denomination. What if you just dropped into any church on any street corner to find out what Christianity is like? That is not a representative of the church and what Christianity is all about. In the same sense, support groups are not some kind of monolithic thing and they are all the same. And if you are not a recovering person yourself, look for an open meeting and find out what is going on there and talk to people. This cross-talk thing is always going to cause problems, because usually it is a strong personality who is trying to exhibit undue influence is not right.

Without a facilitator, how do you avoid the cross-talk? You have probably heard a term called “group consciousness.” Group consciousness is basically the commitment of the group that actually monitors itself. A good group has group consciousness so that when someone is getting out of turn, they will be confronted.

The best way, if you don’t have a group, is to find two or three leaders. That is the way you start a support group. Of course, the best person to start it is someone personally, who has had NA and AA experience and some other support group experience. Support groups that turn into Bible studies are people who have never been part of a support group experience themselves. How can you create or replicate something that you’ve never done or experienced yourself?

3. It provides the recovering person with a combination of personal support and group accountability

Group accountability is important, just knowing I have people I report to who will care about what is going on in my life and wonder what is happening with me.

4. It offers a format for honest sharing of personal thoughts and ideas

It provides a format for honest sharing of personal thoughts and ideas. It gives people a chance to process things by talking about them. There really is a tremendous healing value to talk, to get things out and to share. It is a tremendously healing experience.

5. It is a safe and non-judgmental environment for the risky experience of exploring and verbalizing emotions

A healthy support group provides a lot of room for feelings, and you hear people verbalizing, expressing feelings, and people aren’t rejected or judged by any of those feelings.

6. It supplements the entire recovery process and is not the single focus or an end in itself

The group isn’t recovery. It’s not the sum total end of it. It’s not really a program. It is more a support and a supplement to the entire process. A good support group communicates acceptance and freedom of expression without fear of rejection. People aren’t censured or confronted by sharing honest and difficult feelings and things.

7. It communicates acceptance and freedom of expression without fear of rejection

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a meeting where it sounds so negative. There are groups like that. It doesn’t really do what you want to do. Hopefully it is a group where people are sharing hopefulness and good experiences and positive reinforcement.

8. It promotes an atmosphere of positive reinforcement and  hopefulness

9. A “family” atmosphere is maintained when each individual feels he/she can fit in

It is an amazing experience, in the 12 traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, the only qualifications for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking. That is all you need to be there. It is one of the groups with the least exclusive membership that I have ever seen because they are coming together with the stated unspoken understanding that we are here because we have problems and we want to work on them together. It is really a super safe place, and it really does become a family atmosphere to help people to sense again the belonging or being part of something that is good for them.

10. It has mature, stable leadership, but is not controlled by one or a few dominant individuals

11. It has a definite format for its meetings, not rambling, directionless discussions

My best advice for finding a support group that works is to begin by visiting the ones in your vicinity.  There are a number of online directories that you can consult – such as the one that can be found at Christians in Recovery.  Also, before really deciding on whether or not a group is right for you, be sure to visit it at least three times.  A single visit is never enough time to really know how a group functions.

 

Advice for the Urban Ministry Worker

baby2Urban mission work is certainly unique.  The rewards can be tremendous, as well as at the discouragements.  So, here are a few things I thought about as I looked at the new year ahead:

A. Keep a life for yourself I often struggle to 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 the rescue mission 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 grown 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 marriage and their children a priority and have suffered greatly as a result.

C.    Get committed to a local church - We all need own church 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 rescue mission workers 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 that will help you 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 the rescue mission field, there is a wide variety different areas in which we may serve. These include fund raising and administration to direct supervision of clients, and 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 asour “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 services.  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 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, I f 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 progresses 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 Chief Academic Officer for City Vision College, Kansas City MO

 From Urbansermons.org Mon, 01/09/2012