What Keeps People in Recovery?

1-hannaAs I have mentioned in an earlier article, I am firmly convinced that we must help people in residential programs to be come 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, the program graduate leaves the mission as a newly so­ber, struggling baby Christian. We must be sure that this new be­liever knows where to find help when he/she experiences struggles, even 2, 5, 10 years and more in the future, no matter where they live.

A. Building Healthy Relationships Outside of the Program – There is a lot going on at rescue missions 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.  Inadequate relationship skills are a tremendous source of stress for newly recovering people with 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.

B. Role of the Church – 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.” So, 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 “recovery 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. Getting Connected with Other Christians in Recovery – 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, 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.  Like churches, support groups vary significantly, one from an­other. So, I encourage 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.


From RESCUE Magazine, June 1997, journal of the Association of Gospel Rescue Misisons


The Power of Making Amends (Part 2)

amends2In his book, Staying Sober, Terence Gorksi shares a simple exercise that creates a workable “road map” for the process of making amends. On a sheet of paper, draw lines to make three columns. In the left column, list those who were hurt by my drinking/drug addiction. In the center one, list how they were hurt in very specific terms. And, in the right, list what must be done to make amends with them.

A final step in the process is to determine who can and cannot be contacted and to develop a chronological list of those who will be contacted. The second half of Step 9 offers a warning – there are certain people to whom we should not attempt to make amends. This is because doing so could actually be more harmful than doing nothing. In Step 8 the focus in on a list of all those to whom one is willing to make amends. Step 9 involves talking real action to restore relationships. This requires much more discretion.

A. Some Practical Suggestions: Here are things to consider from the Serenity New Testament:

  • Start with those to whom we may turn immediately, such as spouses or close family members.
  • There may be those to whom only partial disclosure can be made, because to do more would cause harm to others. We need always to consider the risks to other individuals’ security, privacy, and confidentiality.
  • Also there are those to whom amends should be deferred until a later date. Perhaps the hurts are so fresh that our presence would only trigger rage on their part. Maybe we also need to work through some anger and resentments of our own.
  • And, there are those whom we should never contact, because doing so would only open up old relationship doors that need to stay closed. This may be especially true in the case of former sexual partners

B. Take Your Time: We don’t want to rush recovering people into going out to make amends with those they have hurt. Because it can be very frightening and stressful, relapse can easily occur during this process. Even with several months of sobriety behind them, they still need a lot of love and support. Coaching can be extremely helpful in regard to specific attempts to make amends. Rehearsing the amends with a sponsor or counselor can be important. This can help them to avoid blameshifting and to keep the focus on their own behavior and actions in the situation.

It never works to say, “I did this but you did that, too.” In certain cases, they may not even be sure of whether a situation requires a real amends or not. And, there are some difficult situations where amends may be required, for instance with an abusive parent. They must be reminded of the fact that making amends does not mean ignoring, excusing, or condoning the abuse and wrong the other person may have done. The main point is that they are still responsible for negative hurtful things they have done in respect to these relationships.

C. The Risk of Rejection: There is a definite risk of rejection that can be a part of making amends. There is no guarantee that people will respond to their request for forgiveness with openness and love. They may have simply experienced too much pain and are not willing to forgive the person and trust them again. And, they cannot be expected to ask forgiveness of them for wrongs they may have committed either. Those who would make amends must be reminded that while others may not respond as they wish they would, it will still do them a world of good. In a sense, it is a bit of a one-sided process. Ultimately, the practice of making amends is more for one’s own conscience than it is about changing other people’s attitudes. We do it because it is pleasing to God and for the sake of our own peace of mind and serenity. We are not responsible for the reactions of others. *

D.  Real Healing is the Reward: Great healing occurs when recovering addicts start taking responsibility for the wrongs they have done and move forward constructively to make things right with those they have harmed. This whole process of making amends always begins with those closest to the addict: spouses, children, parents, and other family members. Often, despite initial skepticism, these people may see real change and begin to open their hearts again.

There is no greater joy for rescue mission workers than to see families that have been torn apart and mothers who never knew what happened to their sons or daughters, to see the reunions that could come out of this. It’s such a powerful thing, and these restored relationships can create such motivation for recovery and reward for all the hard work they put into getting to this point. It’s tremendous.

Read the Power of Making Amends (Part 1)

Rescue Magazine, August 1997 Journal of the AGRM

The Power of Making Amends (Part 1)

amends“If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”(Matthew 5:23, 24)

The Power of Making Amends 

A rescue mission counselor asked me to talk with a man who had returned to their recovery program for the third time.  Despite completing their program twice, he was unable to remain sober for more than a few months.  Not too far into our discussion, I recognized he had not been able to develop the healthy sort of relationships essential for continued growth in recovery.  Fearful of becoming too involved with others, he could not experience the joy of meaningful, fulfilling relationships. I asked him, “Have you ever done the 8 & 9 Steps?”   His answer of “No” made perfect sense.  Like many newly recovering people, he still carried a load of guilt and remorse from unresolved past relationships.  Thus, he could not move forward with confidence to make new intimate relationships. He needed to clean up the residue of his past first.

Homeless addicts are the loneliest people in the world.  Their destructive behavior alienates those who care about them.  They come to rescue mission recovery programs with long trails of broken relationships.  When they find sobriety, their minds clear up and their thoughts naturally turn toward their loved ones.  They tend to be filled with all sorts of guilt, shame and remorse over the loss of these significant relationships. So, mission programs can offer real healing by helping these people become restored to family members and others they have hurt.

Some very practical guidance to do this is found in the Twelve Step approach to recovery:

Step Eight – Made a list of all persons we had harmed and become willing to make amends to them all.

Step Nine – Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

These important “therapeutic exercises” are also an essential dimension of Christian discipleship.  The 12 Steps, in essence, bring recovering people through a process of progressive humbling.  Each successive step is a deeper opportunity to forgo ego for the sake of doing what is right.  This starts by humbling themselves by admitting they have an addiction that they cannot overcome by themselves.  Then, they are called to humble themselves before God and to turn their lives and wills over to Him.  Steps 4 & 5 involve a further humbling experience; sharing the “exact nature of our wrongs” with another trusted human being. (See James 5:16). And finally, Steps 8 & 9 involve an even more difficult proposition, going to those who have been harmed and sincerely attempting to restore those relationships by making amends.

What are amends?  According to the Serenity New Testament they are:

  • Sincere efforts to offer apology for past harm.
  •  Wonderful bridge-builders for more positive future relationships.
  • Effective agents for removing the tremendous weight of guilt, shame, and remorse. *

Along with a verbal apology and recognition of the hurt and wrong afflicted, some sort of restitution may be necessary.  This could involve a repayment of money or some other gesture intended to restore losses from individuals that were harmed.

The process of making amends actually starts early in the 12 Step process.  A written inventory of one’s most troubling sins and character defects is developed in the Fourth Step.  This sets the stage for Steps 8 and 9 because most items listed involve harm done to others.  Step 5 is also essential.  It helps addicts to more fully understand what is means to really repent of one’s sins.  Sharing the personal inventory with another person also helps them to experience more deeply God’s forgiveness.  This is absolutely essential if they are to move toward repairing the damage they have done to their relationships with others.

Read the Power of Making Amends (Part 2)

* This excerpt is from fhe Serenity New Testament (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1982).