Archive for January, 2014

Wrestling with GodOver the years I have spoken to many tough and skeptical crowds.  Soon after graduating from university, I was responsible for building an unknown organization called Special Olympics.  Trying to convince parents and professionals that exercise and competition would be good for people with mental disabilities was a hard sell.  I encountered a lot of anger, disbelief and verbal abuse.  However, over the decades, the virtues of the Special Olympics program have been embraced around the world.

Explaining to addicts and alcoholics that they need God in the battle against addiction can be an equally tough challenge.  Although the founders of AA stated the importance of accepting God’s help to conquer addiction — and millions have followed this path to establish a strong recovery — the skepticism continues.  As a Christian addiction rehab facility, we encounter frequent resistance to the proposition that God’s participation is necessary to overcome the power of addiction.
Why do addicts and alcoholics often rebel against seeking God’s help?  There are many reasons, but a few are heard over and over again.

Forgiveness.  Addiction often leads people to do things that are a source of great shame.  Lying, stealing, promiscuity, infidelity, rage, manipulation – the list is long and painful.  “Surely God will not forgive sins that are so great,” is a frequent rationale for avoiding God.  Because the Christian concept of God – who has an infinite ability to forgive — is foreign to human nature, it can be hard for the addicted person to believe that God still loves them.

Abandonment.  When life gets difficult and nothing seems to go as we hope, it is easy to blame God.  “Where was he when I needed him?” is a common question.  Appreciating the gift of freewill, which enables us to live our lives very far from God’s will, is a hard concept to embrace, especially when addiction can make it difficult to see the positive signs of God’s compassion.


Pride.  People hate to give up even the smallest amount of control – which trusting in God demands.  “I want to do it my way,” is the mantra of most people, addicted or not.  Acknowledging that addiction recovery requires the help of others is for many addicts a huge step.  Giving God control, and responding to his will, is a high mountain to climb.

Naiveté.  Many people have never been introduced to God, read scripture, or learned the basics of the Christian faith.  From this position of ignorance, it is hard to understand who God is, why he cares, and how he loves.  This lack of knowledge requires that the road to recovery also become a journey to discover the true meaning of “trust in God.”

At St. Joseph Institute we believe that spiritual growth is always a personal experience.  We encourage, but we do not preach.  We teach, but we allow each person to reach their own conclusions.  As a Christian organization we know what we believe, but we do not make demands to conform.  Each person must wrestle with God in their own way, and find their own answers.

The early Fathers of the Christian Church constantly reminded people that faith was a “gift from God.”  At St. Joseph Institute we encourage addicts and alcoholics to search for that gift — knowing that it will make their recovery so much easier, and bring back the joy that so many have lost.

Climbing_CamI don’t have the courage to scale mountains, but I am fascinated by the preparations of the climbers.  They make a plan for their ascent and carefully assemble the equipment that will be needed.  Each piece of gear is carefully selected, and tested to ensure it is strong in the event that it is needed to save a life.  As the climbers prepare to set out, they attach the “camming devices” to their belts, always making sure they have enough for a safe climb.

These climbing cams are lifesavers for the climbers.  They are jammed into cracks in the rocks and will hold firm under heavy pressure from the ropes.  In the event of a slip, they prevent the climber from falling too far, ensuring that they do not tumble to the bottom.

People in recovery need to have their own climbing cams, mechanisms that will keep them from falling too far if they relapse.  A careful plan is needed so that a slip does not translate into a descent into the black hole of addiction.  Too often people in recovery, and the professionals helping them, want to avoid thinking and talking about relapse.  The consequence is that there are no safeguards in place to stop a fall, and get the recovering addict or alcoholic back on track. The frequent pattern for relapse is that everyone backs away, allowing the feelings of shame and guilt to drag the addicted person into a rapid, downward spiral.

mountain-climber-silhouette2A relapse plan needs to begin by remembering that when addictive behavior returns, so will the accompanying symptoms of denial, minimization and rationalization.  These patterns of addiction must be quickly shattered.  It is important to have numerous “supporters” built into the plan — people who are ready to act fast to challenge the inappropriate behavior and strive to stop it.

Consider the plan that Debbie prepared in case she relapsed.

Step #1 was the discussion that Debbie had with her parents.  If they thought she was using they were to immediately require that she take a drug test with the understanding that she must leave home if she failed or refused.  They were to take away the car they had given her and stop all financial support.  She also gave them permission to call her counselor, sponsor and best friend.

Step #2 was a request that her sponsor confront her with an intervention by other people in recovery.  “Remind me of where my addiction will take me and challenge my “stinking thinking,” she advised.

Step #3 was a plea to her counselor and best friend to act as they thought appropriate to get her back into recovery.  Debbie had discussed with her counselor an outpatient program that she would join if her recovery became weak, and Debbie told her friends to use “lots of tough love.”

Debbie has not had to use her relapse plan, but she feels more confident knowing that it is in place — and ready to catch her if she stumbles.

Everyone in recovery needs to have a relapse plan.  Hopefully it will never be needed, but if it does, it could end up saving a life.  The goal of the plan is much like the goal of the climber’s camming device.  It stops the fall quickly, before anyone gets badly hurt, and enables the climber to start moving forward again.  And as everyone in recovery knows, if you don’t keep moving forward, you are just waiting to fall.

The EnemyWhether you are a fan of James Bond, an admirer of John Wayne, or a wiz at video games, you know a basic rule of warfare – never underestimate the enemy.  Let down your guard, turn your back, become complacent, and you are an easy target to be attacked.  The winning strategy requires that you are always prepared to defend yourself, and when possible, ready to seize the opportunity to strike first.

How I wish that the addicts and alcoholics I meet would recognize the power of their enemy, and prepare themselves for the battle that lies ahead when they enter into recovery. However, too often, they declare a premature victory, and are unprepared for the first surprise attack.  And the attacks will come, because addiction is the enemy that never surrenders, but keeps looking for an opportunity to regain control.
When people in recovery from addiction experience a relapse, the explanations are often familiar.  “I thought I could manage recovery on my own and I stopped going to meetings.”  “I knew things were starting to slide and I didn’t call anyone for help.”  “I thought I could have just one drink, because alcohol was never my problem.”  Just because the enemy – addiction – had not struck for days, weeks or months, it was assumed to have been defeated.

Our greatest struggle at St. Joseph Institute is often to help the people who come to us for help accept the seriousness of their disease. Like the diabetic who must tend to their disease every day, the addict and alcoholic cannot take a day off.  Addiction is never cured; there is no victory except through ongoing vigilance. I wish that we could promise a great conquest, but the best we can do is to prepare the addicted person for the battle that lies ahead, teaching the skills that are needed to stand strong and fight for a great life in recovery.

In many ways rehab is boot camp, getting tough and ready for battle.  After discharge the real struggle begins.  Each day in recovery requires mental preparation to keep addiction from overwhelming thoughts and feelings.  The ongoing conditioning for war is achieved with meetings, prayer, study and other forms of preparation.  Victory occurs one day at a time, when the addict or alcoholic is able to declare at dawn “another day is beginning and we are still free.”

Sun Tzu Quote
Sun Tzu – The Art of War