Christians Working with Addicts
by Alexander Bischoff
Alex is a free lancer, that is, his page may be about any number of things. A South African originally, he has lived in England and the United States. He has many years of experience in computer technology, software development and start up companies. Most recently Alex has been volunteering his time to support Marin lead the way of local renewable energy generation and Community Choice Aggregation. Jesus found Alex in 2001, some three years down his road to recovery from alcoholism. The trauma of active military service, broken relationships and the consequences of addiction have become his tools for sharing hope and a belief that no sin is too great for God's forgiveness. So—we may expect almost anything from Alex in the months ahead. His first contribution is about substance addiction and the challenge for Christians to minister here, particularly if they do not have their own experiences to draw on.
Christians working with addicts
Addicts are usually very sensitive to any efforts to confront their dependency on drugs or alcohol. Anyone who attempts to help an addict face his or her need, particularly if the addict is not ready to recover, may well find themselves the target of the addicts intense irrational anger. This can include accusations and statements by the addict that are without any truth. At best these cause hurt feelings and confusion, but at worst can lead to serious allegations and issues indeed. Even addicts who state they want help have a compelling and unconscious need to rationalize their behavior. However irrational the process may seem, defaming someone who tries to help and imagining injury provides reason and excuse for their continued use of a mind altering substances. Most of us simply do not have the experience to deal with these levels of deception. I suggest that engagments are always in pairs, for a witness and for safety.
The chemical takes over
It is not that the addict is a bad person; rather, the chemical has taken over, leaving the addict as his or her own worst enemy. Some of the most clever and dangerous people I have ever met have been addicts whose minds work hard at figuring out ways to continue using substances even if that use could result in tragic consequences. A scheming mind fueled by drugs is formidable and difficult to deal with; a person under the influence of drugs, including marijuana, can be desperate indeed. And speaking of marijuana, when combined with alcohol it is possible for this so called innocent medicine to inspire delusions and cause symptoms looking much like catatonic schizophrenia. I shudder at the idea of legalizing the use of marijuana, particularly when justified as a way for the authorities to generate revenue.
Who is the real enemy?
Those who reach out to addicts must not be swayed by the reactions of the very ones who need help. Most efforts to help them will end in physical failure. Addicts commonly repeat the cycle of try and fail, over and over. But despite this physical defeat being common there is hope. In many cases you will never know of the success you started, to be realized many years later in som eother place. The real battle is not against flesh and blood but against the very forces of hell itself. And we must rely on the armor of God or we will be swept away. Christians who have the courage to reach out must not underestimate what they are up against. The addiction is but the symptom of sin and our role is to bring the light of Jesus to each person God sends to us.
Testing the call to love and forgive
Working with addicts is a long term project, with experience showing that steadfastness in love and prayer will often win out. Our call to forgive and love will be tested. While we are all unlovable or difficult at times, addicts epitomize this. God did not give up on us, and we are called to do the same.
Grounded in Scripture, with a human support system
Let me add a word of caution: The work of sharing the Gospel to addicts is best done by seasoned Christians, grounded in Scripture, with either a good understanding of the nature of chemical dependency or personal experiences. I have found Alcoholics Anonymous to be a good source of support for treating the addiction. But treating the real issue of sin in an addict requires love, prayer and experience. It will take strength to stand firm for Jesus when the time is presented. There will be much opposition. There is no knowing for sure when the time is ready, other than a certainty that Jesus will use all you do, including the mistakes, to call His chosen to Himself.
Do be sure to have your own support system in place for the times it seems so hopeless. Men should work with men, women should work with women. I cannot emphasize this last point enough. The raw emotions of the newly sober addict are no place for any confusion or temptation of our sexual instincts.
The Light versus the darkness
Let me end this short piece with a verse from the Gospel of John that so well applies to us all. Jesus said, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19-20). How true this was for me. I did not know that the love of God in Christ was waiting for me. My guilt and shame caused me to hide in the darkness, and the light of the Gospel scared me witless. Then the power of the Holy Spirit came my way through the witness of God’s people and overwhelmed the darkness. He made me able, by His grace, to rejoice in the light. Jesus is the light of the world.