An Addict, an Alcoholic, and the Codependent Walk Into a Bar

DpaELqpwYE-4  The unthinkable happened.  I, the good little church girl who grew up in the stereotypical Christian bubble with scarcely a non-religious friend, suddenly found myself enraptured by the compelling story of a young woman slightly older than myself sharing her testimony.  It was indeed a harrowing story of both triumph and defeat, the highs and lows of drug use and rehab, and the devastating effects not addressing issues sooner can have on one’s life.  The most intriguing thing of all being that I was completely spellbound, all the while taking mental notes, not only of this young woman’s maturity and resilience, but also of how much she indeed was teaching me.

Every day we come across such individuals.  It may be through a church service or a young adult’s group.  It might be on testimony night or while casually eating tacos.  It may be in the sanctuary or in the side hall.  These moments might take place while on the bus or bustling tables.  While driving with a passenger in your car or passively listening to the radio.  But whenever they happen, they cause us to pause, take note, and listen.

There is something beautifully freeing in the power of a story.  Stories capture our heart and engage our emotions in a way factual information never can.  I can tell you the physical repercussions of eating fast food daily, or I can let you watch “Supersize Me” and hear one man’s story for yourself.  I can tell you about the blackouts drinking can cause, or I can let a former drunk explain those moments for himself.  I can proof text Bible passages or I can tell you about the ways God has transformed my life, bringing me out of darkness and into light and joy beyond measure.  Our stories disclose in a general (and sometimes a more specific way) who we were, who we are now, and all we hope to become.  They encourage and inspire others that no matter how far down they have gone, there is a hand bringing them back up.  They remind us that our imperfections are exactly what makes each one of us so perfect.  And nothing is more profound that a story firmly rooted in Christ – a mess God has redeemed, a triumph He has reclaimed for Himself.

I think the power of a story is the exact reason that I highly encourage every Christian leader to attend at least one AA meeting in their life.  You don’t need to be a recovering alcoholic to understand the power of a good story and in fact, I believe everyone would benefit not just because of the compassion you gain for someone struggling with this disease, but also because it truly would make our church stronger.  To be individually welcomed by so many people, numbers given with a proviso to call anytime, books bought for complete strangers, and a certain rigorous candour, these are all the things that many churches miss out on.  Not to mention this knack for storytelling.  I had two professors at my seminary teach me two very different things.  The first one encouraged each of his students to go to an AA meeting and write a paper – an experience I will never forget.  The second mentioned that as a church becomes more vulnerable and intimate, the less welcoming to newcomers they become.  Why then, do you see newcomers at AA every single meeting, sharing their heart and soul with people they have scarcely made eye-contact with once?  What is it that AA is doing that many churches are not?  Why do blatant atheists become ardent believers in God (and at the very least agnostics) and yet daily we see so many people walking away from organized religion?  Once again, the answer lies in an atmosphere of honesty, transparency, vulnerability, and an attitude which suspends all judgement.

I have also become convinced over the past few months that everyone struggles with an addiction of some kind.  We often view the addict as the “town-drunk” or the “homeless pill-pusher” yet these stereotypes not only avail us nothing, but are detrimental to the well-being and recovery of anyone who truly suffers.  It can be difficult to get into the mind of an addict, and yet, each one of us struggles with something – an insane desire to be liked by everyone, a need to control the lives of others, a need to indulge in sugary sweet and fabulous fatty desserts on the whim, a penchant for binge watching a certain tv show, and (as anyone born after 1989 will attest) an unhealthy and unholy preoccupation with our phones and all things technological.  Think about it.  The average Canadian spends over 7 years using social media and other forms of electronics (not associated to their professional job life).  Many compulsively check Facebook or Twitter accounts several times a day.  Many are not able to unplug from their work emails even on their days off.  Marriages, families, and friendships suffer from a preoccupation which distracts the person from all that is present.  People have reported “feeling naked” when the phone’s been accidently left in the car.  Leaving cell phones on overnight has often resulted in several cases of sleep deprivation, sometimes with devastating effects.  Many have felt “phantom vibrations” in their pocket because their mind has trained them to think they will be receiving a text message every other moment.  And a few years back when many people took a challenge to delete Facebook for a 40 day fast, certain individuals began having shakes akin to someone coming off of hard drugs, and a few even sought professional help.  What I am getting at is that I don’t care if you’re addiction is shopping or smoking, these addictions can hit anyone.  Anything that is taking over your life and that has an unhealthy place or detracts from your real life relationships with your spouse, your children, and your friends is something that needs to be addressed.  We are not “holier than thou” just because we struggle with food and Facebook over narcotics or weed.

Yet even so, we all know that people will experience their addictions in various ways.  This may be for a variety of reasons: family upbringing, personal baggage, or even different personalities.  Whereas one person may be able to seemingly move through the recovery process quickly, others may be stuck in the same state for years.  Not everyone has to lose their home, their job, their marriage, or their finances, to be an addict.  Not everyone needs to start from ground zero, but everyone needs to realize that thing in their life that has become their God.  That has become their only comfort.  That thing which is perhaps not bad in and of itself, but has become a burden rather than a blessing.  That thing which drives others to notice them or that takes the edge off the pain of their past.

Once we are able to recognize our own shortcomings and failures, it is then that we are able to begin ministering to the person in our congregation or in our family who we see going down a bad path and whose addiction we see having potential to destroy their life and career (if it has not already done so).  Here are the steps I would highly recommend you take:

#1: Never Judge.  So many people assume that a person can just stop using, drinking, or accessing porn.  However, if someone truly has an addiction, they must make this call for themselves.  It is not enough for a spouse, parent, child, or friend to point out a flaw.  If the person cannot own this stronghold, there will be no healing present.  The best thing you can do in the process is not to helplessly watch your loved one deteriorate, but to speak truth and life into the person’s situation.

#2: Love Unconditionally.  Sometimes the most loving thing you can say to your congregant or family member is simply this: “I love you, and it is because of my love for you that I am creating and putting up these boundaries until you can get help.  I will still stand by you and support you through it all.  I’m not going anywhere.  But I need you to do this, not for me, but for yourself.” The number one way to recover from any addiction is to have mentorship and accountability.  Without that, you’re as good as dead.  But with resolve and a cheerleading squad behind you, the past can be put in the past.  Each day is a new one forward.  Don’t bring up the addict’s past.  Embrace their future and all the possibilities that holds.  Take it one day at a time.  Any improvement (however small) is still an improvement.  It is important to note those little victories.

#3: Dismember the Trite Pleasantries. We’ve all heard those infamous sayings: “just pull up your bootstraps”, “just try harder,” “if you really want to quit, you’d just find the will power and resolve to do it.”  The truth is that someone who is seriously struggling with an addiction often cannot find solace in these phrases.  What’s important here is to allow a story to be told, and to hold it gently.  Get into the mindset yourself.  Think about the most difficult thing you find motivation to do even if you know you should.  I know that I should exercise more and eat healthier.  I’ve seen a doctor and a dietician and both told me the same thing.  But I don’t always feel that way.  I sometimes crave that double hamburger or that delectable double chip ice cream.  I give in even though I’ve been told that if I keep it up, I’ll continue to gain weight and get acne.  Again, this is an extreme example, but I think you can see where I’m going with this.  I can’t expect my congregant to go a week without a drink, when I’m knocking back a bag of potato chips every day.

The most important thing I have learned as I’ve begun opening myself up to the possibility of having friends who have addictions or mental health issues is this: people are people.  It can be so easy in our society to label someone or to make assumptions because of someone’s lack or poor judgement.  However, each one of us makes bad decisions on a daily basis.  We choose that Frappuccino over that piece of fruit or we buy that extra dress we really don’t need rather than giving the money as a donation.  We all act compulsively from time to time, get angry, make accusations against others or ourselves, and find forgiveness hard.  And yet, when it really comes down to it, we aren’t all that different after all.  As I’ve interacted with former rough sleepers, I’ve learned that deep down we all have that innate desire for friendship and love.  We all like to be wanted, needed, cherished, and accepted.  Some of us have had it easier than others.  Some of us had stable families and the support system we needed early on which enabled us to stay away from a lifetime of hardship (and if so, thank God for that!).  But others of us have had to struggle to find a way and blaze a path and God has used those stories and redeemed them for the benefit and saving of many people.  In the end of the day, one is not better or worse.  As long as we recognize the need for our own resilience and walk in the freedom and power of righteousness, we will blaze a path that others will dare to follow.  We will share a story that others will desire to step into.  And we will transform our trials from tests into testimonies.

Why You are So Much More Than Those 3 Little Letters (Finding Contentment as a Ms. Not a Mrs.)

48db8e86db9259a105274034599e119a_400x400 I’m still replaying that scene in my mind even though it happened nearly three weeks ago.  I was taking a class at my Alma Matter, Tyndale Seminary, and had just come back to the classroom after having a leisurely lunch outside.  People were socializing as they often do when you re-emerge from your break, and as I took my notebook out getting into the zone, I wasn’t even really aware of where the conversation was headed.  Then it happened.  Seemingly out of nowhere, one my classmates mentioned that she had written an article with a readership of over 5 million.  This peaked my interest.  I have been a blogger now for about 5 years and I’ve had articles published in a few magazines, but I don’t think I’ve ever even had a readership of 5,000 let alone 5 million.   Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in.  5 million – more than the entire city of Toronto, roughly the entire country of Scotland, reading one person’s work. So what was this girl’s topic and why did everyone feel like reading it?  The answer becomes apparent when you read the title “26, Unmarried, and Childless.”.  I was immediately struck by two things:

#1: This is such a stereotypical Christian girl thing to say.   You’ve heard of #whitegirlproblems?  Well this is #christiangirlproblems.

#2: I am exactly in the same boat as Amanda was when she first published this article.  For I, too, am 26 years old, unmarried, and childless.  And no, there are no potentials.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize how much romantic and sexual relationships permeate our culture.  In a recent lecture by Brett Ullman about youth culture, Ullman stated that one does not need access to the internet in order to purposefully view pornography.  In fact, anyone who listens to the Top 40 in their car is being exposed to pornographic images multiple times a day.  It doesn’t take long to really let the words sink into your soul.  Top songs feature lyrics such as Ed Sheeran’s “I’m in love with your body” or the Chainsmokers “Something Just Like This” that suggest one doesn’t need a superhero but just “something I can turn to, somebody I can kiss.”  Unfortunately, while the world has a “live for today” mentality where nothing is off limits, Christians are expected to be asexual until marriage and because that is nearly impossible for the majority of people, it is recommended that they get married by age 21 to avoid pitfalls and numerous temptations. This means that if you’re 26, unmarried, and childless something must be drastically wrong.  You must have some trauma you’re still trying to work through, you must be some sexually frustrated woman, or you must be called to a lifetime of celibacy and you just need to accept that fact and live a contented life.

All of these statements are complete and utter rubbish, but unfortunately, they are the lies the church spreads and seemingly that many young women buy into.  There is so much focus on “prepping for marriage” with ideas given that if you are still single, there must be a hint of immaturity about you, that it drives many women to desperation and entering into relationships which are not God-ordained let alone healthy, healing, and satisfying.  Many women are told that they have to “settle” and not be “so picky” and as a result they may end up with a man who is not a capable leader, a strong husband, or even a believer.  Truly, it is not so much about the man having it “all together” before marriage, but a woman must seek out someone who at least has the potential and drive to stick with her through life’s many difficulties, seasons, and storms.  A man who is selfish and self-promoting often ends up getting his bride stuck when she should be soaring.

What I am trying to encourage you in today is to see yourself as truly so much more than MRS – those three letters that seem to carry so much weight and add so much unhappiness to many a single woman’s life. Instead of viewing yourself as incomplete or accepting the false identity the Enemy wants to place in you, please remember these three things if you suddenly find yourself 26, unmarried, and childless:

#1:  Being Content in Your Circumstance Doesn’t Mean You Have to “Like It”

So many young women will make a life-altering decision simply on their emotional and physical state today.  You may not be married yet, that doesn’t mean it will never happen.  You may not have met Prince Charming yet, that doesn’t mean you never will.  I love Converge Magazine.  I think they have a lot of interesting and inspiring articles that relate well to my generation.  However, my one annoyance with them is that they waste way too much time talking about the “Problem” of singleness.   Toting happy single girls as heroes or else advising that unhappy single girls should be (usually those articles are written by a 21 year old who was married at 18).  The truth is, you neither have to be happy nor unhappy about your marital status.  It is true that as far back as Genesis we have been told that it is “not good for a [wo]man to live alone.” It is also true that throughout Scripture God uses the imagery of the Bride of Christ to help explain the high level of intimacy He wants to achieve with all of us.  However, it is also true that God has used single women throughout history to do wonderful things for His Kingdom that would have been impossible if they had been tied down to a husband and a family.  Think of the Prophetess Anna who was married only 7 short years and then a widow for 84.  As far as we know, Anna never sought matrimony again.  Perhaps there were things she missed about this lifestyle – an early morning kiss, a soft caress at the end of the evening, even a “hey honey, how are you?” as her grubby husband came off the corn field sweating.  However, she had found something of much more immeasurable worth – spending time in the temple day and night, serving, and teaching others about God.

Ask yourself: who are the women in your life who are single and loving it?  Do you have single friends who are your age and content?  What makes them happy even though they don’t have a life partner?  Do you know any older women who have never been married or who are widowed?  How has God used them and how might He use you?

#2: You Don’t Have to Settle For Less

I have a confession to make.  I just did a stereotypical Christian girl move.  I walked into a Christian bookstore, noticed they were saving a sale, and came out with three books on singleness.  Whether it’s a subconscious decision to try to change my state or if I was just looking for reassurance and validation, I don’t know.  All I know is this: reading tons of books, trying to improve yourself or change your style or personality – none of that is going to bring the man you want into your life a minute sooner than God’s ordained timing and plan.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to better yourself.  I believe self-improvement is a constant process everyone should be engaged in regardless of their life stage, but it is a reminder that doing something out of desperation and duty will never bring the delight you’d like to see take root in your life.

This is something that so many girls just don’t get.  They will do all sorts of things they feel uncomfortable with just because they have been told that they are “less than” if they don’t have a partner.  Girls will go out on set-up dates with guys they would never give a second glance to because they feel their social status will go up if they are with someone.  Girls sometimes will even change their thinking and mentality just so that a man might pay notice to them.  Honey, if a man can’t accept you the way you are – the way God made you to be, quirks and all, he isn’t the right man for you.  You need to date someone because you see the intrinsic value in them and they in you – not because you are trying to earn that value.

If a man asks you out on a date, you don’t have to say yes just because you are single.  You say yes because you WANT to.  As my wise aunt always told me growing up, “It’s better to be single for the rest of your life than with a man who doesn’t treat you right.”

#3: Remember That Whoever You Surround Yourself With Will Rub Off On You

Since coming back from Scotland the one thing I have found frustrating is the Canadian mentality on dating and singleness.  In Scotland I had many single friends who were over ten years older than me and content.  They were content because they had learned that their value and worth doesn’t derive from any man, but from who Christ has made them to be.  They were content because they had learned that there are many benefits to the single life and that all we need to do is seize the day and make the most of those opportunities.  Rarely have I found a woman who WANTS to spend her life as a single (more power to you if you are that woman), but they found a peace in living in the here and now.

Now in Canada I find that all my friends are either married, engaged, in a serious relationship, or completely despondent and distressed in their singlehood.  Come to think of it, I would have a hard time pinning down one friend who is truly enjoying this season in her life.  I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that we covet what we can’t have and crave what we were not made to have at this particular time.

If you are a single person, I urge you to spend your time with people who truly build you up.  If you are finding singleness to be a burden, consider deleting your Facebook for a time.  If Instagram posts are causing you to be jealous or apprehensive about other people’s marriages or kids, delete it.  If you find yourself wasting endless hours on Pinterest creating a perfect wedding even though you don’t have a perfect groom, get rid of it.  Likewise, you want to find a healthy mix between married people you can look up to and single friends you can chum with.  The truth is that married people and single people have different priorities.  This is not bad or good, but it is just the way things happen.  Even the Apostle Paul himself taught us that a married person’s primary responsibility is to their spouse – how to make them happy or care for them, whereas a single person can enjoy a wider range of ministry and serving possibilities and further the Kingdom that way.  Yet whether we are married or single, we should always keep in mind that the ultimate goal of any Christian is to please the Lord regardless of state or circumstance.

When I think back to that day sitting in that Tyndale classroom after lunch and hearing that my peer had written an article with a readership of over 5 million people I give thanks that God used her even despite a circumstance she may not have chosen for herself.  I pray, too, that God may also use you in your singleness or even in your marriage to reach other people for His Name’s sake and for His glory.  Don’t rush from relationship to relationship fluttering around like an aimless butterfly.  Instead pursue godly relationships that are ripe with purpose and potential, ones that esteem your worth and help you to value and treasure the inherent goodness and grace of your partner.  It’s only when we learn to romance the King and make Him our first priority, that He will introduce us to our Prince who truly sees us as his princess and leads with gentleness, chivalry, and respect.