Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Roller Coaster

Working with addicts is hard, it is physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Probably the hardest part of working with addicts is riding the roller coaster of the recovery/relapse cycle. Over the years of working on the streets, I have seen it time and again. An addict will come to the point where they recognize the emptiness and futility of their addiction and commit to getting clean. Often, they will even go into a sober living program, or attend recovery meetings. For a time at least, they seem to gain traction, counted sober days turn from days to months. But then, like clockwork, old triggers pop up, old influences begin to creep back in, and the addict slowly is drawn back into their addiction.
In some cases, these cycles are progressive, they seem to be moving toward larger numbers of sober days or months each time with shorter periods of addiction between. In other cases, it looks like one big downward spiral with the addiction winning more and more frequently and the periods of recovery actually shrinking. Each time another addict gets clean and starts the sobriety countdown once again, my mind immediately begins to weigh the odds of their relapsing and pondering just how long it will take for them to relapse this time. Always hoping that this will be the time that their recovery actually sticks and yet in the back of my mind also knowing that the odds are not in their favor. As I was discussing this cycle with a friend of mine, the question of why came up. Why once you have realized just how destructive this addiction is to your life, would you ever go back there? What is the draw that causes an otherwise logical person to make the unbelievably bad decision of returning to the addiction that is quite literally destroying them? Even more incredibly, many of these relapsers are people who have found faith in Jesus and have tasted of the life reconnected to God that He promised. How is it possible, then, to ever again buy into the lies that there is life to be had in drugs, alcohol, sex, religion, or any other counterfeit source of life.

As I thought about these questions, I began to look at my own life and ask what are the things that cause me to move from trusting God to doubting him and seeking life through my own means? In almost every case, it came down to an issue of trusting God as my source of life, especially when things in my life are not going the way I think they should. I have come to have certain expectations of what life as a Christian should look like, and when those expectations are not met, I find myself going back to the things that I found at least some measure of fulfillment in before I was a believer. Even though I know in my head that these things do not bring real fulfilled life, I still go there, at least in part because I know the result I can get from them, and that gives me the illusion of being in control.

So it is, I believe, with so many of our friends who are struggling with addiction. , They realize that their addiction is only a temporary filling, and in many cases, even find the true source of life in Jesus Christ. In the beginning at least, they experience genuine life connected to God and are able to live without their addictions. But then, the difficulties of life rise up once again and they are left questioning whether or not God really does give them everything they need in life. Finally, when they feel like they have completely lost control of their life, they grasp for the control that they know is available in their addiction, and the cycle begins all over again.

So what do I take away from all of this? I guess, the first thing that I take away from these thoughts is that when I realize that my own grasping for control and life in things other than Jesus is not so much different than what the addict is doing, even if it is more socially acceptable, it is not so hard to believe that someone could return to a counterfeit source of life after all. Second, when I am talking with my addict friends, I spend some time trying to identify the unmet and often unrealistic expectations that have caused them to feel like they had to try to take control of their lives through their addictions. And mostly, I realize that while I don’t look for life in a needle, bottle or pill, I still struggle to trust that God is the true source of life and to completely let go of control of my own life. Maybe in the end, the struggle we see so radically defined in the life of the addict is the cycle of trust and control that we all struggle with and that plays out in each of our lives as we try to reconcile life in a world tainted by not rightness with our own expectations.



This post was originally published on 04/27/2015 at Revealministry.org as part of a series about shining light in dark places.

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