My family, like most families of an alcoholic and or an addict, love me and hate my addiction. Often it is hard to separate the two. Families do not know what to do. They do not have enough information. They are accused of being “enablers.” Or they are accused of not loving the addict enough. How do we keep a balance? For the ones who love the addict, it feels like punishing the addiction will destroy the person.
Delivering the Addict
I managed to survive the era of “tough love.” Parents were told by mental health professionals that they must punish the addicted child in order to stop the behavior. Church leaders scrambled for every “spare the rod and spoil the child” type of text to justify this action. “Let such a one be to you as a gentile or tax collector,” Jesus said as though the savior had that specific behavior in mind. Tough love became an excuse for brutal and abusive behavior. Parents who did not like something about their kids applied “tough love” to every perceive sin.
The approach of ministries that intend to deliver and addict from the “demon” of addiction is the same. Every video I ever saw of a supposed exorcism, was of a person being tortured and abused by someone claiming the power to help. They remind me of the statement in Luke about the woman “who suffered much at the hand of many physicians.” Avoid every deliverance ministry. Call it out for what it is.
Is Love Enough?
The story of Lois Wilson, the wife of Bill Wilson, a founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, got the title When Love Is Not Enough. Her marriage had a lot of issues surrounding her husband’s alcoholism. The story is similar to many who love an addict. But the real question is, “what do we mean by love?” It is this question with which every Christian ethicist wrestles. Defining love as a verb is not as easy as defining it like a noun. C.S. Lewis popularized the phrase “the four loves” to define the differences in the quality of relationships. These are definitions of love as a noun. A verb is a word of action. What does one do as love?
Chef Gordon Ramsey tells of sending his brother to rehab for addiction treatment numerous times. He says he will continue getting his brother help as long as he lives. That is love as a verb. So here is my breakdown of love as a verb. I love. You love. They love. The only difference is who is loving. When it comes to an addict, all we can do and everything we can do is love the person. There is no room for hate.
Hating the addiction is a problem. Addiction is one attribute of the addict. When people with substance use disorders uses their drug of choice, the drug is not the problem. It makes no sense to hate the substance. Likewise, it makes no sense to hate the disorder. Doctors do not treat cancer because they hate it. Addiction should not be treated as though it is hateful either.
Fixing the Addict
Addiction is not loved either. Loved one’s of an addicted person are baffled by this situation. It is important to note the person with the addiction is even more baffled by it. The confusion is about what to do. How do we love people in active addiction? How do we love people? The primary mistake is the desire to fix people. We are beginning to learn this idea does not work. But most people have yet to understand it.
The addict may want to be fixed. In other words, there is a desire to act or become normal. The family may see this as the goal too. Unfortunately, too many religious leaders think that is the goal. It is not. Addicted people need other people who struggle like they do. They cannot afford to play act as though they are normal. Pretending to be something you are not is the way of death. Deliverance ministries make a false and deadly promise. But true recovery programs and therapies seek to help an addict become a new individual. Fortunately, some families have a few members who do not seek to have the person before addiction back. That person will never return.
Finding A New Person
Consider for a moment how an anticipated child is brought into the world. Wise people know plans for who that person will be is a pipedream. But greeting the new person by loving them in who they should be is the approach we should take. Attempts to keep them as infants or make them into someone the parent wants them to be fail that person. Recovering addicts are different only in the sense that they must come to terms with who they have been before recovery. The person in recovery should be loved into what they will become with the recovery. They are encouraged to let go of the old ways and person. The first manifestation is into a new approach to living. Perhaps it is an approach that should have been taken beforehand. But it is likely a way that could not have been taken.
Love the person in front of you. Help how you can. Get help to know how you should. Do not attempt to fix them. Do not attempt to control their behavior. Love them while they live. If they do not live, love them for themselves anyway.