Dry Drunks

Dry Drunks November 19, 2019

By Mike Glenn

Over the course of my ministry, I’ve had a lot of training in dealing addictions, and as a minister in a local church, I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with families impacted by addiction. Most of the time, the behavior has been known by the addict and the family for some time. There have been the usual lies, broken promises, second chances and trips to rehab. There have been trips to counselors and doctors, experts of every kind, but nothing really helps.

The family will say, “If we can just stop them from drinking, our lives would be fine”. That’s not true, but that’s what everyone thinks.

And on rare occasions, the alcoholic will stop drinking. They won’t go to AA meetings or rehab. They won’t see a counselor, but they will stop drinking.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a term for people like this. They’re called “dry drunks”. Being a dry drunk means the addict hasn’t dealt with any of the underlying issues that caused the addiction in the first place. For most addicts, there is a traumatic experience, a source of pain or some kind of hole in their heart they are trying to self-medicate with their drug of choice.

Because the addict doesn’t deal with the source of their pain, they don’t get better as people. They may not be drinking or using, but they are still reacting out of their pain. They’re angry. They’re bitter and hateful to their friends and families. Sometimes it gets so bad the family secretly wishes their addict would start using again.

A friend of mine is a therapist, and he often reminds me that most people don’t want to get well. They simply want to feel better. People will make an appointment with him and work through the initial pain of the issue that brought them into his office.  Once the immediate crisis is over, once the threat is pushed back to give the person actual room to work, they stop coming.

Why? Why do so many people not find the time or the courage to deal with real sources of their pain? Why don’t they do the soul work to find healing in the places where they were wounded, abandoned, betrayed or still bleeding from some self-inflicted wound?

Because soul work is too hard. It’s hard to sit down and think about when you were hurt and what was going on with the person who hurt you. It’s too hard to look back on a bad decision that’s still impacting our lives to get to a place of acceptance and forgiveness. As my friend says, we don’t want to get to well. We just want to feel better.

I think most people in most congregations are dry drunks. Here’s what I mean by that. Most people come to Jesus in some kind of crisis. Something is going wrong in their lives and they cry out to Jesus, and Jesus in His mercy saves them. They aren’t struck by lightning. Demons do not pull them away into the darkness.

The crisis is averted. Things get better. Things aren’t healed, but they are better.

Now, feeling better, the person stops right there. They have met Jesus, but they don’t follow Jesus. They may be born again, but they don’t grow again. They’re stuck right where Jesus found them. The wounds, left untended, fester into bitterness. Their anger slowly stews into bigotry and self-righteousness. They delight in pointing out the failures of others and seem determined to make sure everyone is as miserable as they are.

Do you know this person? Sure, you do. They’re in every one of our churches. Who are they? They are the people who, for whatever reason, were afraid to do the hard soul work required to find true healing and a new passion for a new future in Christ.

It’s a normal response. When something bad happens, we want to get away from it. We don’t want to talk about it and we certainly don’t want anyone else to know what happened. So, we stuff it. We push in deep within the dark places of our soul. We believe if we don’t think about it, the past that haunts us will just evaporate and go away.

It doesn’t. Anger, hurt, resentment – these things fester in darkness like bacteria and infect our souls with a cancer that destroys not only our own lives, but all who we would love and who would love us. This infection poisons everything.

The alternative road to soul health is more difficult. It means “walking through the valley”. You have to go back to that moment, talk about what happened and process every aspect of the event. You can’t skip over any detail. From there, you have to figure out what part of the blame is yours (not all of the guilt belongs to you). Then, forgive who needs to be forgiven (and yes, we forgive those who have wounded us even with they don’t ask for it)…then, we can finally take the necessary steps to move on.

Of course, what I’ve described is a very simplified explanation of the process required to find true healing in our souls. The grace of Christ works in the depths of souls, bringing issues to the surface so we can deal with them in the confidence of Christ’s love for us and the confidence in His purposes for our lives.

Christ desires more for us. His dream for us is more than we will stop hurting, but that we’ll be healed and whole, able to respond to any call He has for our lives.

Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it’s hard. But here’s what I’ve found out. In doing this deep soul work, you get to know Christ in a way you never would have without the journey.

And that alone is worth it. His presence alone is healing enough.






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