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For Part III, click here.
Addictions affect far more people than we realize. In the last 10 years, I have discovered so many types of addictive behavior affecting fellow Christians and others I come in contact with through criminal law that I wanted to make what I’ve learned available to help others care for people with addictions. We often miss the signs of addiction because many addictions don’t look like what we stereotypically think of as the behavior of “an addict.” Many people hide their addictions very well, and seem to function normally most of the time.
If you’re trying to help someone break out of a ‘bad habit’ or sinful pattern in life that is really an addiction, you can end up spinning your wheels and going nowhere if you aren’t prepared with an understanding of the mental maze that addicts live in. Addiction is a complex interplay of selfishness, shame, pride, denial, guilt, and fear. Most addicts actively work to conceal their addictive behavior. I have learned the hard way how easy it is to miss what's going on under the surface, and what it takes to get an addiction out in the open.
I posted Part I of this discussion last week, where I summarized what makes something an addiction, the risk-taking behavior that reveals someone has an addiction, and how addictions compare to idolatry. I also gave a breakdown of why people turn to addictive behavior, with a list of critical things to be aware of when trying to help someone with an addiction. Part II covers below why addicted people lie and conceal their behavior, why it takes so much careful work to get them to cooperate with their own healing, and the combination of pride and shame that trap people in addiction. Finally, in Part III I will give a detailed list of ways to recognize patterns of deception and concealment that addicts commonly use to keep their addiction secret or to resist help and accountability, and how to counter them.
There is enormously helpful biblical teaching on this subject from groups like CCEF. Although I am trying to give you the main insights and tips from 10 years of law practice dealing with addicted clients and addicted people in the church, I don’t have a counseling degree and I’m not a professional counselor. In many cases, your primary goal should be to get the help of a certified counselor, while using the type of information I have put together to support your friend and keep him or her accountable. Several quotes below are from Ed Welch, a CCEF counselor, and I encourage you to chase down more of his resources at CCEF.
Part of the problem is that addicts usually think they have things under control. They think their indulgence and vice is something they just choose to do, just something they use to take the edge off and relieve stress. You've heard the classic self-deception: "I can quit any time I want to." This is usually what they really believe - they never put it to the test because they don't want to quit. They want to keep using this to dull pain or relieve tension. So the first person an addict is lying to is herself. Ed Welch says: "All addicts lie. As idolaters they forge an alliance with the anti-god and his crumbling empire, and lying is one expression of this alliance. ... For addicts, this deception is not only what they speak, it is also what they believe. They also have been lied to and believe those lies—lies from family, friends and Satan himself."
However, the deeper the addiction goes, the more lying becomes a means of self-preservation and a regular habit. Pride causes the addicted person to resist all efforts to question or intervene in the addictive behavior, and shame makes the person unwilling to confide in others or allow anyone to see how ugly the situation really has become.
"cultivating and encouraging humility is crucial for helping someone overcome an addiction."
3. Killing Shame with Humility, Encouragement, and the Love of Christ
As Ed Welch points out, we are reassured in our identity by the fact that Jesus reaches out to people regardless of what other people think. The Lord went out of His way to touch those others considered untouchable:
"So, if we are to help, we watch the life of Jesus. He was born into shame and his people are outcasts. Watch him eat with the shamed and touch the shamed. Watch him identify with them so they can identify by faith with him. At every point, we expect Jesus to turn away and not be sullied by the shamed. Instead, he always invites, always surprises, and offers a connection to himself in which we are given cleansing, covering and belonging. As we follow the story, our roles begin to change. No longer is there an addict and a helper. Now we are two people who are seeing beautiful realities that will take the rest of our lives to understand. " (Welch)You can't get too shameful for Jesus. His power to cover over sins cannot be exhausted. Belonging to Him cancels out all human opinions about your worth. The addicted person can be comforted and encouraged that he is precious in God's sight, fully accepted as a child of God because of what Jesus has done. And Jesus does not just accept us, but transforms us and cleanses us as well. He gives us a new life, redeemed from sin. This is the best possible news for someone struggling under the shame of addiction. Jesus can make all things new. In Christ, your life is never a lost cause.