Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Addiction: How to Help Each Other (Part III) – Getting Past Secrecy and Concealment, and Building Trust

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6:1

I’ve taken three posts to lay out what I’ve learned about the psychology and entrapment of addiction, in the hope that this will help others understand the thinking and temptations that drive the addictions of people they love

Part I tackled what addictions looks like and how they compare to idolatry, and listed a number of reasons people get trapped in addictions and why they fear discovery and accountability.

Part II covers why addicted people lie and conceal their behavior, and the combination of pride and shame that trap people in addiction.

Part III is a blow-by-blow examination of what concealment and evasion by addicted people looks like, and how to get beyond it and walk with a person through recovery. This post is the longest because I've gone all out to give a playbook for helping a person through recovery. Not all sin is an addiction in the way I’ve described it, but there are many sins that can’t be overcome without understanding the patterns of addiction. If you are trying to help a friend break out of adultery, or alcohol or drug abuse, or pornography, or gambling, or anything else that has taken over their lives, you need to watch out for the patterns below.

Image: valiantrecovery.ca
Not everyone will act like this, because some people who struggle with the things above are not yet controlled by them. So I do not want to mislead anyone into thinking every single person who struggles with these vices and sins is exactly the same. Some people may not be this imprisoned yet, and you may be able to help them work through their repeated abuse of something with cooperation and honesty. But you need to be aware of these patterns of concealment, because the biggest problem in helping many addicted people is that those with severe addictions are very good at making people think they only have a small problem.

I have tried to cover the most common patterns of deception and concealment that addicts use to keep their addiction secret or to resist help and accountability, and how to counter them. This post is uncomfortable to write, because it feels very judgmental. There simply isn’t any polite way to say that your friend with an addiction is going to lie and deceive you. If you suspect a friend has an addiction, and you want to help them, you are going to have to prepare yourself for this fact.

Bracing Yourself to Confront a Friend

Addiction warps our thinking and desires because we have become completely dependent on satisfying the need for whatever we have as an addiction. It changes your personality. A very good picture is the transformation of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. In spite of the gentlest and most sincere motives and character, Frodo begins to be changed by possessing the One Ring. The Ring has such a powerful attraction for whoever holds it that it becomes the dominant thing in their minds. Frodo changes into a person who distrusts everyone around him, even his perfectly faithful friend Sam. He becomes suspicious that others are trying to take the Ring, and he reacts angrily or defensively if anyone suggests parting him from the Ring. His motives and attitude are reshaped around the single goal of protecting his possession of the Ring.

Image: http://coeurdalenecounseling.com/
This is a glimpse under the surface of addiction. Most people you know who have an addiction will not visibly react the way Frodo did. They usually try at all costs to project an image of being in control and of being normal. But what has happened to their thinking and their personality is very much the same. An addicted person will see anyone who interferes with their addiction as someone to be manipulated. They will be increasingly willing to lie to that person, and to treat them as a person to “work around” instead of a trusted friend or spouse or family member. It is horrendously painful for a spouse or close friend to discover that the addicted person they love is sneaking around behind their back and concealing their behavior. But the addicted person learns a pattern of concealment in order to prevent anyone from hindering their ability to satisfy their need.

So as difficult as it is to examine and test the person you love to see if they are being honest, you have to take courage and do it if you suspect an addiction. They are not going to help you find out what’s going on. The only way to free them is to get past the deception so you know what’s really going on. And they really need your help. So be encouraged that what you are doing is a work of mercy, and a service of love that God encourages: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)

1. Common Concealment Patterns:

These are some examples of how people with addictions keep them hidden (which also tells you what to watch out for). In the next part I’ll describe ways to detect and overcome these things. Not every addicted person will show all these behaviors, and of course many people use some of these tactics even without an addiction. But you can expect a combination of these from a person with a serious addiction. So look for multiple examples together that form a pattern.
  • Not volunteering information on what they have been doing, and being vague if asked.
  • Only giving partial answers - for example, after being at a bar, saying: "I was just out getting something to eat."
  • Asking friends to cover for them to meet responsibilities - often without explaining why. Taking time away from work or other responsibilities and having someone else cover for them is a way to sneak in their addiction while keeping it hidden from family.
  • Not answering the phone or the door, because it might give away what they've been doing.
  • Not showing up to things they previously said they would do, and giving odd excuses afterwards.
  • Starting new patterns in how they use their time that allow them extra gaps on their own - heading to the gym every morning or taking a class in the evenings, which allows for unaccounted time away from people who might be suspicious.
  • Telling different stories to different people so that no one can see the whole picture of this person's life.
  • Compartmentalizing and friend-shopping: addicted persons will often withdraw from people who begin to show suspicions of the addiction, and seek out new friends or a closer relationship with previous acquaintances so they can start fresh with someone unaware of what's going on. This cycle may continue each time people start to guess the truth.
  • Co-opting allies: similar to friend-shopping, they may look for people to be "on their side" and manipulate the relationship so this person believes their story and will vouch for them. For instance, arranging an accountability partner who is ignorant of what's going on, and then convincing this person their accountability sessions are really solid and transparent. Then when questioned by others, they can say: "Talk to my accountability partner. He'll tell you it's going great."
  • Hiding charges and costs for the addiction by taking out cash instead of using credit cards.
  • Deleting things that would give them away: e-mails, social media accounts, files on computers, credit card statements, etc.
  • Sneaking money from work, family, or other people whose accounts they have access to in order to feed the need they can no longer afford.
  • The "small" confession: admitting to something bad, but much less than what they are hiding, and acting out an apology. They often learn that they can throw people off the scent by making them think they got to the bottom of it, and by humbly apologizing.
  • Minimizing: insisting that whatever they did was just a little bit. For instance, in my experience, almost everyone who has abused alcohol will say they only had 1 or 2. It's nearly universal. You can expect an addict to make their behavior seem as small as possible, only admitting what they think they cannot possibly evade.
  • Selective memory: in the process of self-justification, you’ll often hear things like “It was just that one time” even when it was actually three or four. Addicted people tend to “forget” or gloss over all the examples of their addiction being out of control, and try to pick just one or two to explain away. You’ll often have to remind them how many times it really happened.
  • Using emotions to deflect and evade discussion of suspicions: getting angry when questioned, or falling apart and saying "I can't take this right now!"
  • The play for sympathy: when questioned, coming up with something else really heavy or painful that is happening to them and making the conversation all about this difficult thing they're going through.
  • In general, simply controlling conversations by steering them to something away from their addictive behavior. There's always something else more important to talk about.
  • Hiding the tools of their addiction where they can access them in secret.
  • "I'm cured." - when push comes to shove, an addicted person may go through a process of agreeing they have a problem, swearing they will stop/get help, and then saying they are finished with the addiction... then resuming it in secret, while continuing to say they are staying clean.

2. Uncovering the Secrets and Creating Openness and Honesty

A. Figuring Out What's Going On

Helping an addicted person is a team effort. If you try to do the things I've described in this post by yourself, you can easily burn out. Trying to keep up regularly with someone who is not very eager to be accountable, and who needs constant accountability, is exhausting and discouraging. So get all the help you can.

Image: www.helpguide.org
You also need help because detecting and uncovering a pattern of concealment often requires comparing notes with other people in a person's life. You need to be willing to talk to others and express your concerns without allowing yourself to feel like you're betraying your friend. Be selective about who you enlist to help, but make sure you have a complete picture of your friend's life and time. You need their spouse and family to be involved if possible.

Since a person in addiction will do their best to convince you everything is fine, you have to be able to account for what's going on when you're not around. You need to be able to confront them about what they're doing so that they can't talk their way out of it. Building up all this information may feel a lot like you're being self-righteous or judging them, but keep in mind that you're not doing this because you're smarter or more righteous than them: you're doing this because they are blinded by their addiction, and you are still able to see straight. They can't do it without your help.

If you're recognizing some of the behaviors listed above in your friend, that may be enough to confront him or her and challenge them about what's going on. The difficulty is having enough evidence of a pattern of behavior that he or she can't talk their way out of it. Otherwise the conversation goes nowhere. Here are some other things to do:
  • Don't accept questionable excuses. If you think something's going on, then when your friend gives an explanation that isn't believable, call them out on it. Look them in the eye and say: "Tell me what's going on."
  • Make it clear you won't accept anything less than the full story. Keep pressing for it as long as you suspect they are holding out on you.
  • When you compare notes with others, trust them. For instance, if your friend's wife tells you he was out all night and wouldn't say where he was, then when you get to talk to him, don't accept any contradictions from him or let him dismiss what she said. Stick firmly to the facts you've been given.
  • Make it clear to the person that you care about them and you can be trusted, but that you can't be manipulated or controlled. Let them see that although you're steadfast in your support for them, you aren't going to let them talk you out of what needs to be done or let them mislead you.
  • Take control of conversations if there's an elephant in the room. Don't let your friend change the subject when there are questions in the air about what's going on in his or her life. Steer back to it and insist on talking it through all the way. The more they try to change the subject, the more reason you have to think something's being concealed.
  • Stick to your guns. Be firm in your understanding of facts and your memory of what's been happening. An addicted person will often resort to telling you that you're remembering it wrong or that you misunderstood something. Be careful you had your facts straight going in, but once you do, don't hesitate about them. Stand firm.
  • Seize moments where things are at a crisis. If you strongly suspect an addiction, then when someone has just lost a job, or had a spouse leave or kick them out, or been arrested, or otherwise accused by a friend of something, this is the time to have a straight talk with them and ask what is really behind this. When the evidence that their addiction is wrecking their life is right in front of them, they are more likely to confess it to a friend and seek sympathy.
  • Pin the addicted person down to talking about their addict behavior and the problems it has created. When they try to explain something away that is clearly wrong, press them on it and challenge them on why they aren't admitting that was a problem. This is part of getting them to admit they are addicted and need help. Admitting the symptoms of the problem is one step toward admitting there is a problem.
  • Fact-check: as much as possible, try to independently verify what they tell you. Don't take anything for granted. If they tell you a story their spouse or family would know about, check the facts with the spouse or family to see if they told you the truth. This is crucial, because if you catch your friend lying to you, that gives you something to confront them about even if you don't know for certain what is going on with their addiction. It gives you a valid reason to ask them why they're acting like this.
  • Don't be self-conscious about telling them you know something's wrong. Even if you can't prove it or spell it out, if it's clear that they've changed and things aren't right, confront them about that. Stand your ground and press them on why things have changed. You don't necessarily have to know what's going on in order to know something's wrong, and they can only make excuses for so long before they realize you aren't going to buy any of them.
  • Don't accept being avoided. If they start withdrawing from you or avoiding you when you make your suspicions clear, find ways to pursue meeting with them and talking to them. Coordinate with other friends and family if necessary.
  • Don't apologize for trusting your gut. 
  • If you become convinced that an actual intervention is necessary, where friends and family confront the person together, get advice from a counselor, doctor, pastor, or someone else trained to deal with addiction and plan it carefully.

Once you have your friend's agreement that they need accountability, it has to be a ground rule that you have total permission to ask them anything and to ask anyone else close to them about anything. You know your friend is serious about accepting help and fighting the addiction when they will agree to this. If they don't, you need to get them to that point by showing them that you can't help them if you can't be sure you know what's going on. You don't have to beat them up about their past deception (and you shouldn't), but you should focus on the fact that they have been enslaved by their addiction and the only way out is total honesty and transparency.

Regular meetings for accountability should include questions you ask the person in order to review how they're doing and find out what they're having trouble with this week. You can find many good examples on addiction support websites and counseling websites like those I've linked to. You want to cover whether they have done any of the things associated with their addiction, and also whether they have allowed themselves to be around triggers and places of temptation for their addiction. You should also go over whether they are following through with things like support group meetings and their other responsibilities, since failing to do this is a sign of backsliding in addiction. And an important final question you should both get used to is: "Have you just lied to me?" This needs to be something that can be asked and answered without defensiveness, so start using it right away and insist on an environment with no excuses or evasions.

B. Creating Openness and Trust

Ed Welch says: “If you want to help addicts, you will create a culture that delights in openness and honesty. Be someone with whom they can speak without fear of self-righteous judgment. Invite them to speak this new language of truthfulness, in which they speak honestly and aim to know the Truth—who is the antidote to all idolatry.” Welch, Two Underused Biblical Resources

A large part of the battle with an addicted person is getting them to not only admit they have an addiction, but be willing to admit it in front of you. People enslaved by addictions fear accountability because it will mean they lose control over being able to satisfy their addiction. They really don’t want to have someone looking over their shoulder, even a trusted friend who loves them and wants to help them. You have to gain their trust by helping them see how badly they need this help, and you also need to show them that they can be transparent in front of you without losing your love and respect.

Whatever else we're addicted to, just about everyone is addicted to other people's approval.
Image: http://ow.ly/gFFg302dlln
So even an addicted person who knows they have a problem and is willing to accept help is still going to be reluctant to admit all the shameful truth and guilty behavior to someone else. You really have to encourage this person that they can trust you to love them no matter what they say, and prove it by doing that even when you get shocked or disappointed. For instance, when you figure out for the fifth time that the addicted person has been lying to you and concealing more addictive behavior, you need to be able to forgive them and keep treating them with patience and love. That doesn't mean there aren't consequences; but it means that you don't start treating them less like a friend and more like a project. Addiction is so humiliating and disheartening all by itself that people trapped in it kind of expect others to give up on them. Often they have given up on themselves. To help them, you have to prove them wrong.

However, you also have to enforce boundaries and consequences. The addicted person needs accountability not only to telling you the truth, but also to staying out of addiction. An addicted person has a million different excuses for why they should give into their addiction late at night, or this weekend, or after a hard day. Accountability that helps them change is accountability to very specific boundaries. The boundaries have to keep them away from even the triggers and temptations that lead them to give in to addiction. For an alcoholic, for instance, they need to avoid all bars and places that serve alcohol, let someone go through their house to remove all alcohol, commit to a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous or Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, and change social habits that would put them around alcohol.

And remember, get help from others so that caring for this person is a team effort. Support groups are important because the people there are also struggling with addiction, and so there's no one to impress and no masks necessary to fit in. Getting your friend into a support group so that someone else is regularly providing accountability and encouragement is a high priority.

C. Make No Excuses for Them

This is a critical bottom line: never minimize the problem of addiction, even to try and cheer someone up. Your job is to encourage them, but not by making their problem seem less serious. That is a disastrous mistake that many people commonly make. When they see how depressed and discouraged the addicted person is, especially when talking about their addiction and its consequences, friends are moved to try to encourage them by softening the guilt.

This is pretty natural as a part of sympathy and mercy, and we do it with good effects in a lot of other areas of shame and guilt. Often people who are really broken over their sinful and selfish behavior tend to beat themselves up too much, once they finally get to the point of admitting how bad their actions have been. But with an addict there is a fundamental difference: the addict has been believing all along that he or she doesn’t have a problem, or at least that the problem isn’t serious, and has built up an elaborate web of self-deception. Addicts have gone to great lengths to convince themselves they can handle their addictive behavior. As you can see from many of the habits and actions I described above, virtually all addicts are trying to grasp on to anyone who will help reinforce the illusion that they are not out of control. You must never become that person.

In both previous posts, I gave examples of why addicted people are scared and reluctant to face life without being able to have their addiction to fall back on for escape or comfort. The last thing they want to have to admit and face is that they really have a problem that makes them unable to keep doing what they want to do to get relief. They don’t want to believe they have to stop. They don’t want to believe they have to give up their freedom to choose when and how they get relief. They don’t want to accept that others are right in intervening and stopping them. They don’t want to bear the shame or embarrassment of acknowledging they can't be trusted to use their own time without accountability.

So the thing you absolutely must avoid is reinforcing their desire to minimize the danger and seriousness of the addiction. The most loving thing you can do is not let them deceive themselves at all. You can usually tell a person is doing well in recovering from addiction when they don't make any excuses for their behavior anymore, and don't shrink away from admitting all the worst details. They have to learn to own it. Until they get here, every moment of minimizing or justifying is a step on the road back to addiction.

So when you encourage them, encourage them with other things they have to be thankful for, and other successes in their lives. Don't soften the seriousness of the addiction to be encouraging; focus instead on the other positives in this person's life. Above all, the most liberating and encouraging thing for a person in the shame of addiction should be the constant reminder that they have a Savior and God who accepts them completely no matter how shameful their life has become. They have total freedom to be transparent and honest before this God, because nothing they reveal will change how much He loves them. Of course, He already knows it anyway, but you help them feel the truth of that acceptance by modeling the same sort of acceptance yourself. You show them that they don't have to fear the truth about how bad things are, because they can't lose the love and support from you and from the Lord. Reassure them with the Gospel and the assurance that God's love is not based on how well you perform or how "good" you are.

One of the most successful things you can do in helping your friend is to soak up as much teaching about the Gospel as possible, and use it generously. I have also been very impressed with the insights of the counseling training program from Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana, which has done training conferences since 1985 and does regional conferences around the country. One of their priorities is to avoid teaching an addicted person to think of their identity as "being an addict." They have to admit they are an addict, but they are much more than an addict. Identity can mold behavior and expectations. So encourage your friend to see himself or herself as a child of God, redeemed, loved, and blessed with unique and important talents from God that are meant to be used in a special calling in this life. They have an addiction problem, which is serious, but their life and identity is much more than their addiction.

A Post-Script and Caution: The Danger of Thinking You're Cured

One of the significant dangers for addicts is that after staying out of trouble for some period of time, and getting things under control, they often start thinking they can relax things a little. That leads to relaxing things a lot. Most addicted people get tired of the limitations and boundaries long before they are actually recovered. I have seen too many people slip right back into their addictions because they weren't willing to keep careful boundaries anymore. So as a friend, you need to resist that mindset every time. You need to remind them why they can't stop taking this seriously. You need to talk against the voice in their head that is trying to justify their own freedom to do what they want.

Alcoholics have reported that no matter how long they have been sober, if they start taking a drink again, they swiftly drop right back to the worst level of alcohol abuse they were at before. The pattern of addiction takes over again, and you don't start back out at a low tolerance, as if the time away from your addiction has reset you to some immunity to the addiction. As an addict, you are never "cured." You are always vulnerable, and always have to be watchful. Keep your friend honest with himself or herself about this. Recovery from addiction is a permanent lifestyle, not a course of treatment.

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