I’ve been thinking about addiction and intervention a bit this past week. How do people become addicted? What would you or I do on the sidelines if someone we loved got mixed up in drugs or alcohol or any of the infinite other possible things people get addicted to? More importantly than what we would do, what should we do if we find ourselves in that situation? Perhaps more pressing, are there ways in which you or I can cultivate healthy relationships to where we prevent addiction from happening in the first place, or nip it in the bud when it first starts?
There’s a TV show called Intervention.
I came home from work one evening about a week ago after the children had gone to bed. My wife Lauren was watching Intervention on Netflix. Even though I typically find shows like that rather sad and depressing, I like spending time with my wife and taking an interest in what she takes an interest, so I sat down with her to watch for a few minutes.
In the span of 45 minutes to an hour, I caught the end of one episode and the beginning of another. I saw a wife and mother addicted to drugs, a son and friend who was an alcoholic, and a brother and son who was addicted to pain-killers. In each of these lives there was a common theme – physical or emotional pain had driven someone to self-destructive substance abuse, and the ripple effects of addiction were being felt throughout all of the closest relationships, causing pain to family and friends.
There was another common thread in all the stories. Though some of the family and friends were obviously frustrated with their loved ones who were hurting them by their substance abuse, in various ways the response to the addiction was indirect and ineffective, and often times involved a fair amount of turning a blind eye and enabling bad behavior rather than confronting the core issues.
So professional therapists and counselors were brought in to talk with those people closest to the addicted persons to hear from them what their experiences had been, in what ways their relationship with their loved one suffering from addiction had been strained or damaged, and to come up with a plan for how to communicate with their loved one about this addiction.
In every case I saw family and friends who wanted the addiction to stop, perhaps even tried saying as much in more or less roundabout ways, but were ultimately confused about how to love someone while still disagreeing with them or refusing to give them whatever they want. Everyone felt trapped on the horns of a dilemma – isn’t love supposed to give support and affirmation? When you love someone don’t you try to give them what they want? Don’t you want to see them happy? But what do you do when what they want and what they insist will make them happy hurts them and those around them?
When freedom and duty collide, choose duty.
In America, we have a proud tradition of placing personal freedom and liberty on a pedestal as the chiefest and most supreme virtue. America is, after all, known from sea to shining sea and around the globe as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I personally am a big fan of personal autonomy. I don’t like people telling me what to do unnecessarily, hate stupid rules, and am generally inclined towards a libertarian political philosophy, preferring to err on the side of live and let live.
There are times, however, when personal freedom and our duty to God or one another conflicts with unrestrained personal liberty. In those moments we must consciously choose to restrain at least our own freedom in order to do what is right.
That’s all well and good, you might say, as long as we are talking about our own personal lives and the decisions we make within them. We are, after all, still exercising freedom in some sense when we choose to do our duty. But what about our expectations of the people around us? What are we supposed to do when those around us would prefer to embrace their own unrestrained freedom to the neglect of their duties and responsibilities?
I would contend we find in those situations also a personal duty which we ourselves are responsible to do. And what is that duty? This may come as a foreign concept to many, perhaps even contradicting much of what you’ve been led to believe by popular culture, advertising, and your own internal misgivings, but we have in those situations a duty to call others to do their duty. We always have a duty to tell the truth, even when it’s hard, even when those we are speaking to don’t want to hear it.
If you watch the show Intervention for even as little as I have you become familiar with a concept called enabling. You see, there are people in the lives of those suffering from harmful addictions who actively and passively support those addictions – these people are known as enablers. When we refuse to call other people to do their duty, but we refuse to question their desires even when they are self-destructive or hurtful towards others, we are giving consent to their behavior. When we go a step further and begin to help prop up their self-destructive choices at of a mistaken notion of what love is, we are actively supporting the thing which is hurting those we claim to love.
Would you sell someone you love into slavery?
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul speaks directly to the question of liberty. In one of his letters to the church at Corinth he says,
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.
To the church in Rome, Paul also says,
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
The Apostle Peter confirms succinctly:
“For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.”
So I would ask you – my fellow Americans, my fellow lovers of liberty – would you sell someone you love into slavery, or stand silently by as they were captured and made into slaves? We’ve been lied to. Freedom is not surrendering yourself to be controlled by substances and addictions, the satisfaction of temporary passions by things which come to rule over us in the end. Real liberty is not best exemplified by the one who becomes a slave to his own desires, but rather by those who are master of their desires.
If you love someone, tell them the truth.
Again, if the point hadn’t been made clearly enough, loving someone does not mean you affirm all of their life choices. You are under no obligation as a family member or friend to give either active support or passive consent to those who engage in things which will ultimately hurt them. To the contrary, if you really love someone you will tell them the truth.
Consider the wisdom of the Old Testament.
“It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.”
“Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
than he who flatters with his tongue.”
We need to rediscover how America came to be called more than just “the land of the free,” but also the “home of the brave.” Some have even said in the context of honoring our nation’s veterans that we are the land of the free because of the brave. I like that. And I think it fits here quite nicely.
Undoubtedly, telling someone who is enslaved by an addiction that you don’t support the choices they’re making which are hurting them and you and other people in their life – that takes bravery. Having those hard conversations can be a terribly uncomfortable and frightening and painful experience because, ultimately, we are afraid of what will happen to those we love if they leave our lives and we are no longer there to be a restraining influence or catch them when they fall. All the more important that we plead with those we love before they fall, and persuade them by all means at our disposal that we sincerely do love them and want what’s best for them. All the more important that we tell them the truth if we do indeed love them.
Also in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he gives us a beautiful summary of what love is and isn’t, and what it does and doesn’t do, and I feel it is essential for us to keep this definition of love in mind in our relationships, especially for those who are hurting or suffering from addiction.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Be open to disagreement yourself if you want others to be.
Do you tolerate dissent in your personal life, or do your relationships with family and friends look more like an echo chamber? There’s a danger in only allowing people to tell you what you want to hear.
Before you speak with someone you love about the mistakes you believe they’ve made, ask yourself whether you’re prepared to be spoken to in a similar manner. Commit to and strive towards genuine humility, recognizing your own imperfections and mistakes, your own weaknesses.
Consider how much easier it will be for others to hear what you have to say when they know you are speaking on their level, not talking down to them or trying to brow-beat them as if you just descended from Heaven as their ultimate judge, jury, and executioner.
I will leave this topic for now with the words of Jesus the Messiah.
“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”