A Journey of Love from Addictions

By Hugh Leroy Thompson

For those who feel lost, helpless, and unloved, being or living with an addict, there is hope.

He was a likable guy with excellent skills as a custom home builder. He took pride in his work. He never drank on the job, and he would fire any worker who did. He was a high-functioning alcoholic. At first, he only drank on weekends for relief and rest, but at other times it got worse. When family members confronted him, he responded, “I have it under control, no problem!”

This person was my father-in-law. My wife dealt with his problems since childhood. After we married, her mother often called us in tears, “He’s blacked out again. What should I do?” She was unable to set boundaries.

Our family met with an intervention counselor to prepare for a supportive, loving confrontation. Prayerfully we hoped for treatment. Our sessions were emotional, at times, draining, but we were committed to following through. Unfortunately, dad got sick before we were able to complete the intervention. He was diagnosed with liver cancer which had spread throughout his body. It was inoperable. Sadly, he died six weeks later. His doctor said his alcoholism was the major contributing factor.

I share this story to show the tragedy of countless people who experience this turbulent river flowing through their life and family. Understanding the disease and finding help is possible. Ultimately, this is a journey of love, but loving someone with an active addiction means facing brick walls, dead ends, repetitive nightmares, broken dreams, and hopelessness. You feel powerless and defeated. Love alone has no power to change anyone—not even God’s love has this power, according to relational theology.

The term addiction comes from the Latin word addictum, meaning “held in bondage.” In Puritan and conservative thought, an addict is considered a victim of moral failure or a sinner. However, in Scripture, sin is also considered a “broken relationship.” Some theologians suggest it is the “failure to love.”

God loves every addict; the addict can’t return love to God, much less to others. Why? The drug(s) of choice has trapped the person in a prison of powerlessness and delusion. The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous confesses, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” This is the core belief in an uncontrolling self and an opening to experiencing God’s uncontrolling love.

We read Romans 7:19-24 where Paul admits that his affliction controlled his behavior.

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Paul’s confession is the same cry of desperation as the addicts.’ The addict, like Paul, acts in their own best interest.

Regrettably, certain drug counselors or therapists treat alcoholics as poorly as they do LGBTQIA+ persons. They believe in conversion therapy based on moral principles to change their minds and hearts; confessing and praying to a “higher power” that their “sin” of alcoholism or LGBTQIA+ identity be forgiven. They offer a “silver bullet” as a promise for sobriety. The addict is given another level of delusion (and so is the LGBTQIA-identified person!)

Where to begin? Accepting drug addiction (not LGBTQIA+ identities) as a disease is vital. The late Dr. Meg Patterson, a Scottish doctor, successfully treated Eric Clapton and members of the rock band Rolling Stones. Later, Boy George. Her approach primarily treated the brain. She discovered that through medical treatment, addicts had a primary drive or desire for God.

For many years studies and research have maintained that drug addiction is a disease and that drug addicts’ brains are different from the typical person’s. They experience a void or deficiency of certain chemicals requiring balance. Some addicts need alternative chemicals to balance brain function. Certain ones need a depressant. Others require a stimulant or pain suppressant to cope with daily life.

Therefore, the addict must be medically and socially detoxed. They must be isolated from all enabling factors, including external support systems. No constructive therapy is practical or possible until the addict’s brain and mental capacity can respond. Abstinence is absolute! This process will feel confusing, confounding, and agonizing, which can result in deep despair. The reality is, “You only see the stars in the darkness.” The uncontrolling God is revealed, and recovery begins, but not before the addict and their family experiences “emptiness/darkness.”

Addiction is a relational dynamic. No one goes down this winding, twisting road alone. God’s uncontrolling love partners with your uncontrolling love bringing hope and serenity. Warning! This is a bumpy road.

Any treatment or therapy for addiction cannot succeed without the participation of significant others. God created us for relationships. The Garden of Eden was not complete without Adam and Eve. God wants to love and support us daily. This happens through the relationships interacting with us each sunrise and sunset. God is interactive, according to theologian Thomas Oord. The Holy Spirit is God’s persuader. Persuasion happens through prayer, meditation, Bible study, and spiritually filled individuals. We know God through others, who are angels, meaning “messengers” of God.

To appreciate this reality, you must explore the nature and creative attributes of an uncontrolling God. God seeks to heal addicts and anyone who is sick. God did not design human life to suffer disease or disaster. Well-known author, Jean Houston of the human potential movement, teaches that God’s infinite wisdom and creative genius designed all of life, especially humans, with natural tropistic growth. Tropism is the theory that every living organism has a natural movement to stay alive, be healthy, and grow. Psychologist Abraham Maslow stated that all humans are created to actualizetheir potential. God can’t be an enabler or a co-dependent; otherwise, one’s potential is limited.

Famous author and psychologist Muriel James was asked, “What must one do to change?” Her discerning answer: Stop doing what you’re doing!” Like an old saying, “If you want to dig a new hole, you don’t dig the same hole deeper!” Long-time actor Will Rogers agreed: “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin.’ Appears simple. Nope! It is a complex and trying manner for anyone. Everyone involved with an addict must cease repeating fruitless actions.

Addicts and their loved ones need to medically and socially detox. This is called abstinence. The addict begins this process by letting go of any substance used to survive personal misery and admitting to being “powerless over alcohol” by accepting help in “stopping” one’s death trap. Ironically, one such trap is Step Two of AA/NA: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” The fact is that the uncontrolling God cannot “restore” your sanity. Instead, God claims, “I can’t,” but you “can!”

What is needed for the addict is equally valid for the dysfunction and disease of the family. Every person in the family system needs “social detox.” Why? Living with an addict becomes toxic. Your false sense of power to control or change the alcoholic is futile. You need to “stop” the unhealthy habits destroying relationships. Discovering your uncontrolling love can restore your sanity but not the addict.

The irony is that addicts can’t recover in solitude. They need love and care from significant people in their life. In turn, this support system participates in treatment, learning of God’s uncontrolling love and theirs. Blame, shame, and guilt are forgiven. Over time, healing and sobriety happen when the addict practices the steps and behaviors necessary for healthy relational and spiritual wholeness.

Beneath the drugs, an addict is seeking God. Spiritual principles and practices are essential in treating addiction. Spirituality affirms that God has created human nature with natural healing. Our souls and body are interwoven. Healing is primarily a spiritual process.

Hippocrates, the great Greek physician, claimed that doctors don’t heal. He concluded, “Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.” Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, founders of AA, declared the alcoholic cannot “self-will” oneself to sobriety without a “higher power.” However, God has no controlling power to change the alcoholic. The innate gift from God is your free will to make decisions for good or bad. God forgives your unhealthy, self-defeating choices. There is no punishment!

Although you are responsible for the decisions and actions that are taken, your life is open and free. Be filled with gratitude and humility for God’s grace (uncontrolling love and power). The freedom to decide is like a two-edged sword. You have power no other organism has: the ability to say “yes” or “no.” The Bible states, “…make sure your statement is ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no;’ anything beyond these is of evil origin.” (Matt 5:37).

Boldly saying “yes” is trusting the uncontrolling God of love. God is “showing the way even if you don’t know where you are going!” Remember: being “lost in the world of addictions may well be a way to new beginnings.” Let the journey begin!

Hugh Leroy Thompson has more than 30 years of experience in the field of addiction. He earned his M.Div. from Candler School of Theology. He was the executive director of a hospital chemical dependency unit and a counselor, trainer, consultant, and developer of addiction programs. Thompson is the author of Unwrapping the Gifts of Recovery (CreateSpace Publishing, 2014).

To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Love Does Not Control: Therapists, Psychologists, and Counselors Explore Uncontrolling Love