Archive for September, 2016

Power-Control Relationships vs. Mutual Honor Relationships

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “ACKNOWLEDGE the specific history and realness of my suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

One of the big questions that has yet to be answered is, “What is the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship?” Doubtless, if you’re in an unhealthy relationship, when you’ve raised concerns, you have been told your expectations are too high. How do you know if this is true? Where is the line between healthy and unhealthy?

The answer cannot be “if you’ve been hurt.” Unfortunately, in all relationships – even healthy ones – we experience pain. This comes from the reality that every relationship is two sinners trying to do life together.

However, pain does reveal where we need to begin to look. The key question is, “How is pain responded to?” Is pain followed by listening, genuine repentance, effort towards change, and accountability with others? If so, the relationship is healthy. On the other hand, if pain is followed by minimization, blame-shifting, and secrecy, the relationship is unhealthy.

“Here is a good rule of thumb: If you’re in a relationship that lacks mutual caring, safety, honesty, or respect and you regularly feel anxiety, fear, shame, anger, or despair, then your emotions are warning you that you are in a destructive relationship (p. 51).” Leslie Vernick in The Emotionally Destructive Relationship

The National Domestic Violence Hotline developed the diagram below (clearer image of both wheels here) to differentiate the key features of an abusive relationship. It is called the “Power and Control Wheel.” The more features on this wheel that are present in your relationship, the less safe the relationship is.


Which segments of the “Power and Control Wheel” fit your destructive relationship(s)?

In the margins around the wheel make notes about the specific behaviors or events that fit each segment.

This second diagram is intended to illustrate the key features of “mutual relationships” as the alternative to “power and control relationships.” Take a moment to contrast each segment of the two wheels. There is a good chance you have had a hard time putting into words what you were asking for in a healthy relationship; or, at least, that you felt selfish for having expectations of a healthy relationship.


As you study the two wheels you should (a) begin to identify the key areas of your destructive relationship that needs to change and (b) release whatever guilt you feel for expecting a relationship marked by these qualities.

This discussion of violence begs an important set of questions, “How do choices about staying or separating change when children are involved? When is mandated reporting required? How is that different from pressing charges?” There is much confusion on these questions. Here are some guiding principles and key terminology differences.

  • When there is reason to believe that a child is in an environment of harm, any adult aware of the situation is mandated to contact the local Child Protection Services (or functional equivalent for that jurisdiction). This requirement begins with reasonable suspicion and not known fact.
  • A parent, even an abused parent, who allows their child to continue to live in an abusive environment can be considered negligent if active steps are not taken to ensure the child’s safety. The adult being abused is not an exception clause for the responsibility of that adult to report abuse.
  • When minors are being abused or exposed to abuse, the legal requirement is “mandated reporting” by whomever has reasonable suspicion of the abuse. When an adult is being abused that adult must “press charges” in order for legal action to be taken.
  • For additional guidance on this subject visit

“We would add that while an abused woman with no children has strong biblical warrant to flee an abusive husband, she has additional warrant to do so if she has children (p. 137).” Justin and Lindsey Holcomb in Is It My Fault?

Another important question emerges as we consider abusive relationships, “Do relationships cross certain thresholds of destructiveness in which different sets of social rules or strategies become biblically warranted?,” or stated differently, “Does Scripture teach us to relate differently in destructive relationships than in ones marked by honor?” The answer is “Yes.”

Read Matthew 7:1-6. This passage is a progressive set of relational protocols based upon the degree of destructiveness sin is introducing to a relationship. In verses 1 and 2, Jesus is addressing relationship were the impact of sin is minor – “judge not lest you be judged… with the measure you use, it will be measured against you.” In verses 3 through 5, Jesus is addressing closer relationships where the impact of sin should not be avoided – “take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of another’s… otherwise you’re being hypocritical.” In verse 6 Jesus is addressing destructive relationships where the other person is uncooperative with the restoration process – “do not feed wild dogs… do not throw your pearls before pigs.” For more on this passage see

How to Develop a Safety Plan for Domestic Violence

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Appendix A.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

If you need a safety plan, do not feel guilty about developing one. Even if you never use it, having a plan that you can enact will help you remain calmer (i.e., think clearer) in moments when conflicts are escalating.

“The best way to get an instant grip on your emotions in those situations is to be prepared for them (p. 62).” Robert Meyers and Brenda Wolfe in Get Your Loved One Sober

Often, as Christians who place a high value on marriage, forgiveness, and unity, we feel inherently guilty for leaving in a dangerous domestic situation. While we want to affirm these values, consider it this way: the best way to honor someone you love but acts with volatility is to remove the opportunity for them to do greater damage with their anger. Your self-protection is not selfish; it is actually the most loving thing you can do.

“If there is anything you take away from this book, we hope this is it: God knows and sees you in your experience of violence and abuse, He loves you through it all, and He greatly desires your safety and protection. God has not forgotten you. He grieves with you. And we hope that knowing this will embolden you to be honest with both Him and others, and know that it is courageous – not shameful – to reach out for support (p. 179).” Justin and Lindsey Holcomb in Is It My Fault?

However, it is vital to realize that the initial act of leaving for safety is not a complete plan. Taking the initial step of leaving, which may or may not result in a prolonged separation, without knowing what you intend to do next (and why) can actually increase your danger.

“Domestic violence does not end immediately with separation from the abuser… It is also dangerous. Over 75% of separated women suffer post-separation abuse (p. 64).” Justin and Lindsey Holcomb in Is It My Fault?

The purpose of this appendix is to help you think through whether separation is needed, and if so, how to wisely walk through the process of separating for safety.

However, if your situation requires more immediate help than walking through this material allows, please call one of these emergency organizations.

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline        1.800.799.7233
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline               1.800.656.4673
  • National Child Abuse Hotline                    1.800.222.4453

Three Types of Separation

It is important to know what type of separation you would be enacting with your safety plan. It can be helpful to think in terms of three types of separation; two of which are potentially productive, the third being common, but unproductive.

1. Separation for Cool Down

For this separation, you plan to be gone for a few hours up to a night or two. The purpose of this separation is to prevent a combustible argument from escalating or removing children from being exposed to an irrational display (either intoxicated or emotional).

This type of separation is usually best communicated about directly by stating the reason for and desire to resolve the matter later.

“Honey, I love you. This situation is spiraling and I don’t want it to harm our marriage further. I am going with the kids to [location] and we can talk about this more when we’ve both had chance to calm down.”

After a statement like this, no further explanation or defense should be given, but you should begin to enact the safety plan you develop below. This approach should not be used more than once or twice or it will be perceived as a manipulative tactic. If it is frequently needed, a separation-for-change may be advisable if counseling will not be engaged.

2. Separation for Change

When the destructive behavior is frequent, the cooperation towards change is low, and there is probable danger to you (or your children), then separation-for-change is warranted. In this approach, you make arrangements to remain separated until acknowledgement of the problem is made and key markers of change achieved.

The indefinite duration of this separation means that more preparation is needed. Because this separation is enacted after resistance to acknowledging the problem has been established, the separation is not disclosed until after it has occurred. The potentially longer duration of separation means you need to have adequately planned for where you will be able to live. If these arrangements have not been made, then the domestic violence hotline can connect you with local safe homes.

After relocating to a safe place you would communicate the “markers for change” that would need to be met in order for returning home to be considered. In any conversation about returning home these same points should be repeated each time. While there may be secondary changes each of you are tempted to discuss (i.e., spending more time with the children, being more helpful around the house, spending more time as a couple), separation means there are safety-level concerns and these need to be at the forefront of any conversation about returning home.

Standard markers for change would include:

  • Meeting with a counselor experienced in the area of struggle (i.e., domestic violence, addiction, etc…)
  • Describing the life struggle to the counselor without minimizing or blame-shifting
  • Signing a release of information to allow you to be a guest at your spouse’s counseling to share your perspective on the history of the relationship
  • Confirmation from the counselor that the two accounts reasonably reconcile with one another (to verify the absence of minimization or blame-shifting)
  • Initial steps towards change complete (as defined by the counselor)
  • Mutually agreeable accountability pursued within the your shared network of natural relationships
  • Commitment to continue in counseling process after you return home; stated to counselor and accountability relationships
  • Short Summary of Markers: Being honest with a counselor and trusted friends about the real history of our relationship, tangible evidences of change, and a commitment to continued marital restoration.

A separation-for-change is a declaration that the relationship has deteriorated to such a degree that non-intensive measures will not be sufficient for restoration. It can be hard to know that the marriage is in this condition. That is why making this assessment in concert with your pastor and/or counselor is advised. This social support will be beneficial in following through on your commitments if there is not early cooperation (i.e., crying-pleading phone calls, rants to friends, lies to children, etc.).

3. Separation as Expletive

This may be the most frequent and is definitely the least effective form of separation. In this case, separation is used as a behavioral demonstration of exasperation. The intended (misguided) intent is usually to shock or scare your spouse into changing. The hostility in the moment of leaving (unlike separation-as-cool-down) and the lack of any follow through (unlike separation-for-change) result in the event being seen as a “stunt” that will require a larger demonstration of exasperation next time to coerce comparable change; making the relationship more volatile.

Making Your Safety Plan

Making a safety plan requires taking steps that may seem awkward in a moment when there is not active conflict or intoxication. However, the preparation you put in during safe times will ensure that you have options if unsafe times arise again.

Pack a bag with all of the supplies you would need to be away from your home for at least two to three nights (i.e., clothes, medication, cash, important documents, extra set of keys, etc…). Keep this bag either in your vehicle or at the residence where you would stay if it were needed.

Inform key people that would need to cooperate with your safety plan and secure their commitment to be cooperative. This would include the person with whom you planned to stay and, if you do not desire this location to be known by your abuser, informing anyone who knows where you would be staying that you desire this information to remain private.

Plan your exit. Mentally walk through the steps you would need to take. The following points are meant to help you walk through this planning process.

  • I can keep a bag ready and put it [blank] so I can leave quickly.
  • I can avoid [blank] places when conflict is possible so I am not trapped without access to an exit.
  • I will abstain from retaliating verbally or physically to prevent the situation from escalating further.
  • I can tell [blank] about the violence and have them call the police when violence erupts.
  • I can teach my children to use the telephone to call the police and the fire department.
  • I will use this code word “[blank]” for my children, friends, or family to call for help.
  • I will be aware that my partner may have access to my cell phone record and use prepaid phone cards or a pay-as-you-go mobile phone if needed.
  • If I have to leave my home, I will go [blank].
  • I can teach these strategies to my children.
  • When an argument erupts, I will move to a safer room such as [blank].
  • I will leave money and an extra set of keys with [blank].
  • I will keep important documents and keys at [blank].
  • I will check with [blank] to know who will let me stay with them.
  • I will review my safety plan every (time frame) with [blank].
  • I will rehearse the escape plan and practice it with my children.
  • I will consult with a family advocate to ensure I am not breaking any custody laws during the separation.
  • If I need to return home for belongings and feel unsafe, I am aware I can ask for a police escort.

A separation may result in your being in the home and the abusive/addicted person leaving, or you renting your own place to stay because of the lack of cooperation and need for a mid-term living environment for you and your children. If a lack of cooperation resulted in a prolonged separation, this would require additional considerations.

  • I can change the locks on my doors and windows as soon as possible.
  • I can install a security system
  • I can install an outside lighting system that lights up when someone approaches my home.
  • I will teach my children how to use the phone to make collect calls to me and to (friend, family,   minister) if my partner tried to take them.
  • I will tell the people who care for my children who has permission to pick up my children. My partner is not allowed to. Inform the following people (school, day care, babysitter, church leaders, etc…)
  • I can tell the following people that my partner no longer lives with me and that they should call the police if he is near my residence (neighbors, church leaders, friends, etc…)

If the degree of threat escalated during the separation or was predatory prior to the separation, then a protection order may be warranted. When considering a protection order, it is wise to:

  1. Speak with the police department in the city or county in which you hold residence.
  2. Ask them to explain the process and evidence necessary to secure a protection order.
  3. Clarify what actions on your part would nullify the restraining order.
  4. Write down the name of the preferred individual/office to notify if the restraining order is violated.

It is important to understand the precise legal protections provided and limitations created by a restraining order. If you choose to get a protection order, then it is wise to consider.

  • I will keep the protection order here (location). Always keep it with you.
  • I will give a copy of my protection order to police departments in the areas that I visit my friends, family, where I live, and where I work.
  • I will tell my employer, church leader, friends, family and others that I have a protection order.
  • If my protection order gets destroyed, I can go to the County Courthouse and get another copy.
  • If my partner violates the protection order, I will call the police and report it. I will call my lawyer, advocate, counselor, and/ or tell the courts about the violation.

Note: A more extensive safety plan template can be found in Appendix 2 of Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s book Is It My Fault? (pages 187-197) if needed.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Codependency” post which address other facets of this subject.

3 Types of Codependency

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step One: PREPARE yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually to face your suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

This may be the most confusing seminar topic ever. Is codependency really a thing? After all, no one can agree on a definition (this is true). Besides, the problem isn’t me; it’s the people who are hurting me or are destroying their life with addiction. You’re not going to tell me this is my fault, are you? Wait a minute, no one in my life is an addict and I’m not married, can I be codependent?

These are just a few of challenges we will have to navigate on our journey. We will define the concept of codependency in greater detail as we go along, but here are a few foundational premises for how we’ll use the term.

  • Codependency is a style of relating; meaning it is an activity rather than a condition.
  • Codependency is more about why and how you do things than what you do. There are not codependent behaviors (what you do) as much as there are codependent motives, tones, and patterns (why and how you do things).
  • Those who relate codependently struggle to rightly assign responsibility for problematic actions by others and self.
  • The struggle to rightly assign responsibility makes it hard to determine “reasonable expectations” for others.
  • The struggle to appropriately assign responsibility results in a difficulty regulating personal emotions.
  • The struggle to assign responsibility and regulate emotions produces unhealthy relational patterns.
  • Codependency is often (not always) associated with abusive, addictive, or controlling home environments.
  • Those who related codependently are usually physically-emotionally exhausted and feel used by others.
  • Unless we intentionally learn to think about responsibility, relationships, and emotions differently, we will continue to relate in a codependent manner.

You may not like using the term “codependency.” That is fine. There is no magic in the term.

“We don’t have to label ourselves at all. Deal with the behaviors that hurt and call yourself whatever you want (p. 77).” Melody Beattie in The New Codependency

You may not feel like you have the emotional energy left for what change will require. But realize the number of crises and amount of drama around you is going to take a large emotional investment. You might as well invest that energy in learning to relate in a healthier manner.

“Given how long you have already lived with your drinker under the present circumstances, you can tolerate it a little longer as you make small, controllable changes (p. 6).” Robert Meyers and Brenda Wolfe in Get Your Loved One Sober

You may have reached out for help before and been burned. Unfortunately, this is too frequent, even in Christian contexts. Those affected by abuse, addiction, or adultery do not always get good counsel when they reach out for help. Hopefully this seminar provides a resource to help you vet the competence of helpers you invite into your life.

“In fact, many victims believe clergy have the most potential to help them, when in reality they are too often the least helpful and sometimes even hurtful (p. 16).” Justin and Lindsey Holcomb in Is It My Fault?

If you look at the studies referenced by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, what you will find is that direct invention helpers (pastors, police, lawyers) are initially less helpful to those in harm’s way than less direct intervention helpers (hot lines, social workers, counselors). When attempts are made to introduce change, even healthy changes, into your social systems before you are ready to consistently cooperate with those changes, the results are often a more difficult living situation.

That is why this seminar is focused on you; more than your living conditions (i.e., abuse, addiction, manipulation, etc…). You will need to be ready to consistently live out the implications of any changes that are made in order for those changes to benefit you. You will also need to be ready to live out the implications to maximize the potential influence you have on your loved one(s) who are living destructively around you.

With that said, one of the goals for this seminar is for you to understand the entire process. We will be taking a 9 step journey together that unfolds in three phases. A summary of the primary objective for each phase is listed below.

  • Phase One: Steps 1-3 // Gain an accurate and unhurried view of your relational patterns
  • Phase Two: Steps 4-6 // Remove destructive, dysfunctional messages from how your understand these patterns
  • Phase Three: Steps 7-9 // Identify healthy ways you can have influence in unhealthy relationships and things you believe God has called you to pursue regardless of how much cooperation there is in key relationships becoming healthier

3 Types of Codependency

We mentioned earlier that there is no agreed upon definition for codependency. That is because codependency is a pop-psychology term rather than a clinical-psychology term. This does not mean codependency is a myth. It just lacks a clear definition which comparable terms such as addiction, bipolar, or anorexia have.

For the purposes of this seminar, we will examine three types of relational patterns that can be codependent.

  1. Relationships Involving Addiction – When addiction is present, it creates the dynamics of infidelity. Something is primary in your loved one’s affections. For a period of time you may not know who-what it is. When you find out, you feel betrayed. There is lying, promising, threatening, pleading, silence, and other dysfunctional communication patterns. Your life and habits begin to accommodate the presence of this “other” for the purpose of maintaining some sense of order. With time, these accommodations become an increasingly unhealthy pattern of relating.
  2. Relationships Involving Abuse – When abuse is involved, it creates a power imbalance in the relationship. The abuse is usually intermittent, so you think “It’s not always that bad.” Relational patterns are developed to appease the things that would upset the abusive person and the number of secrets being kept increases. This creates increasingly superficial relationships with those who are unaware of the abuse and higher degrees of shame.
  3. Relationships Marked by a Fear of Man – “Fear of man” is the biblical term for valuing the approval of other people more than the approval of God. If the first two forms of codependency are the result of suffering, this expression is rooted more in our values and choices. This expression of codependency often goes by the names of peer pressure or insecurity. We live to please people more than to please God. This study will focus primarily on the suffering side of codependency, however, in the latter stages of your journey you will likely also have to wrestle with fear of man issues.

Knowing these types of codependency can help you navigate when parts of this study do not match your situation well. We will be speaking to all three. These distinctions may also help you understand when friends use the term codependency to describe a struggle different from yours. It doesn’t mean either of you are wrong. It is like when two people talk about owning a dog and one has a Chihuahua while the other has a Golden Retriever.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Codependency” post which address other facets of this subject.

Overcoming Addiction (Seminar Videos)

Below are the videos from the presentation of “Overcoming Addiction.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. Summit members can pick up a copy of the notebook in the church office. For those outside the Summit family, you can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

ADMIT I have a struggle I cannot overcome without God.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 1 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

On-Line Evaluation

Printable PDF Evaluation: Addiction Evaluation


ACKNOWLEDGE the breadth and impact of my sin.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 2 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Resource: My Commitment to Change

UNDERSTAND the origin, motive, and history of my sin.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 3 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Resource: Addiction Journal

REPENT TO GOD for how my sin replaced and misrepresented Him.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 4 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

CONFESS TO THOSE AFFECTED for harm done and seek to make amends.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 5 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

For the “Confession Guide” click here: Confession Guide

RESTRUCTURE MY LIFE to rely on God’s grace and Word to transform my life.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 6 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

IMPLEMENT the new structure pervasively with humility and flexibility.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 7 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Resource: Overcoming Addiction Plan Eval Form

PERSEVERE in the new life and identity to which God has called me.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 8 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 9 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Blog Post: 9 Questions to Help You Steward All of Your Life for God’s Glory

Appendix A: How to Conduct an Effective Intervention

Thinking Well About Relapse and Addiction

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Addiction” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step Seven: IMPLEMENT the new structure pervasively with humility and flexibility.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

Is every slip a relapse? Does every bad choice mean I’m “starting over”? How can I not expect myself to be perfect for the rest of my life without making excuses for myself that will make it easier to slip back into destructive behaviors? You can see why relapse is such a difficult subject in a recovery program.

On one hand, you can expect to relapse many times in the journey of recovery. If we don’t relapse, then our struggle was probably not “life dominating” and didn’t warrant the level of attention this study provides.

On the other hand, we don’t want to expect to fail. We want to face every moment with the expectation that we’ll rely on God to make healthy, God-honoring choices.

With that said, here are the expectations of this study:

  • We will face relapse.
  • Relapse is the recurrence of self-destructive behaviors related to our desired change.
  • More dangerous than relapse are dishonesty and hiding.
  • Dishonesty and hiding are the difference between a relapse slip (short) and relapse slide (long).
  • Relapse begins to end when honesty begins.
  • We are more likely to be honest about something we’ve openly discussed.
  • We include this section, not to excuse or predict relapse, but to place ourselves in position for a healthy response.

In their book Lose It for Life, Stephen Arterburn and Linda Mintle lay out four phases of a relapse (p. 228-230; bold text only). The presence of an early step does not make the latter steps inevitable. Rather we will look at each in order to help you prevent moving further into relapse when you realize you’re in a vulnerable condition.

1. Complacency:

“I just want a break from being good.” This is the mild, passive-aggressive defiance of fatigue. It likely means we’ve been trying to change too fast (perfectionistic approach to change) or that we’ve got too much in our schedule. Early honesty with people in your support network is the best response to this fatigue. Don’t try to press through in private. Evaluate what would be a sustainable approach to change with people who care about you.

2. Confusion:

It has been said by many, “Worldliness is what makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange.” The further we get into temptation, the more this dynamic affects our thinking. You begin to view “healthy choices” as an “unhealthy burden.” You begin to view “unhealthy choices” as “moments of freedom.” You begin to view “supportive friends” as “people who don’t understand and expect too much.” When this disorientation begins to emerge be honest ASAP. This is the pattern of thought that will extend a relapse. Even if you don’t know what to disclose at this point, call a member of your support team and say, “I’m struggling. I don’t think I’m thinking well right now. Can we talk?”

3. Compromise:

This step can be fueled by self-pity, denial, or defiance. But we begin to think, “I deserve my self-destructive behavior,” as if it were a form of relief. The duration of time that has passed since we last engaged our addiction allows the sense of high or relief to be greater and the negative physical effects not to be as immediately felt. It is as if our bad friend really has learned to be good like they promised. We also know those who care about us will be disappointed and hurt, so we are more prone to remain secretive about what we’re doing. Frequent warning are:

  • Fantasizing about your addiction as if it were “the good old days.”
  • Believing that you can use again without falling back into addiction (over confidence).
  • Your emotions become moody and your attitude becomes selfish
  • You begin reconnecting with your old friends from when you were actively in addiction.
  • You begin to pull away from or neglect friends who have been part of your recovery.
  • You are defensive when someone brings up changes in your mood, attitude, or actions.
  • You begin to neglect your outlets for healthy fun or enjoy them less.
  • You begin to engage healthy interests in excessive ways (i.e., excessive exercise, compulsive cleaning, etc…).

4. Catastrophe:

Destructive choices destroy. There is no way around that. When we fail to acknowledge compromise (stage three), catastrophe (stage four) will eventually get our attention. While our goal is to interrupt a potential relapse before it reaches catastrophe phase, the earlier in the deterioration process we acknowledge what is happening, the better. Don’t allow shame or pride to prevent you from reversing the impact of your choices.

Read I Corinthians 10:13. “God will not let you be tempted beyond your ability” doesn’t just mean the type or intensity of temptation, but also means at any point in the temptation cycle. Too often we conceptualize a fictional “point of no return” in our battle with addiction. If a “point of no return” exists, it is the point at which we decide not to be honest with God, ourselves, and others. The grace of God means there is always hope in honesty about our sin and struggles. When God promises to provide “a way of escape” that refers, not to some secret passage way (hidden is never free), but to the context of grace and support which the gospel provides, that allows us to be honest.

John Baker provides five dispositions, using the acronym HEART, that alert us to time when we are particularly susceptible to relapse (p. 192, Celebrate Recovery: Leader’s Guide). When you experience these dispositions, reach out to a member of your support network. A quick phone or text that says, “I can tell I’m tense right now and wanted to let you know. Will you pray for me?” can make a big difference. Being alone with these emotions can be as dangerous as being alone with your AoD of choice.

  • Hurting
  • Exhausted
  • Angry
  • Resentful
  • Tense

Overcoming Addiction:Worship – Awe Strategies (5 of 5)

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Addiction” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step Six: RESTRUCTURE MY LIFE to rely on God’s grace and Word to transform my life.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

We do not engage spiritual disciplines primarily for therapeutic reasons; we engage them to know and enjoy God. However, when engaged well, these disciplines have significant therapeutic benefit. There are even particular benefits that can be generally ascribed to particular disciplines. We will explore a few of these.

“We believe that a clearly articulated Christian worldview and a congruent and credible Christian lifestyle constitute a form of primary prevention (p. 136).” Mark Yarhouse, Richard Butman, and Barrett McRay in Modern Psychopathologies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal

1. Bible Study:

How much of the struggle with addiction is the “bad content” in our thinking (commonly referred to as “stinkin’ thinkin’” in recovery circles)? These thinking processes and thought content need to be replaced. We hear “go to your happy place” and roll our eyes. If only addiction were that light-weight. Go to the Bible for the Words of Life (John 6:68). At least once per day immerse your mind in pure, wholesome truth.

For instruction on how to institute this, consider the following chapters from books that provide guidance for the spiritual discipline of Bible study.

  • Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, chapter five
  • Donald Whitney, Spiritual Discipline for the Christian Life, chapters two and three
  • John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, chapter ten

2. Prayer and Worship:

How much of the struggle with addiction results from our thinking caving in on itself (i.e., shame, self-condemnation, circular reasoning, etc…)? Our thinking needs an outlet and purpose in order to be healthy. Prayer and worship provide direction for our thoughts. Prayer allows our inward thoughts to “connect” with someone who cares and understands. Worship provides a focal point for our thoughts that is grander than our situation is bad.

For instruction on how to institute this, consider the following chapters from books that provide guidance the spiritual discipline of prayer and worship.

  • Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, chapters three and eleven
  • Donald Whitney, Spiritual Discipline for the Christian Life, chapters four and five
  • John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, chapter four

3. Silence, Stillness, and Meditation:

How much of the struggle with addiction is our inability to reign in our thoughts? Silence, stillness, and meditation are disciplines that tame (harness, not harm) the wild horse that is our thought life. They are practices advocated by Christians for centuries because of their benefits for the life and character of believers.

For instruction on how to institute this, consider the following chapters from books that provide guidance for the spiritual discipline of silence and meditation.

  • Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, chapters two and seven
  • Donald Whitney, Spiritual Discipline for the Christian Life, chapter ten
  • John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, chapter five

4. Journaling:

How much of the struggle with addiction is the seeming pointless disconnection of day-to-day life? Life can easily begin to feel like a bad novel where one page has little to do with the page before it. Events keep happening but they don’t seem to be contributing to anything. This is what led Socrates to say, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Addiction responds, “Amen!”

For instruction on how to institute this, consider the following chapters from books that provide guidance for the spiritual discipline of journaling.

  • Donald Whitney, Spiritual Discipline for the Christian Life, chapter eleven
  • Using a Personal Journal for Spiritual Growth at

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Addiction” post which address other facets of this subject.

Overcoming Addiction: Healthy Fun – Pursuant Strategies (4 of 5)

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Addiction” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step Six: RESTRUCTURE MY LIFE to rely on God’s grace and Word to transform my life.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

The goal of sobriety is not sobriety. If we fixate on sobriety, then our substance of choice is still at the center of our lives; only we focus on its absence instead of its presence. We pursue sobriety in order to live a God-glorifying, personally-satisfying life that is a blessing to those we love. That means, at this stage in your journey (if not sooner), you should be intentionally setting aside time for things you enjoy.

1. Addiction Jar:

How much did you spend on AoD per week ( $ ________ ) or per month ( $ _______ )? Create a jar where you put that much money for each interval when you are sober. This does two things. First, it gives you a more tangible expression of how much you were investing in your addiction. Second, it provides funds you were already sacrificing that can be invested in serving those you’ve hurt or pursuit of addiction alternatives.

Warning One: If cash is a trigger for you, then would be an approach that you would want to avoid, or at least modify, by allowing someone else to hold the cash and know the goal to which you are using as an incentive to enhance your motivation for this journey.

Warning Two: You won’t entertain yourself out of addiction. That is not the point. If entertainment is your primary goal, you are merely exchanging a self-destructive form of escape for a functional form of escape (which is still a worthwhile trade, but likely to lead to an addictive relationship to your new interests).

The goal is to create a balanced rhythm of purposeful activity (things that are good and worthwhile, but are physically, emotionally, or mentally taxing) and restorative activity (things that are healthy and fun, so that they allow you to engage your purposeful activities with renewed vigor).

In our day, these restorative activities likely cost money and time. The addiction jar simply helps you see that, if you choose to invest the money and time you already have differently, then you have ample resources to pursue a much more enjoyable life.

2. Engage Your Interests:

The previous section may beg a question, “What did you enjoy before addiction began to dominate your life?” If you know the answer to that question, this section is for you. If you struggle to answer this question, then the next section will provide guidance.

What are things you used to enjoy which were crowded out by addiction?

How might you feel after reviewing the list you just made? You may feel robbed. If so, allow those emotions to further cement the notion that your addiction was never your friend. It systematically dismantled everything you enjoyed about life for its own self-preservation.

You should also feel free. Now that you are, by the grace of God, declaring your independence from addiction, you can pursue these interests again. A full and satisfying life is in front of you. You can’t obtain it all at once. That is false-high mentality of addiction. But you can begin to daily take steps in that direction while enjoying the entire journey.

3. Experiment with New Interests:

What if you don’t know what your interests are? Often addiction dominates phases of life when your current stage-of-life interests would have emerged. What’s the answer? Experimentation. Try a smorgasbord of random healthy activities and see what you think.

Too often people think, “I’m not sure I’ll like it,” or ask, “What if I don’t like it?” Is that how you approached your addiction? Did you come to a new substance or beverage and pessimistically wonder, “What if it’s not that good?” No, you allowed unhealthy experimentation to become an open door to destruction. All we’re asking now is to allow healthy experimentation to become an open door to delight.

Whether your list under “Engage Your Interests” was full or sparse, make a list of things you might enjoy.

One of the values for this list is that it can become cognitive filler for times of temptation. Boredom is a prime trigger for relapse (see Step 3). Anticipating or planning for a new, enjoyable activity can be a way to productively fill boredom, even if you do not have the time or money to engage the activity yet. Again, think about it: during your addiction you spent a great deal of time anticipating your next high (not just being intoxicated). Anticipation is an important part of any pleasure. We want to learn the “discipline of anticipation” for our healthy pleasures.

 4. Savor Every Moment:

Life will never be a series of epic moments. In order to enjoy life, we must learn to savor the ordinary. This is the essence of contentment, the secret Paul discovered to thriving in any circumstance (Phil. 4:11-12).

The opposite of addiction will not be “highs” that are the comparable equivalents of the “highs” of intoxication. Instead, the alternative to addiction will be the ability to enjoy the “mids” of day-to-day, normal life. While this may not be as exciting as many people would like, it provides a much more realistic goal.

Read I Thessalonians 5:16-19. Consider this point of application for what it means to “give thanks in all circumstances” (v. 18); the spiritual discipline of savoring life. Living out this discipline is a primary way we “do not quench the Spirit” (v. 19). When we see and acknowledge the goodness God put in each moment, we are emboldening the Spirit in our lives. How do we do this? Consider the following practices:

  • Grow the habit of asking “What is good?” about each situation and relationship you are in? If this is hard for you, then pray God would give you “eyes to see” what is good.
  • Resist the tendency to grow bored with God’s blessings. We do not want to be God’s spoiled child who says we have nothing to do while surrounded by toys.
  • Begin to grow your in ability to take pleasure in small things. If addiction is fueled by savoring (mentally rehearsing) bad things, then exercise the same cognitive-emotional muscle in how you savor good things.
  • Allow the memory of good things to be an extension of their goodness. We do this with holidays, weddings, and other major events. Carry the same discipline into less intense pleasures.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Addiction” post which address other facets of this subject.

Overcoming Addiction:Personal Strengthening – Enhancement Strategies (3 of 5)

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Addiction” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step Six: RESTRUCTURE MY LIFE to rely on God’s grace and Word to transform my life.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

In addition to avoiding and reframing temptation, you need to be personally strong – physically, mentally, and spiritually. In this section we will look at approaches to building your physical and mental stamina for your battle with addiction.

Read Matthew 26:41. Notice that Jesus ties the strength of temptation to the condition of the body; in this case fatigue. In the preceding hours, the disciples had traveled, secured a place to hold a ceremony, prepared an elaborate meal, eaten a meal high in carbohydrates, and then walked to a dark-quite place to pray. When they repeatedly fell asleep, Jesus’ response was, “Your spirit is indeed willing, but your flesh is weak.” There is comfort in knowing God is patient with our weakness, but we should also apply wisdom and avoid creating physical challenges that will heighten our temptation. That is what this section is all about.

1. Regulate Sleep:

Getting adequate sleep has a multifaceted impact on addiction. First, sleep has a significant impact on our physical energy and self-control. These are vital to resisting temptation. Second, good sleep hygiene serves as an effective schedule regulator. An irregular schedule provides more opportunities for temptation to arise in moments for which we will be ill-prepared. Finally, being awake late at night results in boredom at a time when our support network is least available.

If at all possible, arrange your schedule to get 7-8 hours of sleep each evening between the hours of 10pm and 8am.

If you are having trouble sleeping, consider the following suggestions to help with sleep at this time.

  • Establish a bed time routine to help habituate your body towards sleep.
  • Establish a deep slow breathing pattern as you lay in bed that simulates sleep breathing.
  • Believe that sleep is intended as a good gift from God and do not feel guilty for resting.
  • Pray that God would give you restful sleep and believe He wants you to have it.
  • Memorize a passage of Scripture related to God’s care for you and repeat it slowly as you lay down to sleep.
  • Play soft music or nature sounds to help prevent your mind from drift-thinking while trying to sleep.
  • Reduce the level of caffeine and sugar in your diet, especially after the noon hour.
  • Avoid daytime naps so that your sleep is in concentrated blocks; the physiological benefits of sleep are less when we break our sleep into smaller units.
  • Take a warm bath to relax your body.
  • Try muscle relaxation or stretching exercises about an hour before going to bed.
  • Talk with a medical professional about the possibility of a sleep aid; disclosing your history with addiction and asking for non-habit forming medical interventions.

2. Balanced Diet:

The addictive lifestyle is often a lifestyle of extremes. The more areas of your life that you bring into intentional moderation, the less hospitable your life will be for addiction. A balanced diet also has a multifaceted impact on the experience of addiction.

First, making healthy eating choices is a form of self-care; addiction is a form of self-abuse. Addiction doesn’t care about your body. Making healthy food choices is a demonstration that you matter. Second, a balanced diet contributes to a healthy self-image instead of feeling ashamed. Third, a balanced diet reveals that little choices matter. As you begin to experience the effects of these choices, your sense that you can positively influence your life (self-efficacy) will grow. Self-efficacy is highly correlated with continued sobriety.

In addition, a healthy diet contributes to balanced emotions. Where does our body get the component parts that comprise our brain chemistry? From our diet. If we recognize how much our diet influences our cholesterol, blood pressure, and energy levels, why don’t we equally appreciate its role in our brain chemistry and emotional states?

If you are not already, implement the following practices.

  • Eat at least three meals each day at consistent times in the morning, around noon, and evening.
  • Have at least one serving of fresh fruit or vegetables at each meal.
  • Limit foods that are high in fat or sugar content; which create blood sugar imbalances that enhance temptation.
  • Begin taking a multi-vitamin to offset any nutritional deficiencies that your addiction may have created.

3. Physical Exercise:

Here we will talk about exercises for both your body. But is should be remembered, we have already discussed how a healthy-strong body contributes to having a healthy-strong will.

Similar to improving one’s diet, exercise also has the psychological benefit of being an emotional investment in one’s self-care. Exercise is evidence that you are caring for yourself and usually results in improvements in energy and appearance. Exercise can also contribute to your sleep regulation. In this way, exercise contributes to all the other enhancement strategies we’ve listed.

Additionally, exercise triggers the releases of the body’s natural endorphins and dopamine. Much of addiction has resulted in the artificial stimulation of these molecules. A consistent exercise program can be an excellent way to begin to re-establish your body’s natural production of these pleasure molecules at healthy levels.

4. Self-Control Exercises:

Addiction often results from or, at least produces, low impulse control. Growing in impulse control is both an important part of overcoming addiction and a skill that is highly correlated with life satisfaction. Impulse control is the ability to tell yourself “no” or “wait” and obeying.

Make a list of the non-AoD substances and activities over which you struggle to exhibit impulse control.

Begin to intentionally practice moderation in one of these areas. Do not try to tackle them all at once. Pre-determine what a reasonable amount of time or quantity for the item you want to moderate. Inform a friend of how you are seeking to grow and explain the impulse control goal behind this discipline. Begin to allow your recovery process to be about more (not less) than AoD as you grow in self-control in a variety of areas in your life.

5. Emotional Endurance:

Emotional endurance is another form of personal enhancement. Working through recovery is a very emotion-laden process. As you continue to work through the latter steps in this process, you may begin to focus more intently on particular emotions that are prone to disrupt your recovery. Materials, similar to this study, are available for a variety of emotions at

However, some general guidance may be beneficial on how to increase your emotional endurance.

  • Continue to grow spiritually and intellectually. Growth brings hope. It also brings fresh perspectives that may present new ways of addressing challenges. When you are intentionally growing, it is sign that you have not surrendered to the hardship of life; that is endurance.
  • Always face the truth. Retreating from the truth is a step back towards addiction. However hard the truth may be, it is more liberating than a lie. Refuse to fall back into a life of escape; emotional escape (avoiding truth) is a precursor to substance escape.
  • Practice gratitude. Grumbling is a very exhausting mental activity. Rehearsing your disappointments does not lighten or decrease them. You may think that rehearsing your blessings is cheesy or a form of denial. But realize there is an attractional quality to our attention; whatever we pay attention to we will notice more. If you focus on your disappointments, you will notice more disappointments; the same is true for your blessings.
  • Forgive. Sin must be paid for. But when you persist in unforgiveness, you are paying the penalty for the sins people have committed against you through the burden of bitterness you bear. The souring of your disposition becomes a temptation to relapse and a drain on your emotional resilience.

    “But holding on to that hurt and not being willing to forgive the person who hurt you in the past is allowing them to continue to hurt you today, in the present (p. 56).” John Baker in Celebrate Recovery: Leader’s Guide

  • Live in the present. God promises to give you what it takes to live each moment well (Matthew 6:25-34). Think of this like a “manna promise” (Exodus 16). God provided enough manna for each day. It was an act of faith for Israel to only gather what they needed for that day. Similarly, living in the present is an act of faith in God’s faithfulness to provide what you need each moment. The obedience that emerges from this faith – staying in the moment – is a primary means by which God keeps this promise.

Overcoming Addiction:Counter Conditioning – Reframing Strategies (2 of 5)

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Addiction” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step Six: RESTRUCTURE MY LIFE to rely on God’s grace and Word to transform my life.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

Some temptation contexts cannot be avoided. This is partly because of the logistical realities of life and partly because temptation is a predator (I Peter 5:8) looking for our destruction. In moments when you cannot get out of the context of temptation, you are going to have to relate to the temptation differently. A summarizing principle for this is reframing: temptation makes danger look enticing, but wisdom (rightly) reframes temptation as danger.

1. High Risk Moment Plan:

You need a short, simple plan for moments of intense temptation. This plan should consist of fleeing temptation with good people. Don’t be cute or elaborate in your initial plan. Get away and get with people you can trust. This means you need to have several trusted friends on speed dial in your phone and you need to think through any irregular events (see point above) you plan to attend.

“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” 2 Timothy 2:22

2. Constructive Self-Talk:

No one is more influential in your life than you because no one talks to you more than you do. What you say to you matters… A LOT! What you say to yourself during a moment of temptation matters even more than usual. During moments of temptation, our unproductive self-talk is usually either shameful or grandiose. An example of shameful self-talk would be:

“I am such a loser. I can’t believe I am weak and struggling again. I should have known better than to think I could be sober. Why do I ever let myself believe such stupidly positive things? This is why I’m all alone. Everyone can see how pathetic I am, but me.”

An example of grandiose self-talk would be (usually before temptation):

“I can handle this. If I don’t learn how to handle situations like this on my own, then what good is being sober? I know what I need to do and am willing to do it. What is someone going to tell me that I don’t already know? If God is with me, then why wouldn’t I be able to handle that kind of situation? It’s time to start living my life.  I’m tired of being cautious and fearful. Is that how God would want me to live?”

Which of these two modes of thinking are you prone to and what does it sound like? A constructive self-talk during or after temptation would sound something like this:

“I know I need God every moment to live the life he calls me to live. I’m just more aware of my need during moments of temptation than other times. God promises that his strength is made perfect in my weakness. God is not annoyed by my prayers right now. God cares for me through my friends in moments like this. Thank you God for your presence, patience, and my friends… [phone call].”

A constructive self-talk before temptation would sound something like this:

“False confidence is the most dangerous disposition I can have. Like pride, I never see it until it destroys me. God protects me from false confidence through the people he’s provided to walk with me. Freedom is not evidenced by making cavalier choices, but through making wise choices. Whenever I feel that wisdom is limiting my freedom (angry or resentful at wisdom’s implications) I need to be most concerned and most honest.”

Read 2 Corinthians 10:3-6. Notice that the reframing exercises listed above are an example of “taking every thought captive to obey Christ.” The kinds of moments in which you wrestle with the destructive self-talk styles described above are the moments when this spiritual discipline is most relevant. Use the chart below to begin to capture your characteristic style of destructive self-talk and begin to write replacement scripts. Allow every moment of temptation to expand your arsenal of ways to resist Satan’s attempt to derail your life.

Destructive Self-Talk Constructive Self-Talk

3. Relaxation Training:

Temptation is stressful. Addiction is living in a state of perpetual, elevated temptation. Unless we learn to manage stress well, we may defeat temptation in the short-term but it will wear us down into submission over the long haul. Our long-term approach to addiction must take into account methods for managing stress.

“One’s ability to cope with stress – in particular, with anger, frustration, boredom, anxiety, and depression – has been identified as a critical deficit area in many theories or models of addiction (p. 13).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change

There are two forms of body relaxation that are easy to practice during times of stress. 3a. Breathing. This technique may sound odd. But deep breathing can have a significant impact upon your experience of stress. One area that the body monitors to determine its sense of safety is the temperature of the nasal cavity. When the nasal cavity is hot, it triggers the stress response. When it cools the body turns off the stress response. Think of the athlete who begins to breathe through his mouth as he runs. This causes his nasal cavity to heat up and triggers the adrenal system; part of the flight-fight stress response. Adrenaline provides an energy boost and intensifies his emotional state (hence the reactivity of competitors at many sporting events). This is one reason many people feel relaxed when they smoke cigarettes even though nicotine is a stimulant. The calming power of the breathing required to rhythmically inhale a cigarette is more powerful than the medical agent in cigarettes are energizing. Awkwardly, this means many smokers are as addicted to breathing as they are nicotine; especially if their primary appeal to smoking is relaxation. When you feel stress mounting, it is recommend that you take a few deep breaths in through your nose (drawing in cool air) and out through your mouth (exhaling the warmer air away from you nose). This will cool the nasal cavity. It does not extract adrenaline already released, but prevents the release of additional adrenaline. In this sense, it is the emotional equivalent of taking your foot off the gas pedal of your car more than stepping on the brakes. 3b. Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Consider this exercise as you do it, then we’ll explain it. Flex the muscles in your hands making a fist as you slowly count to ten (slows the pace of your thinking, which also offsets stress). Feel the slight burning sensation as lactic acid builds in your muscles. Release the grip after ten seconds. Now do the same with your forearms; then biceps, then triceps, then shoulders. As you do this, you are both focusing your attention away from your stress and countering the effects of stress in your body. The buildup of lactic acid in your muscles absorbs the free radicals that stress creates and causes us to feel tight after a time of prolonged stress. As you do this with each muscle group from your hands to your feet, you are reclaiming your body from the effects of stress while willfully focusing your attention on what you choose.

4. Distraction:

Distraction is not used with a bad connotation here. During moments of temptation, the battle with addiction is largely a battle of attention; what you focus on will determine what you do. Focusing on the addiction, even resisting the addiction, during moments of temptation only feeds the intensity of temptation. After you’ve reached out to God and your support network for help (de-isolating temptation), the best thing you can do is engage your mind with non-addictive enjoyments – distractions. When you’ve done all that wisdom allows, temptation does not immediately dissipate. After wisdom comes waiting. Passive waiting is dangerous. Make a list of enjoyable activities or relationships you can distract yourself with after temptation or during boredom. These distractions should be readily available, enjoyable, and not contributing to temptation.

5. Filling the Void:

If distraction is for moments of temptation, filling the void is for the time period between temptations. Overcoming addiction will create large segments of empty time in your life. How you manage these segments of time being vacated by addictive behaviors will go a long ways towards determining your sobriety. If distractions are short-term activities, filling the void are more long-term pursuits of hobbies. Filling the void is more about beginning to pursue the life you want than occupying your mind during difficult times. This strategy can easily be overwhelming, so it is wise to only begin pursuing one or two goals at this stage. You do not want to addictively pursue a better life; you want to healthily pursue a better life. What are one or two pursuits you would like to consider? You may find that investing in mid-to-long-term goals is as difficult as avoiding addiction. If that is the case, do not let it discourage you. It is another opportunity for growth. You are not racing anyone. You are pursuing a God-honoring sobriety. Whatever pace allows you to arrive at that destination is the right pace for you. If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Addiction” post which address other facets of this subject.

Overcoming Addiction: Stimulus Control – Avoidance Strategies (1 of 5)

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Addiction” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step Six: RESTRUCTURE MY LIFE to rely on God’s grace and Word to transform my life.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

The longer you have struggled with an addiction, the more things in your life become associated with the addiction; activities, locations, times of day, and people are just a few of the everyday things that get associated with addiction. One important way to manage your temptations is to rearrange your life to eliminate or limit your exposure to these temptations. Sometimes we have to be strong by actively resisting temptation, but more often than not we should be strong by wisely avoiding temptation.

Read Matthew 6:7-13. As you read this model prayer from Jesus, focus on verse 13. Your implementation of this section is a large part of God’s answer to this part of the Lord’s Prayer. One of the ways God “leads us not into temptation,” is by providing wise principles in Scripture that help us organize our lives to avoid predictable temptations. Pray for God to supernaturally limit the number of unpredictable temptations in your life. Obey God to radically eliminate the ones you know are coming (Matthew 5:27-30). We will look at 5 areas of your life you need to examine.

1. Relationships:

Begin with the assumption that no one in your life is neutral. Ask yourself, “Does this person contribute to my sobriety or a relapse?” List out the top 10 people in your life who contribute to your sobriety and rank their influence on a 1-10 scale. List the top 10 people who would contribute to your relapse and rank their negative influence on a 1-10 scale.

Note: The terms “sobriety” and “recovery” are sometimes used interchangeably and other times used with distinct meanings. When they are used with distinct meanings “recovery” is the broader term referencing the pursuit of a full and satisfying life without AoD, and “sobriety” is the narrower term referencing the abstinence from AoD. In this material, the terms are often used interchangeably, but the holistic nature of this journey should make it clear that the aim of this material is “recovery” and not mere “sobriety.”

Rank Name Influence Rank Name Influence
1 1
2 2
3 3
4 4
5 5
6 6
7 7
8 8
9 9
10 10

“The overwhelming majority of addicts testify to the power of friendship as the single most important factor in their recoveries from addiction (p. 185).” Kent Dunnington in Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice

Evaluative Questions:

  1. Do you have at least 10 people who are positive influences towards your sobriety?
  2. How can you invest in those relationships in such a way that increases the amount of influence they have?
  3. What have you been unwilling to relinquish that would decrease the number of negative influences in your life?

Read I Corinthians 15:33-34. These are strong words that have direct implication for how much you interact with the people you listed in the right column. Many would object, “But wouldn’t God want me to be a part of reaching these individuals? Isn’t that the loving thing to do?” The loving thing to do is to be an example of the freedom that Christ can provide and the choices necessary to pursue that freedom. You don’t love them well by making their life seem okay or sabotaging your own recovery. You love them by being a light on a hill (Matthew 5:14-16). If they want to take the same journey, they need a mature guide (Galatians 6:1-5). You are not that person yet. Trying to be more than you are prepared to be will result in more pain for both of you.

2. Routes / Routines:

Addictions make themselves at home in the rhythms of our lives. We use AoD “before” or “after” parts of our day. We pick up AoD “on the way” to places or events. In order for addiction to be life dominating, these rhythms necessarily become very well established. We no longer feel like we’re doing them. They just seem to happen; like our morning routine before our coffee kicks in.

Make a list of the routes and routines where your addiction can easily feel mindless. These are points when cravings can feel particularly intense.

  • I use AoD before
  • I use AoD after
  • I pick up AoD on the way to or from
  • Other routines or routes strongly associated with addiction are

This is where your plan has to be tailored to you. You need to talk with your sponsor, support group, pastor, or counselor to devise alternative life rhythms to eliminate or mitigate these influences. For those that cannot be eliminated you need to make your support network aware of the occasions when temptation is likely to be heightened. Raising awareness in your support network is an important way of feeling less alone in moments of temptation.

3. Household:

Where have you hidden or preserved access to AoD in your home? Our homes should be places of rest and refuge. But, because addictions often degenerate to private activities, home often becomes our place of greatest temptation. You restore your home to the refuge God wants it to be when you radically remove and disclose all access to AoD in your house.

This does not mean merely removing all alcohol from the refrigerator. But disclosing where you would hide AoD to your spouse, parents, or roommates (whomever you share a residence with).

What changes or disclosures would be needed to make your home as safe as possible from temptation? (Note: We are the source of our temptation, so we are not “building a better mouse trap” to resolve addiction. However, we are seeking to make every wise step possible to reduce temptation.)

4. Irregular Events:

Many one-time events are closely associated with AoD usage: weddings, graduations, New Year’s parties, birthdays, etc… Approaching these kinds of events is different from relationship and routines.

Are you willing to forego attending any event that is unwise for your recovery?              Yes       No

This is the first and foremost question. If you’re answer is “no,” then irregular events are likely to derail your recovery. You will miss things that are important to you as you pursue sobriety. It is better to intentionally miss small portions of life than to miss large chunks of life because of addiction.

These questions can help you assess the wisdom of your attendance at irregular events where there is likely to be AoD.

  1. Awareness: Have I talked about this event with people in my support network? If no, don’t go.
  2. Journey: Where am I in my journey of recovery? If my sobriety were an ankle injury and recovery a sport, would a doctor let me in this game?
  3. Companion: Will there be someone in my support network or someone committed to sobriety there?
  4. Energy: Where are my current emotional and relational reserves? Am I walking into this depleted?
  5. Plan: Do I have a plan for how to avoid temptation and accountability for key junctures in the event?When considering an irregular event where there is likely to be AoD present, you need to discuss these questions with multiple people in your support network. If they are hesitant to affirm the wisdom of you attending this event, you need to be willing to forego attending. These kinds of events are when we are prone to begin arguing for folly over wisdom; which is a dangerous step towards relapse. But since no substances are involved yet, we feel justified in downplaying the significance of this change in our mental and emotional attitude.

 5. Simplify:

Less is more. Stress is a near universal temptation to relapse. We won’t eliminate stress from our lives, but we can significantly reduce it by removing unnecessary activities and commitments from our lives.

What activities or commitments in your life are contributing more stress than blessing?

Writing these things doesn’t mean they’re bad. It just means they are likely a bad emotional investment during recovery. There are only so many things you can do well during each season of life. During this season of life one of the big things you need to do well is recovery. This will require removing other things.

As you get to steps 8 and 9 in this material, you will make a decision about what things to reintroduce to your priorities as your recovery becomes more solid. Having stepped away from excessive business (if that has been a temptation for you), will help you assess what things are most worth investing in when you get to that point in your journey.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Addiction” post which address other facets of this subject.