I had a Pastor contact me a few days ago asking for some advice about dealing with some friends of his that had been on drugs and were slipping back and were becoming a problem. They aren’t heeding advice and won’t listen to council, etc. Following is my LENGTHY response to his question. All he really asked for, was advice. This is probably not what he was looking for but I have been doing this for long enough that I feel like ultimately this WILL BE what he is looking for. And hopefully by posting it on here, it will help some others as well. God bless you Pastor and I hope this helps you my friend.
My advice is more TO YOU than it is FOR THEM. Everyone that we deal with is a free moral agent. There are no magic words or secret codes that can make anybody do anything. Your job is to love them, tell them the truth and reach for them in a way that is consistent. If The Lord win’s them in a week, a month, a year or 5 decades, you are to be consistent. Your loving, teaching and reaching must also be done in a way that helps them understand and receive correction.
When they call at 2am because they are awake and freaking out, when they need a ride to the court house in the middle of your work day because they forgot or put it off, when they need you to help them find that special someone that ran out on them when they were high or angry and now they want to make up…..If you jump and do it for them “every time”, then you are teaching them to live from emergency to emergency. You are teaching them to depend on the resources of others and you are teaching them that procrastination is ok because you can always scramble and make it up for them at the last minute. The lesson here is: An emergency for an addict does not constitute an emergency for you.
You and the addicted, live two different lives and one must teach the other and it must be the right one. They lay around, don’t get out of bed, sleep all day, up all night, won’t go to work, etc. Until something is an emergency. Then they act only because they have to and they need you to act with them. You have a job, responsibilities, have a consistent work habit and morals and ethics. It is two different worlds. Most people trying to “help” an addict, JUMP every time the addict has an emergency. That would be an addict “teaching” YOU how to live from emergency to emergency. The right thing is every time an addict has an emergency, for you to tell them things like: I will help you when I get off of work. Or, It is very late, we will deal with this in the morning. Or, ask questions like: Have you called your Dad? Did you check with the court clerk? Why do you think it is ok to always call me at 2am? That is when most people are sleeping.
Yes, deal with the problem and help the person. But use the problem to teach the person to stop living this middle of the night, walking the edge, emergency to emergency lifestyle and trying to pull everyone else into it. I know this scares some people but listen. If they have been living out there on the edge for 4 or 5 years, the odds of you being able to help them right this very second but not be able to help them in 4 or 5 hours, is very slim. If they are helpable now, they will most likely be helpable in a few hours. If they are not helpable in a few hours, they were most likely not helpable when they called. Don’t put them off JUST TO PUT THEM OFF. But you cannot let them destroy your life just because they destroyed theirs. You are doing this for everybody’s best interest, including theirs.
Something else I have learned to do. This is the other principle here. Not only give them time but give them something to do. It helps find out how serious they are and it continues to teach them. Most people that have ever dealt with a loved one that is an addict has gotten sick and tired of them doing all the bad stuff for weeks, months even years and then coming back and saying they area sorry and they give up and they just want help and they have bottomed out…so you help them and they just burn you again and are gone in no time.
PUT THE RESPONSIBILITY ON THEM. If you are really at rock bottom at 4am on Tuesday, and then you don’t want the same help at 6pm on Wednesday, guess what? You were not really at rock bottom at 4am on Tuesday. More than likely you were high or out of drugs and very sick. Neither one makes you ready to get help. Time shows truth. AND something to do shows sincerity. If they call and say, “I need you right now. Pick me up at the corner of 8th and Pine in 5 minutes, hurry.” You say, “I am having dinner with my family and I will be able to leave in about 30 minutes. Why don’t you walk down to 11th and Pine where it will be easier for me to get to you and I will be there in 45 minutes.” If they argue and won’t relent or say never mind or hang up. That is a bitter sweet moment. Bitter because you really hoped this was it. The chance to really help them. But sweet because at least you can be confident that they weren’t that sincere, so you didn’t have to waste your effort and get let down again this time.
Lastly, once someone has been told the truth about a situation. It does you no good to argue or try to beat it into their heads. If they start in with, “I don’t understand why I am here” and “God doesn’t understand my situation” or “You are not even trying to help me”, etc. etc. And you have already explained that they are there because of poor decisions and regardless of what they think or say, God understands everything according to the Holy Bible and you are trying to help them more than anybody else, even themselves and you prove it with your actions. DO NOT SIT THERE AND GO OVER IT 57 MORE TIMES! They are playing you. You have a life to lead and sermons to write and loved ones to be with and sleep to get and prayers to pray and people to help that want help. They are bored and are arguing with you when they know that you are probably right.
And do not discount the fact that some addicts get multiple levels of highs from many different things. One high that many ex-addicts talk about is the slight high of just telling my problems over and over again to people. During counseling I have heard different ex-addicts talk about the frustration that they would get when trying to get that little high and some parent or preacher or counselor would keep giving them solutions and making them frustrated. “Solutions would end me talking about my issues and cause me to start resolving them. That wouldn’t give me any kicks”. Anyone that has dealt with addicts for very long can spot this situation. When I first read your comments Pastor, this is what I thought of.
I am not asking anyone to ignore addicts or brush them off. Trust me, I know plenty of people like that and it is so sad because if more people would get involved then more people could get help. I have spent the majority of my adult life helping addicts. We have worked with thousands of them and seen hundreds of them get Saved and delivered. But you must be above their games. When they get loud, you stay calm. When the make it an emergency, you put it off. When they want you to do it, you give them some part of it to do. When they want to argue, you state the facts and move on with life. These things are in THE ADDICTS best interest as well as yours.
*You’ve got time
*Give them something to do
*Fight all the “emergencies” with the structures of normal life
*Time shows truth
*Giving them something to do shows sincerity
*If they can’t do it within the structures of real life and if they can’t put forth a little effort too…They weren’t ready anyway
There are many other elements of dealing with an addict like the “treat them like they are 5 years old” recovery element and the “I love you, I’m for you, I want to help you but I don’t trust you” element…but they will have to wait for another day.
I’m sure that this doesn’t EXACTLY answer your direct question but I hope this generally summarizes a philosophy that will help you with these friends and others as you grow and continue to work with such. In all honesty, without being there and knowing enough details to fill up 20 pages, I can’t give you exact and direct advice anyway. Every situation is so specific and unique.
Love them, pray for them. Be prepared in advance how to help and be ready to deal with them. Plan to act not just react. Do NOT be driven by them. If anything, you drive them…toward Christ. If you cannot, then there isn’t much that you can do anyway. Every moment is a teaching moment with an addict. Love, mercy, friendship, structure, rules. Teach with your words, teach with your actions, teach with your lack of either.
I will probably be posting this on my fb page for others to read as well. For all of you that may read this and want me to go into even more detail on some of these elements of dealing with addicts. I am literally running out of time almost every single day to do the things that I need to do and still get all of these questions answered. It took me 3 or 4 days to answer this one. I have a couple of suggestions for you.
#1 Get a church or two or three or an organization together and schedule a time that I can come and talk to as many people at one time so that we can get all of this information out faster (at least a couple hours) OR #2 You may wait a few months and we at HMA are going to be partnering with some at OBI and be putting out a “Dealing with Addicts” DVD similar to the “Questions People Ask” DVD that we put out a few years ago.
God bless everyone! Pray for us at HMA and if you would like to help sponsor these projects and the reaching of the Least, the Last and the Lost, send donations and correspondence to HMA PO Box 12 Sapulpa, OK. 74067 or check us out at HolinessMissionsToAmerica.com.
Your humble servant,
Rev. D. Todd Sloggett