The Best Question to Ask Someone With an Addiction/Destructive Behavior
Today I want to deal with literally the dumbest most idiotic thing you can say to an addict (or someone with a destructive behavior).
(Or, “Why don’t you stop?”)
I can remember someone saying that to me when I was in my battle with over-medicating on alcohol and me thinking, “You are a freaking genius! Seriously, you are brilliant, I’ve never considered doing that!”
(And…by the way – listing out conditions as to what is going to happen if they do not stop WILL NOT help them at all!)
Let me pause here and ask – does anyone actually believe I really wanted to/enjoyed drinking a bottle or two of wine (or a liter of gin) per night, passing out and then feel like a pile of crap the next morning?
No!!! (No one who has EVER had a hangover thinks, “Wow, this is amazing, I can’t WAIT to feel this way again!”)
I knew I was destroying my life – I felt like a worthless piece of crap, but I could not stop, no matter how many times I told myself I was going to.
However, “stop” is seemingly the go to phrase people use to try to sway people away from destructive behavior. (The Christian version would be “repent!”—and by the way, it is IMPOSSIBLE to determine repentance in someone’s life apart from a RELATIONSHIP with them!)
Seriously, it’s SO easy to stand on a pedestal and yell “stop” to someone who is drinking too much, doing drugs – or eating too many cupcakes (oh, wait, that last one…uh…).
So what SHOULD you say to someone who is seemingly destroying their life with the decisions they are making?
Or – “Why are you doing this?”
And, very important, when the “why” question is asked it must be done so with sincerity and from a heart that wants to help.
Because – as I’ve discovered as I’ve gone through this process – until the “why” is discovered and dealt with the behavior cannot change.
It took me going to rehab to fully comprehend this – and for me to understand why the church doesn’t ask “why,” but rather tends to focus on “stop!” (Short answer – asking “why” is messy!)
When I walked into rehab last July I had NO idea what to expect. It was, hands down, the most humbling thing I’ve ever been a part of (the strip search let me know I was in for an experience unlike I had ever had.)
Honestly, I was ready to sit in a room with a bunch of people who yelled at me, called me a loser and reminded me of how pathetic my life had become because I decided to drink too much…
…and that’s not what I experienced at all.
My first “meeting” was with a therapist and five other patients. When we sat down the therapist looked at me and said, “Well, Perry, tell us your story – and by the way, you have to tell the truth—period.”
Because my fear was the same fear most of us have, “if these people know the truth about me, they would want nothing to do with me.”
(Which is why in church world there is SO MUCH PRETENDING!)
After I stopped shaking I began to talk – and told the group everything.
I am not sure how long it took – I had to stop several times because I was weeping uncontrollably.
When I finished my story I was expecting the people in the group to begin to heap accusation and condemnation on me, calling me weak and pathetic for allowing alcohol to become such a dominant force in my life.
And that’s not what I experienced at all!
When I finally looked at the people who were gathered in a circle around me they pretty much all said the same thing, “Hey man, we understand.”
They did not endorse my behavior – but expressed empathy, which is something I had not really experienced up until that point.
The therapist then said, “We are not here to tell you what you did was wrong, but rather to figure out WHY you did it.”
Over the next 30 days I did the most difficult inner work I have ever done in my life – meeting with doctors and therapists, digging into my past and connecting the dots between the things that had happened to me and how I had chosen to cope with them.
At the end of the day I was diagnosed with PTSD, beginning with the first time I was molested at the age of 6 all the way up to things that had recently occurred and I had chosen alcohol as my coping mechanism.
(The fact is…if I had chosen food as my coping mechanism and gained 75 pounds I would most likely have never been fired.)
The people in rehab (both the patients and the professionals) never excused the behavior, but I can honestly say I had to go to rehab to learn what TRUE community looks like…
(…because, it seems in the church when a person gets “messy” the easiest thing to do is tell them to modify their behavior, and when they don’t kick them out rather than really walking with them through the hell they are experiencing.)
In rehab I discovered the power of people who lean in, listen and then open their arms rather than turn their backs.
And, because of the way they treated me, PLUS my understanding of WHY is was doing what I was doing, I was able to stop overmedicating on alcohol!
None of this has made me bitter towards the church in any way (if it seems that way in this article I want it to be clear I am simply stating facts and telling my story)…it has made me see the POTENTIAL the church has when we are willing to meet people where they are and, no matter how messy their lives are, walk with them through the mess rather than telling other people how messy they are.
And when the church dives deep into helping people understand they can have a SECOND CHANCE – the potential for change is unlimited.
The question the church needs to ask people who are “living in sin” is “why” – and then, through conversation (NOT condemnation) community can be established, lives can be changed and the Gospel can be lived out (rather than merely talked about.)
So, if you have someone in your life that is doing things that are destructive – seeking to understand them (rather than ban them) will help them take major steps forward towards hope and healing.