One thing I have learned as an ex-addict—and as someone who has worked extensively with them—over the last 20 years is that, by and large, we often like (if not love) the things that control us.
Addiction can be such a strange beast because, on the one hand, we desperately want to change. We want to be free from the things that control us. But on the other hand, we don’t. Addictions are hard to break for a reason. We both love and hate that which enslaves us. It’s a state of affairs that many people live with and have come to (sadly) accept over the years.
When people come to us for counsel, we will inevitably discuss how they feel powerless to change their current life circumstances. They feel out of control. They are sick of their lives. They believe and do certain things because they think that will give them more control and make them happy.
That’s why we have such problems with addiction in our society. We hate the things we do and yet, at the same time, we need them to help us to cope with our hopeless lives. When addicts first start out doing whatever it is they do, usually it was because it was fun but, by the time it lands on my doorstep, the fun is long gone. In fact, the very thing they used to control now controls them. So, when dealing with addicts, I like to ask people the following questions.
1. What are some of the things that are currently controlling your life?
Drink, drugs, thoughts, lusts, people, etc. The list can be endless. Addiction (which is ultimately a form of idolatry) does not just have to be about chemicals. Often, people’s lives can feel a bit like a tug-of-war. They get pulled one way and then the other. Life is this constant ‘to-ing’ and ‘fro-ing’.
Again, within this war there will be the voice of folly (somewhere) talking to them. Folly will be telling them not to bother changing. It will be telling them not to bother seeking help, for it will do no real, lasting good. Folly will tell them that they were ‘born like this’. It will tell them that they can’t change. It will certainly be telling them that biblical Christianity has nothing to offer them.
In Niddrie, we teach people that we are constantly at war with ourselves. One part of us wants things to carry on as they always have and the other part of us wants to change our life completely. One side wants death and the other life.
Here are two fundamentally important questions for any person seeking counsel on life-controlling issues.
2. Do you really want to change? What are you prepared to do to make it happen?
This is tougher to answer than many people think. Almost 100% of the time, you are going to get the following answer: “I will do anything to change.” Sadly, the majority of the time this answer is a lie. People think they are prepared to do anything until they actually have to make a hard decision.
So, how can we tell when a person doesn’t really want to change? Firstly, they already know it deep down. But the big give away is what a person is prepared to do to change their life. Therefore, knowing whether a person really wants to change takes time. You just have to wait and see if they’ll put their money where their mouth is.
There are those who just keep going back to old friends, lying, deceiving, and doing whatever it takes to keep their lifestyle going. Those people don’t really want to change. They like the thought of it, but when it comes to the crunch, they are just not prepared to put in the hard graft and make the hard decisions. I illustrate it like this: If I tell my wife that I love her but I chase after other women, what do my actions say about me? My behaviour tells the real story. If I want my wife, but I also want another woman, then I don’t really want my wife. We will know how serious people are about change when the rubber hits the road!
It is important, at this point, to bring the concept of ‘cravings’ into the discussion. What do we mean by the word ‘cravings’?
Desires Run Deep
It is more than just physical desires. It is about desperately wanting something at the expense of all other considerations. Who really wants to give up a thing they crave? Cravings reveal more about the real person than people would like to admit. So the point is this:
We must be honest about our double-mindedness. We must show people the truth of this, otherwise they will only want to try to please us and say what they think we want to hear. We need to encourage them to see that all of us suffer from this way of thinking as we battle ongoing sin in our lives. The only hope for real change comes when we confess that we are double-minded, desperate sinners who need God’s intervention. So we encourage people to flee from their sin, run to Jesus, and rely on His grace and power to produce the change we cannot produce on our own.