Based on Chapter 3 of Christian Families in Recovery
By Robert and Stephanie Tucker
Throughout the Scriptures, the soul refers to our inner lives—how we think, feel and make choices (mind, emotions and will). It also entails our unique personalities and the detailed and intricate ways we are given a personal identity. We know from the Word that the soul is the eternal part of us. The physical life ceases; the soul lives throughout eternity. With this concept in mind, our faith and belief in God’s truth must prevail over scientific and material-based thinking. Science simply cannot affirm or understand the unseen realm. When we step out of tangible realities and into faith-based spiritual principles, we must have the Holy Spirit living in us to be able to comprehend truth. Let’s see what the Word says:
But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
If we accept a scientific understanding of addiction (which is easy to do based on the tangible nature of addiction) but negate the Christian worldview, we too will be limited to the few benefits a medical community can offer. But as God’s children, this should never be the case. God is all-powerful and while He can certainly manage the processes of the brain and body, He also has the power to remove addiction on the nonphysical level—to change the heart and set a person free internally. This freedom entails a transformation process in which the body, soul and spirit are each realigned and brought back to the purposes of God.
To gain access into the recovery and healing process, we need to understand the purpose and function within our souls in greater detail. Let’s look at each part of the soul: the will, mind and emotions.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the will as “the mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course ofaction.” The decisions we make throughout life are filtered through our wills. God gave all people a free will,allowing each of us to choose how we want to think, respond and behave in a given situation. When the will is exercised and a choice is made, the outcome will be defined by what or who influenced the will in that situation. All choices of the will are fed by either truth or lies. When we submit to God’s will, we become aligned to His purposes. But when we submit to lies, we come in agreement with Satan’s system. This doesn’t make a person satanic, but it does mean he or she is being deceived.
Before addiction took hold, the addict had choices. As the addictive drive took over, those choices were no longer available. Sin, and especially addiction, leads to bondage because it destroys the free will and places itself as the slave master. Thus, the free will is held captive, and the addiction itself is served. Many Christians don’t understand the nature of bondage and become puzzled by the addict’s choices. They think the addict should just be able to make wise choices and stop the insanity. However, because the will is so overcome by the addictive cycle, it will require a severing of that faulty and toxic influence and a re-attachment of the power source of the Holy Spirit (see next chapter). Without the Lord, it is beyond the scope of a human being to make this occur.
By understanding that the addict’s will is held in bondage, we will be prepared to formulate proper expectations and also use God’s tools of intervention (Chapter 7). While we are often alarmed and frightened by the addict’s choices, God is not even slightly alarmed. He knows the power addiction contains. He also knows that He stands authoritatively above that power and can overcome its force. As we will learn, the way to help addicts is therefore not to force choiceson their behalf but to allow the Holy Spiritto work in their life. Only He can remove them from bondage and lead them into truth. No human being can do this on behalf of another; it must be a personal choice of the addict’s own will driven by the power of the Holy Spirit. This, in essence, can allow the will to be set free and aligned to make the right choices.
While the will makes choices, it bases those choices on the data it receives. This information comes from a wide variety of sources, including the senses, outside information, family influence, internal belief systems, God’s Word and even such outlets as the media. This data may be helpful, informative and based on truth. Or it may be corrupt information somewhat like a computer virus that actually makes the mind sick.
The mind is where information is processed. It must not be confused with the physical brain—they are not the same thing. To help make better sense of this, let’s break it down.
The Role of the Brain
Just as a computer has hardware, software and data, our brains function much like the hardware. The brain—meaning the actual piece of flesh functioning inside our physical body—is linked to the mind, but it does not have the same function. It is simply the infrastructure that provides a central “command” station (like the physical machine of a computer). The brain houses a variety of chemical processes that communicate information back and forth to the mind. We learned about the process of addiction as it occurs in the brain in Chapter 2. Because the brain is attached to our physical bodies, it will not last forever.
The Role of the Mind
The mind is much like a software program that sifts, sorts, categorizes and processes information for various uses throughout the day. While the brain is tangible (seen), the mind is intangible (cannot be seen). Because it is housed in our souls, the mind will continue throughout eternity. Therefore, our mind will be brought with us into heaven and be made whole and complete.
As Christians we believe the mind is either influenced by truth or held in bondage by lies. As we already learned, we have been given a free will. We have a choice in what we house in our minds. In fact, all data must pass through the “gate” of the free will where information is acted upon or rejected. For example, Mary receives a knock on her door. First, she must choose whether or not to respond to it. As she opens the door, she is flooded by a salesperson’s pitch to buy a product. He uses many schemes to engage her in conversation, including flattery, fear and other manipulative strategies to influence her to buy a product. Now Mary is faced with another decision. Should she receive that data (sales pitch) and give it thought and consideration? Or should she simply slam the door? As Mary moves through the sales process, she is influenced and takes action to buy his product. Let’s imagine the salesperson is a scam artist. The information Mary was given was false. But she believed what he said was the truth and gave him several hundred of dollars in response. She was now the victim of theft. The salesperson’s fraudulent behavior was not Mary’s fault,but she became vulnerableto his influence when she participated in the conversation. From that first knock on the door, Mary was dealing with data and processing it in her mind.
We experience the same process throughout our days. Our minds are constantly receiving and processing data. God’s truth is attempting to align us with His point of view in all scenarios. This truth is given to us through the Word of God, Bible teaching and the overall influence of the Holy Spirit. The devil, like a scam artist, attempts to manipulate truth and deceive us so that we believe his lies. When he succeeds, he will essentially “rip us off.”
This is an alarming reality because it is happening constantly, and we often don’t consciously realize it. From the information we receive as truth, we form beliefs that eventually develop into an entire belief system.These beliefs drive every aspect of our lives. For example, terrorists believe that performing suicide bombings will earn them a lucrative position in “heaven.” This belief drives them to pursue an insane and murderous agenda. The power of that belief cannot be minimized. Their beliefs lead to unimaginable consequences. While our belief systems most likely contain nothing that extreme, we can still begin housing faulty beliefs. And what we believe will affect how we think, feel and respond to both new and reoccurring situations.
Not only are beliefs powerful, but when they become recognizable, our minds can instantly recollect something we’ve previously learned. This means we don’t need to relearn the same things each day. The moment we see a chair, we know we can sit on it. We don’t have to process long to recall that belief. It speeds down the path of a sort of superhighway that lets us react almost instantly. Using the previous example, when Mary is scammed by a salesperson, she will recall that situation whenever a sales process is initiated again. In some ways, this is good. This memory will protect her from future scams. But if it drives an ultra-sense of fear and scepticism (a belief that everyonewill hurt her or rip her off), Mary may have trouble trusting anyone again. This has the potential to be toxic.
When the beliefs fed into our minds are true and accurate, they can help us become more functional, mature persons. We can build on acquired information and get smarter and wiser over time. However, when that data is notbased on truth, the same mind created to help us can hurt us.
Lies can creep into massive areas of our lives and deposit deep-seated levels of shame and pain. For example, little eight-year-old Johnny repeatedly heard the words “you’ll never amount to anything” whenever his father was disappointed with him. He heard his father speak those words over and over again. Rather than receiving help and encouragement, Johnny received a message of hopelessness that he eventually believed. He developed a what’s-the-use-of-tryingattitude.
As a child, Johnny believed whatever he was taught. The belief that he would never amount to anything was reinforced by his own will as he received (let in) this lie as truth. This negatively affected his perception of himself and others. Eventually, Johnny “checked out” of life and began the devastating road of addiction. Addiction led him on the pathway to insanity, and he, in essence, became exactly what his dad said he would become. It’s not that his father knew this would happen. But a seed (based on a lie) had rooted, and that belief system took on its own form. Johnny’s mind would be held in bondage until he could form a new way of thinking about God, himself and others.
These lies are also known as unhealthy strongholds.Most human beings carry some form of these strongholds because we live in a culture flooded by lies. In recovery, strongholds must be faced, understood and uprooted for the mind to be able to be brought into alignment with God’s intended purposes.
What We Should Know
Studying the brain (the shell) may have some benefits, but we will quickly get overwhelmed by the technical knowledge it contains. As Christians, we need to be concerned with how the Bible instructs us on matters of the heart. The Bible makes no mention of the brain, but it references the mind over eight hundred times! That is not to say brain disorders, chemical imbalances and other problems aren’t real. There are organic issues that may need the assistance of a physical doctor. However, for the most part, God deals with and heals the area of the mind, and the result is long lasting and true transformation.
In fact, the primary goal of the Christian life is to “renew our minds” and receive the “mind of Christ.” Being transformed so we think like God thinks (Romans 12:2) is a process. We will cover this in great detail in future chapters.
Emotions are an automatic response to the information processed in the mind. While thoughts at one point in time carried a choice, emotions are entirely different. They are the actual by-products of thoughts and produce an emotional reaction that is not based on a choice. For example, the windfall of a job promotion would instantly lead to a feeling of happiness and excitement. But the news of being fired would produce feelings of sadness and despair. Whether good or bad data is received, the emotions are not the actual problem; they are an automatic response to that information. In fact, they allow us to experience and express different feelings. Without emotions we would be nothing more than robots or appliances. Emotions are a God-given method to express our heart and to deal with what is occurring in our life. Unfortunately, if the information received is untrue, the resulting emotions can move a person to react unnecessarily and most likely in the wrong way.
In the case of the addict, his or her emotional system becomes extremely skewed. The addict has learned to avoid pain and not process it effectively, opting to medicate emotions rather than address the source. This means any pain felt as a result of data (information) is pushed aside, and the alcohol or drug becomes a quick fix to overcome that pain. While this seemingly alleviates the problem, it has a very distinct and unhealthy consequence—it removes the benefitof pain.
The thought of pain can warn us to defend against things that could permanently harm us. In fact, pain is often what keeps us from foolish and potentially dangerous activities. We use a knife carefully so we don’t cut a finger. We avoid sticking a hand through a glass window because we don’t want to be cut. Not only does pain help us avoid bad situations, but it also helps us seek healing. In the physical body, pain drives us to take action. If we are bleeding and hurting, we jump into action to get our injury stabilized. Our body even produces its own pain-fighting chemicals to assist us in the process.
The complete absence of pain would actually be dangerousin the case of injury unless we are so badly wounded we cannot help ourselves. With enough trauma, the body will naturally shut down to use the fewest resources. But when injuries are not at that extreme level, they throw us into survival mode so we will seek to fix the problem. Thus, in our daily lives, feeling pain is actually a good thing.
There are rare medical conditions in which people cannot feel physical pain. Because this so deeply damages that person’s perceptions of danger and consequences, he or she can wind up with terrible, unidentified injuries or illnesses that can lead to infection or death. What seems like a gift—the absence of pain—actually removes a natural system of protection.
In the same way, our emotional pain is designed to signal what is happening internally. It is in every sense of the word an alert system. The experience of pain indicates there is something in us that needs to be addressed. While pain is never comfortable, it is intended to make us seek a solution. Because God is the Owner of our souls, He is in the only One capable of fixing their brokenness. He allows human beings to feel pain in a world that is fundamentally corrupt to protect them from the dangers that lurk and to remind them of their utter need to depend on Him and to receive, healing and comfort from Him. It’s not that God wants pain to exist, but it is a natural consequence of this world’s fallen condition. He intends for us to learn to use pain to teach us healthy survival. That’s why feeling pain is not removed from the child of God. At the same time, that pain has a healing source—God Himself. Like ointment on an infected wound, He comes to address the very thing that has sabotaged our souls.
The drug addict has disrupted the very purpose of pain. Rather than feel it and face it—and thus identify its potential danger—the addict has learned to become emotionally numb. Not only that, but the addict’s “reward system” is sabotaged. They momentarily feel good feelings by taking the drug and the body and emotions respond pleasurably. But because this distorts the system and deeply alters the purpose of God’s distinct design for pleasure and pain (rewards and consequences), the addict is in an insane and self-destructive pattern of chaos.
The numbing of pain makes dangerous things seem nonthreatening. There are no natural consequences to guard against wrong choices when pain is removed. Not only that, but there is also no motivation to fix what’s broken; there seems to be no need to turn to God. Instead, the false comfort of the drug cuts the addict off from reality and places him or her in danger. False pleasure creates a perverted illusion of what constitutes “feeling good.” The addict reinforces the addiction and kills the opportunity to allow pain to motivate change. This important dynamic is also critical for the family to understand.
Emotions must be restored to their rightful place for the addict to heal because the emotional life has been deeply damaged. The addict is emotionally stunted and has no awareness of the actual God-given purpose of emotions. Thus, he or she has learned not to feel or process at all.
Ironically, in recovery, emotional pain must be felt and validated—not ignored. But emotions alone are not the root problem. They are the symptomof what is wrong. Just as a gaping cut produces pain, the actual injuryof the heart needs to be validated in its source. The mind has to be understood and events, trauma, neglect, rejection, fear, and other feelings have to be processed.
God doesn’t just remove pain. He returns pain to its original purpose—to reveal the problem. In recovery, dealing with emotions will center on the stabilizing of belief systems, where both pain and God’s redemption will be seen in their proper perspective. When injuries of the heart occurred because of pain and violations of others, God will have to lead the addict through those offenses so he or she can be offered a spiritual remedy. Facing truth, however, will never mean that pain will go away. In fact, addicts will be asked to face the pain they couldn’t deal with before they sought comfort in the bottle, pill or needle. Emotional healing will occur when they are allowed to experiencefeelings, grieve and rely on the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Maturity and emotional growth will begin at whatever level the addict “checked out” through drugs. Thus, a child who begins to medicate with drugs will have stopped learning to process emotions at that level of maturity.
In truth, only by feeling pain can the true remedy be prescribed. This is a key aspect in recovery and can’t be bypassed, as emotions are always the area of deepest vulnerability. We’ll discuss this in greater detail later on.
Preparing for Solution
Understanding the inner workings of the addiction itself helps us clearly see that trying to force behavioral change will not work! In fact, behaviors merely represent deeper problems. The nature of Christ-centered recovery injects the power of God through the Holy Spirit into the very places of dysfunction. As we will learn, this means the Holy Spirit has the resources to reverse addiction’s effects and restore a person to wholeness. All this can occur when we learn to fight this battle as a spiritual war, not merely a physical, mental or emotional problem. We will consider this in the next chapter.
A Prayer to Understand
Grant me the ability to understand the magnificent way I have been created. Help me also to understand the addict in my life so that I can recognize there are deeper things happening than meet the eye. Prepare and equip me so that I may know how to serve You in this situation right now.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
You can also read more about God and Addiction Recovery