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Overcoming addiction and guarding against relapse

Addiction is learned behavior, and recovery requires new learning. Our brain is not good at un-learning, so recovery means wiring in new habits to substitute for old ones. This is hard because sustainable new behaviors are not as instantly rewarding as old ones. Without that surge of “happy happy, joy joy” to pave neural pathways, it takes lots of repetition.

But we can condition ourselves to overcome addiction, no matter what it is. If you’re struggling with alcohol, substance abuse, technology addictions, yelling at your kids, losing your temper, negative attitudes – the list goes on – you are not alone. There are things you can do to take concrete steps towards overcoming addictions and untoward behaviors.


Our minds are powerful and psychological defenses are strongholds that are built up in your mind and operate to prevent you from feeling painful feelings, facts and ideas. By acknowledging the negative parts of your personality, you will be able to get on the path to overcome them.

Examples include blaming, projecting, minimizing and definitely rationalization. We blame others for our issues. “If my father would have never left” “If my mother would have paid attention”  We also project – I’m doing wrong so everyone is doing wrong or I don’t like her so instead we think she doesn’t like me. I’m cheating so he’s cheating. We definitely minimize our own behaviors and think “I’m not hurting anyone”. Our rationalizations include saying things like “If you lived my life you would drink too” or “I lost a child. You don’t understand. I’m hurting.”

The weapons of our warfare are not physical [weapons of flesh and blood]. Our weapons are divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying sophisticated arguments and every exalted and proud thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought and purpose captive to the obedience of Christ ~ 2 Cor 10:4-5

We must learn and repeat new behaviors every day for an extended period of time before they become a habit. Acknowledging this and learning to take responsibility for our mistakes will help us understand our defensiveness. 

Just vowing to stop a behavior that we have used as a coping mechanism is not enough. The pain will be evident once we remove what gives us pleasure.We inevitably find that the substances aren’t even our problem – I am my problem. I don’t know how to deal with negative feelings so I’ve repressed them. 

I was sexually abused starting at an early age until I was 17 years old. I felt unworthy, ugly, dirty and quite ashamed – as if some of that was my fault. I learned at 11 years old that if I didn’t want to feel, know or remember what was happening to me, then I could drink and that hot liquor hitting my throat warmed my insides and became an anesthetic. I repressed the anger, the sadness, the hurt, the grief. They didn’t go away. They were buried. They were unearthed when I removed alcohol and drugs and sexual immorality from my life. I had to face my own demons.

 It is important that we get to the root and construct new habits. We have used this destructive behavior to “turn off the pain” or “not think about it” or “just not feel anything”. If we never experience or process the emotions involved with the pain, they will spill over, embarrassingly, in other areas.

Recovering our Identity

There are programs of recovery that assist in this process. Secular programs include Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous. There are faith centered options as well like Celebrate Recovery. The best time to seek out these programs is right now. If you are questioning when – that means now is the time.

There are steps that we work through to carefully uncover the hidden parts of ourselves so that we can recover what God intended for us.

We must recover our identity and believe the truth of who we are in Christ or we will go back to self-sabotage as the enemy of our soul whispers that we don’t deserve happiness and we aren’t worthy. When self-sabotaging thoughts begin to manifest, it is important to intervene before these thoughts derail into self-sabotaging actions. The art of self-sabotage is a product of false thinking – also known as lies. Our behaviors are accompanied with false beliefs: This job doesn’t appreciate me. My friends don’t understand me. My family is against me. Self-sabotage is truly a form of defiance against truth.

Rigorous Honesty is Key

In order to begin the process of recovery, there are a few things required of us. The main prerequisite: rigorous honesty. I know, I know. People like us are notorious liars. That ends now. It’s the only way.

Here are three ways to develop honesty in your life:

1. Be honest with yourself. The hardest people to help are dishonest people. Some people are so hurt and wounded by their past that they can’t or won’t experience the healing God has for them, so they have to lie to get by. If you can’t be honest about mistakes you’ll never be free.

2. Be honest with others. James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to one another. Accountability and humility is important to God. Brings it out of the darkness and into the light. There are three types of people wise, evil and foolish. You can correct a wise man, he will adapt himself to the truth. A foolish person will adapt the truth to himself. Foolish people can’t be corrected with words, only consequences.

3. Be honest with God. When you talk to Him don’t neglect to repent. He already knows. He’s already paid the price! Just tell Him about it. If you have learned to be dishonest with God, then you are prideful, thinking you can deal with it on your own.

Guarding against relapse

In addition to this rigorous honesty, we must have a willingness to change. Start by guarding against the following:

1. Bad friends/Negative influences – Adultery, divorce, addictions run in groups. When these issues run rampant, it is usually because there is a support system for it. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says that bad company corrupts good character. The church is a place where we are all allowing Jesus to deal with our issues. You are going to be like your friends. Hang around friends who encourage you to do the right thing, that will not allow you to complain about your life but will tell you to go to church and get yourself right. People who go to church with you are these people.

2. Defensiveness – Defensiveness means I will not allow those close to me the ability to process problems. Functional families talk. Dysfunctional families don’t talk, they have silence and secrets. Defensiveness holds us back from truly acknowledging the areas of our life that are weaknesses. The energy needed to pursue recovery becomes less available when it is diluted by defensiveness.

3. Critical attitude– Learn to praise more than you criticize. Take responsibility to build the self-esteem of others. “I won’t be your critic, but I will be your biggest fan.”

We need supernatural help in God

When starting on your recovery journey, focus on yourself and your relationship with God. The Word is active and alive and can go places that we do not even know about. It is supernatural.

A righteous response to destructive behavior is the only thing that will change a person. If you keep fighting, they will fight with you. But that righteous response will disarm the destructive behavior. Turn it to God, trust God and do not keep doing what you’ve always done, because you will get what you’ve always had.

A lapse is a brief slip but a relapse is when a person makes an obvious return to substances or destructive behaviors to cope with life’s circumstances. It doesn’t mean that you need to “start over” – it simply means that you pick yourself up and you finish. This is about progress, not perfection.

And if you mess up or choose the wrong thing, grace is abundant.

Remember: Change isn’t change until it’s change

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