FOR THE DAY YOU ADMIT TO YOURSELF THAT YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH ALCOHOL OR DRUGS
“So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”
- 2 Corinthians 5: 17
Dear Brother, Dear Sister, Dear Friend,
Suffering is an inescapable aspect of our human condition, and there are moments when every fiber of our being screams for relief. At such times, it can be tempting to turn to substances. Alcohol and drugs numb us to pain, for a while, and they give us a jolt of the feelings we desire, such as well-being, relaxation, ecstasy, or satisfaction. Sometimes we look around and perceive that those who drink or use drugs seem happy, and we want to be like them. We want to belong with them.
But the emotions and senses created by alcohol and drugs are not real. These deceptive chemicals play in our brains and wreak havoc. Substances trigger a rush or calm things down in the short-term, but when the high wears off, we are left with the same problems, the same struggles, and the same life. Beer, booze, and drugs keep us from facing reality and prohibit us from building the skills or relationships we need to learn, heal, grow, and ultimately triumph.
As I studied social work at the University of Washington, one of my wisest professors, Wendy Lustbader, taught that substances create a wall between people and the emotions or experiences they do not want to face, such as guilt, shame, grief, anger, fear, self-pity, insecurity, doubt, and trauma. When people use substances to avoid pain, they never learn to cope in healthy ways. They never grow and never learn to conquer their demons. Instead, addiction brings with it a new set of problems that are avoided with continued use of drugs or alcohol.
Growing up gay often yields pain we wish desperately to escape. Some of us face the rejection of family or friends, the fear of judgement, or the loneliness of solitude. Many of us experience confusion as we try to figure out who we really are or where we belong. The world does not make it easy when it splits into opposite extremes. One camp tells us to be celibate forever and one camp tells us to do whatever we want without any sense of obligation to a higher power. And then each of us face unique experiences of pain and hardship. Our hearts break, loved ones die, we survive abuse, or dreams shatter. It becomes more and more tempting to hide all this hurt behind a chemical wall and never think about it.
Drug and alcohol use has consequences. People who use substances often end up bringing great pain upon themselves and their loved ones. Unfortunately, we live in a world that encourages us to ignore or minimize the effects of drinking and drugs. It takes some people years to realize the damaging effects of substances on their lives.
I am proud of you for having the courage to read this letter. Something has opened your eyes and you see that you have a problem. Things need to change. Maybe you were graced with an insight from God, or maybe something painful happened and forced you to face reality. Maybe you hurt someone physically or emotionally because you lost control of your actions when you were drunk or high. Or maybe someone hurt you. Maybe you lost a job or your performance in school suffered because substances kept you from following through on your commitments. Maybe you put yourself or others at risk of sexually transmitted infections because you were too impacted by drugs or alcohol to make safer choices. Maybe you are finding it hard to truly connect with others, show them who you are, and get to know other people deeply because your social life is built around chemically-induced feelings rather than intimacy, communication, and trust. Maybe you feel like your brain is deteriorating, your thoughts are numbing, and you are losing the ability to enjoy anything other than the next buzz or high.
You deserve better than this. No one deserves to be hurt, not you and not anyone else. Regardless of where you have been or what you have done, you deserve to be cherished and loved in authentic relationships with people who care about the real you. Knowing this stems from faith in God’s unconditional love for us. In Ephesians 3: 17-19, St. Paul writes, “…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God.” You deserve a life that is rich with adventure, learning, and meaning. When we play dangerous games with our brains and hide from life, we block out God. We refuse to allow God to hold us in the pain, heal us, and lift us to joyful heights beyond anything found in a needle, pill, or bottle. I am not telling you to hate yourself and dwell forever in guilt and shame. Rather, I am inviting you to accept the grace of Jesus so that you can live a new life starting today.
There are various levels of addiction, but drugs and alcohol always have power to hurt us. It takes courage to acknowledge you have a problem and make the decision to work toward change. Here you are today, ready to face something that has spiraled out of control. Where should you go from here?
As with any challenge in life, begin with prayer. Problems with addiction are beyond our capacity to solve on our own. We need God’s loving grace to carry us through recovery. Give God your struggles and your pain. Open your heart to Him and let Him guide you on your journey. Through each step, each failure, and each victory, keep talking to God. Even if you cannot feel God’s presence or see His impact on your life, trust that He is there. God is always walking beside you, lifting you up, and giving you what you need when you need it. He is a fountain of strength, courage, wisdom, determination, peace, and grace. God is here to see you through this. Trust Him. As is written in Isaiah 41: 10, “Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God. I will strengthen you, and help you, and uphold you with my right hand of justice.”
In addition to seeking God’s help, it is absolutely vital to reach out to good people who will support you in recovery. To stop using, we need help as we change all habits related to drugs and alcohol. It is arrogant and foolish to think we can stay clean sober on our own. We might be able to cut off use of drugs and alcohol for a little while, but we need to work with others and with God to experience deeper healing and transformation. If we fail to change on a deeper level, the root issues that led to our substance abuse will never go away. In time, we will likely relapse or fall into new self-destructive or hurtful behaviors in another area of life.
Why is working with other people so important to recovery? We need people outside ourselves to help us understand why we were using, how to heal from the pain of the past, how to make amends for the harm we have done, how to make meaning of our lives moving forward, and how to avoid the people, places, situations, and events that make us want to use.
Start by talking to trusted people in your life who value sobriety. Tell them about your struggles and ask for their support. Many find valuable community in groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. If you tried one of these groups and did not like it, try another one. Each group has its own culture, its own approach, and its own style. Keep looking until you find the right group for you. Some people also work with a one-on-one chemical dependency counselor. These professionals are trained to walk the journey with you, help you figure out why you were using in the first place, and help you make a plan for how to build a new, healthier, happier life. Some people find support through programs rooted in important cultural experiences, such as American Indian drum circles or Bible study groups focused on recovery. Some people spend time in a residential rehab program so they can focus on recovery twenty-four hours a day and feel like they are truly starting over. To connect with treatment services near you, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.
Think, pray, and talk to trusted loved ones about what kinds of treatment and support might work best for you. Lean on mentors, teachers, coaches, pastors, family members, and friends who are committed to sharing unconditional love with you and supporting you in being clean and sober. As you go through this journey, you may realize there are people who do not support you. Some people may actively want you to keep using, and others may say they support you but their continued drug or alcohol use tempts you to relapse. These are not necessarily bad people. They could be people you love very much who love you back. But at this time, the way to love them best may be to tell them honestly that you cannot see them until they commit to making changes in their own lives. If you really want to live a clean and sober life, you need to make hard choices. You can pray for them. You can care about them. You can hope that they will change in the future. But until you have compelling evidence that they will not tempt you to relapse, you need to let them go. You cannot help them if they do not want to be helped, and you cannot help anyone if you are pulled again and again into substance abuse.
As you walk through the journey of recovery, ask God for a vision of a new and better life. What is God’s dream for you? Who did He create you to be? God does not intend for us to hide from reality or seek shadows of peace in bottles, needles, powders, pills, or puffs of smoke. We are made to be Temples of the Holy Spirit. We are made to be the Body of Christ alive in the world today. God made you to love and to be loved. God wants us to work with Him, to struggle with Him, to build His Kingdom on earth, to bear the suffering that comes with witnessing to the truth and advocating for justice. He brings us to Him so that we may rise with Christ.
We will suffer and we will make mistakes. When we face the pain and refuse to hide from it, we share in the redemptive suffering of Christ. Our hurt and our very selves must be transformed by Jesus, not avoided through drugs and alcohol. As it says in 2 Corinthians 5: 17, “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”
So please, as soon as you put down this letter, seek help. You are loved dearly by God. Trust that He will give you the strength to overcome any addiction and any source of pain in your life. When it seems like there is no way out, remember the words of Mark 10: 27: “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” Remind yourself over and over again the words of Philippians 4: 13: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” Face your demons with God by your side so that you may build character, grow in faith, discover true joy, and draw others to God.