Today I came across an article in my files on, “The Dry Drunk”, the alcoholic who has stopped drinking for the moment. The non-using alcoholic (or addict) tends to retain a set of habits, attitudes and behaviors that persist even when not using the drug of choice. It’s noted that these habits often precede a relapse into using again.
Here is the list:
- Exaggerated self importance: alternating between “having all the answers” and playing “poor me.”
- Harsh judgments of both the addict and of others.
- Pursuing whims and impulses rather than clear, ethical, sensible and attainable goals.
- Fantasizing, daydreaming, wishful thinking, self delusions.
- Blame-shifting and projection: blaming others for one’s own shortcomings, either real or suspected.
- Dishonesty in little things proceeding to dishonesty in big things.
- Impulsive behavior which ignores what is genuinely good for the addict and especially for others.
- Inability to make decisions.
- Mood swings.
- Trouble recognizing and expressing emotions, good or bad.
- Detachment, self absorption, boredom, distraction, disorganization.
- Nostalgia for the life under the influence.
Here’s what this means for pastoral ministry: these behaviors, characteristic of early adolescence as well, will most likely remain even in those whom God has granted deliverance from the addictive substance (alcohol or drugs) or behavior (anger, power). For some this may mean being a part of a Christ centered recovery group, such as Recovery in Christ – and I would encourage any pastor to be willing to lead such a group confidentially and to be familiar with a book like Jeff VanVonderen’s on addiction and recovery from a scriptural perspective. Moreover, these kinds of habits of thought, word and action often creep into the lives of the family and friends of the addict – the ‘dysfunctional behaviors’ of the ‘dysfunctional family.’ I don’t find any New Testament authority that coming to Christ will automatically free anyone from all of these at once. Rather, these are the kinds of attitudes, habits and behaviors which are purified from a believer in the process of sanctification and discipleship – the lifetime of faith in Christ as Lord and Savior and following him as Lord and experiencing him as Savior through the power of the Holy Spirit – the process of “putting off the Old Man”, “being renewed in the spirit of your mind,” and “putting on the New Man” (Ephesians 4:17-24). For pastoral ministry, this will mean praise and thanking God for his deliverance from the substance or behavior, and guiding people into the path of sanctification to spiritual maturity.
Even more, in some ways these kinds of behaviors can creep into the lives of those who are not addicts or who have not come from what could be a ‘severely dysfunctional’ family.* Jesus said, “That which comes out of a man or woman defiles a man or woman; for from inside out of the hearts of men and women come evil thoughts, all sorts of sexual immorality, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, malic, wickedness, deceit, depravity, the envious and begrudging disposition, slanders against God and man, pride and foolishness. All these things come from inside and defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). There is nothing in an addict or a person who has grown up in a dysfunctional family which does not already exist in the heart and fallen human nature of the finest Christian or the most esteemed and godly Christian from the finest Christian family in the world, since ultimately, apart from the salvation of Jesus Christ, we all are from the same dysfunctional family – the human race descended from Adam (Romans 5:12-14). Ultimately, the reality that “. . . we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . .” (Romans 3:23) and that “. . . all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags . . .” (Isaiah 64:6) means that we all are ‘damaged goods’ as far as having any righteousness of our own, any ability to save ourselves from our sins and to live a life or righteousness, and any ability to bear fruit in Christian ministry and service apart from Christ.
But it certainly must be strongly asserted that there is nothing about one’s past as an addict or background in a dysfunctional family which ultimately means that a person is ‘damaged goods’ as far as serving Christ, being in a church fellowship or even serving in pastoral ministry or missionary service, since we can “ . . . have such a confidence through Christ toward God – not that we are considered to be sufficient in anything fro ourselves – but our sufficiency is from God, and he has made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit – for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (II Corinthians 3:4-6).
So, these kinds of questions need to be asked of anyone who would try to bring up someone else’s past as an addict or as being from a dysfunctional family as being ‘damaged goods’ and precluded from any kind of Christian service.
- How do you know this? Is this personal knowledge of the person in depth and over a long period of time or it is something which you have heard from someone else? If it’s something you’ve heard from someone else, why isn’t that person taking responsibility for sharing it openly and forthrightly?
- Are you breaking any confidences in sharing this? My plan is to ask this person directly if you have permission to share this with me, and to bring up your name directly; would you wish to withdraw or retract anything you are now saying or about to say on that basis?
- Are you willing for this person to know that you are sharing this about him or her? If so, would you have any hesitation for me to contact him or her right now and bring him or her into the discussion with you present?
- Are you giving due credit to God’s ability to cleanse someone else’s life through the power of his Word and through his Spirit? If these things that you are saying are things that happened in the past, what gives you the right to say that this person has not or is not being saved from them by Christ through the power of his Word and through his Spirit?
I cannot say what a tragedy and deep injustice it would be if anyone were ever blackballed from Christian ministry and an honored position in a church as a brother or sister in Christ because of whisperings about problems which God may have resolved or is resolving. Some years ago I heard a denominational leader who made a public pronouncement about people from dysfunctional families not being ready for preparation for pastoral ministry – and he himself was from a home broken from divorce. In all of this there must be extreme care to give God his due credit and glory for what he can do through anyone’s life through his saving grace in Jesus Christ.
* Some years ago I took the quiz in a book on dysfunctional families on determining whether you are from a dysfunctional family. It was part of my pastoral ministry after I found myself in a long term problem church where 2/3 of the Governing Board members admitted to having grown up in homes where at least one parent was an alcoholic. My family counted as ‘mildly dysfunctional’ on that scale that was in that book. As it turned out, the scale was weighted too heavily on the side of dysfunctionality, and pretty much 60% of those who took it would find that they were from a ‘dysfunctional family’. I don’t doubt that many, many of those from fine Christian families would be surprised to find themselves in that category if they took the same test, since I noticed that the scale would categorize a family as ‘dysfunctional’ if the family had someone who had been the proverbial ‘prodigal’ in the past four generations. The scale was later revised, according to a magazine article I came across several years later, to concentrate on those who came up in the scale as ‘moderately’ to ‘severely’ dysfunctional. A good part of the reason for this was that the scale was resulting in a number of people seeking or being encouraged to seek treatment who didn’t really need it nearly as much as those whose scores came up in the ‘moderately’ to ‘severely’ dysfunctional’ range. I shared this with maybe three or four people, and primarily in a context where I would be trying to encourage someone else not to let his or her background stand in the way of seeking to be as useful as possible to Christ. I definitely would have avoided sharing this in a context or situation to avoid an unnecessary besmirching of my own family’s reputation. But I’ve had some indication that this went through someone else’s malicious editing to where it became a creepy rumor that ‘Poor Dale is from a dysfunctional family.’ So this is the whole story, and not the edited version.