Archives For addiction

Several years ago, I remember how I first reacted after learning the controversial news that there was a possible link between the overexposure to aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease.

As it turns out, further studies have not been able to confirm this link.

At the time, however, the news grabbed my attention. My doc had told me that I was already at risk for this disease (because I suffered a severe concussion as a young child). So once I understood the potential risks, it was relatively easy to cut out aluminum.

I didn’t care how well it kept my body odor from stinking up the joint, there would be no more deodorant containing aluminum for me.

Oh, that it would be that easy when it comes to stopping an addiction! But anyone who has ever battled an addiction knows that it’s never that easy.

One of the maddening things I’ve noticed about addictions is that we can’t seem to resist them, even when we know that they threaten to ruin us (and others). And it’s one reason why we absolutely need Divine help.

Over the years, I’ve noticed something else. Most of us start seeking God’s help for an addiction by asking Him to take away the urges. But what if that’s not the best place to start?

When the urges come, what if it’s best to start with the simple, yet profound, recognition that we can’t resist them without Him (John 15:5)?

Humbly surrendering to God and admitting our own powerlessness as a starting point keeps us from going down the well-worn path of trying to resist our addictions in our own strength. Ironically, the more we struggle to break free on our own, the more entangled we become. But as we stop trying so hard and accept that, in and of ourselves, we lack the power to resist—well, that is when we start to tap into God’s power to resist.

Perhaps this is what Paul was getting at in his own life when he wrote: “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway” (Romans 7:19).

When we come to this point of appropriate helplessness, that’s when we see how much we really need Jesus’ help (Romans 7:25). Or, as Paul would put it in another place, it is when we acknowledge our weaknesses that Jesus is strongest in our lives (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

There is much more involved in walking away from an addiction, but we won’t get very far until we first surrender.

My Sister Jodi

Allison Stevens —  April 19, 2012 — 30 Comments
My sister Jodi died unexpectedly yesterday. I’m so incredibly sad, and I still can’t believe it. My heart breaks that she’s gone and that I can’t talk with her. I know she’s with Jesus—she’s happy, fulfilled, and satisfied in the Lord; and that gives me comfort. I love you, Jodi, and I look forward to seeing you again when Jesus comes back or takes me home. Rest in peace, my dear sister.

My sister was sick a lot during her life. She struggled with drug addiction. After one terrifying, almost-fatal overdose at 50 years old, she was convinced into going to Teen Challenge for drug rehab. Funny, isn’t it, a middle-aged person going to Teen Challenge?!  But for Jodi, and she would tell you this, that was one of the best decisions of her life. God used that place and those people to change her. I remember one conversation in which she told me that she knew God loved her and that she was learning to obey Him. She’d call me and tell me Bible verses that meant a lot to her. She was reading the Bible like crazy! Over time, I saw my sister become the loving and kind person she was deep inside but that the drugs had overshadowed for so long.

My family, friends, and I prayed for Jodi for years—not months or a few years, but decades.  Often, I’d think, and I’m so ashamed to admit this: “Why bother? She’s never going to change.”

I’m sorry I thought that and thankful that I did not stop praying, because Jodi is proof that God can change anyone. My sister praised God for helping and healing her. She wanted to tell the world about her transformation. Jodi was not a quiet person! When she believed in something and wanted something, she went for it wholeheartedly.

Jodi was a consummate Southerner, and in true southern fashion, she wouldn’t hurt a fly if she could help it. But if anyone crossed someone she loved, boy-howdy, they’d better watch out!  She was fiercely loyal.

She was also generous. Even when she didn’t have the means, she found ways to show people how special they were to her. When my son was born, she didn’t have any money, but she made a pillow for him. When my daughter was born, she made a blanket for her. She consistently sent us gifts and cards for special occasions. Jodi loved her family—her husband, children, parents, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. And I can’t adequately describe how crazy she was about her grandchildren.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s addicted to drugs, you know how difficult it can be. But don’t stop praying for your loved one. Never give up, because you don’t know what God is doing and when His Spirit will bring that person to his or her knees. Never ever stop praying.

Jodi was clean for 2 years before the Lord called her home. I’m so proud she was my sister!

Jesus is not a pain killer

Jeff Olson —  November 3, 2011 — 18 Comments

Have you ever tried to used Jesus as a pain-killer? I know I have.

In an attempt to survive a time of feeling let down by others or myself, I’ve immersed myself in spiritual disciplines like prayer and scripture reading. I’ve even listened to a few Jesus centered tunes to soothe my soul. At the time, it may have looked good on the outside, but inside I wasn’t really looking for Jesus and what he wanted to show me in my situation. I was looking for a distraction. I was simply looking to busy myself with something so I didn’t have think about or feel the weight of my hurt.

Bottom line—I wanted t get as far away from the hurt as possible…and Jesus was going to help me.

Over the course of my walk with Jesus, however, I’ve learned that following Him is not about denying the reality of our pain and sorrow. Instead, it is to lean into it. After all, Jesus Himself was no stranger to pain and sorrow (Isa.53:3, Lk.22:44). He felt the heartache of life, and felt it deeply.

Jesus didn’t come to numb our souls. He came to bring us life (John 10:10). And to be fully alive in a broken world involves facing our pain, not running from it.


Places To Belong

Jeff Olson —  October 6, 2011 — 1 Comment

In his book, Befriending the Stranger, Jean Vanier (founder of L’Arche) shared this gripping exchange he once had with a man who was in prison:

“I remember my visit to a top security prison in Kingston, Ontario. I told the prisoners about the men and women we have welcomed in l’Arche–their pain, their sense of failure and rejection, their depression, sometimes their self-mutilation…I knew that I was in fact telling them their own story, the story of their lives, their experience of rejection, grief, insecurity, and failure.”

“At the end of my talk one of the inmates got up and screamed at me: ‘You! You’ve had an easy life! You do not understand what we are living! When I was four years old, I saw my mother raped right in front of me! When I was seven, I was sold by my father for sex. When I was thirteen the police came to get me. If anyone else comes into this prison to talk about love I will kick his bloody head in!'”

Jean Vanier continued, “I listened to him but did not know what to say or do. It was as if he had me against the wall. I prayed and then I said: ‘It’s true what you say. I do not know what you have lived. But what I do know is that everything you have just told me is important. People outside the prison often judge you without knowing your pain…'”

“When the question time was over I went up to the man and I shook his hand. I asked him his name…I was inspired to ask him whether he was married and when he said ‘Yes’ I asked him to tell me about his wife. This man who had been so violent, who had seemed to have such hatred in him, broke down in tears. He told me about his wife, who was in Montreal in a wheelchair. He had not seen her for two years! I was in front of a wounded, vulnerable little child, weeping, crying out for love and tenderness.”

Vanier went on to add, “In the midst of all the violence and corruption of the world, God invites us today to create new places of belonging, places of sharing, of peace and kindness, places where no-one needs to defend himself or herself; places where each one is loved and accepted with one’s own fragility, abilities and disabilities.”

I don’t know  of a more powerful way to show the heart of Jesus than to give hurting and lost people from all walks of life a place to belong.  A place where issues are addressed, but only once love and non-condemning friendships are established (Lk. 19:1-9; John 8:1-11). A place where they are not judged and singled-out, but rather befriended and eventually encouraged to pursue a relationship with Jesus, and through His grace become all He intends for them to be.

BTW…L’Arche (a network of communities Jean Vanier established for those with intellectual disabilities ) is the the French word for Noah’s Ark.



Freedom on the Inside

Jeff Olson —  September 15, 2011 — 2 Comments

I recently learned of a new study bible titled Freedom on the Inside. It’s been developed in conjunction with Prison Fellowship, a Christ-based ministry that reaches out to prisoners and their families.

I love the title. Anything that reminds me of freedom is a winner in my book. Even more, it’s simple, yet speaks of a deep powerful force that can only come through God’s grace (Romans 6:14).

Most of us will never find ourselves doing time behind bars, but all of us are incarcerated by something–a wound, some habit, legalism, debt, shame, fear…something that ties us up in knots. And true freedom from whatever holds us captive begins when our hearts encounter grace.

Freedom inside our hearts sets us on a path to live more freely on the outside. Or as the Psalmist put it,

“I run in the path of your commands because you have set my heart free!” (Psalm 119:11). 






What Occupies You?

Jeff Olson —  August 4, 2011 — 1 Comment

To illustrate the truth of Ephesians 5:18, Evangelist DL Moody once held up an empty glass and asked an audience, “Tell me. How can I get the air out of the glass I have in my hand?” One man said, “Suck it out with a pump.” But Moody replied, “That would create a vacuum and shatter it.”

After many other suggestions, Moody picked up a pitcher and filled the glass with water.

“There,” he said, “all the air is now removed.” He then explained that freedom from a sinful habit does not come by working hard to eliminate it, but rather by the allowing the Holy Spirit to take full possession of us.

Is there a sinful habit in your life that you can’t to get rid of, no matter how hard you try? Maybe you should stop striving so hard to eliminate your out of control problem. Generally speaking, we don’t need more self-effort and self-regulation. What we need more of is to humble ourselves before God so that He can fill us with His Spirit.

The more we occupy ourselves with Jesus the less room there is for sin to occupy us.

To read more about freedom from addictions, Check out the Discovery Series Bible Study Released!



Penance and Addiction

Jeff Olson —  July 5, 2011 — 5 Comments

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the penance phase in the addictive cycle.

Penance is that tricky phase most cycle through after the high and relief of acting out wears off. Whether it’s getting wasted with alcohol or drugs, throwing a temper tantrum or binging on porn, it’s that place we go to when we feel dissatisfied, guilty and foolish for turning again to something that doesn’t last and often makes things worse.

Penance is tricky because we are not what we seem when we go there. We appear to be making amends for our out of control behavior. We start to act kinder and more thoughtful. We start to do things for others that we’ve been resisting to do for years. It can look so genuine, but it doesn’t last because we’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Making amends is not about a healthy desire to change. It’s about finding a quick behavioral fix and ending the dissatisfaction and shame our addiction has caused.

In the penance phase we also appear to be really sorry and contrite. We beat ourselves up. And we claim to really want to change. We promise to try harder. We make plans to never act out again. We say that we really mean it this time. All of our self-loathing seems to prove our sincerity, but we’re not as sincere as we think. We are not seriously open to a work of God in our lives because we are still trying to handle the brokenness of our life on our own. Rather than humbly accepting the forgiveness and grace of Jesus and admitting that we are is helpless to stop without God, we want to stay in charge. And penance, which is little more than self-effort, is our way to staying in control.

Penance is the opposite of repentance. What makes true repentance possible is humility—the realization and acknowledgment that we are helpless to break free from our addiction and go in a new direction without God. If we try to repent without humility, it will be in our own strength. And it will eventually lead to nothing more sin-management and eventually acting out again.

The New Testament book of James says that humbling ourselves before God is the central to standing against evil desires and even the devil himself (James 4:1-10). Humbling ourselves before God is about surrendering a control over life that we often wrestle away from Him. It’s letting Him call the shots. When it comes to our addictions, it involves receiving His forgiveness and accepting the truth about who He’s says we are in Jesus—a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Because the addictive cycle is partly sustained by keeping the addiction a secret from others, it’s best to stop hiding our struggles and humbly allow others access into what is going on. We must start to get our pain and brokenness out in the open with at least a few non-condemning friends who openly admit they don’t have it all together either. Together, friends can speak into each others lives and encourage each other to grow and stand in the grace and truth of all that they are in Christ.

I have a friend who currently struggles with going to church. He wants to worship and hang out with fellow Christians,  but he’s afraid. He fears that Christians will shun him if they really knew the sexual sin he’s been involved in. There are days he”s not even sure God wants him among His people.

I asked my friend what he thought Jesus would say to him about his sexual sin. He said that Jesus would tell him to stop. Which is true, but I suggested that Jesus would tell him to stop only after he communicated a couple of other thoughts.

I believe Jesus would respond to my friend like He did to the adulterous woman the Pharisees tried to publicly disgrace and condemn (John 8:2-11). After pointing the woman’s accusers back to their own sinfulness—”If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”—Jesus turned and addressed her.

First, he addressed her as “Woman,” which may seem a bit terse and disrespectful. That’s not how a gentleman is supposed to address a lady. But back in Jesus’ day this was a polite and respectful term. It acknowledged her as a legitimate person, rather than as an object to be used and kicked around.

Jesus then pointed out to her (a woman who must have felt utterly humiliated and condemned) that no one, including Himself, condemned her. Only then, did he tell her to leave behind her life of sin.

Are you feeling condemned because of a sinful addiction in your life? Know this…the same Jesus who calls you to leave a life of sin does not condemn you either.


Love beats porn

Jeff Olson —  April 21, 2011 — 6 Comments

CS Lewis once said, “The process of living seems to consist in coming to realize truths so ancient and simple that, if stated, they sound like barren platitudes.”

At the risk of sounding too simplistic, I often suggest to men (and remind myself) that one of the most powerful weapons against the destructive and enslaving forces of pornography is love. Simply put, love sees people as people, not objects. As Jesus put, to see people as people is to “love your neighbor as you love yourself ” (Matthew 22:39). It to recognize that the needs and desires of others are just as legitimate as our own.

When a man looks at porn, he is not thinking of the women (or the men) on the screen as people. At that moment, they are nothing more than objects to him. In order to look and keep looking, he has to dehumanize them. And when he does, he will lose to porn.

The enslaving forces of porn, however, begin to lose their grip when love enters the picture. With love is on the scene, a man will no longer view a woman on the screen as merely an object to be used and exploited for his own sexual gratification. Instead, love compels him to honor her as a fellow human being who has needs, dreams, and hurts as legitimate as his own. And in seeing her as the person she is, he is freed to turn away and keep away from porn.

Seem too simple? You will have to be judge of that. But if you’re a man addicted to looking porn, I encourage you to start here. When you are broken over seeing women as objects to be used and start to see them as the precious fellow image bearers that they are, porn will start to lose it’s appeal.

Check out this video insight on how looking at porn shapes a man’s view of a women?


set-back vs. relapse

Jeff Olson —  February 24, 2011 — 8 Comments

Last weekend the weather in Michigan took a turn for the worst. Prior to the weekend, the weather was dramatically improving. The sun came out, the temperatures were warming up nicely and much of the snow from a long winter melted away.  Things were headed in a good direction.

But by mid-Sunday, it all changed. The temperatures plummeted to well below the freezing mark, the winds picked up, and heavy snow started falling. By the next morning, over a half foot of wet snow and ice blanketed the ground and the roads.

Yuk! Winter had settled back in.

I know that Spring will eventually arrive, but from where I sit, the weather didn’t’ have a minor set-back. It seems like a full-blown relapse.

After a period of improvement, the difference between a set-back and a relapse is huge. This is especially the case when it comes to an addiction.

Set-backs or an occasional slip are often part of the messy process of busting loose from the grip of a compulsive behavior. While it is still inexcusable, they don”t occur with the same frequency and intensity as before. A relapse, however, is when one excuses acting out again with no serious intention of stopping. Unlike a set-back, there is no desire to keep going forward and to get well. There is no commitment to own and learn from our mistakes. Instead there is a giving up and a giving into an even greater level of indulgence (Ephesians 4:19).

Set-back versus relapse—two terms that can help us gauge where we or someone else may be at in dealing with (or not dealing with) an addiction.