by Dr. Paul Hardy
Founder, Recovery for Life ministries
God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
The other day someone called in a crisis. After sharing some options and resources, I asked how I might pray for them. “Pray that God would give me patience.” We most often avoid that prayer as if it were a plague. We do not want to be patient. Our culture goes against it and our very nature fights it. For people who struggle with addictions, that sense of impatience is heightened because we are used to instant gratification. For the addict, it’s “get what you want when you want it or find a resourceful way to make sure you do.”
A sure-fire sign that someone is not doing well in his or her recovery, or that they are struggling with an area of temptation is a severe lack of patience. Let’s look at it like this:
I was at the grocery store one day and met with the perfect example of addiction. A dear lady from our church was standing at the ice cream freezer, looking. I too was hunting my favorite flavor of the week, just hoping it might be on a buy one get one free. We conversed for a moment, and then with a gleam in her eye and passion in her voice, she leaned in and said, "See this ice cream. It’s on sale and I just bought a pallet load of it!"
Just take the intensity of your favorite food, ice cream, chips, whatever it might be, and multiple that by 50. That’s a bit of the surge of emotion the addict senses. Whether it is pornography, sweets, heroin or crack, the instant sense of pleasure can be indescribable. Now, let’s say that, to that same lady, we tell her that she cannot have ANY ice cream. Just imagine what might happen!
So, if someone you love is not doing well, there are certain telltale signs:
1. Big Stress and Anger
Overall, the key to knowing that a spouse, co-worker, or friend has relapsed is to observe their level of stress. If suddenly the stress level rises with no explanation, that’s concerning. One young man we worked with began to have severe migraine headaches. He had never had them before and they became crippling. Later, he was arrested, and we could pinpoint the date the headaches began to the time he began illegal activities.
The internal stress of denial, lying and covering up can be exhausting. Add to that mix the symptoms of secret withdrawal, and a fiery dragon soon emerges.
People who are healthy in recovery deal with stressors in creative and positive ways.
Dena explains that every time her husband gets deep into porn he becomes very defensive about the time he spends on the computer. “He just won’t listen, becomes angry and fights if I try to point out how much time he’s spending at work or on the computer.” Pornography is not the only technological addiction. We are seeing a rise in the number of adults who have become addicted to video gaming; spending up to 10 hours a day playing video games.
If a person is truly repentant they don’t become defensive when they’re confronted.
Not only is defensiveness an issue, but also out-right lying is a sign of deeper issues. Katrina found a small list in her husband’s wallet. When she confronted him about what appeared to be a list of drug dealer’s names and addresses, he became very angry. “He just could not believe that I didn’t trust him and that I went through his wallet. He said the list was potential clients. But I did recognize two of them as druggie associates.” Lying, excuse-making and covering up create doubt about a person’s integrity.
For some lies, there are objective proof tests. Living with someone who has lied often, or continues to lie can drive family members to insanity!
Urine screens don’t lie. I have given drug tests to people who, after failing them, stared their family members and me in the eyes and still lied. Eventually, the truth comes out. For the cheater, a lie-detector test, even though not 100% accurate, can expose the truth. Hiding behaviors, inconsistencies, and covering up for time spent are signs that something is wrong. The secrets have got to come out. Until the splinters of secrecy are removed, there will be no lasting relief.
If a person is doing well, their life will be an open book to you.
One of the clearest signs a person is not doing well is a disdain, critical attitude and hatred for other people who struggle with the same addiction. They may judge or complain about other people who are alcoholics. “I’m not nearly as bad off so and so who just fell.”
Rather than showing empathy or even offering possible solutions, the person who is secretly living a double life will look down on others who are not doing well. They are quick to call people out and tell them what they should have done.
The person who is broken and sincere will have both compassion and offer realistic solutions for others who fall.
The best way to understand how a person is doing in their recovery is to ask them when they are doing well. Invite them to become your educator. Ask them to teach you what their signs are that will tell you they are not doing well. Partner with them in an agreement so that you can help keep them from falling.
This blog article was written by Dr. Paul Hardy, a champion for the cause of broken and addicted people. For the last 12 years, he and his wife Suzie have dedicated their lives to helping people break free from the bondages of addictions and compulsive behaviors. Together, they founded Recovery for Life, a non-profit that ministers to over 300 people a week in the Virginia Beach, Tidewater area. He is also the Director of the Life Counseling and Recovery Center of Eastern Virginia. Visit their Recovery for Life website (formerly Recovery for the City) www.r4ci.com/