Acceptance is the first principle of recovery. Recovery begins when an individual moves from denial to acceptance. It does not happen all at once, and it isn't something that another person can do for the individual suffering from an addiction. Still, each time you confront a person with reality you help bring him closer to accepting his situation and seeing the need to change.

Most people have lived in denial for years before they come for help. Often they have been surrounded by "co-conspirators" who have enabled their dysfunctional behavior to continue and who have reinforced their denial system. Together they have constructed a delusional world where the full extent of the problem is never acknowledged, let alone dealt with. The first job of treatment, then—and the first step toward recovery—is to bring someone to the point of acceptance.

Sometimes people ask if a person can be helped who does not want help. Usually what they are really asking is whether they should wait until the person asks for help, or whether there is something they can do to help the process along.

Ultimately, you cannot help someone who refuses to be helped. As the old saying goes, addiction is an inside job. It can only be cured from the inside, by the person himself or herself taking the necessary steps to recover. If a person had a purely physical problem, like the flu, it would be theoretically be possible to force medicine into their system against their will and thereby make them get better.

But for all its physiological components, addiction is also a psychological, emotional, and even spiritual condition. It requires the active complicity of the addict in order to continue, and it requires the active cooperation of the addict in order to move toward recovery.

But there is something you can do for addicts who don’t want help. You can stop being an enabler and start being someone who aggressively confronts with reality, and forces him or her to confront it as well. We can lovingly but persistently hold up the mirror of reality and make them see themselves as they really are, driving away the illusions and deceptions in which they try to take refuge.


Why People Don't Recover

The reasons why people do not seek help for their problems are as many and varied as the people themselves. But here are some of the common obstacles to pursuing and maintaining recovery:

1.  Problem behavior attracts longed-for attention.
2.  The pain isn’t great enough—yet.
3.  Fear of launching into the unknown.
4.  Someone is enabling the addiction (message to the enabler: stop it!)
5.  Fear of exposure. Guilt is private but shame is public. The only answer is openness and making amends for the past. This resolves the guilt and robs shame of its power.
6.  Pride.
7.  “Praying for a miracle” when God wants you to take some action.
8.  Seeking a quick fix.
9.  Despair. 
10.  Physiological or biochemical dependency.
11.  Fear of failure.
12.  Fear of rejection.
13.  Fear of change.
14.  Running from reality.
15.  False sense of happiness. During an episode of addictive behavior, everything feels great.
16.  False sense of power.
17.  Fear of insanity if separated from your fix.

In recovery you need power to fight back the temptations that threaten you on every side. There is no power within yourself that is up to the task. You need a higher power, a power outside yourself. You need the power of the Creator of the Universe. You need the power of Jesus Christ.

Where do you find him? Ultimately you find God in his revealed word, the Bible. You will not escape your obsessions or compulsions until you place your faith in Him.

You must guard yourself against philosophies that run counter to the word of God, philosophies that sound attractive but that in fact turn you away from spiritual reality. Many people today tell us "we are all God." This is a dangerous concept for two reasons. One, it robs us of the knowledge of who God really is. And two, it puts us back in the very spot that got us into trouble in the first place: trying to be God. Have we not already tried to run the world, and found how pathetically inadequate we are to the task?

But there is a God who can run the world, and who can be trusted to watch over our lives as well. This is the God who created all that is, who created us, who loves us and longs to be Lord of our lives. He has revealed himself in the pages of the Bible. Recovery depends on your opening your mind, heart, and will to his loving care.


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The above piece is an adaptation from When You Love Too Much: Walking the Road to Healthy Intimacy, by Steve Arterburn.  Ventura, Regal, 2004. Used with permission.
Stephen Arterburn is the founder of New Life Ministries, the largest provider of Christian counseling and treatment in North America. As host of the daily New Life Live! radio program, he is heard nationally on over one hundred and eighty stations and at www.newlife.com. Steve is the lead speaker at The New Life Weekend, a conference with specialty programs for Marriage, Anger, Fear, Boundaries, Depression, Weight Loss, Abuse, and Forgiveness. Steve is also the creator of Women of Faith® Conferences and the author/coauthor of over fifty books, including Healing is a Choice, Lose it For Life, The God of Second Chances, Every Man’s Battle, Avoiding Mr. Wrong, Reframe Your Life, and Midlife Manual for Men.
New Life Ministries serves the emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of those across the country. Founded by Steve Arterburn, New Life provides biblical, Christ-centered advice though the New Life Live! radio program, weekend workshops and more. Visit www.NewLife.com for more.

Original publication date: May 29, 2009