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FIRST-PERSON: More about tough love

DURHAM, N.C. (BP)–The column we wrote on “Tough Love Works” in June evoked so much response from readers that we have decided to discuss this issue further.

Often the cry from grieving family members after a tragic death resulting from a drug-related problem is “Too late!”

Most of these saddened loved ones will spend a lifetime reliving the days preceding the needless death, often asking themselves where they went wrong in dealing with the drug problem that would not go away. Did they fail to recognize the symptoms? Did they try to cover up the problem with the commonly used “Let’s pretend” game? Did they enable their loved one to continue along the dark road by bailing him out of trouble time and time again?

Not only does the resulting carnage from reckless choices play havoc with the primary victim’s life, but there are so many others directly touched by these deadly encounters with behavior-altering substances.

We would hasten to remind these regretful mourners that no amount of hurtful self-blame will resurrect the loved one you have lost. But we must learn from these tragedies, so that another one, near and dear, will not meet the same untimely fate.

For most people who return to a sober lifestyle of self-control, the road back is not an easy process. For many, it will involve building entirely new lifestyles, for there was no past history worthy of a return visit.

These temporarily crippled individuals need to be surrounded by those who care, whose every aim is to encourage full recovery. And these addicted ones need to understand that only Christ-centered treatment offers the hope of permanent recovery.

But far too many family members and friends do not know where to draw the line between reasonable and sincere encouragement of recovery, and a smothering, overwhelming tolerance of every misdeed in the misguided name of “true love.” Even the faithful often are afraid to “let go and let God.”

A friend recently complained about an elderly lady who still pays the house payment and other living expenses for a son who for years has been a jobless alcoholic. She explains to family and friends that she fears her son will only fall deeper into his alcohol addiction if she fails to look after his financial welfare. She does not understand that her son will never work at a gainful job and take responsibility for his life, and will never give up the bottle, as long as his mother bails him out of the consequences for his misdeeds. In the meantime, her own misplaced generosity is robbing this dear lady of the money she needs to pay for her own medicine and upkeep. Unless she wakes up to the hard truth, her son will die a drunk, and she will die penniless.

Rules do matter. They are essential to the structure of successful recovery. It is imperative that those who seek to aid in the loved one’s recovery set minimum standards, and demand and expect the drug abuser to conform.

The world is full of grown-up children who still live at home with their parents, often dependent on family for many of the necessities of life, yet expecting to be treated like mature adults. If they do occasionally work at jobs, they use their earned money to fuel their drug habits. When they run out of money, they resort to lies and thievery. Do not expect a drug addict to act like a sober, self-controlled person. Drug abuse does change people, and not for the better.

How many times have well-meaning parents threatened to throw the child (often 20, 30 or 40 years old) who misbehaves out of the house, only to relent to meaningless tears and promises. If our own words become empty, we cannot expect to depend on our addicted loved ones’ promises.

The reason so many drug abusers do not achieve permanent recovery is because wellness requires too much effort and often involves experiencing too much pain. These addicts are looking for the easy way out of their troubles, and there is no easy way! They do not wish to reap the whirlwind of their own poor choices. They prefer that others, often the innocent, experience the agonizing pain and pay the price.

“Tough love” does work. But it requires painful decisions on the part of the “significant others” who desire better and more productive lifestyles for their loved ones.

Do not expect the desperate addict to repay these hard decisions with reciprocal love, praise or concern. They are spiritually and physically sick individuals, and they do not respond to life events rationally.

But there is hope. Jesus is still healing hurting people!
The authors of this monthly column share their ministry in church pulpits and through articles and books. For further information or advice, you may contact them through Ted Stone Ministries, P.O. Box 1397, Durham, NC 27702, or you may call (919) 477-1581.

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  • Ted G. Stone & Philip Barber