You Can Improve Life with a Substance Abuser Through Christian Counseling (Part 1)
By Chris Chandler, MA, LMHC, CSAT, Bellevue Christian Counseling
References: Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening by Robert J. Meyers, Ph.D & Brenda L. Wolfe, Ph.D
This is the first article in a two-part set about improving life with a substance abuser. This article focuses on how to develop the proper mindset necessary to plan and achieve your goals. Although the language used in the book speaks to alcoholics, the principles apply to every kind of substance abuser.
Proper Planning Prevents Poor PerformanceYou must know exactly where you want to go, and how you are going to get there. Some people are better at planning than others. You might have a group of friends who enthusiastically agree you should “do something sometime,” but no one ever says what or when, so nothing happens. You need that one friend who says, “Let’s meet for lunch at this place and this time.”
It is the same for setting goals. Everyone has dreams about how they hope their life will turn out, especially the spouses of substance abusers. They have all the expected fantasies of ordinary people, blanketed by the supreme fantasy of a life with a sober spouse. The authors of “Get Your Loved Ones Sober” lay out a series of principles for goal-setting to help partners of substance abusers approach improving their lives, and encouraging their loved one to change their destructive habits.
Wishes vs. Goals
You must know exactly what your goals are, the authors write. You may think to yourself, “I want my spouse to be a better partner.” The authors categorize this as a wish rather than a goal. It is too vague and doesn’t inspire a plan of action. Ask yourself how your mate could be a better spouse. Would they be more reliable about picking the kids up when they say they will? Would they stop drinking themselves asleep every evening in front of the TV? These are goals because you can you can create a strategy for achieving them, and assign criteria for knowing whether you have achieved them.
“Successfully changing your life is easier if you have a vision of what you want it to become. Think about what you miss from better times and how you would like to live in the future.” (68)
Your Dream Life
The authors provide this activity to help you imagine what your dream life would look like. Give three specific examples for each question. Do not say things like, “Spend more time together,” or “Be nicer to me.” Instead, say exactly what you want, “Take walks in the evening,” or, “help the kids with their homework.” (68)
- “Describe three activities you used to enjoy with your drinker that you no longer do together.”
- “Describe three activities your drinker currently does that you would like him/her to stop doing.”
- “Describe three activities your drinker currently does that you would like him/her to do more often.”
- “Describe three activities you and your drinker have not done in the past that you would like to do together.”
Goals to Get You There
Now that you have an idea of what your dream life with your loved one would be like, the authors offer suggestions to help you to set goals that will move your fantasy out of your heart and into your life. They do this by addressing aspects of your life and relationship with your substance abuser that you must improve to realize your dreams.
You must be specific about what you want, and then specific about how you plan to achieve it. Recall the parable in Luke 14 when Jesus admonished believers to make certain they were willing to make the sacrifices that came with following him. “‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30 NIV)
Could you imagine someone who set out to build a house but did not have any blueprints? It would be a disaster. It is the same with pursuing a goal. It is not enough to say, “I want my spouse to help the kids with their homework more.” You need to figure out what kind of homework the kids need help with, which nights, and for how long.
Christian Counseling for setting Goals
Pursuing a goal is hard work. When you sit down to plan how you can accomplish what you want, the amount of effort required can so intimidate you that you want to give it up altogether. But scripture tells us that hard work pays off, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” (Prov. 21:5 NIV)
They can help you lay out what it is you want in life, and help you brainstorm paths to get there. In the case of people living with substance abusers, a professional Christian counselor can help you encourage your loved one to pursue treatment.
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