Unsolicited Advice from a Repentant, Sober Father*

My dearest daughter, you are a woman now. That being the case, I have thought long and hard about the wisdom of offering any advice unsolicited. However, having personally witnessed the ongoing, year-after-bloody-year heartache (and untold destruction) wrought by the scourge of addiction, I decided that the risk of you rolling your eyes at me is outweighed by the multiple risks associated with staying silent.

Father Holding Daughter's HandMy sincere love for you requires no detailed accounting; it is my hope that you have always known, however flawed my methods, that my ultimate desire is for both your temporal and eternal good. I very much want you to have the most joyful life possible and be united to Christ once your time here on Earth comes to an end.

So, with that, I have a couple pieces of unsolicited advice for you with regard to relationships.

  1. If you are considering a relationship with a young man who shows any of the warning signs of addiction, it’s best that you stop dead, right where you are, and do your best to drive any and all thoughts of him from your mind. Yes, of course, you can continue to be kind to this person, but you must not agree to go on a date or otherwise spend any alone time with him.
  2. If you should find that you are already deeply enmeshed in a romantic relationship with someone whom you later discover to be an addict, but are not yet married, end the relationship immediately and sever all contact for at least one calendar year.

Since we are both Christians, and you already know that I spend much of my time in ministry to other addicts like myself, you might well wonder at the severity of these recommendations.

Please trust me when I say that Christians far smarter than both of us combined have nonetheless been sucked into thinking something along the lines of, “Gosh, if I just love him well enough, and stand firm on some boundaries, we will get through this.” While I strongly recommend that you do continue to love this person through a deepening – albeit solitary – prayer life, allowing yourself to think that you (or anyone else, for that matter) will be sufficient to cure an addict is both folly and hubris.

All human love has limits, despite what you hear sung on the radio. Christ alone loves us with an infinite passion. Christ alone has the ability to cleanse the soul of an addict.

As a matter of fact, if you ever did want to talk about it, I am more than ready to make a strong case that following the two simple-yet-difficult steps I’ve outlined above is (by far) the most loving response possible. It is most loving for the Kingdom of Christ, it is most loving for you and, surprisingly, for the addict himself.

All addicts are liars and manipulators. Tragically, the person they spend the most time lying to is themselves. The cycle of Temptation-Failure-Remorse-Resolve plays itself out over and over again across years of time, fueled primarily by the lies addicts tell themselves: “This time will be different,” as just one common example. Since an addict must become adept at lying to self, he quite naturally becomes skilled at lying to others. Even if you two love each other deeply and sincerely, he may well find himself unable (literally, as in not able) to stop lying and manipulating.

In my second point, I added the phrase “for at least one calendar year” not as any sort of throwaway, but rather as a very clear line in the sand, what I would suggest as the bare minimum. The primary reason for this is that when any relationship is threatened, the addict panics and quickly begins spinning wild stories and hatching Mythical Recovery Schemes that might sound plausible. Well…time is the acid test here, not an impressive overflow of words and promises.

It’s helpful at this point, I think, to remind oneself that the percentage of fully-recovered addicts in this world is miserably low compared to the number of people who live out the Temptation-Failure-Remorse-Resolve gauntlet for the entirety of their lives. If he really does relinquish control and seek qualified, clinical assistance with his addiction – and stays on that road without frequent relapse – you might (MIGHT!) consider meeting him in a public location for a cup of coffee after a year goes by. Another way to love this person from afar is to keep yourself well informed.

You and I, as believers, are united by a shared desire to love people well and give all glory to Jesus. A huge part of loving people well is not allowing them to visit destruction on themselves and others.

Whenever we give a hard-core addict any sort of “soft landing,” we are nearly always unwittingly enabling him to immediately resume the cycle of lying to his own heart – “Hey, I guess it’s not that bad after all!” – and then, slowly, over time, the lies of the heart creep outward and splash all over the people who care most about him.

But God is faithful! He will throw out clear, appropriate red flags whenever we ask Him to, especially if we regularly seek His will in prayer.

Red flags for uncovering a hidden addiction are everywhere, if we will just have the courage and the confidence to allow ourselves to truly see whatever it is God is trying to show us. Does the man in your life try to limit your access to people he knows are important to you? Does he freak out whenever you innocently pick up his cell phone? Do you notice a lot of seemingly-odd ritualistic behavior? Does he treat his immediate family members with contempt? Is he capable of allowing himself to experience uncomfortable feelings…without lashing out?

Please try to remember that, during your dating period, he is going to be on his absolute-best behavior. We all do that to a degree, of course, but normal courting rituals aside, we need to remember that a huge component of the addiction cycle is to unknowingly “transfer” the lying/manipulation process that very likely played such a huge part in his family of origin to someone else. The addict must have someone in his life that he can blame for his problems.

Hopefully, that “someone else” will not be you.

Song of Solomon 8:4
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.

Psalm 14:1-4
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the Lord?

1 Corinthians 15:33
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

*This letter was not, in fact, written specifically to any of my several daughters…but with an eye toward them, certainly, as well as the many other young women who find themselves dating someone they later learn to have to an addiction. Though I am 21 years sober, several faces came to mind as I was writing this. My prayer is that many more women – my daughters included – will take what I am saying to heart.

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