2.4 Detachment

To bring the alcoholic out of denial and to subsequently help them to victory, intervention is required. In the same way, God intervened in our hopeless lives to bring us to Himself. The cross is likened to God tearing open the skies and coming down. Yet that radical intervention in the life of the alcoholic often has to be in terms of detachment from them. Yet in doing this we are manifesting the love of God showed to us in the cross. He didn’t give His Son in anger or irritation or because He was plain fed up with us. He did it in a calculated, supremely self-sacrificing way. And this is the model for the Christian family who have to detach from an alcoholic member. Choosing the option of detachment from the alcoholic needs to be made prayerfully and carefully.

Alcoholism is a sin. Let’s get that straight. The world around has sought to lessen this simple fact over the past 100 years. Alcoholism has progressed from being a sin to being a psychological problem, a disease, and now [to some] merely a mental health disorder. It may be all those things, but it is a sin, no matter what psychological disorders may have been created by it. Perceiving that will help the Christian alcoholic see the matter in a perspective which the unbeliever cannot share. But how does God deal with habitual sin? He had plenty of experience of this in His relationship with Israel His wayward, adulterous people. And tragically, He has plenty more experience of it with us, too. When Israel blindly sold themselves to sin, they were likened to alcoholics- drunk and numb to their responsibilities before their God. So what did God do in response? He didn’t say ‘Well Israel that’s the end of you and me, I want nothing more to do with you, go away and never see me again’. Did God cast away His people? By no means (Rom. 11:1,2). He felt like destroying the lot of them and starting over (Ex. 33,34)- but He never did. According to Hosea, He felt like a jilted lover, a man who had married a woman who liked being a prostitute. And so He grieved over what they were doing. He loved them, so deeply. He sent His servants and then His Son to call them back to Him (Mt. 21:33-38), knowing they would do His beloved Son to death. Manifesting the Father, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, earnestly wishing for them to return to the Father: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem...” (Mt. 22:37). The parable of the prodigal son speaks in the first instance of the Father waiting earnestly for wayward Israel to return to Him from their dispersion in the Gentile world.

Yet other Biblical evidence speaks of how God distanced Himself from Israel, detaching Himself from them. He did this not so that they would not contaminate Him, nor because He was irritated with them or embarrassed by them. They continued to embarrass God by bringing His Name into dishonour amongst the Gentiles. Yet His love for them takes Him beyond that. He sticks out the shame for the sake of His love for them. And He will never ever finish with Israel. So why, then, has He so detached Himself from them? Only, therefore, for their benefit. Look at the Biblical evidence:

- God left Israel in order to purge them; it was part of the fire which would purify them of their dross (Ez. 22:20-22). There was a clear purpose and aim in His detachment.

- God left them so that the nakedness of their sin would be revealed- He would no longer cover up for them in the eyes of the Gentile world (Ez. 23:29).

- Isaiah uses the fact God has forsaken Israel as the very basis of his appeal for them to return to Him (Is. 2:5,6). He left so that they might return to Him with their whole heart. But He was of course ever eager to have them back.

- God tells Israel that because He has forsaken them, therefore they should seek Him (Am. 5:2,4).

- God would forsake His people until they realized that their problems were because He was not with them (Dt. 31:17).

- In 2 Chron. 12:5,6 we read of how God forsook Israel, leaving them in the hand of Shishak; but because of this they humbled themselves and He returned to them.

- He forsook Hezekiah, to reveal perhaps to Hezekiah himself what was in his heart- for God already knew, surely, without any experimentation (2 Chron. 32:31).

- Neh. 9:28,31 use the same Hebrew word for forsake / abandon in two senses. “You abandoned them to the hand of their enemies...but in your great mercy you did not abandon them” (N.I.V.). God forsook Israel, but heard them when they cried and came back to them; but in the ultimate sense He did not forsake them because of His grace and mercy. Thus Zion feels forsaken by God, but ultimately realizes this was never the case (Is. 49:14). It will then seem as just for a small moment that God forsook her (Is. 54:6,7).

All this perhaps is a pattern for us. It’s frightfully difficult to make detachment from an alcoholic with the same purity of motives which God has. For you have been hurt, abused, used... but here is where love and true God-likeness is tested to the extreme. We may be forced to abandon (separate), but we must take care to NEVER remove hope for recovery as a possibility; for God likewise never gives up. The lost sheep is searched for until it is found. We cannot totally forsake a family member lost in alcoholism. But we can detach / forsake to some extent. There was plan and purpose in His detachment; it wasn’t mere wrath, irritation and tiredness with human weakness. If God had continued an active relationship with Israel, going through the endless cycle of sin, judgment, vague repentance, promises to do better, forgiveness, sin, judgment... then the real issues aren’t tackled. His detachment from them leaves them alone enough to face themselves and come to the real repentance which He seeks. But it’s terribly and tragically hard for God to make this detachment.

Hosea has some descriptions of God’s anguish of heart in doing this which are, I find, some of the Bible’s most gripping words: “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I cast thee off, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboiim? my heart is turned within me, my compassions are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee; and I will not come in wrath” (Hos. 11:8,9 ASV). Here God Almighty struggles with Himself. He has promised to execute His fierce anger against them, to destroy them with Sodom’s judgment because they had behaved even worse. But He would not let Himself totally do this. Because He loved them. Or again: “I have forsaken mine house, I have left mine heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of my soul into the hand of her enemies” (Jer. 12:7; 2 Kings 21:14; Ps. 78:60). Note that God had earlier promised [using the same Hebrew word] never to leave / forsake His people (1 Sam. 12:22; Ps. 94:14). Yet He was driven to it by the needs of Israel. So don’t feel trapped by earlier promises, made at an earlier stage of the alcoholism, to always support and stick with the sin. But of course, detachment must only be as a total last resort.

You need to detach from the alcoholic, perhaps even by physically leaving them. But it will be heart wrenching, no matter how angry you feel with the person. Yet God knows your pain, and He will be close to you. For He goes through it all the time with His wayward children. This detachment is necessary for your own well-being as well as their repentance. Otherwise you will become co-dependent, with a personality wrapped up in the weakness of another, rather than an independent child of God, growing upright as a palm tree, planted by the rivers of waters of God’s word (Ps. 1:3). How to show this detachment is going to be hard, and will vary from case to case. Physical separation is not automatically nor necessarily the answer, unless the alcoholic is abusive towards you. Seek to show love and yet not the sympathy which confirms the alcoholic in their wrong way. Never ever make your detachment from motives of anger, but rather of love. Explain what you are doing and why. Explain that you will no longer cover up for the alcoholic in making excuses to others. You will not aid the drinking by giving money, buying alcohol, altering arrangements to cover up for his or her likely drunkenness. Explain that you are pursuing your service to God in other ways than simply being totally enmeshed in the alcoholic’s life. But comfort them that detachment doesn’t mean abandonment. You love them. God loves us and our sins never affect our standing before Him in Christ, but rather they affect our practical fellowship with Him. Explain to the alcoholic that you are trying to act sincerely on the Biblical basis of how God treated Israel. Assure them that your detachment from them is not a statement of judgment upon them by you. We must not confuse in our own minds forgiveness with tolerance. Point out that you too are a habitual sinner in other ways, and be careful to not feel you are more righteous than them, or of better standing before God than them, just because your sins aren’t so open. Remind them of the verse that says that some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before them to judgment [and that applies to the alcoholic], whereas others have sins which will only be apparent then (1 Tim. 5:24). And this latter category, you can truly say from the heart, applies to you. And you’re worried about it.

Let Go And Let God

In the end, it has to be a case of “Let go and let God”. But this of course is not the same as merely walking away from the problem. I appreciate the very real fear of the loved alcoholic coming to harm if one lets go and does not stay to 'protect' them from themselves. It is hard turning away during a drinking binge knowing they may inadvertently kill themselves. To quote again from a sister with much experience in this area: “It takes a lot of prayer and faith that all things are in God's hands to keep to those boundaries”. We cannot ultimately change nor control others- even though we all have something of the ‘Christ complex’, the playing of God, whereby we think that it is [or ought to be] solely within our power to change someone else. And we tend to feel bad about ourselves when we can’t achieve this. True love does not “seek its own” (1 Cor. 13:5); our love for the alcoholic must be pure and not part of our own self-love. The self-confidence of Jesus was not affected by how few really responded to His work. He had an agenda, but He never once imposed it. Our boundaries need to be established firmly, so that we don’t become co-dependent on the addicted person, obsessed with them to an extent that it harms our own person and relationship with God. The large turnover among counsellors of alcoholics shows how easy it is even for professionals to fail in this. We can in the end only manage ourselves and our response to situations. Try to set a regular routine for things in the home. This is good not only for any children involved but it sets you up as the controller of an otherwise chaotic domestic situation. There will be regular meal times. There will be regular Bible readings. Bed time is regular. Those things will not be interfered with, so far as you are physically able, by the alcoholic. Read and re-read Psalm 37, underlining how many times we are told to “fret not” in any circumstance- because of our own personal relationship with the Lord and our personal hope of the life eternal in the Kingdom. Fretting is one of the defining characteristics of many families with alcoholics amongst them.

Yet once the alcoholic has been brought out of denial, there are a range of realistic options open to you. There are expert counsellors available, both Christian and secular, and Alcoholics Anonymous has many branches throughout the world. My advice would definitely be to try to get a qualified Christian, Bible-based counsellor involved as soon as the alcoholic is willing. The ‘disease’ really is curable, with God’s help! Only 15% of American alcoholics go into treatment of their own free will. The majority are gotten there by others who care for them.

Welcoming The Prodigal

One major factor in many peoples’ alcoholism is the company which they keep. Alcoholics somehow seem to seek each other out and empower each other to continue in their self-destruction. The usual pattern is that the alcoholic desperately wants to quit, acknowledges the problem, but can’t seem to stay sober because others are jealous of their progress and tempt them with more drink. Albeit unconsciously, it becomes vital to alcoholics to keep their friends drinking. At this stage, the recovering alcoholic needs a new set of friends. And it is here that the set of family and friends who have previously detached from her or him can be vital. It’s also where the recovering brother or sister needs desperately to have good friends within the ecclesia. The parable of the good Samaritan features Jesus, the Samaritan, taking the wounded man [each of us] to an inn, where He enables him to be cared for until He returns. The inn is surely the ecclesia. The body of Jesus, made up of us its many parts, “makes increase of itself”, it builds itself up in love. One source of our strength and spiritual dynamism is undoubtedly from others within the ecclesia. This is why open, supportive contact with each other is so vital.

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