1, 2, 3 Times a Lady……

There was an old Commodores song, “She’s One, Two, Three Times a Lady……”   I don’t even remember all of the words, but in an odd way, that phrase seems to apply to the ministry I find myself doing with women in addiction.

Statistically, according to some sources, it will take at least 3-5 recovery efforts before a person in addiction “gets it”, before she finally gets to the point of real readiness for change.  Some even state unequivocally that relapse IS a necessary part of the process.  Expect it.  Build it into the process.  Don’t be surprised by it.

I am observing that if one comes in too soon for the first attempt, before there have been sufficient adverse consequences, there is a slim chance of long term success with the first effort.  No matter how much we, as staff, give of ourselves or pray or how well the student articulates understanding of the concepts,  it most likely is not going to stick, even if she completes the program, if she is under 30-35 years old and it is her first attempt. 

That makes me sad, because how wonderful it would be if one could be spared some of the heartache of the spiraling vortex of addiction by being awakened early, through caring intervention, to the damage she is doing to her own soul and to others who love and care for her.  Alas, one cannot “be awakened”, at least not by human interventions.  One has to “awaken” through her own choice to hear the call that comes from within her own spirit.  We, as supportive community, can only be handmaidens to one’s own choice to be healed through engagement with the Healer. 

With the first effort, there comes that wonderful feeling of relief and restoration of one’s sense of self and a recognition that there is hope for a renewed life.  But there is also generally a lack of understanding of how difficult persevering in recovery is going to be long term as situations and trials once again are encountered in the “real world”.   They are eager to “get on with life”; they leave as soon as they can; and they often relapse in a matter of months.  One.

With a second attempt, there’s a bit more humility.  There’s a greater understanding of what one is up against and the fact it is going to take longer, be more difficult, and will likely require lifelong attentiveness to the effort.  The relapse has given one a more realistic look at herself and more clarity about the degree of damage she is doing to others in her life, as well. Even so, God is good and, thankfully, seems to give as many “do-overs” as may be necessary.   Time, nurture, attentiveness to one’s spirit, listening to the gentle voice within and, once again, life begins to emerge from the chaos and brokenness.  Two.

With a third attempt……..I’m not even able to speak about third attempts.  I have been adamant that it would be pointless to bring a woman back to Bethel Village for a third attempt.  We offer the same message, the same curriculum, the same activities, the same lectures, the same process, the same venues.  Can repetition of the same things again and again bring a different result?  Or is it simply true what popular psychculture says, that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.  We offer to assist a woman who has been through our program twice to find another program with different people, different perspectives, different geography. Maybe someone else can present the Gospel with more power or persuasion than we could.  Or maybe the woman just wasn’t ready.
I’m not so sure it’s a matter of how many attempts it takes so much as it is a matter of how truly broken one is when she finally gets to the point of getting into a recovery program.  And even then, in all probability, it is simply going to take multiple times of trying and failing before one gets sufficient personal insights and trusts God enough to surrender it all, especially the younger she is.

So, the question becomes, am I able to withstand the heartache, to disassociate myself sufficiently from the disappointment of watching the failure of those who fail in initial recovery efforts.  Even though I know full well that it is God’s work and not mine that accomplishes the transformation, I know full well also that God has called me to participate as a teacher in the process, to give my best to the effort, to be faithful to share the message of His love, His redemption, and His grace.

I went through a difficult time of self-examination about my ministry about a year ago, after several students relapsed.  Here I am, again, asking God and myself what ELSE am I supposed to do?  What else CAN I do? 

Do we simply take all-comers, regardless of how many times she has attempted recovery, adopting the attitude that it will take as many times as it takes…. do the lessons, go through the steps, and trust God’s wisdom with who succeeds and who fails?  Should we attempt to exercise any discernment about who’s “ready” for recovery?  Is relapse “failure” or is it a necessary part of the process? 

My husband has been listening to my volleying back and forth about adjusting decisions about admissions, responding to relapses, and striving to keep my own balance in the midst of the emotional whitewater I have to maneuver as I watch women make such poor decisions…… sadness, compassion, grief, disappointment, anger, hurt.  There is no response I can make except to trust God.  Most students affirm their sense that God has brought them to this time and place in their lives.  And when they leave prematurely, due to poor decisions that get them dismissed or by walking away from the process, I trust that He still has a plan and is taking them through whatever they need to go through to get what they need for the next attempt at recovery. Three.

Maybe.  Or maybe they will continue in attempts at recovery… nine, or ten, or more times. The reality is that some will never “get it”.  They will become sad, homeless, unkempt lonely women…. vulnerable, pleading for help and understanding, doing whatever they must to survive another day, no longer caring what others think.

I tell students that God has a plan for every life.  One can choose to cooperate with God’s plan, to seek God’s sovereign will and be a good example.  Or, by failing to do so, one may well become a horrible warning.  There are plenty of both –  good examples and horrible warnings – when it comes to addiction recovery.   The choice is one’s own.  I cannot make it.  But I do grieve the choices made poorly.