Knowing how to care for someone who is addicted or has a mental disorder can be very difficult. The relationship is fraught with opportunities for misunderstandings, dysfunction and disagreement. The biggest challenge in having a relationship with someone who is addicted, mentally unwell or both is remembering that you cannot force them to change. It does not matter that you can see the obvious right choice. You cannot force that choice on them until they see it for themselves. The patience and energy that this requires of you will be immense. Tragically, it is possible that your patience and energy will be spent in vein. Not every case of addiction and mental disorder is resolved. Some dysfunctional people ultimately stay on the path of destruction, and people in their lives are forced to take space from them to protect themselves. The best thing you can do is decide critically and honestly about how much of yourself you can give to the dysfunctional person in your life, and then give it to them with your whole heart.
Addicts and mentally unhealthy people require understanding for both sides of their nature; the side that knows taking steps to heal is the best choice and the side that just wants vindication for the way they are. This duality that lives within them is not only the difference between selflessness and selfishness, it is the difference between healthy and unhealthy, functional and diseased, free and trapped. Many dysfunctional people were subjected to unhealthy life circumstances, which is largely responsible for why they are the way they are today. This damage done to their mental health was an injustice to them, and was not within their control. However, the choice to recover belongs to everyone, no matter what kind of damage was done. Recovery may even have to be the focus of a person’s entire life due to the challenges they face. Those who support them along the way play a huge roll in their recovery. Whatever compassion you are able to give an addicted or mentally unhealthy person should certainly go to them.
The culture we live in values self gratification and individualistic pursuits. It is much more common to hear people asking what the world can do for them than what they can do for the world. We are immersed in this mindset, yet there is an undying call to altruism among us. The example that Jesus Christ, the son of God, set for us was quite different: a humble life of service.
Jesus repeatedly set an example of serving the addicted, the diseased, the mislead, the ill, the impoverished and the mentally broken. As the Son of God, he knelt down to wash the feet of his disciples, embraced those with leprosy and provided food for crowds of thousands. He invited us to follow in his footsteps, changing our thinking from serving the self to serving those in need.
Why would this benefit us more than living for ourselves? Because it is how we were created to live. We were meant to live in God’s presence, with our needs for love and provision endlessly being met, giving us the natural capacity to give endlessly of ourselves. This healthy way of living, being a servant, was meant to balance and sustain all of life on this planet, but when man chose free will over God’s provision, we lost the presence of God that was meant to fulfill us, and therefore lost the capacity to be truly selfless. Some have found there way back to service, selflessness and altruism, but they represent a rare minority.
Christ called followers to him, telling them they must be spiritually reborn in order to become what they were meant to be. In the time of Christ, and today, and since the dawn of humanity, people have been born into selfishness, but Christ calls us to turn from our selfish ways and submit completely to him, the one true God, restoring our destiny of an altruistic life of service.
The idea of God loving us for our weaknesses is profound, and contradictory to what we are often taught. To many people, the idea that God would love us for our strengths and deny us for our weaknesses makes much more sense. Why would a perfect God want anything to do with our weaknesses? The answer to this question carries the meaning of life itself. Any loving parent knows that their small child needs them even though the child does not consciously admit this. The parent fully embraces this knowledge because it is the way things are intended to be, and the fact that their child is smaller and weaker than they are makes them love their child all the more. As God’s children, he feels the same way about us. Our frailty is part of our design.
If you consider how this applies to those who are unhealthy, whether it is due to depression, anxiety, addiction, bipolar disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia or any other illness, God is saying through his word and through the sacrifice of Jesus that he loves those who are broken. He loves the weary and the wounded so much that he would give his own life to see them free from their bondage. For it is not God’s doing that people suffer with afflictions. It is the work of evil, God’s greatest opposition. God wants nothing but for us to stay close to him so that he can protect our heart’s, mind’s and spirit’s from evil. The only way for our hearts to have peace is through God’s grace that showers us in love. The fact of the matter is, everyone is broken to some degree. Jesus Christ was the only perfect individual to ever walk the face of the earth. There is nothing we can do to be identical to him, because he was God in the flesh. Instead, when we accept His love, the need for perfection on our end becomes negated.
In the church and in the world, there is an incorrect perception of God’s love only being for those who follow all the rules. This incorrect way of thinking dictates that the way to win God’s approval is by going to every church function, tithing, singing loudly during worship and saying prayers right on schedule. Those who think this way are largely missing the point of everything that being a Christian entails, yet this attitude has somehow managed to thrive in the church since the time of its formation. The word of God makes the opposite very clear. God’s love is for every kind of sinner and wrong-doer who ever lived. It is for everyone.
The bible encourages believers to come to God as they are. Not when they have made their lives resemble perfection. Not when they are a model Christian and church-goer. Not when they have discovered all the answers. God loves us for our weaknesses. He created us to need him. Our need for him is what keeps us seeking him through this life, despite having separation from him. When Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross, it was to atone our imperfections. God is perfect, and we could not ever be in his presence if it were not for the sacrifice that Jesus made. In doing so, it erased the necessity of making ourselves perfect, which we were not ever capable of in the first place.
God is not interested in our religious efforts. He is interested in our relationship with him, and our relationship with one another. Love is the most important commandment he put on us, and the most important gift he gave to us. We need to abolish the judgment we hold over ourselves and over others, because the love of God is for criminals, homeless people, the mentally disturbed, addicts, substance abusers and those who have not even come to know God. No one in the world is left out of God’s love, and he wants nothing but for us to embrace this.
If you are a Canadian who is eager to learn more about what God’s love can do for you, you will not have to look far for a vibrant church community. There are a number of Christian faith communities across Canada, ranging from ministries in Vancouver, Toronto churches and chapels, Christian faith gatherings in Montreal and Edmonton Christian church services. Do not hesitate to reach out today.
Many of us have found ourselves in a situation where we have come to care for someone immensely only to realize that they are mentally unstable in some way. Perhaps they are bipolar, perhaps they are addicted to alcohol, perhaps they are hyperactive or any number of other unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns. Discovering the extent of their instability is always a blow. We are left thinking, “What do I do with this person? How do I help them? How do I protect myself from them? Where can this relationship possibly go?” Making yourself available to a mentally unhealthy person can be both a trying and a rewarding experience. Doing so will prove impossible without boundaries, patience, understanding and firmness.
When you realize that a person is not living or thinking in a healthy way, it is natural to put distance between yourself and them. This is a basic self-preservation instinct and a well-advised one. The recognition that a boundary has to exist between you and them is essential to your continuing a relationship with them at all. You should never feel obligated to be the pillar holding this person up. It is your job to hold yourself up; no one else. You can support and love a person while keeping a healthy distance from their dysfunction lifestyle.
Some specific methods for supporting a mentally unhealthy person while not becoming mentally unhealthy as well are as follows. Above all, demonstrate and practice the tenants of good mental health in your relationship with them. Communicate to them clearly and then stand behind what you say to them. Make your boundaries clear and enforce them. Offer them love, friendship and support, but never forget that they inherently do not think clearly and may not accept your gifts in a healthy way. Always be prepared to enforce your boundaries. In a moment of crisis or emergency, be prepared to bring medical or mental health professionals into the situation.