Pastor Erik Hines is the President of Spring to Life, Vertava Health’ Tennessee campus. As an ordained pastor and recovery coach, Erik has decades of experience in managing Christian rehabs and faith-based treatment programs and helping people heal from drug and alcohol addictions. Erik believes that the family members are often faced with one of the most difficult seasons of life – but with the right guidance can help their loved one get the help that he or she needs.
One of the most common problems with helping someone you love is, what we call the “wounded animal” element. Do you remember the tale of a man who encounters a ferocious, roaring lion in the jungle – only to find the animal had a thorn in its paw? The man could see the source of the lion’s pain, but the large cat was too violent to approach to help. The wounded animal element is when an animal has an injury or source of pain, but won’t allow anyone to get close enough to help it.
As an addiction treatment pastor and recovery coach, I often see this element of trauma within families and couples. Instead of pain from a thorn, the addicted person is dealing with pain from addiction, pain from past traumas from childhood, rape or sexual abuse, even grief. The pain of addiction and past traumas causes the person struggling with drug or alcohol addiction to push away the assistance of those who are simply trying to help. More times than not, the addicted individual ends up lashing out at the very people who are trying to help him or her.
It’s important to understand, your loved one struggling with addiction is not a selfish person who does not care about the needs of those he or she hurts; they are not morally inferior people who choose a low ethical path; nor are they helplessly incurable, beyond the ability to help. Most people in active addiction have wounds that need emotional and sometimes physical healing. The pain of past mistakes, trauma or abuse often create deep emotional wounds that many addicts try to numb with drugs rather than addressing through treatment.
I know this feeling all too well, because it was true in my life, too. For many years I struggled with cocaine addiction, and carried a burden of shame and pain with me daily. While I was in the process of recovery, an addiction counselor challenged me to take out a piece of paper and write down the top five people in my life that love me and that I love. So I did. My counselor then asked me to flip the paper over and write down the top five people whom I have hurt through my addiction. Yes, you guessed it… The list of people was the same. The people who loved me the most and that I loved the most, were the same people that I had hurt the most through my addiction. I realized then, that I was feeding the pain of my addiction by not allowing people to get close enough to help me remove the source of that very pain.
Seeing the pain of a loved one in active addiction can be extremely confusing and frustrating for family members and friends. Addiction is a disease that’s difficult understand and deal with when trying to help someone get healthy – especially when your loved one is lashing out and rebelling against you.
You see, addiction can be described as a thorn in the middle of your back: If the thorn is not removed, then it will get infected and the infection could ultimately lead to death. Much like pain from past traumas that have been buried and hidden, you cannot see the source of the pain. But you can feel it. You cannot reach the thorn by yourself, just like you can’t reach the source of your shame and guilt by yourself. People in active addiction must understand this simple concept; if you refuse to become vulnerable enough to expose the pains of your addiction, people will not be able to help you.
I want to encourage any friends, family members or spouses to not give up on helping someone with an addiction. Remember, it’s not that the person wants to keep the pain of addiction, it’s just that they have accepted the dull pain of addiction for so long that they are now intimidated about the sharp pain of removing the addiction. It’s like a child who scrapes his knee during a fall but doesn’t want mom or dad to put medicine on it because it stings.
The only way to help someone overcome the “wounded animal” mentality and be set free from his or her addiction, is to establish trust through love and be gentle with their pains.
You don’t have to establish this trust on your own: Find the right rehab with a family care and counseling program that strives to build trust with their clients by showing them unconditional love, being sensitive to their pains, and having patience with them when they lash out. At Spring to Life, we strive to meet each person where they are at in their addiction, introduce them to a God who can heal the pain of addiction, and help them rebuild stable, healthy relationships with the ones they love, but have hurt.
If u have a wounded person in your life, no matter how deep the pain or how much they lash out – know that there is help available – and they don’t have to live with pains from their traumas, or their drug and alcohol addiction.