Stephen Arterburn

Stephen Arterburn wrote a book on religious addiction titled: Toxic Faith. It is one of the best books on this subject that I have ever read. This book is a must for every pastor's library. If you don't have a copy of it I highly suggest that you purchase a copy. I quote Chapter 9 out of his book on this web page. It may help you personally or help you to help someone else. If you need to physically go to a treatment facility to help you in your healing process there is info towards the bottom of this web page in regards to New Life Treatment Centers. My thanks to to the author of this book for writing this book and reaching out his healing hand of help to others in need. This subject content deals with religion- not relationship. Anyone who confuses the two may need the help that this author offers...

Are You Addicted to Religion?

Here are a few clues from the book:

1. Has your family complained that you are always going to a church meeting rather than spending time with them?

2. Do you feel extreme guilt for being out of church just one Sunday?

3. Do you sense that God is looking at what you do and if you don�t do enough He might turn on you or not bless you?

4. Do you often tell your children what to do without explaining your reasons, because you know you are right?

5. Do you find yourself with little time for the pleasures of earlier years because you are so busy serving on committees and attending other church groups?

6. Have people complained that you use so much Scripture in your conversation that it is hard to communicate with you?

7. Are you giving money to a ministry because you believe God will make you wealthy if you give?

8. Have you ever been involved with a minister sexually?

9. Is it hard for you to make a decision without consulting your minister? Even over the small issues?

10. Do you see your minister as more powerful than other humans?

11. Has your faith led you to lead an isolated life, making it hard for you to relate to your family and friends?

12. Have you found yourself looking to your minister for a quick fix to a life-long problem?

13. Do you feel extreme guilt over the slightest mistakes or identified inadequacies?

14. Is your most significant relationship deteriorating over your strong beliefs compared to those of a "weaker partner"?

15. Do you ever have thoughts of God wanting you to destroy yourself or others in order to go and live with Him?

16. Do you regularly believe God is communicating with you in an audible voice?

17. Do you feel God is angry with you?

18. Do you believe you are still being punished for something you did as a child?

19. Do you feel if you work a little harder, God will finally forgive you?

20. Has anyone ever told you a minister was manipulating your thoughts and feelings?
(end of page 316)

Dear Jesus, I have a problem: it's me.
Dear Child, I have the answer: it's Me

Treatment and Recovery

"Since the beginning of New Life Treatment Centers, we have treated many people afflicted with a religious addiction and a toxic faith. However, they have never come to us saying they are religious addicts. They are depressed, alcoholic, over�weight, anorexic, suicidal, and in numerous other forms of despair. They don�t know what they have; they just know they�re miserable. It has been a most fulfilling experience to watch these people discover that at the roots of their other problems lie toxic beliefs and a toxic faith. "The lights come on" as they discover they have been chasing an illusion, a dream, rather than seeking God. While they are with us, they grow by leaps and bounds. Their focus is renewed, and they understand who God really is for the first time. When they change their core toxic beliefs, many of their other problems subside immediately. As they turn their lives and will over to God, they find the serenity that has eluded them.

All persons get involved in a recovery program. They work out their toxic beliefs in God and their distorted views about themselves. In addition to recovery groups similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, they enter into group therapy with other patients, which is led by therapists. As they share their problems and hear others share, they identify their character defects and gain insight into how to correct them.
(end of page 266)

Each therapist that works with a patient has certain objectives in mind for that person. As each objective is accomplished, the patient moves closer to being able to function normally, free of conflict and depression. Specific areas must be addressed for these objectives to be achieved. The following material covers some areas vital to regaining a pure faith.

Breaking Through Denial: Beginning Recovery

The number one objective in the recovery of the religious addict is to break through the denial that addiction exists. We must help the addict identify that the relationship with religion has become of primary importance. The addict must accept that the religion is so toxic it has hurt relationships with family and friends.
(end of page 267)

This process of breaking through denial begins with the first confrontation or intervention. When those close to the addict finally express how they feel and how they see the toxic faith, the denial begins to fade in the addict with a good chance for recovery, and acceptance begins to grow to take its place. If the addict will not admit that a problem exists- and many fight to the end to deny that there is one- there is little hope for recovery. Once the addict can identify how the religious addiction is abusive and destructive to relationships with God, self, and others, the number one objective is achieved.

Then treatment can begin. Although they know they need help, most addicts are reluctant to let go of the addiction that has become a very reliable friend. When others rejected the addict, the addict could turn to the practice of toxic faith and those within the toxic faith system who were always accepting. When the world became too painful, the religious addict could count on the addiction and other addicts to create a delusional reality that felt a lot better for the moment. It always made life tolerable, and though it never completely satiated the addict�s neediness, it was always there to provide comfort, a sense of belonging, power, and a feeling of being right or righteous. It is impossible to give up all of those benefits in an instant. The process takes time, effort, and a willingness to be vulnerable.

Bill came to us severely depressed. His marriage was in the midst of divorce; his plans to be a minister were shattered. Feeling that his friends, family, and God had abandoned him, he was on the brink of suicide.

During the course of treatment, it was disclosed that Bill spent most of his time involved in the church. He was heavily involved in missionary work, Bible studies, and all church functions. Bill was a religious addict. He was driven by his need to please God. He had, for the most part, abandoned his wife long before she filed for divorce.
(end of page 268)

Religion for Bill was a way to escape his fears of intimacy and vulnerability. If his family or friends needed support or emotional intimacy, he simply didn�t have the time to give them. He felt that it was his wife�s job to raise the family while he served the Lord. He used religion to remain distant from those who loved him most.

Bill�s toxic faith deluded him into believing that he was being persecuted because of his faith. The more his family complained about his absence, the more he quoted the Scriptures on submission and the great commission. He believed that God would make his wife and family understand. After all, his absence was biblically justified, at least in his mind. Whenever Bill was confronted he would simply defend himself with Scripture and retreat into prayer. His prayers became the way he could avoid the conflict in the family and delude himself into believing that God would make everything okay and make things work out.

Bill had quit his job in a "step of faith" believing that God would provide. He had invested the family�s savings "in the kingdom of God" and the missionary work he was so consumed with. The more the bills piled up, the more time he spent in prayer and worship.

Finally the bill collectors foreclosed, his wife left him, and he was emotionally incapacitated. He no longer found the relief in prayers; he felt unworthy to have God answer his prayers.
(end of page 269)

Bill had hit rock bottom. He no longer had the answers, and he sought help. In treatment, we put Bill into a support group. Though he still maintained that God was all he needed, the group was able to lovingly confront his delusion that if he continued to hang onto the same toxic perceptions of God things would be different. Group members told how toxic faith had nearly destroyed them and how they had finally challenged their toxic beliefs. They all knew what Bill was going through; they accepted him where he was and valued him. Any time Bill reverted to the old pattern of biblically justifying his position, they understood. They knew eventually he would see how his justification of his position was self-defeating. It was an exercise in "godliness" rather than in self-defense.

Bill began to feel understood; at the same time he was able to see the need for change. He began to identify the toxic thinking that surrounded his addiction. He was able to see how he used his addiction to avoid feeling and being intimate with his family, friends, and even God. He saw how his religious dogma separated him from the people he loved the most.

The people around him saw the change in Bill. He no longer tried to use Scripture to defend himself and shame others for "not understanding." Bill was able to move in humility. And as Bill continued his treatment, the family also entered into therapy. The wounds of addiction began to heal, and Bill�s anxiety lifted. He was able to develop friendships with those who did not share his religious beliefs. He was able to share without cramming things down their throats. In doing so, he began to identify the characteristics of healthy faith and incorporated them into his belief system. He made great progress because he was able to start at the beginning by finally surrendering to God.

Surrendering to God: Spiritual Recovery

Often the initial motivation to change is not to find something better but to eliminate something that feels worse. The religious addict may be motivated by a desire not to find God or grow toward God but to eliminate the guilt that goes unresolved in religious addiction. The addict may have recognized how he or she was using religion or what it was doing to others. These thoughts may leave the addict feeling so depressed, worthless, powerless, and guilty that any alternative is considered better than continuing without change. The feelings of guilt and failure may be the pain needed to get that person to surrender to God.
(end of page 270

Surrendering to God is a process. The length and the difficulty of that process depend on how long the addict was involved with the addiction and how far it progressed. The more hidden the addiction has become, the more difficult the surrender process will be. Before something can be surrendered to God, it must be uncovered, revealed in all its terror, and acknowledged as real. Those private repressed sins are very difficult for the egocentric to admit. It is even more difficult to admit to not knowing what to do about them or how to fix them. This is the point of surrender where an addict is finally able to say that life has become unmanageable. Without a relationship with God, there is no power available to change. Surrendering is the process of letting go and trusting that God can and will handle the problems that have been acknowledged.
(end of page 271

This was an extremely difficult step for me at a traumatic period of my life. I had paid for an abortion for a woman who was pregnant by me. The guilt was incapacitating because I felt solely responsible. Guilt crushed me until I was able to accept God�s forgiveness for the problem. Even with that acceptance I did not fully surrender the problem to God. I implemented a system of hard work that led me to hours of Bible study, prayer sessions, and church attendance. If anyone asked a question I had a spiritual answer. I felt great about me because I worked hard to feel that way. Others did not feel so great about me. I was worthless to them. I was so pseudospiritual that I did not communicate with them. Someone had to spell out what I was doing before the situation sank in. Only then was I able to surrender to God completely.

Working on Toxic Thinking: Mental Recovery

Toxic thinking is one key way the addict maintains a delusional reality. Quite frankly, the religious addict�s thinking is disordered. Treatment involves confronting toxic thoughts and replacing them with thoughts based in reality. The following are some common toxic thoughts and thinking patterns that we confront in treatment.
(end of page 272

Thinking in Extremes

Toxic thinkers believe that people and issues can be viewed totally in terms of white or black, all good or all bad, completely right or completely wrong. This thinking drives the religious addict and fuels the crusades against the corrupt. Everything is extreme to the addict. One mistake and the religious addict feels like a failure, so all errors are denied. This leads to the denial of even small problems in an effort to defend against feelings of total failure. People will comment, "I cannot understand why that man cannot admit even one mistake." If one mistake is admitted, that person will feel like a complete failure as a human being. The act is so internalized that making the mistake moves the addict to believe he or she is capable only of making mistakes. Since no one can exist this way, denial becomes the defense. The addict denies the one extreme of bad and creates the illusion of living at the opposite extreme of perfection.

Treatment involves confronting thinking in opposite extremes. Religious addicts, though members of churches for years, must be reprogrammed. They must be told over and over that making a mistake does not make them mistakes, or produce failure. Additionally, a person who makes one mistake or disappoints them in one way is not all bad. There are still some very wonderful things about that person.

Sin is an act; it is not a description of every facet of your character. You do not have to be perfect to be good. You do not have to be perfect to be accepted. God does not accept you based on your perfect performance, and it is futile to attempt to gain further acceptance from Him. God is interested in a relationship, not hard work and trying harder. God cares about you. You, with all of your imperfections, are the focus of God�s love. These thoughts must replace the extremes of toxic thinking.
(end of page 273

The religious addict needs to change from being product oriented to being process oriented. The addict needs to recognize that life is a learning process and the product of who you are is ever-changing. Sin must be perceived as a part of humanity that can be overcome through the power of God. People can recover from failure. People can change. Accepting these truths reduces the fear of making mistakes or falling short. After the mistake, there is a process that can restore the person to a relationship with God and others.

Religious addicts are very hard on themselves and everyone else. They are driven by their all-or-nothing thinking. They must have mercy on themselves and on others. They must relax their perfectionism and allow it to be replaced with an acceptance of their humanity. Christ spoke of this ability to not see things in terms of extremes. When He was confronted about breaking a law on the Sabbath he told His critics that He desired mercy rather than sacrifice.

Pure faith is a faith of mercy. We have the benefit of a merciful God. The addict must be helped to incorporate that mercy into views of other people and self. This can bring great relief to the addict and begin the process of reestablishing relationships that had been rejected due to thinking in extreme opposites.
(end of page 274

Drawing Invalid Conclusions

Religious addicts have the ability to turn anything into a negative. From their feelings of inadequacy, they can contort any set of circumstances into a doomsday scenario. If they sin, they think they have knocked themselves out of any chance of going to heaven. If the boss has a negative opinion of some work, it must mean that being fired is imminent. If something happens one time, it must mean it will happen every time. If a father deserts me when I am young, every male will desert me. If I fail at one job then I will fail at every job. They make all-inclusive statements: "God never answers my prayers," and "God never listens to me." Never and always are integral to their statements about themselves and their expectations of others. Things are never right; they are always bad and becoming worse. The conclusions of religious addicts are not based in reality.

Not all of the conclusions are negative. A religious addict can use the same technique to avoid reality. Instead of saying, "God never takes care of me," an addict might say, "God takes care of every area of my life." Although the statement is true to the degree that God cares about every area of our lives, He will not magically make a car payment or always heal a baby who could be easily healed by a doctor.
(end of page 275)

Drawing the wrong conclusion- if I do nothing, things will work out anyway- can be just as destructive as drawing a negative conclusion.

Treatment becomes a process of confronting these thoughts of un�reality. Group time is spent in identifying unreasonable and irrational conclusions. The sources of those conclusions are rooted out. The addict comes to see life as it really is. Every event is not considered an indictment on the future. Each day is handled one day at a time, without projecting hardship on tomorrow.

Faulty Filtering

When people focus on the irrelevant and the negative, they focus on only one part of reality and thus distort the whole of reality. They become so selective in what they will respond to that much of what is good is discarded. One negative detail disqualifies the rest, even when that negative detail is less relevant than the more positive whole.

Here is an example of how a person can select a small part from the whole. You can take a blank piece of white paper and draw a dot in the middle of it. Nine out of ten people would tell you that they see the black dot you drew on the paper. They have effectively selected the dot and abstracted it from the context in which it was seen. In actuality however, they saw the dot on the paper and most probably the person holding it and all the peripheral visual content surrounding the person holding the paper.
(end of page 276)

That is the way many religious addicts live. But their filtering does not involve a harmless piece of paper and a dot. Their faulty filtering evolves around their faults and character defects. They see only personal sin or the sin in the world and refuse to look at all of the good and positive things. Addicts focus on the negative of the world, and the world becomes too depressing and uncomfortable to live in. Addicts must then escape into the addiction of religion for mood alteration.

Religious addicts who do not properly filter information are easy to spot. They are hypercritical and negative about everything, including themselves. When they come into treatment nothing is right. The bed tilts, the walls are the wrong color and the food is terrible. Although the food is usually terrible, they are focusing on all the wrong things.

Staff members must bring them back to reality. They are told that the one overriding problem that has been filtered out is that they called us for help; we didn�t call them. There was a reason for the phone call. They are confronted with the need to work on themselves. Eventually, they begin to filter back in some of the important issues that relate to them and treatment. They are asked to look at the lives that have been affected by the treatment and talk to grateful patients who survived the food so they could break through their denial. When the filter starts to let reality sink back in, religious addicts become ready to concentrate on personal issues of change.

Invalidating the Positive

Invalidation does not ignore information; it just disqualifies the facts or distorts them. This is usually done toward the negative. The conversation of a religious addict is full of "yes, but�s" that must be confronted throughout the treatment process. Someone will say to a religious addict that he looks wonderful today. The dedicated addict will retort, "Yes, but I feel terrible. And I know if I feel this bad, I am going to look much worse tomorrow."

Every positive can be contorted into something negative and wrong. If they cannot think of a proof that the compliment is false, they will rationalize the motives behind the statement: "They�re just being nice to me," or "That person is out to get me or wants something I have."
(end of page 277)

The most dedicated religious addicts have a technique that is refined to look good while it degrades themselves. If a woman makes a wonderful flower arrangement and someone comments on it, she retorts, "It wasn�t me, Christ did it." Let�s face it. Christ didn�t buy those flowers, put them in a vase, and arrange them in such a way to have beauty and symmetry. The addict has such a hard time acknowledging what might be a special talent that she feels the need to invalidate any statement that compliments the talent.

When people show appreciation, religious addicts will say, "Don�t thank me; thank God," or "It was God�s will." This is not humility; this is something very terrible for religious addicts. As the addicts invalidate the information, they invalidate themselves. They support their self-defeating conclusions about themselves by discarding anything counter to that negative image.

Treatment confronts the self-defeating statements and actions. First, the person must see the pattern. Then the person discovers why there is a need to do this. The next step is to replace the disqualifying statements with accepting statements. In this way an addict may learn to accept a compliment for the first time. Cracks in the negative facade let through some good feelings about self based on the reality of God�s love and sacrifice. The recovering addict recognizes the good that has been created within and appreciates it. The person accepts being created in the image of God and feels God�s love for the first time. As these positive thoughts take root, the person�s misery is reduced along with the need to resort to the addiction for relief.
(end of page 278)

Discarding the Negative

The flip side of invalidating the positive is the religious addict�s discarding of negative behavior to maintain a toxic sense of self-worth. An example would be the promiscuous follower who filters out his negative behavior by seeing only his positive actions, thus allowing himself to do immoral things that he would condemn as immoral if he saw others doing them. This is done through the rationalization of having special needs or being the exception. Some say they have the freedom to experience things that are clearly immoral. The religious addict is able to "yes, but" into continuing the most destructive and negative behavior.

For these people, treatment includes facing up to their wrongs, who they have hurt, and the restitution that must be made for the wrongs. At times these people are the most resistant to treatment because when they face who they are and what they have done, their world really crashes around them. Sometimes they become so depressed they are difficult to motivate. These cases require more time than most.

Thinking with the Heart

Thinking with the heart is the condition where feelings, not facts, are the basis of reality: "I feel bad; therefore, I must be bad"; "I feel hopeless and powerless; therefore, I must be hopeless and powerless. If I am hopeless and powerless, there is no reason for me to go on"; "I feel like a disappointment to God; therefore, I must be a disappointment to God. There is no sense in trying to have a relationship with Him. He won�t like me anyway." These are common thoughts of addicts so caught up in their emotions that they interpret the world only by the way they feel. In this self-obsessed existence the only thing that matters is how they feel, not what is real.
(end of page 279)

This emotional reasoning reflects the toxic believer�s basic belief system. A core belief for an addict is "I�m basically a bad, unworthy person." An addict feeling this negatively about himself or herself is not going to have many positive thoughts about anything. Treatment involves separating the evidence of reality from feelings. The recovering addict is able to identify a thought or perception based on emotion versus one based on the evidence at hand. This separation allows reality to sift into the person�s thinking and eventually erodes some of the negative thoughts.

A woman dated a very wealthy man for over five years. Every year she went to Europe with him and his family, and she loved mingling with the upper class. One day she suggested they marry. His rejection was immediate. He demeaned her and said he could never marry her because she was too large and unattractive.

She felt like a failure. Because she felt so negative about herself, she was negative about everything else. She felt God was down on her personally. She did not know what she had done to offend God, but she believed she must have done something very bad because He had yanked away her future. From that time on, all her decisions revolved around those terrible feelings about herself and God. Her thinking had to be changed before she could find peace with her emotions.

Surrounding Oneself with "Shoulds"

An addict will self-induce pressure with internal "should" statements. This is a predominant reason for the need to find mood alteration. I should have done better and I should have done more- these stressful thoughts drive the addict deeper into the addiction. The addict never measures up to the expectations of old thought patterns that play a recurring theme of "never good enough." The statements are unrealistic measuring sticks that become more and more demanding.

Addicts actually believe that these unrealistic demands must be met. They drive themselves to meet the demands in an effort to avoid disappointment or the indictment of failure. Disappointment and depression are the only rewards of this tyrannical existence.
(end of page 280)

Some addicts possess the toxic belief that Christians should be happy all the time. If the Christian addict experiences sadness, there must be something wrong personally. This type of toxic thought process drives the addict into more and more religious compulsive behavior in search of happiness. The addict reasons that since there should be constant happiness but there is not, there should be greater, more intense efforts to find the elusive happy goal.

Other religious addicts focus on the belief that others should be more Christlike. Frustration and anger mount when those persons fail to meet the unrealistic expectations. These negative emotions drive addicts further into the addiction to alter their mood of destructive anger. They will act out compulsively.

Long hours of supposed intercessory prayer or intense witnessing (which many times is Bible bullying for the most part) take precedence over everything else. The addicts work to push others to live up to the expectations of what the addicts think they "should" live up to. The need for others to live up to these expectations is based not on spiritual concern for them but on the addicts� need to avoid feelings of frustration and anger.

"Should" statements are not reality based. They leave no room for being human, and their purpose in the addictive process is to build up feelings of guilt, disappointment, and inadequacy. They must be replaced with thoughts based more in reality. "It would be nice if Christians were more Christlike�; "I wish the pastor understood"; and "I wish I were (or it would be nice if I could be) more obedient"- such statements are taught as replacements for the tyrannical "should" statements.
(end of page 281)

Treatment helps addicts remove the "should" statements from the thought processes. Repeated confrontation provides the impetus for them to rethink the demands placed on others and themselves. Each addict learns a whole new way of thinking about performance. You can almost see the relief come over them when they finally accept that their standards were too tough and they can relax in their attempts to measure up.

Maintaining Hyperresponsibility

Religious addicts will take responsibility for anything. Pastors will feel responsible for the problems and sins of the whole congregation, believing something can be done to control their behavior. Parents will feel responsible for their adult children, even though they have been out of the home for years. Every terrible thing that someone else does is an invitation to personalize the act, take responsibility for it, and experience shame over it. This compounds the low self-worth that plagues the addict.

At the heart of this hyperresponsibility is the addict�s desire to be in control. Treatment focuses on the person�s giving up the desire to be in control and giving up the egocentric feeling of being responsible for so many things. The addict also needs to refocus. Feeling responsibil�ity for everyone else allows the addict to lose touch with his or her problems. Treatment takes the eye off everyone else and brings it back to rest on the religious addiction. Some have labeled this hyperresponsibility as codependency. Others call it a self-defeating personality disorder. It can be changed with repeated confrontation and the addict�s turning over control each day to God.

The initial therapeutic endeavor, after the religious addict has accepted that there is a problem, is to identify the toxic thought process reinforcing the toxic belief system and delusional reality. Treatment becomes a training ground for teaching the religious addict how to think. Mental circuits that have been shut down are turned back on.
(end of page 282)

The religious addict�s toxic thinking has become a way of life and irrational way to interpret life. Treatment helps the religious addict identify what is real and how to act on that reality by thinking in a different way. If the religious addict does not choose to think differently, there is little hope for change or effective treatment.

Working on New Information

Religious addicts are often victims of a lifetime of propaganda. They don�t know what to believe about God, the Bible, faith, or Christ. They are usually ignorant about addiction and other dependencies. In treatment books, tapes, and lectures are used to reeducate religious addicts. Many books on the market explain the dynamics of addiction, codependency, counseling, and recovery. Carefully selected materials, including the Bible, provide each addict with a new foundation of information that can lead the retreat of addiction.

While religious addicts are learning to process and resolve their emotions, they are being saturated with new information each day. For this reason a treatment center must be carefully chosen. When the religious addict starts over, a whole new value system is evolved. If that person is in a center where the values are destructive, irreparable damage will be done. The information fed to the patient needs to be in accordance with solid biblical principles. If it contradicts the principles of the Bible, it is going to hurt the process of coming to know God. Hours of treatment are spent acquiring new information to alter the addict�s toxic beliefs and eventually the compulsive behavior. The religious addict must learn to question rather than disqualify.
(end of page 283)

One purpose of information in treatment is to change a naive believer into a questioning seeker. Most religious addicts have sought easy solutions and what appeared to be the quick fix. Anyone with what sounded like a good idea was believed wholeheartedly. Treatment attempts to change this. The process of evaluation must accompany all of the material that is presented. Otherwise we put a person back out into the world as susceptible to manipulation as before.

A basic skill taught by case managers in treatment is to ask, "What do you think?" The religious addict has often been victimized by controlling persecutors who do not like the questioning of what they say. The religious addict is trained to believe without doubt. The support group, both in treatment and after the patient is discharged, is important for the evaluation of information. The group becomes a safe place to check out the validity of new information. The transformation from a convinced knower to a questioning seeker provides the recovering addict with a safety shield against toxic information that could damage treatment.

Addiction is not just something the addict does. Addiction is a part the character and nature of the person. A bond forms between the person and the addiction that makes them inseparable. The bonding is strong because it has become a form of survival for the addict. The addiction becomes the person, and the person becomes the addiction.

The bond to the addiction must be transferred to other people. If it isn�t, the recovering addict will merely intellectualize the problem, and the new addiction will easily become knowledge. That is why a person cannot just read a good book and have a radical life change (that is, without divine intervention). The group provides accountability and a new bond to replace the old one. Acquisition of new information needs to occur within and alongside a support group so that the assimilation of the information into the new recovering person is a balanced and healthy process.
(end of page 284)

Working in a Support Group

I can�t overemphasize the importance of support groups. If a person is to recover from religious addiction, it will be done with the assistance of a group of caring individuals. It cannot be done alone. Millions have attempted to recover from addiction without the assistance of a group. Although they may stop the addictive behavior, they will not develop a balanced recovery. Sooner or later they will trip up and either fall back into the addiction or find another one to replace the original one.

At New Life Treatment Centers, all patients are introduced to a support group. Those groups that work with the twelve steps seem to be the most helpful. Some groups develop their own steps. They have ten or eight, and they are quite helpful, also. The number and the type of steps are much less significant than what happens in the group. The group must provide a combination of support and accountability. It must supplement the entire recovery program, not become its single focus. If it becomes the single focus of recovery, it can become a substitute addiction and be just as unhealthy as involvement in a toxic faith system.

In the recovery community, people are quick to find points of division and superiority. Sometimes this centers on whether or not the twelve steps, originating from Alcoholics Anonymous, are helpful or harmful. Some believe they are wonderful steps back to a full relationship with God and a restored relationship with others. Others believe they detour people from a relationship with Christ and replace the church and pastor�s leadership role.
(end of page 285)

Both sides are right in some cases. The twelve steps can be a wonderful guide to spiritual growth and maturity. They can also become an obsession that prevents people from achieving complete spiritual recovery. Some recovering addicts use their twelve-step theology to replace involvement in a church. This is just as destructive as having no recovery program at all. The church is a special place where spiritual gifts can be used to serve and worship God. There is no good excuse to avoid church involvement. Since religious addicts are susceptible to latching on to systems, they need to be extremely careful that the steps are used in a balanced manner.

Some people believe that the twelve steps are the only route to recovery. They are down on the church, treatment centers, counselors, and everything else not related to the twelve steps. Sometimes these rigid recovering addicts are so fragile in their recovery that the suggestion of another source of recovery is too big a threat to accept. They can become toxic members of the group and hurt others in that group. Whether a group has eight, ten, or twelve steps, it is important that the group be a healthy one that can serve the dual roles of encouragement and confrontation.

I was speaking at a recovery conference where many Christians get together each year to rally for the cause of recovery in churches. It was obvious after talking to just two people that there was a major rift between two factions. One believed that the twelve-steps were terrible and the other believed that they represented biblical principles. The two sides were angry with each other. Each felt the other was out of line and wanted to convince the other of their error. It struck me as ironic that all those people were supposed to be recovering. Recovery never focuses on someone else�s problem, it always focuses on the self.
(end of page 286)

Recovery is never "working someone else�s program," it is always working your own. These people were judging each other rather than appreciating the thousands that each group was helping each year.

Often people in need of a support group will use some philosophical basis for a reason not to join- they attended a bad group or heard bad things about another group. These excuses are used to avoid doing the work needed to get well. If the people would focus on their problems and their need to recover rather than on the group�s problems, they would find most groups helpful and healthy.

Characteristics of a Healthy Support Group

Certain characteristics of a support group need to be evident if it is to provide a healthy environment for growth.


A healthy support group is made up of loving and accepting people. It will welcome a struggling addict into the group and assist as the addict develops a new identity free of addiction. The group will lovingly assist the person in cultivating a new relationship with God and His Son. If it is a mature group, it will not reject the person because of differing beliefs, but it will patiently work with the person as the search for truth is conducted. If the addict feels rejection due to beliefs, looks, or any other peculiarity, he or she may leave the group and never return to another support group. In a healthy group, a person is allowed to be different and make mistakes without being shamed.
(end of page 287)

Unconditional Positive Regard

True love values persons for who they are rather than for what they are able to do. True love, the experience of unconditional positive regard, is an extremely healing force. The experience of true love from the group enables addicts to love themselves, God, and others. Addicts in a group where true love exists are free to love others in that same freeing manner. It becomes an emotional and spiritual bond without equal.

Love is the central theme of Christianity, yet it is sometimes difficult to find around Christians. Christ demonstrated His love when He gave His life. He gave His life not because of what people did, not because of what people deserved, but because He was able to love us as we are. As we participate in recovery groups, we need to stick to the model set by Christ and provide the same unconditional love to other recovering strugglers. If we are not able to provide that for a recovering addict, we are doing much more harm than good and have formed our own toxic faith system.

Freedom of Expression

Addicts need a place to express emotions without having to worry about living up to someone�s expectations. They need a place where they are free to explore perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. They need a forum where new ideas and new forms of communication can be practiced with the support of the group. Within the group, members should feel freedom to be who they want to be without fear of retribution. In the group, addicts practice for the real world where rejection is standard. Just like a loving family, the group needs to be a safe place where addicts find relief by saying the tough things rather than holding them in.
(end of page 288)


The addict needs to experience a new "family or group" where he or she has equal power and rights. This will be a new experience for the religious addict who was indoctrinated in a toxic system that related from the "one-down" or "one-up" position. The addict, having learned how to control or be controlled, needs to learn how to accept responsibility for his or her behavior only. The addict needs a group where no one gives the orders and no one person is in control.

When all of these elements are found in a recovery support group, the addicts attend grow and mature. They grow in their recovery, and they grow in their faith. When they stop growing, the group lovingly confronts them and moves them back into the recovery mode. All groups are not wonderful like this. No group is like another, and an addict should attend at least five different groups, if possible, to determine which one would be most beneficial and comfortable for spiritual growth.

I have a friend who is a recovering alcoholic. More accurately stated, she is an alcoholic who no longer drinks. This person does not attend A.A. or any other type of support group. She is a miserable person who always has another reason to be upset about some other imperfection in her life. She is an extremely sad case and hard to be around. She loved the camaraderie of the bars she drank in, but she won�t gather with those who have shunned the bar for a time to grow. She loved to tell her drinking friends of her problems, but she refuses to share her problems with those who could help. She spent hours drinking and taking drugs with friends, but now she has no time to spend on her own recovery. She had a lot of excuses for not joining a support group. None of these excuses is a good one. Anyone who needs recovery can never find an excuse good enough to justify not being part of something that has helped thousands of people restore their relationship with God. Addicts, whether drug or religious, can benefit from the support of a group whose purpose is to help people find a way back to a loving, caring God.
(end of page 289)

Working on the Family

Like all other addictions, religious addiction hurts families and destroys many. Frequently an addict will move away from the rest of the family, feeling justified in doing so in the guise of finding a deeper faith. Many family members give up on ever having a normal relationship with the addict. When the addict begins recovery, the hurt and broken family must begin recovery, also. Any effective treatment must involve the family. If it cannot be facilitated at the time of intensive treatment, it can occur later. However, if it does not occur, the family will surely disintegrate. While the addiction developed, everyone in the family took on a particular role. The family became dysfunctional, just like the addict�s original family where the seeds of religious addiction were planted. Family members need help out of those roles. If they do not obtain it, they will move on to their own addiction and dependency problems. While they remain with their own problems, there will be little support for the recovering religious addict.

Families of religious addicts tend to be very angry. They are angry with the addict and angry with themselves for not being able to change the addict. Treatment must be a time of expressing those negative feelings and moving beyond them. If they are not resolved, they will lead to alienation and the rejection of the recovering addict. The healing of this anger and other emotions is a slow process, and everyone needs patience as each member finds a way to express and resolve negative emotions. Once this occurs, the family has the opportunity to reform and bond into a unified unit of support and love. If treatment does not make every attempt possible to achieve this family recovery, it is not doing what is required to counter the power of addiction.

One young girl on our adolescent unit had been involved in a group that worshiped Satan. Part of her treatment was to help her see why she enjoyed being with such a destructive group and to help her find more positive ways to obtain the same things. The other part of her treatment was to help her family sort through their problems so the girl would have a supportive environment to come home to. One issue that became clear in the first session was the extreme anger of the father. He was furious at his family and himself. When the counselor mentioned that she saw an extreme amount of anger, he yelled at her and walked out, saying he did not need to be humiliated in front of his family. This reaction is common. The chances of recovery are greatly reduced when a child goes back into a family where the father is furious and everyone is a victim of that anger. The family treatment aspects of a program go a long way to provide support for the addict and the opportunity for recovery for the other family members.
(end of page 290)

Working on New Friends: Social Recovery

When the toxic faith system is abandoned, many social relationships go with it. If these are not replaced, a terrible void will hamper recovery. The recovery support group is for encouragement and accountability, but it cannot fill this void. New friends and social relationships are needed for the same reasons as the support group, but they are also needed for fun. Recovery is serious business, and too often those involved with it stop having fun. They become so serious that sometimes people encourage them to go back to their addiction rather than continue to act so lifeless.

Recovering addicts must seek supportive people. They are rarely found in bars and night clubs. They are most likely found in choirs, at the gym, by a swimming pooi, in a club, or in a college course. Mak�ing new friends and going new places with them are parts of a comprehensive recovery program. Appropriate treatment helps persons plan how to develop new sources of social support.

Working on the Body: Physical Recovery

Religious addicts tend to have poor dietary habits, are often over�weight, and totally lack physical exercise. They spend so much time on their addiction that they don�t have time to exercise. They are so compulsive that they eat everything in sight. They are drained of energy and feel bad about themselves because they look and feel bad. Treatment addresses these needs with the same level of importance as the other areas of recovery.
(end of page 291)

The recovering religious addict sees the body as the temple of God and takes care of it accordingly. Rest, exercise, and nutrition are not afterthoughts, but priorities in recovery. The moods stabilize as sugar and caffeine are minimized in the diet. Exercise provides a natural form of relaxation. Proper rest reduces stress and irritability. This one area is often the most neglected in a recovery program. As a result, many addicts return to their old compulsive behaviors. They look miserable and feel miserable, so they return to the source of mood alteration that lifts them out of their misery.

Don't Stay Discouraged. There is help for you.

Hope does not just spring forth on its own, however. It must be cultivated through a recovery program that encompasses every area of the addict�s life and includes the addict�s family. The recovering addict must learn to think differently, relate differently, and find different people and places for support and fun. When it all comes together, the recovering addict comes closer to God.

Treatment facilitates the recovery process. It brings the forces of recovery professionals to bear on the addict and the addiction. It is not a cure-all or a quick fix. If it works, it works because the addict decides to make it work with God�s help. A person obtains nothing more from it than is put into it. One of its greatest values is the bringing together of fellow strugglers, some sick and some well, to help one another find a new life and new hope in a loving God. It is my hope and prayer that if you or someone you love is in need of treatment, you will seek it out and initiate the process of change.

The twelve steps have provided a path to recovery for millions of people for over half a century. Here they have been adapted to apply to those re�covering from religious addiction. Working these steps could be your means of escape from religious addiction and into a real faith in God.

1. We admitted that we were powerless over our compulsive religious behaviors and toxic faith- that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

11. We sought through meditation and prayer to improve our conscious contact with God praying only for knowledge of His will and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other religious addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs.


Adult and Adolescent Programs

If life�s problems have created more pain than you can handle alone, there is a way to let go of the hurt.

New Life Treatment Centers has helped thousands of adults and adolescents begin a new life through our caring programs. We can help you or a loved one with thoughtful, experienced guidance from qualified professionals who care and understand.

The voluntary program at New Life Treatment Centers is designed to meet the needs of people in crisis. Our purpose is to assist those who are hurting in identifying, under�standing and coping with life�s problems that have resulted in dysfunctional and destructive feelings and behaviors.

We are firmly committed to a personal faith in Jesus Christ, and emphasize consistent use of God�s word as the primary resource of strength and understanding. This belief is combined with the highest quality clinical care available and proven twelve-step principles of recovery.

Our professional team is composed of psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage, family and child counselors, case managers, a chaplain (or youth pastor on adolescent units), and occupational therapists.

All treatment is conducted in a licensed psychiatric unit as part of a fully-licensed and accredited community hospital. New hope for a new life begins with your phone call. Let us help you, your child, or someone you care about start a new life today.

For help at the New Life Treatment Center closest to you:

Please contact us today. Because you can let go of the hurt, and begin a new life.

New Life Treatment Centers- helps people dealing with these problem areas:
General Psychological Disorders
Chemical Dependency
Compulsive Sexual Behavior
Compulsive Eating Disorders

There comes a time in many peoples� lives when everything seems to fall apart. You may be faced with one or more of the following:

Depression: Much of the joy you used to experience is gone.

Stress. You are overwhelmed by everyday problems.

Panic Attacks or Phobias. Uncontrollable reactions or fears have gripped you.

Codependency. The problem of someone you love has now become your problem.

Religious Addiction. Your focus has gotten off God.

When drugs or alcohol control a life, that life is out of control. Addiction to drugs or alcohol means living life on the edge. On the edge of one more drinking binge, one more day of missed work, one more blow-up with someone you care about. You may try to keep your addiction under control, but almost daily you continue to justify it one more time.

If chemical dependency is controlling your decisions, your money, your time, your life, the time to get help is now. Not tomorrow or next week. Because putting off recovery only deepens addiction, guilt and pain.

When sexual behavior is out of control, creating guilt, shame and remorse, there is help for a new life through confidential treatment.

Statistics show that most likely, there are men and women who attend church with you, work alongside you, who perhaps even are close friends that are experiencing out-of-control sexual behavior.

New Life�s treatment is available with total confidentiality and involves clinical methods of breaking through denial, changing false beliefs, and building broken relationships. God�s forgiveness is further renewed through a new understanding of His true design of sex, love and intimacy.

How do I know if I, or someone I know has an eating disorder? If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you may have an eating disorder.
1. Do you eat large amounts of food in short periods of time?
2. Are you afraid that you can�t control your eating?
3. Do you eat normally around others, but binge alone?
4. Is your greatest fear in life that of gaining weight or becoming fat?
5. Have you frequently tried to lose weight by fasting, self-induced vomiting, used diuretics, laxatives, diet pills or excessive exercise?

On the surface, you may think food is the problem. But you may not realize that it is the "feelings" behind the eating disorder that are the problem. And all your anxiety about food only fuels a destructive cycle. Now that cycle can be broken. Trained New Life Treatment Center professionals, in a totally confidential setting, are waiting to help.

Adolescent Program

You can let go of the hurt
� Even the best of homes find children with emotional problems,
� drug dependencies, eating disorders and other symptoms of a tough world for adolescents.

No child is immune to the problems of our drug-saturated and pressure-filled society. As parents, you struggle to help your child only to find you are out of solutions and out of time.

New Life Treatment Centers� Adolescent Program will help you and your child find the answers to start over and experience the life that God has designed for you, your child and your entire family.

� In addition to treating adolescents for general psychiatric disorders, chemical dependency and compulsive eating disorders, we also offer treatment for victims of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Educational needs are met through a private teacher located at each

� facility and spiritual needs are attended to by an on-site youth pastor. New Life Treatment Centers� Adolescent Program is uniquely qualified and prepared to respond to your needs, as well as your child�s, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Sometimes being a good parent hurts real bad."

Toxic Faith
Understanding and Overcoming Religious Addiction
Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton
Oliver Nelson
A Division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, pages 266-316,
Published in Nashville, Tenn. By Oliver-Nelson Books, copyright: 1991

If you have not already invited Jesus Christ to come to live inside of your heart then click on the above banner if you want to learn how to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and receive spiritual encouragement in your heart and soul.

In some small way I hope that you have been encouraged by this article.
This article shared with you by:

Kraig Josiah Rice

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    As of January 31, 2007