The Support of a Friend

You probably thought you couldn't do it. But somehow, you did. You faced it, admitted you have a problem and you're starting to look for help. You took some steps that started the healing process, and soon your life will be changing: Your relationships may get better, your conscience will be eased, and hopefully your life will seem more appealing. Best of all, you know you're doing the right thing.

You'll need encouragement and frequent reminders to keep going on this new and less-than-clearly marked path. It's important to remember, though, that admitting you need help is the hardest part of overcoming an addiction or problem. The more you reveal and share with others, the more likely people will be to expect your life to change. On the one hand, that thought may fill you with the dread and burden of responsibility. After all, if you tell people, they'll expect you to change. Then, if (and when) you relapse, they'll be disappointed in you or even hate you right? Wrong. The people who truly love you will stick with you as you fight this problem, supporting you both when you change and when you fail. They care about you and want you to succeed. They're probably proud of you as you should be of yourself for even having the desire to change. The proverbial "end of the tunnel" may be harder for you to see than for those around you to envision.

The point: People are a vital part of the change you're undergoing. You need them. Without them, you will continue to live in your cramped, airless closet of addiction. Without them, your likelihood of failure increases. That's why you need someone to hold you accountable. So what does accountability look like?

Evaluate your need for help. Depending on where you are in the recovery process from addiction, you may need more help than an accountability partner can give. Often, the best case scenario is the simultaneous help of a professional counselor and an accountability partner. A professional counselor has in-depth education and training and will only see you periodically; an accountability partner may not have background or experience in counseling but can be available and supportive during times of temptation, challenge and success. If you need the services of a professional counselor, offers a free, one-time phone consultation with a licensed Christian counselor, as well as referrals to counselors in your area.

Begin by giving an accurate picture of where you are. In the beginning of an accountability partnership, it's critical that you paint an accurate picture for the person who's signed on to help. Unless you let your partner know the core of what's going on, they are powerless to accurately aid you in change. You've got to be on the same page. Don't beat around the bush. The first time you meet with the person who will be helping you, tell them where you are with your addiction and where you want to be. Define for them what role you expect them to play in the changes you hope to make. This first conversation will doubtless be hard, but only when you've trusted a person and put yourself on the line can they really begin to help.

Choose a partner wisely. There are no specific requirements it doesn't have to be a professional counselor. It could be your best friend or a co-worker. But it must be someone trustworthy, mature, willing and available. Caution: It's not usually a good idea to ask your spouse to be your accountability partner. They'll encourage you and notice changes along the way, but this experience will be difficult and it often helps to have a friend who's not as involved and immersed in your life as a spouse.

Be totally honest. No hiding. No matter how embarrassing, you share. That, of course, implies that the person in relationship with you will be someone who respects you, knows you're struggling, is willing to help, and loves you.

Allow your accountability partner to be honest. Now's the time for you to accept criticism and encouragement without holding back. As you choose a person to hold you accountable, pick someone that will be honest and give you an accurate opinion of the changes you've made and the hurdles you face. At this point, you're weak and need someone strong to hold you up.

Meet regularly and face-to-face. Committing to a set time is best. That way, you'll know you have to report on your progress and struggles each and every week. If a set time isn't possible, try to interact with this partner at least once a week. Meeting face-to-face is also crucial. It's harder, but it's more personal and forces you to be more honest and open than by e-mail or phone.

Answer hard questions. In the beginning, line up weekly questions. Don't be afraid to be specific. For example, if you're fighting pornography, you might have your accountability partner ask: Have you viewed pornography this week? How many times? What were you doing when you made the choice to view it? These are painful, even somewhat embarrassing, questions, but to overcome your addiction, you must be willing to confront pain and embarrassment.

Change with their help. This shouldn't be purely a time of encouragement or purely a time of criticism. You set goals, and you reach them. Timelines don't matter as much as progressive change. Let your accountability partner be your support line, a shoulder to cry on, someone to turn to in weak moments and someone who will love you.

I once heard about a college guy who asked his pastor for help with a drinking problem. The pastor began holding him accountable, and they met together weekly. During the first meeting, the pastor promised that within a year, this young student would be a different man. In the beginning, change was a week-by-week process. He managed to stop drinking, raise his GPA and even began to help others with their problems. However, not quite a year later, the young man pledged a fraternity and began drinking again. He stopped showing up for accountability meetings, leaving the pastor sitting alone at IHOP. When he didn't show, the pastor prayed. A few weeks later, the pastor answered his phone to hear weeping. Through tears, the young man asked his pastor to forgive him, achingly recalling that he hadn't made it a year without failure. When he asked, "Can we start over?" the pastor responded, "No, we can start exactly where we left off."

What the wise pastor realized was that this relapse had been more of a lesson than any lecture or chastisement. Letting someone hold you accountable for change can be a painful process, but it's a process with opportunities to be loved, rewarded, and ultimately, to change.

You've taken the first step. Have courage to keep changing and be confident you're headed in the right direction.

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