Stages of a Life-Controlling Problem


Vernon E. Johnson, founder and president emeritus of the Johnson Institute in Minneapolis, observed (without trying to prove any theory) literally thousands of alcoholics, their families, and other people surrounding them. He writes, “We came up with the discovery that alcoholics showed certain specific conditions with a remarkable consistency” (8).

Dr. Johnson uses a feeling chart to illustrate how alcoholism follows an emotional pattern. He identifies four phases: 1) learns mood swing; 2) seeks mood swing; 3) harmful dependency; 4) uses to feel normal. Many of the observations made by Dr. Johnson and others, including us, can also be related to other types of dependencies, although the terminology may differ.

In Living Free materials, these four stages are labeled: 1) experimentation; 2) social use; 3) daily preoccupation; and 4) using the substance or practicing the behavior just to feel normal. Not everyone progresses through all these stages, however there is no way to predict which people who begin the pattern will continue to stage four.

By the time people arrive at stage three, their developing life-controlling issues are clearly idols in their lives. They are beginning to suffer negative consequences from their involvement, but instead of slowing down in response to the pain, they involve themselves more deeply. They look to the behavior, substance, or relationship that is entrapping them for comfort or relief. Their delusion grows deeper until they no longer recognize the truth.

In the video, we looked at the stages an alcoholic typically goes through as drinking becomes a life-controlling problem. However, these stages can also apply to behavioral struggles. These are the stages people often experience with an eating disorder, a sexual addiction, and several types of emotional struggles. Although the actual name used for the phase may be different and the details may vary, what is important to know is that even though life-controlling problems take many forms, they develop along similar predictable patterns.

Adapted from Living Free Coordinator’s Guide, Jimmy Ray Lee and Dan Strickland, Turning Point, Chattanooga, TN, 1999, pp 40-42.
Used by permission

What If They Don’t Want Your Help?

What can you do for your loved one when they don’t want help?

A father came to me recently with great concern for his daughter. “She is 23, living in our home, working a job, and using drugs. She has refused our advice and rejected our offer to get help with her drug use problem. What can we do?”

I’d like to share with you what I told this father. Many others have asked me the same question. Call this my open letter to all family members that are faced with the challenge of a loved one who is using drugs, but doesn’t want help. Personalize the letter to your own situation as you read my response to this family.

Let me say first of all, that you and your wife are possibly the two most influential people in your daughter’s life today. Even though she is unwilling to seek the help you believe she needs, you can be part of feeding her problem, or you can be a key part in bringing positive change into her life.

You cannot make her change. You cannot change her attitude toward drug use, nor can you change her behavior. One of the most basic steps for anyone to get help is to admit that they have a problem and they need help to change.

So if your daughter does not want help, and does not believe she has a problem, what can you do?

  • First, you can determine to communicate your love to her whether she changes or not.
  • Second, you must continue to speak the truth into her life.
  • Third, you must carefully plan your actions to create an atmosphere where she will be more willing to change.

You can read more about these steps here.

Copyright © 2004 By David Batty Used by permission.

Let This Next Year Be The Beginning Of Your Ministry

You will need a good foundation to build an effective Living Free ministry. You can do this by learning as much as possible yourself and then sharing what you learn with others.

Our office will help you. Ask us your questions. We are glad to help.

Here are steps you can follow as an individual to encourage your congregation or group to begin Living Free groups in your church or ministry.


The first step you should take is to learn as much as you can about Living Free.  Study the the website. Order the training series, or if that is impossible, watch the training series online so that you can experience first-hand what you want to encourage the church to enjoy.  After you review the materials, you may want to encourage some others to join you and look at them.  Test the interest level and see if there is a group of people who might like to work together to make this ministry a reality in your church. Remember, studying the materials as an individual is never as effective as experiencing them is a small group.  We need the eyes of others to see ourselves as we really are and the encouragement of others to apply the wisdom of God’s word to the difficult areas of our lives.


As you consider taking this information to your church leaders, be sure to pray.  When you meet with them, tell them about your own experience and how you think that these materials could help many others. Always keep a good attitude, even if the leaders are not receptive to you. Remember, it is God that opens and closes doors, and he has his own perfect timing for everything.

Try to see things from the perspective of ministry leaders.  Most church leaders are overworked and underpaid and experience many demands competing for their time.  Sometimes they will see a ministry like this as just another activity that they will have to staff and manage.  So if you want to see this ministry in your church, be sure that you’re volunteering to make it happen and not just handing it off for someone else to do.  When leaders see such a commitment, it will eliminate some of the barriers to beginning a new ministry.

Wishing You A Merry Christmas from Living Free!


Hello dear friends,

During a season that is typically filled with hurry and pressure for so many people, we wanted to take a moment to pause and reflect on God’s incredible provision of His Son, Jesus.

Without Jesus, all the work and ministry of Living Free would be fruitless.

Without Jesus, all the small groups and curriculum would hold no power over bondage and shame.

Without Jesus, all the donations and hours and service would be pointless.

But thankfully, we have Immanuel — God WITH US — who equips, empowers, and sets captive FREE. This is why we rejoice this Christmas season!

We are thankful for you, our friends and partners, as well. Thank you for allowing Immanuel to fill you and work through you in the lives of others.


— The Living Free Team

Families Everywhere Are At Risk. Help Us? – A Letter From The President of LF


Dear Friends,

As we’re coming to the end of 2016 and we’re preparing to launch new initiatives in the coming year, I’d like to ask you to consider a year-end donation to Living Free.

If your family is like mine, at least one member has been harmed or has died from an addiction to prescription pain drugs or heroin. The hardcore drugs that used to be found mainly in urban areas have spread to rural areas with devastating impact.

Regardless of location, wealth, or social status, families everywhere are at risk. Recently, in a rural county town of 6000, a leader of a new Living Free ministry lost a child to a drug overdose. It becomes ever more clear as we pray for this leader that these problems are not just happening to “those other people.”

A recent news report in The Tennessean stated that one in six people abuse pain medicines and other opiates in the state. These rates are similar elsewhere per CDC statistics cited in the article.

Government officials in many states have invited the Christian community to engage with this crisis. The problem is that many don’t know where to begin or how to help. Most solutions default to expensive residential models that exclude 90% of the people who need help and offer little or no help to the family members of those struggling with life-controlling issues.

This gap in resources is the perfect opportunity for Living Free Community to help multitudes of people who need a nonresidential alternative. Already, thousands of volunteers are working in more than 200 Living Free allied ministries in 26 states and in scores of countries around the world. But thousands of U.S. counties are not yet served.

Because the need is so vast and this open door from governments could close suddenly, our team is praying, planning, and mobilizing to launch more ministries quickly. We desperately need the help of the Living Free family and friends to make this happen.

God has given our Living Free team the vision to see 2000 local Living Free ministries providing nonresidential ministry to 400,000 persons annually in the next 10 years.

This is a God-sized goal, but this and more is possible as we work together to empower Christians everywhere to bring gospel-centered solutions to persons struggling with life’s problems.

This is why I am appealing to the Living Free family for an end-of-year gift to help us take the next steps together to fulfill this calling. And should you choose to do so, a recurring monthly contribution can be set up.

Online donations can be made at by clicking the “Support Living Free” button.

Thank you for being part of this great Living Free movement.

Dan Strickland, President of Living Free

Faithful, No Matter What – NEW BOOK

When life goes smoothly, when all seems right with the world, God’s faithfulness is rarely a concern. But in the midst of struggles and adversity, when the future looks unclear, or problems seem to defy resolution, we need assurance of His faithfulness. In “Faithful, No Matter What,” Dr. Jimmy Lee has assembled a rich and varied collection of amazing stories from men and women who have trusted in – and experienced – God’s faithfulness.

We were honored to have Dr. Lee join us for a brief interview on the book:

1. What motivated you to write “Faithful, No Matter What”?
I was motivated to write “Faithful, No Matter What” by my father’s faithfulness I observed throughout his lifetime. He was a “Walking Bible” who was faithful to God regardless of the circumstances. This is discussed in the “Introduction”.
2. What is one story that continues to stick with you even after the book writing process is over?
My experience as a child, being without food,and the witness of this challenge, will never leave me.This is in chapter 2. Also chapter 18 with God’s call on my life- clear and strategic.
3. Why do you think sharing stories of God’s faithfulness is so important today?
Stories of God’s faithfulness is important because as one of our contributing author says, “faithfulness is the root of the fruit”. Faithfulness produces the fruit. See chapter 13, page 76.
4. Did you face any challenges yourself during the writing process for this book?
The challenge I faced in writing this book was to stay focused and not give up. It took 2 years.
The book’s cover image shows “Old Faithful,” the famous geyser at Yellowstone Park that never fails. In an even more profound, life-changing way, God’s faithfulness is a certainty. The powerful testimonies in this book will give the reader hope, even at those times when all seems hopeless.