Fighting an addiction is incredibly difficult. There are hundreds upon hundreds of books that profess to help individuals work towards change and recovery, often such books trend towards one of two poles: (1) they are either exceedingly simplistic or (2) they are incredibly dense and difficult to follow. An accessible and yet honest resource on the process of recovery is rare, that’s why Dan Johnson The Journey to Freedom is such a good book. The Journey to Freedom is the kind of work book a counselor and a recovering addict can appreciate.
Dan Johnson is the founder and president of New Day Recovery in Zionsville, IN. The Journey To Freedom is the resource he wrote out of those years of counseling addicted individuals and serves as the primary manual through which he walks his counselees. It is written from experience and used in real counseling situations. Dan knows what it is like for guys struggling to get clean and move towards real lasting change. He knows the difficulties, setbacks, temptations, and disappointments they face, and the challenges of a counselor who wants to help them grow. So, his workbook is designed to provide the kind of counsel that a counselor wants to see communicated, and yet designed to engage the addicted individual who is struggling to make it day after day. It combines both honest and thorough counsel with accessible reading and self-evaluation, and in that regard is a quality book.
The book is broken down into four sections, each covering the various stages of transformation. Section One discusses the beginning stages of change by analyzing how a person becomes addicted and then what the “12 Principles of Freedom” look like. You might consider section one the thirty-thousand foot view of change. It introduces us to the principles that are going to be at work in the process of transformation and which are going to be delineated in greater detail in the rest of the book.
One of the important points in the first section is Dan’s understanding of addiction. Definitions determine the path we take towards treatment and Dan starts, in chapter one, by exploring addictions as a “spiritual problem” (8). He works to demonstrate the spiritual components of addictive habits. This sets the tone, then, for the rest of his exploration of treatment. It also helps to explain why he uses the Exodus event and the story of Israel as a paradigm for the process of recovery. He sees in Israel’s move towards new life outside of slavery as paralleling our own processes of transformation from the slavery of addiction to new life.
Section two takes readers through the initial process of “Breaking Out.” Here readers are introduced to the first three principles of freedom and explore what it means to break free from the bondage of the addictive habit. These chapters instruct readers on being ready for and desirous for change, depending upon God for said change, and embracing the forgiveness of God.
Section three details “Pushing Through.” Dan’s years of counseling have revealed that this stage of change is the hardest. Israel’s wandering in the wilderness is a reminder that we must “expect a wilderness” in our own journey. Transformation is hard and learning to live without an addictive habit is especially hard. One of Dan’s major themes is that addictive habits develop as a response to pain or desire for pleasure. Learning to manage our emotions, deal with our problems, and live life is hard, especially when we previously did that by means of our addiction. This journey, then, requires diligence and perseverance in face of setback, temptation, and wilderness wandering.
This is the longest section in the book. Because it is the most critical stage in transformation Dan spends a great deal of time exploring all the various layers of complication and challenge that addicted individuals will face. Readers will walk through how to depend upon God, how to rebuild relationships, how to handle disappointment. This is a great and important section for readers to walk through as they seek to persevere in transformation.
Section four, then, details what it looks like to “life free.” Dan explains that the “characteristics of freedom” are “enjoying God’s provision, experiencing real peace, and living with purpose” (119). This is more than just sobriety, it is a whole new lifestyle. So readers, will learn about courage, the power of memory, safe places, and safe people (among other things) as they seek to establish a new life within the freedom God provides.
The strength of its book is its combination of accessible chapters with solid counsel. Dan does not provide a simplistic model of change. His 12 Principles of Freedom are not like the 12 Steps. As Principles they provide a framework for the work that must be done, but they do not suggest that if you just do these things everything will change. The principles are honest about the challenges that participants in change will face. Yet, at the same time, the chapters are very accessible. They are each about four pages in length, written at a very basic reading level, explain terms and Biblical concepts well, and give readers clear subjects to consider. The questions at the end of each chapter invite immediate application and self-evaluation, and do not involve great levels of work.
One of my complaints as a counselor among addicts is the amount of work so many books require right out of the gate. Most addicted individuals have a low tolerance of responsibility, this is something they need training in and help developing. Asking them to read twelve pages and answer twenty questions everyday as they move towards progress is not likely to invite sustainable activity in change. Dan recognizes the challenges to the initial progress and has written a very accessible book. No book, of course, can lead a person to change apart from God’s work and the help of a good spiritual friend, but I highly commend The Journey to Freedom to all counselors and struggling addicts.