(November 11, 2008)

I’m reading a wonderful book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, a doctor who works in the slums of Vancouver on the Downtown Eastside. If you want to learn more about what it is to live with addiction and how to have compassion for those who do, this is a great book to read. Mate speaks honestly and humbly about his own struggles accepting and his own struggles with addictions of different sorts. In his words, “…at the core of all addictions there lies a spiritual void.” (That’s probably why twelve step programs are so effective.)

Because of my work with people at Living Room, what he has to say about unconditional acceptance really resonated with me. I believe unconditional acceptance is what really makes this faith-based support group work. This kind of non-judgmental approach is all too often lacking in today’s churches. Thus the stigma.

Mate says, “Unconditional acceptance of each other is one of the greatest challenges we humans face.” Lack of it is one of the greatest challenges we with mental disorders have to deal with.

As a leader and facilitator who often counsels people in trouble, I liked what he had to say about reaching people. “…They must first sense our commitment to accepting them for who they are. That is the essence of harm reduction, but it’s also the essence of any healing or nurturing relationship. In his book On Becoming a Person, the great American psychologist Carl Rogers described a warm, caring attitude, which he called ‘unconditional positive regard’ because ‘it has no conditions of worth attached to it.’ This is a caring, wrote Rogers, ‘[that] demands no personal gratification. It is an atmosphere [that] simply demonstrates I care; not I care for you if you behave thus and so.'”

Accepting and loving people for who they are, no matter where they are emotionally or spiritually, is at the core of Living Room. Living Room is a place where people can feel safe to be open about what they are dealing with. That’s what makes it so effective.