Tag Archives: 12 Steps

Psalm 10

It’s good medicine to remember from time to time what I become when I’m in my addiction.   Psalm 10 serves as such a mirror.    I’m going to take the liberty of changing the subject, the “wicked,” and make it about myself.

I boast of the desires of my soul and, greedy for gain, curse and renounce the Lord.  In my pride, I do not seek him, and all my thoughts are, “There is no God.”    My mouth is filled with cursing and lies and oppression, and under my tongue are mischief and iniquity.  I sit in ambush in the villages; in hiding places I murder the innocent.  My eyes stealthily watch for the helpless…I say in my heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”  

This aptly describes me in my addiction.   When I was acting out, I was insane.   The only thing that mattered was my next fix, consequences be damned.    Everything that came out of my mouth was a lie.  Words were a means to manipulate others to get what I wanted.   I was constantly thinking about myself and when I could next act out.   Obsession was my closest friend, convincing me that this was my god.   My life as an addict is a lonely one – separated from the man I had hoped to be, from the family and friends who love me, from my children whom I neglect for my drug, and from my God who, contrary to my beliefs, sees every bit of it.  And is very near.

The other morning I awoke from a dream in which I acted out.  I laid in bed terrified for a moment because I knew exactly the sort of person I become when I am in my addiction and for a brief minute I was convinced I had gotten on that crazy train once more.   How relieved I was to discover it was just a dream!   I am grateful for these reminders – these gifts from God – which help to keep me sober for one more day.

 

 

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No other requirement

“The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

This is the third tradition of AA, adapted to fit all other 12 Step programs of recovery and for today, my favorite. We discussed this tradion in group yesterday and it meant a lot to me that it is groups like these who accepted me without requirement. They were patient and non-judgmental, holding me up when I would let them or holding me in prayer when I left them. From day one I was an equal member, seen as a person of value and worth. Set backs were not met with raised brows or wagging fingers but with hugs and sincere refrains like “We are glad you’re here,” and “Keep coming back.” Even the amount, little to lots, of the desire I had was never scrutinized or idolized, nor was it used as a litmus test to judge my worthiness to be a part of these groups.

It was and continues to be the epitome of grace in my life, that I would be so unconditionally accepted and loved in spite of my behavior, my thoughts, my beliefs or lack thereof. All that was required was that I have something within me that longed for something more, something better.

This tradition helped to save my life along with countless others. I have listened to numerous men, many of them lifelong church goers, recount how they never witnessed such grace and mercy in their entire lives until they dragged themselves, bruised and battered from life, into one of these rooms. And it proved to be their salvation.

I find myself wondering many times throughout a meeting if there isn’t something important that churches everywhere could learn if they would choose to listen to the wisdom found in the 12 Steps and Traditions. Something to think about, huh?

John Piper’s plan to defeat lust, Part I

There are as many methods out there for overcoming addiction as there are addictions.   In my experience, not all of them are created equal.   I stumbled upon a technique to overcome lust offered by famous reformed pastor and author John Piper which I would file in the “less than” category only because I and many others I know have tested this technique most of our lives only to find it wanting.

What I want to do is share that technique here, offer some of my thoughts about it, and then in a follow-up post offer what I believe is a more helpful way forward if you have tried this technique only to find yourself frustrated by your lack of progress.

The steps Piper proposes for a person struggling with lust are short and sweet and have the useful acronym “ANTHEM” to help us remember.   It goes like this:

Step 1: Avoid all possible temptation.

Step 2: Say, “No!” to every lustful thought.

Step 3: Turn your eyes towards Christ.

Step 4: Hold onto a promise from God.

Step 5: Enjoy Jesus more than sinful pleasure.

Step 6: Move away from idleness and find something to do.

Let’s take a brief look at each one of these steps.

Step 1: Avoid all possible temptation.  

Right out of the gate this plan sets you and I up for failure.   Unless you plan to gouge your eyes out, lob off your hands and live as a hermit removed from society forever, you will fail every day at avoiding all possible temptation.    No matter which way we turn, we are inundated with lustful imagery and imaginations which are unavoidable this side of heaven.   If your first goal is to hide from temptation you will be sorely disappointed at every turn.

On a deeper level, this first step misses the heart of the issue.   Temptation is not the problem.   Our hearts are.    The need to get a fix, or to cope with life using lust or any other drug, is what we need to address.   I need a program that will liberate me in order that I can live, not hide under a rock.

Step 2: Say, “No!” to every lustful thought.

This is a good idea, but perhaps there is a better way. I’ll return to this later.

Step 3: Turn your eyes towards Christ.

Always!

Step 4: Hold onto a promise from God.

I actually like what Piper has to say about this step.   Far too often we give up prematurely, assuming that if we have done the right things (said “No!,” turned our eyes towards Christ) than the temptation should leave us.   But our addiction is persistent and will often knock on our door many times throughout the day, relentlessly.   It’s important to hold on.

In recovery we call this white-knuckling it.   Gripping to whatever we can until the obsession abates.   It can work for a spell, but generally leads to acting out at some point or another.   I’m not thrilled with how Piper reduces a struggle with something as cunning and baffling and powerful as lust to a simple “Jesus and me” transaction.   You can’t do this by yourself, clinging like a lone rock climber to the face of a cliff.    You need others to hold your line.   More on that in the next post.

Step 5: Enjoy Jesus more than sinful pleasure.

I can appreciate what Piper is going for here but let’s be honest.  This is like telling a child they should like vegetables more than cookies because veggies are good for them.   Piper fails to take into account here the seriousness of addictive/compulsive behavior and the very real ways that both our minds and bodies have been rewired to such an extent that lust is not only pleasurable (or else we wouldn’t do it!) but salvific.    In other words, our drug of choice has become our god, and after years of abuse it is impossible to think of life apart from that god.   In the mind of an addict, we will die without our drug.

Telling someone to enjoy Jesus more than the thing which has become their everything serves only to heap more shame and guilt on the addict who will no doubt feel that they should enjoy Christ more but does not.   Building into a program a step which almost guarantees failure is, in my opinion, not the best use of a step.

Step 6: Move away from idleness and find something to do.

This is good advice but in my experience there is a better way.  While finding “something” to do is certainly better than acting out with lust, nothing is more powerful than discovering a program that works for you and then sharing that with others.    Ongoing recovery depends not just in finding something to do when you’ve failed to “avoid temptation” but actively working with others who struggle as you do and teaching them the steps that have brought you freedom.

To conclude, Piper’s plan has embedded within it steps which, in my experience, only serve to heap greater shame on a person who already feels like an utter failure.   Avoiding temptation and enjoying Jesus “more,” while grand ideals in their own right, do not seem to appreciate the ways addiction works.

Another issue I have with this technique is the solitary nature of it all.   There is nothing within these 6 steps as stated which would suggest you cannot do this alone.   Just the opposite, in fact.   This program appears to me to be about behavior modification – something you can do on your own if you just pull up your bootstraps and try harder.   If only you stop doing certain things, and do other things better, you’ll defeat lust in your life.    Behavior modification may make the outside look good, but it leaves our souls untouched, even shriveled.

That, my friends, has never worked for me long-term.   If it has and is working for you, than by all means continue doing what works.   But if you are like me and countless others, thank God there is another way!  I’ll say more about that in the next post.

What did you think of Piper’s technique?

 

 

How is your time with God?

There was a long stretch of time where I felt guilty that I was not spending enough time with God.   I felt guilty that my “quiet time” was not very disciplined or that my “prayer closet” was full of cob webs.   When going through a rough patch I could count on some well-meaning Christian to begin their diagnostic testing of my spiritual state by asking, “How is your devotional life?”

Ryan May reminded me of this in his message this past weekend (I highly recommend watching it!   See video below).    As he brought home the point that God is everywhere and that we can interact with God and be infused with God’s wisdom in both obvious and not-so-obvious places, I found myself grateful for the wisdom found in this program of recovery called the 12 Steps.

Why? First, because through the process of working the steps I realize that I am utterly and completely dependent upon my Higher Power to restore me to sanity and sustain my serenity.  I learn that this is something that requires not only some “alone time with God” in the morning and evening (the obvious places) but also a conscious connection with God throughout the day.   The second reason is related to the first.   The steps disabuse me of the notion that God is only found in obvious spots.   Rather, they give me permission and even encourage me to seek God in the margins, the not-so-obvious places.    The steps liberate me from believing in a God who is waiting for me to sit in my recliner with my Bible on my lap in order to trigger some divine-to-human connection and instead introduce me to a God who is always connected to me if I will but ask for eyes to see and ears to hear.

Step 11 reads,

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Being in recovery is about deepening that connection not only in those quiet prayer-closet moments but also during rush hour traffic or on the homestretch of a work deadline or in the middle of a tough conversation or when the kids disobey or when the sun sets so brilliantly or when the food tastes sumptuous or the tire goes flat.

God is everywhere and willing and able to connect with us where we are, when we are, how we are, for who we are.

I’m not about to forsake my morning prayer and coffee time with God in my comfortable recliner each day.  Those times are sacred and holy and sweet.   But the other 1,410 minutes of the day are equally sacred and holy and sweet.   My problem, and perhaps yours, is that I don’t allow myself to see and hear God in those moments enough.    And yet I’m convinced that it is in those areas – the not-so-obvious ones – that a vibrant, fulfilling, life-altering relationship with my Higher Power can gain steam.     Today I’m grateful that Step 11 promises that this is an area I can “improve” upon.

I hope you enjoy Ryan’s message from Sunday as much as I did.  I think it’ll open your eyes to ways God wants to meet you in unexpected places.

Psalm 9

“My addiction saved my life.”

Ever hear someone say that?  Maybe this is true for you.   A lot of people tend to assume that addictions either fall out of the sky on unsuspecting persons or, worse yet, they are the result of immorality.    Or to put that another way, addicts are “bad people” who are irresponsible and make bad choices.

As a recovering addict I won’t deny that I am immoral, have the capacity to be not just bad but down right evil, incredibly irresponsible and my choices are often insane.    All this has been true of me and will be true of me if I do not continue on the path of recovery.

But addictions do not just happen overnight nor do they come about because a person is particularly malevolent.    I did not choose to be an addict.   I did not consciously choose to destroy my life and the lives of those I loved.

So when some people say that an addiction saved their life what they most often mean is that their drug of choice provided a suitable coping mechanism during a time of need.  Maybe it was abuse or neglect that led them to seek an escape.   Depression, loneliness, pain, emptiness – all reasons why people grasp for something that will, if only temporarily, help them forget about reality and drift off into fantasy.

For a season, our drug of choice acts as our savior.   A soothing balm protecting us from an other-wise hostile and uncertain world.

But eventually this savior turns into an even harsher task-master than even the starkest reality.   The balm becomes the ball and chain, degenerating us into slaves.   This is what I imagine when I read the words of David the Psalmist when he pens:

The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
    their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.
16 The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
    the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.

What we thought would save us from the encroaching and dangerous world ends up becoming the net that ensnares us.   What was saving our life is now draining our life.  We realize that all substitute saviors are but slave-makers.

But there is hope!  The Psalmist continues:

But God will never forget the needy;
    the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

I’m grateful that God does not forget we who are afflicted and needy, who have struggled to save ourselves only to wind up at the bottom of the pit we have dug.    When what used to work is no longer working but driving us deeper into misery, it’s time to look up from the ashes and admit we cannot save ourselves.

 

I’m going to love you, anyway

Last night I finished Anne Lamott’s beautiful book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy.   There is so much goodness in this short book that I could go on and on about it but there was this one line that arrested me which I needed to get down in writing before the impression it made upon me was forgotten.

Before I share the quote, some context.    She is riffing on Saint Paul’s “thorn in my flesh” (2 Cor. 12:6ff) affliction, something he could not shake but it helped him learn humility and reliance upon God’s grace.   She alludes to this passage in the context of admitting her own character defects, like being judgmental and conceited.   These are “thorns” she would rather not have and wrestles against them, sometimes successfully, other times not so much.   And then she writes the line which stirred my soul:

We don’t know if Paul was ever healed of his affliction.  I do know that being told I could keep my awfulness made holding on to it much less attractive.

I don’t know if Anne meant this the way I took it, but when I read these words what I heard God say to me was,

Chad, you can keep the stuff that is making you miserable if you wish. I am going to love you, anyway.

This is such good news to someone like me, who, historically would hang on to my character defects like Gollum holding onto his precious ring.   What’s more, I would cling to them even tighter if I thought that your love for me was conditioned upon me letting them go.  

Paradoxically, my disease often led me to cling tighter to the things I suspected were preventing people from loving me well.    Maybe this is because I’m super stubborn.  Maybe it’s because my disease needed this in order to thrive.   If you won’t love me for who I am, it told me, than I’ll just act out. 

But upon reading Anne’s line above, the insanity of all of that made sense to me.   I heard God say to me that he was going to love me regardless of my “thorn.”   God’s love for me isn’t conditioned upon me letting go of my awfulness.

Surrounded by God’s unconditional love makes holding on to my character defects, my disease, my awfulness far less appealing.   My addiction has, upon this realization, nothing or no one to rail against or stubbornly defy.  It has no one to blame, no one upon whom to justify it’s self-damning cycle of insanity upon.

God says to you and I, hey, you can continue being miserable if you’d like, I’m going to love you, anyway.    Somehow that makes hanging on to my junk seem like a colossal waste of time and energy.    Would you agree?

Hi, my name is Chad, I’m a recovering addict

My pastor and friend asked me a week ago if I would be willing to share at church this past Sunday. After praying and discussing it over with my sponsor I decided to give it a go. It had been nearly 3 years since I’ve done this, and as you might imagine I was rather nervous. Much of the nerves came from fears of feeling inadequate or imagining I am no longer qualified to share in this way. Those fears, however, were quickly vanquished by the love and support this church graciously gave me.

This is how I live out the 12th Step and give back a small portion of what I have received. I hope it blesses you today half as much as it did me to share it.