Our Relationship with God

Step 2 of the Twelve Steps of AA says, “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Plenty of us believe; but do we believe within the criteria of the Second Step?

Our struggles boil down to three primary issues:

* do we believe God is powerful,

* do we accept that only his power can restore us and

* do we believe we are worth his efforts on our behalf?

Christian writer J. Keith Miller wrote many books over the course of his long life. His first, The Taste of New Wine, described his struggle with faith. In his book A Hunger for Healing, Miller continues to open up and share his experience of recovery and faith.

“When I came to Step Two I realized that although I was a committed Christian and I really believed in God, my problem was that in some very important respects I was living a frantic, highly stressed existence as a Christian professional speaker and writer. I knew that something was not right: I was teaching about grace and freedom, on the one hand, and my life was anxious, stressful and over committed, on the other. But I was in denial and couldn’t see how bizarre the contradiction was. People in this program have helped me to realize that anything I do or think that is destructive to me or to my relationships with other people or with God is a kin of insanity, especially when I keep doing it month after month.”

~ J. Keith Miller - A Hunger for Healing

Do you ever worry – which would be a good thing actually – far better than being in denial!?! Do you ever worry that perhaps what you say you believe does not match up with how you behave? For instance, a person who talks about loving Jesus but is cheating on their spouse. Or an employee who believes that scriptures speak about respecting our earthly authority but is constantly undermining their boss? Or a person who says that they believe that God says love one another but there are certain ethnicities you just would not invite home to meet your mother?

Yeah? Me too. None of us get it right all the time. What do we do with all our messy ways?

How do we make sense of our saying one thing but doing another?

Don't re-write history in a single moment

There is another skill we need to develop in order to avoid unfairly assassinating someone’s character: giving people credit for who they’ve proven to be over time.

Why are we so tempted to re-evaluate everything we think we know about a person in the moments when they hurt us?

People are going to hurt us, and that doesn’t mean that they are actually NOT kind, that they do NOT care, or that we’ve misunderstood them. (Understand, I’m not talking about abusive relationships here). It just means that relationships are difficult.

Here’s what we need to learn: don’t give negative experiences with a person more weight than positive ones. At least, don’t let one negative experience wipe out ten positive ones. Give people credit for their history.

How do we do this?

Talk. Have a conversation. When someone has a history of treating you well followed by a really bad experience, talk to them. Wait until you’ve processed it with some trusted people, wait until you’ve calmed down a bit, and then approach the conversation with a sense of humility. “Hey, ___ happened, and I’m hurt. Would you mind sharing your perspective with me on this?”

Having a conversation can go a long ways towards overcoming relational problems. It provides clarity on the events, which may resolve the conflict in an of itself, and it grounds us. It prevents us from too hasty in our judgments of others. That’s really our main goal: learning not to be too hasty in judging others.

One Action Cannot Destroy a Reputation

If one action cannot destroy a person’s reputation, as we suggested yesterday, then we must learn a few skills. One, as we said before, we must learn our own triggers. Two, we must become disciplined at evaluating who people prove themselves to be over time.

As for number one- we will not be able to avoid being triggered. We will always have triggers in life, and they may change over time, but there is no way to completely avoid them. What we can do, is learn how to pay attention to them and, when we learn what to pay attention to, we can, over time, learn different kinds of responses to them.

The way to know when you’re triggered is to use the gift of hindsight to evaluate when your emotional response to a situation was entirely too strong. This is going to require some serious honesty, self-reflection, and non-defensiveness. Once you’ve learned that you were triggered, you need to then spend time figuring out what exactly caused the overly-heightened emotional reaction.

In the example of Tim and James from a few days back, the trigger was actually a broken promise, not a “lie.” The broken promise led to the accusation “liar” because of Tim’s sensitivity to broken promises. It would then be his work to figure out why he’s sensitive to broken promises and, more importantly, to make a mental note of the fact that he’s sensitive to that. It would also be important, going forward, for Tim to make mental notes about the times in which people promise him things and to practice thinking through what might happen if they break that promise. This way he can be prepared for his trigger which may help him respond differently.

Using History to "Judge" Someone's Character

For the past few days, we’ve been exploring a case-study about character assassinating, get caught up before reading today’s post.

Too often we will character assassinate a person because we’re feeling hurt as a result of our pasts, and not a result of our past history with that specific person.

Our goal, our ideal, is to treat a person in accordance with who they have proven to be over the course of time. One moment, one action, does not make a person. It does not define their character and it does not describe the totality of who they are.

And yet, how often will one action, one moment, one situation, cause us to doubt everything? He (or she, or whatever) isn’t who I thought he was, we might say.

So let’s just start here, because this may just be a new idea. One action alone cannot erase a person’s entire history. If a person has proven to be reliable, trustworthy, dependable, honest, upstanding, generous, and kind, and they have one bad moment where they act mean and nasty, this doesn’t mean they were secretly mean and nasty that whole time. It means they had a bad moment.

Everyone has bad moments. We all lose our heads from time to time. The fact that someone’s head flies off does not mean that their character is substantially different from what you thought. It’s much more likely to mean they’re tired, stressed, or distracted. Perhaps they are grieving silently.

Who knows? That’s the point. Who knows?

Congruent Character

For the past few days, we’ve been exploring a case-study about character assassinating, get caught up before reading today’s post.

When Tim reacts angrily towards James, and calls him a liar, Tim is drawing on his own past harm. This means he is not considering the history of his relationship with James, neither is he considering what he knows to be historically true about James. James has neither a history of breaking promises nor a history of lying (though, granted, we can assume that he has broken promises before and lied before, but they are by no means defining attributes).

What Tim has done makes perfect sense, and it does not need to be judged. We all react out of our past harms from time to time on instinct alone, without stopping to consider the relationship. But, it must still be said, this is a big problem, and it’s one many of us have. Let me be clear. The problem is this: Too often we will call a person a liar, or say they always do ___, or never do ____, or call them selfish, or uncaring, or aggressive, or passive, or whatever, because we’re feeling hurt as a result of our pasts, and not a result of our past history with that specific person. (This is not exclusively the case, but it is the case for many people in many relationships).

In fact, this is the source of a lot of ongoing, unresolved conflict for many of us. Circumstances often tempt us, or conspire against us, to consider other people’s actions in light of our pasts, rather than the other person’s past, or our past history with that person. If Tim were considering James’ past alone, he would never have called James a liar, because James has not demonstrated that is character is congruent with the label “liar.” Now, it’s obviously not possible to only treat people on their own terms. We’re always going to bring our pasts into things. But, how can we do so in a way that is a little more fair to those around us?

Stay tuned.

A Triggered Reaction

Yesterday we started a character assassination “case study.” In the example, a made up person named Tim called another made up person named James a liar because he did not follow through on a promise.

Now, if Tim has a history of being on the wrong end of broken promises, we can understand why he might accuse James of being a liar. This has been a pattern elsewhere in his life that has caused great pain, and this similarity has led to a heightened emotional state that does not match what this particular situation demands.

That is what we call a “trigger.” (We talk about triggers too much these days, and we are calling too many things “triggers” that are actually just “bummers,” but stick with me nonetheless). When something happens to us that reminds us of something negative from our pasts that causes us to have a reaction that is too strong given the details of the specific situation we are in, we are “triggered.”

It is important to be aware of these. Why? Because when we are not aware of them, we run the risk of acting out of our heightened emotional state that does not match the situation we are in. We run the risk of causing unnecessary harm.

The first step in unnecessarily assassinating someone’s character is being triggered without awareness of our triggers.

An example of a character assassination

For the next few days, we’re talking about unfair character assassination. Yes, I know, there are times when people do not have great character. We’re not going to talk about that over the next few days. We may spend some time at the end, depending on how things go, but that is not our focus.

We’re going to start with an example. Let’s say someone is caught in a lie (we’ll call this person James) in an “in community” type of relationship, and the person who caught them calls them a liaras a result (we’ll call this person Tim).

Now, we have to start by asking the question, what is a lie? The word “lie” can mean or imply many different things depending on the context in which it is used.

Let’s say James said he was going to do something and then legitimately forgot to do it. Let’s say James has no real pattern of this behavior. Maybe he’s done it a few times over the course of a few years. It’s happened before, but it’s happened at the same rate that it might happen to anyone. It is hardly a defining attribute.

Let’s also say, since I’m making up this example, Tim is particularly sensitive to broken promises because of his own history. He’s more likely to assume ill-intent than most as a result.

Would you consider what James did a lie? Why or why not? How would you approach a conversation with him?

Is it fair for Tim to call James a liar? Why or why not? How would you approach a conversation with him?

The Character Assassination Station

What determines a person’s character? Have you ever thought about that?

It’s not uncommon for people to use the word “always” in the midst of conflict. You always do ___. Or, let’s say a person is caught in a lie, we may call that person a liar. These are judgments about character. So, what determine’s a person’s character?

To be clear, I’m not talking about your character, I’m talking about our perception of someone else’s character. How do we determine the nature of another person’s character? And, once we’ve done that, are we able to treat them as if that is their character?

This is what we’re going to be talking about over the next few days. So often, when we’re in conflict, we resort to character judgments that may not necessarily reflect the character a person has proven to have over the history of a given relationship. When someone does something we don’t like, it’s easiest, and most temporarily satisfying, to character assassinate. What might it look like to rise above that?

What’s Your Plan for Happiness?

Father Thomas Keating wrote about strategies for living. He called his a plan for happiness - which, to be clear, he knew was no real plan at all. His point was this is how we think, not how life works. He believed that most of us look for happiness in the following ways:

* We believe we need power and control to find happiness.

* We believe we need affection and esteem to find happiness.

* We believe we need security to survive and without it there is no hope for happiness.

Keating would NOT have taken his theory too far. I think he would have agreed that we all need to take responsibility for our life choices, that we are created for loving relationships, and that we need a certain level of security in life to thrive. It is hard to be homeless. It is brutal to be poor and without access to basic life necessities.

But Father Keating challenges us to think about our compulsions, our drives. Taken too far they feed our vulnerabilities to particular falsehoods that hinder our growth. If we cannot find a reasonable way to manage life, we are all vulnerable to developing compulsive ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that can lead to a dependency of some kind. Many times we become obsessed with chasing happiness.

Scripture gives us a different frame of reference. It offers the promise of a God who is crazy about us and offers dire warnings of how our forgetfulness or misunderstandings about the nature of God, ourselves and others can get us in trouble. Here is a scriptural warning that aligns with the false identity notion of Henri Nouwen and the misguided plan for happiness as described by Father Keating.

Understand that the last days will be dangerous times. People will be selfish and love money. They will be the kind of people who brag and who are proud. They will slander others, and they will be disobedient to their parents. They will be ungrateful, unholy, unloving, contrary, and critical. They will be without self-control and brutal, and they won’t love what is good. They will be people who are disloyal, reckless, and conceited. They will love pleasure instead of loving God. They will look like they are religious but deny God’s power. Avoid people like this. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 CEB

Denial is Not a Defect of Character

In Abraham Twerski’s book Addictive Thinking, he talks about denial and self-deception, both of which feel to me like sleepwalking. I cannot count the times in my life when I have fought knowing the truth of something only to have some event shock me into awareness. Once I am forced to face the truth I am amazed at how long I was able to pretend.

Twerski writes, “I cannot stress enough the importance of realizing that addicts are taken in by their own distorted thinking and that they are its victims. If we fail to understand this, we may feel frustrated or angry in dealing with the addict.”

Denial is a wall of limitation but it is NOT a defect of character or a shortcoming.

When someone says to me, “You are in DENIAL sister.” I hear that as a shaming condemnation.

“Maybe I am in denial, but why do you have to sound so smug?” I think. In active using and in recovery, I find some people hard to take advice from. This was especially true for me early in recovery. However, their callousness does not negate my situation. It did, however, distract me at times from paying attention to my real condition.

If I am active in my substance use, denial is a factor in my decision-making. But there is no need to shame me about that situation. Denial is a function of a hijacked brain, not a representation of my character. Sincere people often stumble as they try to help those they love. Later in the process of recovery, we will explore ways to deal with our feelings about the way others treat us. But try not to let other people’s clumsiness distract us from the seriousness of our situation.

Denial is dangerous. It keeps us from naming our problem/s, which guarantees that we are not free to find a solution. How do we get out from under this burden of self-deception?

We start acknowledging what we can. When you are asked to acknowledge things like powerlessness, unmanageability and name your Substance Use Disorder(s), please try not to judge yourself too harshly if your list is not satisfying to others. There is stuff about you that you cannot see.

BUT. And here is where it gets really, really hard: try to not immediately reject other people’s feedback, even if their delivery is awkward or even rude. If in fact you have a Substance Use Disorder, there may be people who have rejected you. Please try to give the people who have stayed a break. This is hard; no doubt they have their own issues, secrets and compulsions. Just do your best to consider what others are saying - especially if what you are hearing feels pretty repetitive!

When Weakness is Empowering

In recent years, criticism has been directed toward mutual aid societies that practice the 12 steps. In particular, they find fault with first step’s phrase “we were powerless over…”. Critics say that this perspective is wrong, too negative and needs to be replaced with the concept of empowerment.

Here is what I know to be true for me: it was really hard to quit using what my brain thought it needed to survive. Willpower is overrated and was ineffective for me when I was struggling with compulsive behaviors that turned into a physiological dependency.

This is what powerless means to me: There is something in my life that is so powerful, cunning and baffling that I am unable to comprehend that this thing that I think is making me powerful and in control is actually killing me. IN SPITE OF MUCH EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY, I am unable to see the writing on the wall and read its message. At the worst of my using, I was absolutely completely powerless over the denial and self-deceit that served as sentries, blocking the obvious truth that I was dying. Both served at the pleasure of my survival instincts, which were compromised and confused as a result of my eating disorder.

However, none of this made me a powerless person; it did mean I was powerless over the effects my Substance Use Disorder was having on my capacity to reason. In fact, the recovery process teaches me how to take responsibility for my recovery. It has EMPOWERED me by giving me a new, inspired way of seeing God, myself and others. It has provided me tools to manage the issues that drove my substance use. It has given me the support I needed as I regained my footing and found my capacity for taking the next right step.

If you are fretting over the word “powerless,” maybe it is because, to you, like me, the word feels shaming. Who wants to be powerless? Instead, consider it as an acknowledgement that you have figured out that your willpower and good intentions are not enough to treat what ails you.

For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (b) NIV

Softball as a Sacred Space

During the first summer of our marriage my husband severely broke his ankle while playing church softball. The second his foot hit the bag he knew he was in trouble; his foot pointed in the wrong direction and flopped around like a fish out of water as his teammates hauled him off and parked him on the hillside bordering the field.

At first, his friends did not want to acknowledge the seriousness of the injury. “Walk it off!” they encouraged. Afraid that they would have to forfeit the game because of the slim turnout of players that night made Pete invaluable so long as he could play.

Once he was deemed a non-contributor, they left him on the sidelines and continued to play one man down. A wife on the opposing team finally found a pay phone (no cell phones back in those days) and called me to come fetch my now worthless husband.

To be fair, when his friends heard that he had been rushed into surgery and told he may never walk normally again, two of them apologized for their competitive ways. Two.

Decades later, I still ponder this story. I marvel at how easily we abandon our core values for our passions. When the scriptures tell us that we belong to the truth, it is in no way implying that we are actually living by the truth. What it is saying is this: God gets us. He is truth. He is greater than our hearts, our passions, even the way other humans talk about him. We can rest in his presence because he is safe, not because we have figured out how to get life right. We can and will make mistakes - this does not change God’s attitude toward us.

But there is a caveat. We need to pay attention and acknowledge the truth about ourselves. We need to wrestle when our life is out of sync with what we say we value. On that hot August night in 1978 an entire team of Christian men were so distracted by their softball record that they let a fallen friend lay forgotten in agony while they returned to their respective positions.

Step one challenges us to acknowledge the real deal with ourselves, to name our compulsive way of being in the world AND its devastating effects on our lives (and eventually the lives of others). We do not thrive when our life is unmanageable. The chaos creates a forgetfulness that crowds out love to make room for our addiction. When we are not living a manageable life, we are feeding shame and condemnation. That stuff does a good enough job of bringing us down on its own - it does not need us feeding it more fodder by living unconsciously!

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. 1 John 3:18-20 The Message

Chipping Away Your Mask

When my brother entered treatment, my parents were less than enthusiastic. Once they learned that a “family weekend” was part of the package they were downright hostile. They attended anyway, dragging their bad attitude along with them like a security blanket.

By the time our family had access to treatment, we had all become adept at wearing masks and playing predictable roles in our family system. In hindsight, I suspect these various roles helped us cope and enabled us to survive. The chaos and conflict that active addiction caused in our family did not leave much room for creativity, collaboration, and addressing the needs and wants of the entire family as they arose. Our rigid roles enabled us to think and feel less. Our roles served as a means of energy conservation so that we had what we needed to fight and fume and blame and berate one another.

“Mask” is a Greek word that means “engraving in a stone” and that accurately summed up how I felt. I was stone cold. Furious. Enraged. Embarrassed. Frustrated. Ashamed. And fake. Recovery is the spiritual process of chipping away at our defense mechanisms while building up our capacity for honesty, coping, and living out our life’s purpose. It is hard intensive work; it is art; it is a sacred journey. This is not unlike the work God promises to do with us, shaping and molding us.

Then God’s Message came to me: “Can’t I do just as this potter does, people of Israel?” God’s Decree! “Watch this potter. In the same way that this potter works his clay, I work on you… Jeremiah 18, selected verses from The Message

As I worked my recovery program, I felt conflicted, resistant even, to this idea of God “working on me”. I trusted no one including God. But desperate times called for desperate measures and slowly, gradually, I began to trust others to help me. Decades in, I can see how the early masks and armor that my family wore to cope with our family issues contributed to my reluctance to trust and contributed to my own issues. Sometimes the hardest part of growing up for me is trusting that there are different ways of living than what I learned as a child.

How about you? What do struggle with?

Pivot, Re-Evaluate, Start Anew

We were constructed to be valued and valuable; to have purpose; to love and serve others; to be loved and cared for. This is how we are wired. As we have tried to conform ourselves to our cultural, familial, and various other expectations, we have crafted a personality to fit our environment. So long as our personality aligns with our core values and we are at peace with the values we profess, all is reasonably good (there are exceptions to this but assume this is true for a minute and keep reading).

When our constructed worldview and personality are at odds with the essence of who we are and how we were created to engage with the world, our life becomes unmanageable. We are at war with the metaphorical DNA of God’s design.

You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing - not caring about others, not caring about God - the worse your life became and the less freedom you had?....As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right ANYTHING for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end. Romans 6:19-21 The Message

Personality and life choices are not static. We can pivot, re-evaluate, start anew. We need a path back to God and a way to our truest selves. Each of us has a unique way we experience our world. When we lose our way we need a good basic framework and context for understanding ourselves in a way that is authentic and healthy. This will even require us to explore and own our worldview. The twelve steps and treatment provide us the rare privilege of taking the time we need to figure this stuff out.

When Scriptures Say Things We Struggle to Believe

I will give thanks and praise to You,

For I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Wonderful are Your works,

And my soul knows it very well.

Psalm 139:14 Amplified Version

I wonder if these verses make you shiver; if they are irritating to you; if you totally cannot relate to this perspective. I STILL struggle to believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I SAY that I know full well that God’s works are wonderful, but I struggle to believe that my own choices have not ruined the wonderful work that God “supposedly” did when he knit me together in my mother’s womb.

As part of my recovery I choose daily to practice believing things - including this - that are difficult for me to accept. I return to this passage trusting in something bigger than I can understand, acting on faith that this is true regardless of how I feel. As an act of discipline, I try to order my thoughts, my emotions, and my behavior in response to this belief, not my internal angst. Some days are better than others in this regard. We do not need a visit from Freud to understand that it took some doing to teach me that I was afraid and fearful but not wonderful. We are uniquely created to understand that we bear the image of God. This knowledge is forgotten, distorted, lost for most of us as we grow up in a world that prefers comparing and competing over cooperation and compassion.

What happens when we are assaulted with experiences that do not support our wonder-full origins? We survive. We study the world and give it what it demands from us. We create a personality that seeks to either fit in, fight or flee the world around us. This is survival of the fittest and our definition depends on what our environment requires of us. It is NORMAL for us to build a personality, a way of being in the world. It is INEVITABLE that, at some point in our lives, we will be shocked to discover that we are at war within ourselves, that our lives are unmanageable, and we need help. Transformation requires that we enter a period of reconstruction in response to the destruction that a broken world encourages.

Am I going to continue to rely on the messages my brain holds onto from its years of studying people on earth? Or am I going to make a decision to change my perspective because I believe in something bigger than me?

Opening up to Faith

Spiritual gurus tell us that the true source of happiness is found when we experience the presence of God. They also report that we all lose the key to happiness along the way, which I suppose is another way of saying that we lose conscious contact with the God of our understanding (more on this in a future step). Many write about this spiritual malaise as a form of spiritual sleepiness. Some say it is a loss of God consciousness.

This fascinates me. I did not grow up in a religious home. My maternal grandparents were people of faith and I was blessed to have them expose me to religion during my summer visits. I attended children’s Sunday School classes and listened to weekly sermons that seemed way too long. Mostly I remember the crackers were stale but the grape juice was tasty. The church was unairconditioned and my legs stuck to the pews with the glue of sweat and left a pattern on my bare skin from the crinoline that often lined my Sunday-go-to-church outfit custom handmade by my grandmother - including hat, gloves and patent leather shoes. Uncomfortable? Yes. But I enjoyed both the ritual and the way it felt walking into church all dolled up.

My sporadic church exposure to faith in my grandparents’ conservative Southern Baptist Church was confusing for a number of reasons. Among the top contenders was learning that the reason for a string of Senior Pastors’ mysterious disappearance from the pulpit was not the result of a serial killer. I was eventually told about how each participated (in their own unique way) in a series of pastoral indiscretions which led to their firing, not their burial. That information left me wondering if anyone practiced what was preached.

As a pastor, I have heard many stories of spiritual abuse over the years. No wonder we lose our keys to happiness! It is easy to confuse the presence of God with our experiences with the people in our lives who claim to represent him. I know my community must struggle to find grace and mercy for me when my words do not match my behaviors.

If you have been wounded by spiritually abusive practices, consider the possibility that our exposure to religion is not representative of the God whose story is told through the scriptures. It is also possible that even the most well intended teacher has misinterpreted scripture. I invite you to take a fresh look at who God is and how he loves you. If you have experienced spiritual abuse, please talk to someone who can support your journey to healing.

When I kept it all inside,

My bones turned to powder,

My words became daylong groans.

The pressure never let up;

All the juices of my life dried up. Psalm 32:3-4

Shame and Guilt and Acceptance

Once, a long time ago, a friend of mine valiantly tried to convince me that I was starving myself to death. I was having none of it. I was not quite ready to admit that my eating was beyond weird and had moved from bad habits that I acted on compulsively into a Substance Use Disorder. I was using the chemicals that my brain produced when I was in starvation mode to comfort myself and distract me from the deeper issues that were causing me great suffering. My life was out of control. Today, I can admit that I knew something was wrong; I can tell the truth about the shame I felt about my body and my starvation diet. Shame plagued me, dominating my thoughts. It berated me, insisting that I was without value unless I was super skinny, practically perfect, and pleasing to all.

Shame is the emotion that tells me that I am broken beyond repair. Shame is not guilt. Guilt is an emotional acknowledgement that I have done a particular thing wrong. It is circumstance specific. Shame is all-pervasive; shame lies and tells me that I am UNIQUELY AND TERMINALLY FLAWED. Back then? I was withdrawn, defensive and arrogant. I believed that people who ate three meals a day were weak-willed, even disgusting. This is what a Substance Use Disorder costs us. It robs us of our ability to love ourselves, God and others. I was also filled with self-loathing. It’s a Jedi mind trick to be both arrogant and filled with shame but most of us who suffer with Substance Use Disorders are masters at holding these two perspectives in one mind.

Before the underlying issues of our disease can be addressed - depression, anxiety, trauma, guilt and shame, trouble coping with real life on life’s terms, etc. - we need to acknowledge the truth about our situation. The combination of arrogance paired with self-loathing contributes to denial. It basically means having a messed up perspective on life. If we have a serious problem that is messing up our life - at some point we are going to have to collapse into the admission that something is wrong. We need help.

I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed

Has been floating forty days and nights

On the flood of my tears.

My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.

The sockets of my eyes are black holes;

Nearly blind, I squint and grope.

Psalm 6:6-7 The Message

The Sin Stigma of Substance Use Disorder

How do we make sense of the language of “sin” as it relates to addiction? If Substance Use Disorder can be compared to diabetes, where does the concept of “sin” fit in? Elbert Hubbard (not to be confused with L. Ron Hubbard) wrote, “We are punished by our sins not for them.” Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean-born psychiatrist, was known for integrating psychotherapy and the spiritual traditions in his work. He talks about sin as it relates to ignorance, difficulties, distresses and embarrassments as “a disorder of awareness and an interference with action.”

Think about the scriptures we have considered in this material thus far - recovery that heals is rooted in love, in particular - God’s love. God chases us down, not to berate us but to restore us, in love. Recovery is an opportunity to increase our capacity for honesty. Substance Use Disorder is disorienting; we lose our way; we lose the essence of who we were created to be - beloved children, made in the image of God. Do these concepts sound like God is more concerned with our “sin” or our restoration?

The “s” word - sin - can leave us feeling defensive and judged. Personally, I often feel a lot shame when I think of my behaviors as “sinful”. This shame-filled reaction stymied my recovery until I was able to understand that “sin” can be understood as “living independently of God” or “missing the mark”. Sin means losing touch with my spirituality, my true purpose for living, and my capacity to live reasonably comfortably in community with others. This is a by-product of my condition, not a condemnation of my personhood.

This is not to diminish the role of “sin” in our lives; thinking of sin in the way that the above authors suggest can actually deepen our capacity to reckon with it through the lens of compassion. It invites each of us to nonjudgmentally observe ourselves and get honest about our issues.

... whatever overpowers you, enslaves you. 2 Peter 2:19 (b) CEB

Put the Cigar Down and Do Your Job

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Philippians 3:12

When I started recovery from my eating disorder, I did NOT want to press on. But I did want to get out from under the oppression of my disease. Sometimes, as they say in the meeting rooms, we have to “fake it ‘til we make it.” I am not, as a general rule, a fan of faking stuff.

But sometimes we have to pray for the healing thing, even if our body, mind, and spirit rebel at the thought of the healing. When I prayed at the beginning of my journey, I imagined myself running from a giant bear, fighting for my life. I was in survival mode. I prayed as a cry of desperation, not a prayer of hope. If this is your situation, perhaps my imaginations will help your prayers!

Sometimes we have to acknowledge that we absolutely must. Press. On. Our lives or the lives of others depend on it. But no need to Pollyanna the experience up. We can admit how absolutely hard it is to press on when our brain is screaming at us to return to our old habits so that our brains do not have to work too hard.

When I know that I need to press on but do not want to, I imagine my brain sitting in a recliner chair smoking a cigar saying, “Not today.” And I say back to my brain, “Put that cigar down and do your job. You are smart. You can press on.”