available to life

In active addiction we are unavailable.

What this means is that, for a host of reasons, we become less and less committed – more and more unavailable – to things that give life.  We become unavailable to family, friends, partners, etc. We become unavailable to others, ourselves and God, despite how available and committed they may remain to us.

Our rapidly vanishing availability to these life-giving things is paralleled by a cancerous growth in availability to all kinds of little, lesser, life-taking things.  We make ourselves available to alcohol, work, sexual intrigue in thousands of forms, etc.  We abandon our lives for another ‘hit’.

Beneath this tragic degradation of our commitments, is a failure or refusal to allow ourselves to receive love and life.  We don’t feel ‘enough’ to deserve love, so we abandon it for a ‘hit’.  And in the context of the addiction cycle, the low that follows a ‘hit’ only makes us feel less worthy of love – less able to be committed – or available – to it.

Step 3 speaks of handing our will and our lives over to the “care of God”.  Within the “care of God”, we discover that we are ‘enough’ to deserve love.  We are made worthy of love, because God “cares” for us, even amidst all our frailties, rebellion and hard-hardheartedness.

In recovery, we learn to abandon the addictions that kill, rob and destroy.  We simply become unavailable to them.  And – rather than swap one addiction for another – we learn to pursue and accept the life and love from those people and activities which give it.

We become available to life.

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fantasy

Addicts all fantasize about whatever their “drug” is: alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.  This mental laziness, when allowed to persist, takes the addict closer and closer to acting upon the fantasy.  Walking past the bottle store “just to look”…  Getting in touch with someone who I always used to get high with, “just for old time’s sake”… Making a “harmless” flirtatious comment to a stranger…  And these kinds of accessory actions lead to loss of clean/sober time.  The language of the “slippery slope” is sometimes an unhelpful scare tactic, but other times it is really that dangerous.

Someone recently mentioned having a prolonged fantasy – lasting about 20 seconds before they were jolted back to full consciousness and shut it off.

How many times can you say “yes” in 20 seconds?

Not with your mouth, but in your mind?

This need for urgent self-correction is what Jesus had in mind when he links anger with murder (Matthew 5:21-22), and lust with adultery (v. 27-28).  His other words in the same context have equal relevance about urgency.  Don’t wait until after worship to “go and be reconciled”, do it now (5:23-24); “settle matters quickly with your adversary” rather than put it off and risk losing big at court (v. 25-26); and deal swiftly, decisively and painfully with whatever causes you to sin (v. 29-30).

Fantasy cannot be given an inch.

recovery and the Lord’s prayer

There seems to be a great deal of harmony and interplay between the Lord’s prayer and 12-step recovery.

To state the obvious, both are spiritual in nature.  They are both concerned with a Higher (indeed, the Highest) Power, which enables and guides the journey.  The adoration which is so clear in the Lord’s prayer (e.g. “hallowed be Thy name”) is perhaps implied in the description of the power as “higher” and the notion of the “care of God”.

But this spirituality is not passive, it is active.  This Power seems to desire (or indeed require) our participation, rather than relate to us as a puppet-master.  So there are specific actions.  In recovery, we do things.  We make and share inventories, identify and surrender character defects, make amends to those we have harmed, admit when we are wrong, pray, meditate and share the message with others.  The Lord’s prayer also suggests activity:  honouring the Lord’s name, doing the Lord’s will “on earth as it is [done] in heaven”, forgiving those who trespass against us.

That work of reconciliation and forgiveness is one of the most striking parallels.  Our Step 4 inventories and our Step 9 amends making lead us to focus on our wrongs instead of the wrongs of others as we experience them.  We cannot wait for others to come to us seeking forgiveness; rather, we take the initiative in focusing on our part, and seeking reconciliation.  Likewise, the Lord’s prayer paints a picture of discipleship in which forgiving “those who trespassed against us” is the norm.

In all of this, the Lord’s prayer, like the Serenity Prayer of the recovery movement, has a two-fold nature: On the one hand, it invites us to worship-fully trust God with those things that we ought not try to control or change, such as the kingdom, power and glory.  On the other hand, it directs us to work for the change we were created to bring about, such as living lives of worship, obedience, gratitude, forgiveness, avoidance of sin and an overall surrender to the overarching sovereignty of God’s kingdom.

humble progress

Addicts are extremists.

We think we are the greatest or the worst.  Sometimes those thoughts follow one another in rapid succession.  This tendency plays out in many areas, not least the area of growth and progress.

On the one hand, there is a tendency to have expectations that are too high, that set ourselves up to fail.  We angrily punish ourselves for falling again.  “How foolish! You should know better by now!”

On the other hand, there is a tendency to have expectations that are too low, that are a self-fulfilling prophecy of not making progress.  We have failed before we even tried.  “Why even try?  You’re just doing to screw it up again.”

The former extreme is arrogant perfectionism, and the latter is lazy self-hatred.  Humility is able to have a more realistic, and at the same time hopeful, view.  We are indeed able to make progress, even if we remain imperfect.  “I can’t heal myself instantly, but with God’s help I can make real progress.”

humility

Step 7 is a step where (as with the other steps) action is taken, but the emphasis is on how the action is taken.  We don’t roll up our sleeves and begin ridding ourselves of our defects of character.  We don’t make a demanding request of God to take them away.  We humbly ask.

Humility is often thought of in simple distinction from arrogance.  This binary distinction would imply that arrogant people think very highly of themselves and humble people think very lowly of themselves.

A synthesis of passages from Scripture (rather than only single passages treated as knock-down proof-texts!) would seem to suggest that a Christian understanding of humility is to think of one’s self wisely.  Neither too highly or too lowly.

In my own experience, and the experience I hear from others, thinking too highly of ourselves is very common, and possibly why it seems to get the most corrective in Scripture.  But I suspect that very often, if not almost always, the act of thinking highly of ourselves, or making ourselves out to be something great, is an act of compensation.  It is to counter beliefs or feelings that we are worth nothing or very little.  We feel low, so we perform, exaggerate, brag or draw attention to ourselves to compensate.

If this is true, then at least some of the time, the answer to narcissism is proper self-confidence.