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.

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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.

self control

In active addiction, our loss of control becomes apparent to us sooner or later.  One helpful image is that of balancing a golf ball on top of a basketball.  Keep it on top and all is well.  Correct it immediately and with appropriate counter action, and a fall is avoided.  But once it gets a certain distance from the top, the action required to stop it from falling off is effectively superhuman.  This is precisely how addiction is experienced.  We are perfect storms of Obsession and Compulsion.  The thought of ‘doing it again’ takes root and grows (with our continued permission, it must be said) and fantasy gives way to subconscious ‘planning’ to do it, which eventually leads to ‘close calls’ or more often just going ahead with it.  And irony of ironies, having ‘done it again’, we look back in disbelief, wondering how it happened…  It’s as though our free will is eroded or better yet imprisoned or shackled, and to our shame, we have to admit that we have hidden the key from ourselves….  Self control is practically non-existent, and we have to admit complete and total powerlessness (step 1) to stop the behaviour…

As we grow in recovery, we gradually regain the self-control we lost.  Or better yet, we gain a new kind of self control.  Before we had attempted a kind of self control which was weakened by qualities such as entitlement, anger, blame and basically a thousand forms of fear.  Now, in recovery, the programme teaches us to stay away from the behaviour, and the “stinking thinking” that gets us doing it.  It’s not as though we get ‘cured’ and no longer want to do it, but rather the sobriety that comes with recovery gives us new eyes to see through the shoddy thinking and selfish justifications that accompanied our one-way trips to addictive behaviour.  We get street wise.  We safeguard ourselves.  To add an awkward addition to the ball metaphor above, it’s like we don’t even try to balance the golf ball on the basketball, but we grow wise enough to use a doughnut to keep the ball securely on top.  Without needing to do a ‘geographical’ to another job, marriage, town or country, we learn to ‘stay away’ from those places, venues, people or fantasies that we have continually allowed ourselves to be tripped up by.  In a Christian key, this sounds like Paul saying that when he is weak he is very strong.  This is self-control not from the flesh, but as a fruit of the Spirit who leads us into the wisdom we need to keep ourselves safe.

true independence

In step 3 of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we read the following:

The more we become willing to depend upon a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are.  Therefore dependence, as A.A. practices it, is really a means of gaining true independence of the spirit.

Prevailing modern, consumer culture says the opposite.  Be free and unchained to do and be what you want.  At the end of that pathway, however, are the countless many who find themselves to have been tricked.  Freedom, as they had conceived it, had imprisoned them to various kinds of slavery.  Slavery of financial insecurity.  Slavery of incessant and unquenchable desire.  Slavery of a ghost-like personal identity, both seemingly untouchable, yet also fearful to attain and be trapped by it.

Recovery and Scripture yet again speak with the same tone of voice.  In Romans 6, Paul contrasts a person who is “enslaved to sin” (and thus “free from the control of righteousness”), with being a “slave of righteousness” (and thus “free from sin”).

Addiction is slavery indeed.  In recovery we learn to “slavishly” work our programmes in the strength of God, our Higher (Highest!) Power.  This is not self-help or self-righteousness or legalism.  This is freedom in Christ.  True independence of the spirit.

a better question

The story of the good Samaritan is Jesus’ answer to the rich young ruler’s question, “Who is my neighbour?”  But crucially, Jesus changes the question from that of being “who is my neighbour?” to “which one was a neighbour to the man”?  One question is about justifying who you do and don’t have to love, and the other is about recognizing the activity of loving like a good neighbour.

In addiction, we often can tempt ourselves with the question, “how much will one more time really matter?”  It’s like the serpent saying, “Did God really say that?”

Recovery, powered by Grace, teaches us to live soberly.  Using the same style of wisdom that Jesus uses with the rich young ruler, we change the question around.  We don’t ask “will this action change much?”, but we ask “how will I act, swiftly, simply and surely, to change this situation, right now!”   One question assumes the addiction to be in charge, and the other puts us back in the seat of self-control.

remember, live, hope

12-step recovery meetings often involve sharing by members about their ‘experience, strength and hope’; that is, their a) experience in addiction, b) strength in recovery, and c) hope for the future.  It naturally lends to a temporal framework of past, present, and future.  We remember the insanity of our addictive acting out, we communicate the practical things we did, which we keep on doing, to get better, and we look forward to how things can continue to get better.

I want to focus on the present dimension for this post.  For a long time, I have often been suspicious of a ‘live in the present’ type language and focus.  ‘Be here now’, or ‘just be’ were phrases and concepts that annoyed me.  I valued the tradition, history and wisdom of the past; and I had a clear focus on working, aiming and striving for the future goal.  But I was weak on the present.

I’ve come to see that, in addition to these healthy appreciations for the past and future, I need a generous awareness of the value of the present moment.  The crucial point is this:  The present moment is the only one I can truly act and live in.

I used to ache over the past, and I think I tried to change it in really unhealthy ways; like the dishonesty of extremely minimized confessions to various people, which gave me a deluded feeling of having dealt with it.  Also (and this is just crazy) I can recall many times, when I was incredibly tempted and on the verge of acting out, that I would rationalize to myself by saying “Go ahead and do it now, and you can change later.  One more time won’t matter that much.”  And that right there is a perfectly awful example of how I was emptied of my power to act in the present.  I self-sabotaged my ability for self control.

The serenity prayer can be read in this light as well.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the past and the future.
courage to live in the present moment of now.
and wisdom to know that’s all I can do.

This reminds me of Titus 2:11-14 where we can see [at least on the surface of the text, and more clearly I’m sure if I knew Greek verb tenses!] the same past, present and future framework:

11For the grace of God has appeared [past] that offers [present] salvation to all people. 12It teaches [present] us to say “No” [present] to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live [present] self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait [present] for the blessed hope—the [future] appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself [past] for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are [present] his very own, eager to do [present] what is good.

a step 4 prayer

One of the joys of recovery is working with sponsees.  Here’s a prayer that I offered for a sponsee who is a fellow follower of Christ, struggling with the grace of addiction:

 

Father Son and Spirit,

Thank you for redemption in Christ,

and thank you for your promise to sanctify and purify us.

Thank you for the unique way that you use the twelve step groups as a means to this end for so many people.

I thank you for, and pray for [name].

I thank you for his many many many gifts, talents, abilities and likeable character traits.

I pray that as a result of working steps 4 and 5, that he will be able to, with you at his side, not only be able to see more clearly the harm he has participated in that has affected others, but also the many many ways in which he has participated in your blessing towards and for others. Give him, in between the moments of painful admissions, times of deep assurance and appreciation and gratitude for the many times he has been deserving of a “well done, good and faithful servant”.

And Lord, as he embarks on a rigorous and thorough and ‘searching’ account of harm done to others, and discovers and rediscovers resentments, fears, anger, pain and a host of challenges and ‘character defects’ along the way, I want to pray that your perfect Love would cast out all fear in his search, so that it would truly be ‘fearless’. Thank you for the many times in Scripture that you tell us to “fear not.” I pray that for [name].

I pray that his account would be an outworking, with your Spirit’s help, of “confessing our faults to one another” with a view to being healed of them, and of “confessing our sins” and finding You to be faithful and just in forgiving us.

I also pray that [name] would be conscious of the armour of God as he does battle with his past.

May the belt of truth, empowered by the Spirit, lead him into all truth about his past, and the personal qualities beneath the behaviour. May the breastplate of righteousness keep him secure in who he is in Christ, as he both trusts in his firm standing with You, and works practically with you to maintain and strengthen both his sobriety and his recovery. May the gospel of Peace fit his feet with the readiness to make progress in his step work, with a wider view to bring blessing, healing, shalom, wholeness and salvation to his family, friends and anyone you lead him to. May you use the work he does here in his future work with others, Lord. When the evil one fires fiery arrows at him, no doubt using some of the memories he explores, give [name] the strength to ‘change what he can’, and hold up the shield of faith and completely disregard and extinguish those accusations, not trying to ‘change’ what he cannot – the past. May the helmet of salvation keep his mind focused on you, who is both the Judge and Defender in the courtroom of your healing Justice. May truth set him free, Lord! May the sword of the Spirit search and cut and pierce where it needs to, down to soul and spirit, as he goes deep beyond the behaviour (without skipping over it too quickly) and seeks out the insecurities, arrogances, and more that lie beneath. May he find, in the ample and sufficient resources of your Word, the gems of truth that give him language to confess what he finds, and to grasp on to the forgiveness that is his in You.

AMEN!