Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Marie's Story

Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.
James 5:16 The Message

"By getting real and being honest with others, we make ourselves available to be loved by them." - an anonymous recovering addict

Marie’s Story

I began my 12-Step experience hoping to deal with my extreme worry over my two adult sons and their use of alcohol. I also have a grown daughter, but she has never done drugs and she doesn’t drink. I drank and did a lot of drugs myself, when I was in high school and early college. I went to a large Catholic university, where I met my husband in my junior year. My partying slowed down when I met him and it stopped once we graduated and got married. My husband drinks occasionally, but he never gets drunk. In fact, he doesn’t like the “buzzed” feeling. I think my sons got the alcoholic gene from my side of the family. My dad and mom were both functional alcoholics and I think I would have become an alcoholic too, if I hadn’t quit drinking when I did.

My addiction is the way that I try to control the lives of my children, mainly my two boys. I am a control freak. For as long back as I can remember I have feared the worst for myself, my husband, and my children. I have feared that they would lose control of themselves and get hurt. I have feared that my family would suffer calamity and shame. I have feared that my two boys would grow up to be like my dad and my mom had been with their drinking.

My recovery started when I joined a women’s support group at my church. The lady who ran this group was married to a recovering alcoholic. Her husband had been sober for years and she had been involved with Al-Anon for years herself. I loved her attitude and her cheerful strength. All of us in the group were attracted to her transparency and her confidence. Through her encouragement I began working the 12 Steps and attending Al-Anon meetings with her. I worked the 12 Steps dutifully and I enjoyed the Al-Anon meetings very much, even though I felt embarrassed at the thought of others finding out about me going to Al-Anon. I’ve always feared that people would find out just how dysfunctional my family and I really were. I guess I should only speak this way about myself. My husband is a wonderful man, after all. I love him dearly and I so enjoy the time we spend together. My daughter is smart, lovely and strong-willed. My two sons, while I do worry about their drinking, are grown with successful careers and nice families. They both maintain their lives with dignity and responsibility. I guess I can say that I am proud of them, even though they are not all that I wanted them to be.

As I worked though my Step Four inventory, I realized that I had unknowingly been more committed to maintaining my own reputation within my community and my church than I was to benefiting my family. I learned that where I thought I was being a good mother and wife, I was actually being manipulative and selfish. Without realizing it, I was dominating my family, mainly my two sons, all in an attempt to get them to act and live the way I thought they should. Instead of helping them, I was hurting them. Instead of being a loving mother, like I thought I was, I was being a tyrant. Instead of letting them live their own lives I was trying to get them to live the life that I was not able to live. I admit that most of my attempts to control the lives of my children had really never helped them, in fact it hurt them. I admit that the anxiety I have felt for so long has been the result of me trying to control things that are beyond my ability to control, my two sons. I admit that I have dumped my anxiety onto my family. It hurts to admit these things.

When it came time to talk it over with another person, I sat down with my sponsor, the lady who ran the support group at church, and I read to her all that I had learned about myself while doing my Step Four inventory. It took a couple of hours and she was very patient. We sat at an outdoor cafĂ© in the afternoon. We had lunch and then we drank tea. We took breaks when we felt the need. When I had finally finished reading to her all that I had written down in my Step Four, she looked at me and she said, “Is that all?” Before I could say yes to her question, my mind jumped back to something that happened 30 years before when I was a sophomore in college, something I had forgotten about. Immediately I felt a hot flush come to my face. I felt embarrassed and afraid because I had just remembered a secret that I knew that I needed to get off my chest. After a moment’s pause, I spilled my guts. I told her about having a sexual experience with a female friend in my dorm. I knew that I was not a lesbian and I had never really been promiscuous. Other than my husband I had only had sex with two other people, a boy I dated as a freshman and this other girl in my dorm. I don’t know why I had forgotten about this for so many years, but I had. I don’t know why I remembered it when I did, but once I remembered it I knew that I needed to tell someone about it.

After I told my sponsor about this memory, she sat back in her chair, took a sip of her tea and then, looking me straight in the eye, told me that she had a similar experience that she kept secret until she did her Step Five with her sponsor. Hearing her tell me this made me feel like someone had just thrown cold water in my face. I was stunned. I know I imagined this but I thought I heard the sound of glass breaking in the distance, as if someone had just broken through. It had never occurred to me that someone else may have done the same thing that I had done. I don’t mean to imply that I am judgmental about other people’s lives, but because I have always had deep moral convictions, I felt guilty about having this experience with this other girl. Having my sponsor share her experience helped me to better understand that we all make mistakes and that our past mistakes do not necessarily dictate who we are today. Health and happiness have less to do with our past than they have to do with letting go of our secrets. In my case, it was not the past that was troubling me, it was my secrets. They were my problem all along. In order for me to have the kind of life that I had always wanted, it was necessary for me to recognize and admit that I could not control my life by controlling the lives of others. And I needed to recognize and admit that my failures could be accepted by others if I would be willing to get honest about them. Admitting my shortcomings to myself and another person has released me from a burden that was silently killing me and hurting those who I loved.

Getting honest has freed me in other areas of my life, too. I have come to understand that my co-dependency is selfish and that it works against my faith in God. I now see that my “sinfulness” is the result of me not trusting in God’s power and love. My lack of faith has hurt me and it has hurt others. By learning to trust God in a more personal way, I can admit that my greatest fear was that I would be embarrassed and ashamed. Not because my family was bad, because they aren’t, but because, co-dependently, I wanted everyone to think that I was so good. This is what was really hurting me all along.

My Step Five experience has done more for me than I ever anticipated it would. It’s helped me to let go of my need to look perfect. I can be real now. My life is more relaxed because I am more relaxed. The little struggles I have don’t get me down so much anymore. Before, while I didn’t drink or smoke like I did in college, I always missed the drinking and smoking, and on occasion I would slip up. Mostly, I had stayed away from these things by willpower alone, but I missed them at the same time. Now that I have become more honest about who I really am on the inside, I hardly think about drinking and smoking at all. And when I do, they just don’t appeal to me like they once did. I feel as though I have shed fifty pounds of excess baggage that I have been carrying around for as long as I can remember.

I am learning to be content with who I am. I am at peace. I thank God for my Step Five experience, for my wonderful sponsor and for my imperfectly delightful family.
Our journey Home - Insights and Inspirations for Christian Twelve Step Recovery
     By David Zailer
     Copyright 2011, David Zailer

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Truth in Relationship

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.
Galatians 6:4,5 The Message

“Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.” - Thomas Jefferson

Truth in Relationship

The people around us get hurt by our addictions. But in recovery we can benefit the lives of others, too. Step Four is as much about people as it is about addiction. What we do in Step Four is personal, both to us and to others. This is because of the personal nature of our relationships. Relationships are personally organic because people are organic. We all impact the lives of others. We can’t help it; it’s the way we are. People are both blessed and cursed by one another.

Next to God, our relationships with other people are the greatest influences in our lives. This doesn’t mean that everything will be great all of the time. When we look at other people in a realistic way, we’ll see that they are tremendous sinners. And we’ll see that they look a whole lot like us because we are tremendous sinners, too. Above all of this, what becomes amazingly clear is a subtle yet profound goodness in each of us. As we come to grips with our profound sinfulness, and the fact that God loves us anyway, we are able to recognize a God-given dignity and worth inside of all people. We’ll recognize that no one can really be defined in terms of good versus bad. We all have an original worthiness that is completely human, as shown through our obvious flaws and shortcomings, and more than human at the same time. Instinctively, it seems, we all want more out of life than what we can provide for ourselves. We fall short. We are sinners who are reaching out for something that we cannot get on our own.

Step Four is not about making judgments. It is about getting an honest awareness of who we are and how we have lived. We want to see how we have damaged our relationships with other people. Working through Step Four will help us learn to live in such a way that we won’t be so easily influenced to do things that hurt us or others. God is our strength. He is working to build us up according to His will. So we don’t need to worry about what other people say or think about us. It’s not like we have any control over them anyway. We just live our lives with God, honestly. We let God take care of others. We don’t need to feel pity for them, or for ourselves. However, we do need to develop a keen awareness of how we have allowed others to influence us in the past, sometimes for good and other times not so good.

We can approach our personal and moral inventories in different ways but there will probably be some common characteristics. We bring our willingness to the table and we face some tough questions about how our attitude and our behavior have affected those around us. Then we write down what comes to mind. We write down everything about our families that we think is important. We write down every thought, every memory and every feeling, the best we can. We write about the people who have harmed us and we write about the people who we have harmed. We write a great deal about our sexual experiences as well as any experiences that we have had with drugs, alcohol, money, gambling, food and/or anything else that has been a problem for us at any time in our lives. We write about why we did the things we did. We write about how we felt when we were doing them, and how we felt after we did them. We write about love, what we desired for love to be like and how we have been disappointed by those we loved. We write it all. We write everything.

Questions That Need to Be Answered

• How have you disregarded or abused those weaker than you?
• Who were the people that you hurt in this way?
• How have you envied the talents and resources other people had that you did not have?
• Who were the people that you hurt in this way?
• How have you envied the talents and resources other people had that you did not have?
• How has your addiction affected your relationship with your religious family?
• How have you been selfish?
• What makes you feel entitled to do things that you know are wrong?
• How have you valued your addiction more than your spouse and your children?
• How has your family, your employer or others been hurt by your moral failings or your insensitivities?
• What are some of the things that others have been denied because you were absorbed in your addiction?
• What are some specific ways that you have exhibited selfishness?
• How have you been careless with your spouse, your children, your employer and your neighbors?
• In what ways have you put your own needs and interests above the needs and interests of others?
• How and why have you lied to your loved ones?
• How has your employer been hurt by your addictions?
• How as your family been ashamed because of your attitude and behavior?
• When and with whom do you feel self-pity?
• What do you feel guilty about?
• What do you like about yourself?
• What do other people like about you?
• Why do you lie?
Our journey home - Insights and Inspirations for Christian Twelve Step Recovery
     By David Zailer
     Copyright 2011, Homecoming Books

Monday, November 28, 2011

Turning Over Our Life

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
Psalm 91:1

“The world is not to be put in order, the world is in order. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.” -Henry Miller

Turning Over Our Life

Once we have made the decision to turn our will over to God’s care, we’ll quickly learn that it’s impossible to do so without turning our life over to God’s care as well. We simply can’t do one without the other. The way we live life is the truest indicator of our will. Until we give our life over to God, we have not surrendered our will, no matter what we think or say.

This has been our problem: we’ve considered our personal wants and wishes as entitlements and necessities, and because of this we’ve been making demands on God and others in ways that we do not realize. When we fail to get what we want, we become angry and resentful, which is proof that we have not turned over our will and life to God’s care. Anger and resentment exposes us for the self centered people that we are. Sometimes, even without realizing it, we punish others in one way or another, and in so doing, we can become so intolerable that those around us will leave us or send us packing. When we create these kind of situations for ourselves, our personal misery grows all the more, making our addictions attractive once again.

In one way or another we’ve fought the world and everyone in it. We have, at times, become like mercenaries. We’ve fought for what we thought was important. If pushing and shoving didn’t work, we kill ‘em with kindness in order to hide our selfishness. Sometimes we claimed victory and gloated in ever-so-subtle ways. Other times we politely admitted defeat, apologizing for our behavior just to regroup and try again. Attitudes like these are indisputable evidence that we have even become addicted to our own self image, the image of what we think our life is supposed to be like. Without knowing it we had even become addicted to what we thought our life was supposed to be.

With all this in mind, the next order of business for us is to give to God our hopes, our dreams, our expectations, all of our agendas, even the way that we have thought about ourselves and our life. After all, whatever we thought our life was supposed to be like in the past hasn’t really been working, has it?

In true surrender to God, we quit fighting anyone or anything. We recognize that the only battle worth fighting is within ourselves. We turn our hope over to Him and make it his hope. We give Him our dreams. We give Him our problems and we allow them to become his problems. We make our expectations the expectation of God’s gracious working in our hearts and our minds with all other considerations as secondary. We determine ourselves to act, the best we can that is, according to what we know to be acts of love for God and love for others. We give up our agenda in order to live according to his agenda. Everything about us becomes His. Our life is no longer ours to run. We have given it over to God and our life will be what He determines it to be. Not easy but simple.

Because we are powerless over people, places, and things, we make it our own only goal to live out a faith that longs for God and hopes for His care. With this “turning over” we fulfill our eternal calling. It’s the ultimate decision of faith, the most dignified thing we can do in this life. It’s not just another image we’ve made for our lives because we no longer claim ownership of our lives. It’s bigger and more open minded than that. It’s a decision that acknowledges all of our own efforts and resources are insufficient. The turning over of our life is our personalized declaration, a God-given dignity, in which we state, unequivocally, that we are worth far more that we can ever give ourselves credit for. And yet, we have no need to claim any importance because with this decision, this dignity that is, we realize that we are made for bigger things than we could ever think or imagine on our own.

In the dignity of faith we are now consciously saying what we have been unconsciously saying to God in countless areas of our lives. We want Him and we know that we cannot live without Him. God has always known this and now we know it, too.

Serenity Prayer (attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr)
God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; and the Wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it: Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next. Amen

Our Journey Home - Insights and Inspirations for Christian Twelve Step Recovery
     By David Zailer
Copyright 2011, Homecoming Books

Friday, November 25, 2011

Healing Hope

We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

He was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath. There was a woman present, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn't even look up. She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. "Woman, you're free!" He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.
Luke 13:10-13 The Message

“Hope is a risk that must be run.” - Georges Bernanos

Healing Hope

Faith is the antidote for and the antithesis of addiction. Where addiction kills, faith gives life. Coming along with our deep desire to survive our addictions, hope came alive inside of us. This hope brought with it an openmindedness that we had never had before. As we looked to others in our fellowship who were recovering, and combining that with our own desire to survive our addictions, faith was born. It took root inside of us. Even before we asked for it, a hopeful faith appeared quiet and close. Coming from outside of us, but connecting and working within. As we saw others recover from their addictions we came to believe that we could possibly recover, too. Our hopelessness changes to hopefulness as we honestly connect with others.

In Luke 13 there is a story about an amazing woman whose suffering was healed as a result of her hopeful faith coming in contact with God. We don’t know a lot about this woman. We don’t even know her name. So, to help us become friends with her, let’s give her a name. We’ll call her, Esperanza. Esperanza suffered for eighteen years with what was apparently a very painful and deforming illness. From the story, we know that her illness was increasingly robbing her of her ability to function in life as she normally would have. Her body had become so bent and mangled from her illness that she had lost the ability to look up. Do you know how that feels?

We can imagine that, along with her bodily illness, Esperanza suffered unrelenting sadness, depression and anxiety as a result of the ongoing pain she felt from her illness. We can surmise that, under the crushing weight of mental and emotional fatigue, Esperanza was unable to raise herself up emotionally and spiritually. And we can assume that our friend Esperanza also suffered deep regret over the loss of many opportunities, shame due to her deformities and self loathing due to the feeling that she was no good to anyone any more. Does this sound familiar to you? Whatever hopefulness and fortitude that she had had on her own was obviously not enough to help her. Her reality was that she was stuck and things were getting worse, not better. Can you relate?

While our addictions have probably not brought on the degree of physical suffering that Esperanza endured, it is important for us to identify with her suffering. After all, addictions are physical diseases just as much as they are emotional, mental and spiritual diseases. Our addictions, over time, erode us physically. Sometimes to the degree that our bodies will never be the same again. And, we suffer in more than physical ways too. These sufferings will include among others, shame, regret and self loathing. When all is said and done, pain is pain. No matter what form that the pain comes, it hurts. And, in our addictions we were, like Esperanza, stuck and painfully waiting for help.

Referring back to the Scripture in Luke we will notice that this story takes place in or around one of the meeting places that the religious people of the day frequented on their day of worship. Specifically, the Scripture tells us that Esperanza was ‘present’ in this location. This is an interesting insight for us recovering addicts as it is important for us to remember that it is essential that we keep ourselves in places, both physical places and spiritual places, where God is the center of our attention. By being present in the meeting place on the Sabbath, Esperanza was keeping herself in a place where recovery was possible for her. She was doing all that she could do, all the while waiting for and being present to the possibility that a savior and healer would come along. There was nothing more that Esperanza could do to help herself. So, she did what she could do. This is how Esperanza displayed her faith.

This is what is important in our Step 2. First, we come to believe that we can be restored to sanity. Then, we come and be part of a fellowship with others who are recovering from their addictions. Most of all, we stay alert. We stay emotionally and spiritually present to every opportunity to reach out and touch back to the hand of healing when it comes our way. All the while remaining as open minded as possible because we are not exactly sure when the healing touch will come or through whom it will come. Like Esperanza, we stay open in our faith, being as “present” as we can to fellowship and hope. Simply said, we maintain an attitude of hopefulness the best we can. We stay ready to receive the touch that will make a difference in our lives. We stay, like Esperanza, emotionally, spiritually and physically present. In this way we become ready to be touched, connected, integrated and healed. It will not likely be a physical touch like the immediate healing Esperanza’s experienced. It will more likely take the form of help through our recovering fellowship, a doctor or a counselor but it will be a healing, nonetheless.

By the way, Esperanza is a Spanish name that when translated into English means hope.

Our Journey Home - Insights and Inspirations for Christian Twelve Step Recovery
     By David Zailer
Copyright Homecoming Books, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from your friends at Operation Integrity

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You Are Not Your Enemy

We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our life had become unmanageable.

I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shame.
Psalms 44:15 NIV

“Growth begins when we accept our weakness.”
-Jean Vanier

You Are Not Your Enemy

If we want to recover from our addiction, we will have to be willing to undertake a new journey. Starting out, it’s not very likely that we will know exactly where this new journey will take us. Certainly we will have hopes, and probably a few expectations too. It is, however, very important that we maintain an open mind regarding our hopes and expectations because it is very easy for us to put ourselves in charge of our recovery, without even realizing it. At this point, to take charge of our own recovery would be just another extension of our addictive and self-controlling ways and they’ve always gotten us into trouble. So, as we set out on our journey, it’s important that we stay focused on the day-by-day and step-by-step process. Doing this will help us to stay away from our addictions and, by putting one foot in front of the other, move a little further down the recovery path each and every day.

Our recovery journey starts with getting honest. It is essential that we get honest about how we think and feel about our lives, ourselves and other people. When we get honest with ourselves about our lives it becomes possible for us to see healthy changes in our relationships, most specifically our relationship with our own thoughts and feelings which will in turn affect, in a healthy way, our relationship with ourselves, our lives and other people too. As these relationships improve they will, over time, help to build healthy and affirming thoughts and feelings inside of us which will help to displace the destructive and self condemning thoughts we have suffered up to now. As this begins to happen we will begin to see everything about us change for the better beginning at the most personal and intimate level of our thoughts and feelings.

As we got honest, most of us expressed how we have often suffered deep feelings of shame. Shame has been described as a feeling that one is fatally flawed and undeserving of happiness. Some have described their feelings of shame as the feeling and belief, as in conviction, that they were just one big mistake. In shame, we think and feel like everything about us is horribly wrong or fatally flawed in some way. In shame we can feel like the world would be better off if we weren’t around.

Shame can be one of the most destructive feelings a human being can experience and shame is often a catalyst for our addictions. Much of the power of our addictions comes from an internal drive that seeks to overcome, to escape from, or compensate for feelings of shame. Unhealed shame guarantees that our life will be unmanageable.

Shame is nothing new, it’s been around as long as people have been around. Even in the Bible, written thousands of years ago, the Psalmist wrote from his heart, “I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shame.” (Psalms 44:15 NIV) So you see, we are not the first to suffer shame and we will not be the last. Fortunately, shame can be addressed. It can be made a useful and helpful but probably not an enjoyable part of our lives.

One man who we know from Operation Integrity described his feelings of shame in this way.
“From my earliest childhood, whenever I would see a picture of myself I would immediately feel sick to my stomach. When I looked at myself, I would see someone of great disgust. I thought I was s _ _ _. Sometimes I could barely keep myself from throwing up. It didn’t matter what the picture was, who I was with or what the event was, seeing myself I would get sick. These feelings continued until I was in my mid forties. Then, thank God, I got help. It was in about my second year of my recovery from my addiction and working the steps that I realized that I was no longer feeling as I had felt before. Somewhere along the way of the process I realized that I was okay. Today I feel good about having my picture taken. I can see myself, and even when it is a ‘bad’ picture, I’m okay with it all.”

Step 1 is the place where we can put on the brakes and begin to turn the corner and find a new direction for our lives. Not only for our addictions but also for the pain, the shame and the suffering that has given power to our addictions.

As we honestly work through our 12 step journey with others in our recovery fellowship, we will begin to understand the components which have built the deep shame that’s troubled us. Recognizing shame and getting honest about it and accepting it for what it is is the first step to effectively deal with it. Dealing with shame is similar to dealing with our addiction. We accept our weakness, we admit it and we ask for help. In doing so we discover the key to changing it. We move from shame to grace and from death to life.

Our Journey Home - Insights and Inspirations for Christian Twelve Step Recovery
     By David Zailer

Copyright 2011, Homecoming Books

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Living Life for Others

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry the message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day's out.
Galatians 6:1, The Message

“You can’t keep it unless you give it away.”
- Alcoholics Anonymous

Living Life for Others

We have good reasons to be proud of our growth, and we should also be proud of those who are growing alongside of us. Not proud in a boastful or self-confident way, but in a way that acknowledges and appreciates the role we have played in our own recovery. We have, after all, been desperate enough and smart enough to partner with God in the building of our new life. With His power and our willingness, we are ready and well equipped to give goodness and love to whomever we encounter. This doesn’t mean that we have fully recovered from our addictions, because we haven’t. We must remember that overconfidence and complacency can set us up, and then we easily become our own greatest downfall. We must never forget how we have been addicted in the past, and we must never think that we cannot be addicted again in the future.

God, in His loving way, will give us our reminders. Every now and then, our brains will make a spontaneous wrong turn and we will once again experience the conflicted impulse and desire of addictive thinking. Every one of us will have our temptations and mental lapses, especially when we are tired or stressed or hurting or afraid. So, let us never forget that we are people who are at risk of relapse. Our challenges start with our thinking, but it is not our first thought that gets us into trouble really. A first wayward thought is nothing more than a temptation and temptation is nothing but a fork in the road. It is a place where we have to make a choice. The real concern is what choice we will make when we’re tempted. What we do with the first thought will make all the difference for us. It’s with our second thought that we choose to continue to walk with God and enjoy the life that He gives, or go the way of sin and relapse, suffering the inevitable consequences that come with sin and relapse.

The only way to ensure our ability to make good choices in times of temptation is with our ongoing spiritual submission to God’s way of living through faith and obedience. He alone has the power to keep us safe from our selfish nature, but He cannot help us unless we obey Him! Sometimes, the temptations will be uncomfortable and other times they may be miserable. So, let us continue to admit that we are powerless over our addictions and that our lives are unmanageable without God’s care and control of our lives. Every time that we feel the urge to go back to our addictions and we don’t, the obsessions and compulsions associated with our addictions will lose some of their power. They will never go away completely, but new attachments for goodness are being made inside of us every moment that we walk with God by doing our recovery work. Ultimately, if we persist, these new good attachments will gain strength over the old bad ones. Increasingly, we will lose interest in our own life compared to the expanding thrill of giving God and His life to others. We’ll want to share the spiritual revolution that God is giving to us with the whole world.

Our Journey Home - Insights and Inspirations for Christian Twelve Step Recovery
     By David Zailer Chapter Twelve Segment Three

Copyright 2011, Homecoming Books

Monday, November 21, 2011

Prayer Makes Us Real

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

Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking and you will find. Keep on knocking and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks.
Matthew 7:7-8, NLT

“Instead of all these, the answer that he gives, I think, is himself. If we go to him for anything else, he may send us away empty or he may not. But if we go to him for himself, I believe that we go away always with this deepest of all our hungers filled.”
- Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

Prayer Makes Us Real

Everyone prays. We all pray in way or another, often without realizing it. Instinctively, we have the need to connect with permanence, and prayer can be considered as our personal attempt to reach and touch eternity. Prayer helps us make sense of our lives. It helps us sort through tragedy and heartbreak and locate the treasures that are hidden inside of misfortune.

Many of us have been trained to think of prayer as a religious activity or duty. Somewhere along the way we were sold a bill of goods. Someone convinced us that prayer had to be done in a certain way that was scripted or traditional according to certain previously defined standards. This is not true. Prayer is never limited in any way because God is not limited in any way. Prayer may be well planned or it may be spontaneous. It may be formal or it may be casual and conversational. It may be traditional and religious or it may be radical. Prayer can be expressed in many different ways and it is always real and effective as long as we are real and sincere with it. Prayer is not a matter of technique. It is a matter of attitude and openness.

The impact of prayer is reduced if we think of it as a demand or a duty that is required of us. We objectify prayer, we objectify God and we objectify ourselves if prayer is ever reduced to anything less than an act of intimacy. When reduced, prayer becomes nothing more important than washing dishes or making beds. And while these are obviously very good and very necessary things, they are not the things that help us, heal us or bring us into closeness with God. Prayer is more of an opportunity. It is a calling. It is a picking up of the ringing phone and completing the connection that God has made available to us through Christ. Prayer is the way we engage God at a personal intimate level. And while we are engaging God through prayer, we are engaging ourselves at a personal and intimate level too.

Prayer is a dialogue. It puts us at the kitchen table with coffee mug in hand, ready to enjoy a special closeness with our loved one. It is cognitive and intuitive. It’s a spiritual openness that increases our oneness with God and with ourselves. Prayer ushers us into private communion with The Perfect Father - God. And while He is perfect, our prayers don’t need to be perfect. The only thing prayer needs to be is real. What we don’t know how to say, God’s Spirit will say for us. He understands everything, even the things we do not know or cannot express. Prayer, in essence, breaks the silence. It closes the distance between God and us. It heals our splintered hearts and our broken minds. It helps us to know what we feel and it helps us to think better. Prayer fulfills our need to be known. Prayer teaches us to accept God’s unconditional approval and it teaches us to accept ourselves at the same time. Prayer teaches us to recognize treasures that we have not noticed before. We will be able to make sense of difficulties and hardships. Praying privately helps us to be more honest and more true to ourselves. It opens us up. It is the sound we make – the spiritual sound – when we don’t know what to say or how to say it.

Prayer catapults us into the frontier of an authentic spiritual life.

Copyright 2011, Homecoing Books

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Breakthrough for Gary and His Family

A Breakthrough for Gary and His Family

“Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it's useless. Cultivate God-confidence.”

            1 Corinthians 10:12 The Message

"The power to honor the truth – to speak it and be it – is at the heart of true masculinity."

            - Leanne Payne

We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

I began my personal Twelve Step recovery program about three years ago as a way to get a grip on my workaholism. For years my wife had been bugging me about not being home enough. She also complained that when I was at home, I was “not really there.” It wasn’t until I was in my early fifties and facing divorce and the loss of my family that I started to take her seriously. So, my wife and I went to see our local pastor and he suggested that I had a problem with my attitude and priorities about my work. (I thought he was full of BS.) He also suggested that I meet with a professional counselor who told me flat-out that he thought I was addicted to my work. (Bummer, I thought. I love my work.)


 Fearing that my wife would leave and take the kids, I joined the men’s recovery group at my church and slowly I began to see that I really was addicted to work. I realized this not because of the ridiculously long hours I put in but because I was doing my work for all the wrong reasons. I was more than passionate about my work. It was how I defined myself. The only way I thought of myself was in relationship to work. If work was good, I was good. If work was bad, I would feel like everything in life was bad. No matter how I sliced and diced it, I knew that I was a workaholic.


Following the guidance I got from the recovery group, I enlisted the help of a man who had been a longtime participant in the group. He is a recovering alcoholic and seemed to know what recovery was all about. I asked him to help me do the Twelve Steps and he agreed. We become close friends as he helped me work the steps for myself. While I was doing my recovery program, I continued to see the same counselor about once a month.


When I got to Step Ten, my sponsor suggested that I spend a month keeping an ongoing journal of my days, noting my schedule, my activities, my thoughts and my feelings. This seemed like a strange thing to do but I knew that my sponsor had done it for himself years before, and when I discussed it with my counselor he thought it was a good idea too. So, not being quite sure of what this was all about, I began to keep an ongoing journal that inventoried my life in real time. It was like recording my life while my life was taking place.


Much of my work responsibility has to do with travel. I am all over the country, spending 10-15 days a month away from home. Occasionally, but not very often, I will succumb to the temptation to look at an adult movie at the hotels I stay in. I know it’s not the right thing to do but sometimes I just get overwhelmed with temptation and I do it anyway. One of these situations happened during the period of time that I was doing my Step Ten daily journal. I had an unexpected delay in my travel due to weather and I ended up spending the night in a hotel instead of flying home like I had planned. You guessed it, I ordered a pay-per-view porno movie from the privacy of my hotel room and I viewed it for about 20 minutes while entertaining myself, if you know what I mean. Of course I felt bad about it. I knew it wasn’t right. But I don’t believe in beating myself up so I just wrote it down in my journal and then I tried to put it behind me.


I got up bright and early the next morning to catch my flight home. When I got home that afternoon I was happy to see my wife, but I was also tired and felt somewhat uncomfortable being with her. My daughter, who was 13 at the time, got home later that evening and immediately she came running up to me to give me a hug and a kiss. I felt uncomfortable about seeing her, too. My daughter seemed to be more aware of the discomfort between us than I was. She said to me, “Daddy, why don’t you want to be with me? Is there something wrong with me?” This shocked me, but I quickly regained my wits and I assured her that everything was okay. She didn’t question me but I could tell that she didn’t believe me either. She went off to her room and I made note of this exchange in my journal. Late that evening, as my wife and I were preparing to go to bed, she said, “Gary, what’s wrong? You seem distant like you used to be.” I assured her that everything was good, we crawled into bed and I tried to go to sleep.


Two hours later I was still awake and my mind had started to race. I got up, went into the kitchen and began to make some notes in my inventory journal. Then, clear as day, some of the events of the last couple of days jumped right off the pages of my journal at me. I realized that my careless actions of looking at the porn movie had impacted me much like my workaholism had affected me in the past. In the past I had used my work like a drug addict uses drugs. I worked to escape the challenges of life—especially the challenges of intimacy—and now I realized that I had also used the porn movie in much the same way, and it was affecting me negatively just like my workaholism had done. As these things came clear to me, I was writing them down in my journal. The more I wrote down, the more clear-headed I became about the diabolical subtleties of my addictions. I could see that my attempts to “escape” were triggered by the simplest of things like being too tired, feeling lonely or sorry for myself, or being upset about something that I could not control. I also realized that my escapes, i.e., workaholism and porn, had a terrible effect on the people who I loved the most. My workaholism and porn use had been like an invisible poison that was slowly killing me and my family. Even though my family didn’t know about the porn movie, its negative impact on me created a negative impact on them. It kept us from having a close relationship with one another. Finally, I realized that the opportunities God was giving me to recover would never exist if I lived indiscriminately. There is too much at stake for me not to dig deep and identify the weak points in my character and my life. Not only too much at stake for me but also too much at stake for my family.


My wife is a very early riser and so early the next morning—it was a Saturday—I sat down with her before the kids got up. I apologized to her for being distant. I acknowledged that I did feel very self-conscious when she tried to be close to me the day before. I told her that I had looked at a porn movie at the hotel and I explained to her what I had learned through my journaling. Amazingly, she didn’t shoot me. Now, she wasn’t happy at all about me looking at porn, but I think she was very relieved to hear me acknowledge how I get diverted and distracted by things. Interestingly and much to my surprise, she seemed to recognize that I had made a breakthrough in my growth; I’d had an experience that would make my heart more accessible to her.

Later that day I spoke to my daughter. I apologized to her for being distant. I acknowledged that she deserved better from me and I told her of my desire to interact with her in a more relaxed, honest and faithful way. I told her that she was my greatest delight and that I was aware how my past actions had not always conveyed my true love for her. I told her of my commitment to do a better job of being her Dad. I didn’t tell her about my use of porn because, as my wife and I had discussed, I knew it would hurt her; she was just too young and she didn’t need to know. I may tell her more about my struggles when she is older, but I’ll wait until then to decide.


Looking back, I don’t think things would have turned out this way had I not been continuously taking my inventory. The things I notice about myself now are different than when I first began the Twelve Steps, but they are no less important for me to deal with. My relationships with my wife and children are much better now. I never dreamed we would laugh so much. My wife will occasionally point out that I am being distant or aloof but I really don’t mind her telling me this anymore. It doesn’t feel like nagging the way it used to. My kids and I are now better at expressing ourselves to one another. I think they feel better with me and with each other because I am better able to express my love and delight in them.


I am thankful for my sponsor and my counselor who have helped guide me in this experience. Even more, I thank God for being there for me and I thank my family for not giving up on me. I still keep a journal because I am still working Step Ten.
Copyright 2011, Homecoming Books

Thursday, November 17, 2011

True Forgiveness

True Forgiveness
“Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”
            Philippians 2:3 The Message

“The people who gave you the consequences are not your enemies. By seeing those who give you consequences as the enemy, you keep yourself stuck in justifying your behavior. Your real problem is your denial and self–delusion.”
            - Patrick Carnes, Ph.D

We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would
injure them or others.

True forgiveness is something that we can give and something we can receive, but we can never force it on others or demand it from others. Forgiveness does not condone, excuse or minimize wrongdoing. Forgiving simply means to look directly at the wrongdoer—knowing full well the destructive impact of their actions—recognize them for who they are and what they have done, and then offer to them a mercy and grace that is completely undeserved.
The giving and receiving of forgiveness is an act of humility. When we forgive, we see others—even the most disturbed—with a kind of empathy that is fundamental to our deepest humanity. It is the way God created us to be. With empathy and forgiveness, we see others as people whom God loves. We see them as people God wants to be close to. We honor God by seeing the people He created—no matter how undeserving they are—as worthy of love and respect. This doesn’t mean that forgiveness guarantees that all of our relationships will go back to the way they were before. Forgiveness, after all, does not excuse inexcusable acts. It sees the facts and sets healthy parameters for the future. This is needed for both the offender and the victim to move forward and live a better life in the future.
We need to be careful not to ask for forgiveness when what we really want is to be excused for our wrongdoing. Wrongdoing is never an accident. Accidents can be excused, but selfish people that do selfish things need forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness is an act of repentance as well as an act of confession. Repentance doesn’t debate; it never bargains or rationalizes. Confession makes no claim, nor does it minimize or argue. We are not here, after all, to make excuses. We are here to make a simple request for undeserved mercy. We should never dispute the facts when confronted about wrongdoing we have done. Let the criticisms and the charges be what they are. We are responsible for the way that we forgive others. How other people forgive us is their business, not ours. We may never again experience the same respect and freedom we had before. We may never again enjoy the unmitigated trust of our families. Other people will invariably adjust to how they relate to us in the future. The boundaries that they impose on us are a direct result of the pain and hurt we have caused them. Being committed to love others unconditionally, we should accept these limitations, committing ourselves to respect the lives of others in the same way that we would like to be respected.
If we struggle to forgive others, we should pray for those who have hurt us or let us down. Prayer helps us to overcome the resentments that inhibit our emotional growth. We should pray, asking that God will give both our enemies and our loved ones hope for their life, help for their difficulties, grace for their struggles, and the courage to live abundantly. We should pray for our enemies in the same way that we pray for ourselves.  
Copyright 2011, Homecoming Books

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Forgiveness - The Way of Healthy Living

  Forgiveness – The Way of Healthy Living

 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

            Ephesians 4:32 NIV

“To err is human, to forgive is divine.”

            - Alexander Pope

 We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Forgiveness brings us home to be with God, spiritually. Forgiveness is God’s standard practice for healthy living, and where we live spiritually affects where we are emotionally and psychologically. This is why forgiveness is so important to our overall mental health. It is the framework of compassion and empathy upon which our future health is built. As we breathe in and breathe out forgiveness, we are inhaling and exhaling God’s most life-giving antidote for sin and destruction. Why do we forgive others? Because God forgave us first. Why does God forgive us? He forgives us so we can have life. God knows that nothing is more important for our emotional, psychological and spiritual health than forgiveness, and nothing will help us to make the most of God’s gift of forgiveness like forgiving ourselves.

Forgiving ourselves begins with understanding our own human frailties and shortcomings. This will help us to have a more compassionate perspective. After all, our addictions did make sense to us at the time that we were doing them, didn’t they? God understands this, you see. He understands why we have done the things that we have done. He understands that, as silly and as stupid as our actions were, they somehow made sense to us at the time that we were doing them. God understands the insanity of addiction. He understands that while we are responsible for making good use of the help He provides, we are not completely at fault for all of our insane thinking. We don’t know everything, and our decisions and thinking have suffered from faulty and misguided beliefs. Because of His complete and total understanding, He is willing to forgive us for the things we have done. For example, even when Christ was being crucified, He didn’t hold anything against the people who were killing him. In Luke 23:34 Jesus, while being crucified, is quoted as saying, “Father, forgive these people for they don’t know what they are doing.” Our attitude should be the same. As God forgives us, we are called to forgive those who have hurt us. And this begins with a compassionate understanding of our own failures and addictions. 

Many sponsors and counselors will encourage us to include our own names on the list we make of the people we have hurt. After all, no one has been more hurt by our addictions than we have. Unless we forgive ourselves, we will never fully enjoy the forgiveness that God and other people offer to us. Forgiving ourselves connects us more closely with God and the world around us. As we forgive ourselves, like God does, we will be better able to escape the resentment we have had for other people, for God and for ourselves. Self-forgiveness helps increase our appreciation for just how connected and interrelated to all of God’s creation we are, in ways that we will never fully understand until we are with Christ in eternity. Forgiving ourselves helps us to participate with God’s creation in healthy and dynamic ways, ways that will far exceed our greatest expectations and assumptions.


James and Bethe are a young married couple who had previously lived lives of addictive sexual immorality, until they made the decision to give their lives to God by pursuing an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Together, they began working a Twelve Step recovery program which included long-term counseling. Their counselor gave them an assignment to read some Christ-centered recovery literature, after which they wrote this statement:

 We struggled to survive life for many years. Everyday we felt like victims because we had both been severely abused when we were children. But now, we don’t think of ourselves as victims anymore. With God’s help, a change is underway inside of us. We think differently than we used to think—our attitude is different. 

We don’t need to destroy ourselves or each other with anger and hate like we used to. We don’t need to think thoughts of revenge anymore. God knows what has happened to us and He is in the process of making it all turn out good. He knows the truth. He will make the correct judgments and He will give mercy as He sees fit. We leave all of our hurts and mistakes in His hands.

 We now know that God will not judge us for what happened to us, but we will be judged by how we live our lives and how we treat others. We are responsible for our actions. We are responsible for what we do with what we know. We have no power to change the past, but as God is our strength we can change our future.

So, we have decided to make the most of the opportunities to experience healing and growth. As we experience God’s power working within us, we will pass this healing onto our children, our family and to others, even to those who have hurt us. The ripples of healing in the pond of our lives will spread throughout future generations.”


- James and Bethe, 2007 - In recovery for 2 years

Copyright 2011, Homecoming Books

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Humbly Asking

Humbly Asking

“God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic – what a find! – and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field.”

            Matthew 13:44 The Message

“So in terms of what every man needs most crucially, all man’s power is powerless because at its roots, of course, the deepest longing of the human soul is the longing for God, and this no man has the power to satisfy.”

            - Frederick Buechner

We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

How many times have we asked God to give us patience only to get mad with ourselves or God when patience didn’t show up when we wanted it? Perhaps we really weren’t interested in being more patient. Maybe what we really wanted was relief from the tension and discomfort that we were feeling at that time. In light of what we are learning now, we will probably find it much more helpful to simply admit to ourselves, to God and to another person that we are impatient by nature and that we want to change. We want to learn to think and to act differently—patiently. This is real world humility. This kind of openness helps us to have a more natural willingness to ask others for direction and then to responsibly follow whatever good advice we get. 


Saying, “Dear God, I want to be more patient,” sounds good, but we may miss the subtle demand  that we are making—holding God responsible for our impatient character and problems. But when we say “Dear God, I am an impatient person,” we offer the truth about ourselves and we accept responsibility for being impatient. Humbly asking means asking for changes to our character and thinking with no demand for changes in the external circumstances of our lives.


The ultimate purpose of all prayer is to get hold of God. To do so we have to let go of our pride, inviting God to act according to His purpose in our lives. Changes in our circumstances are optional; changes in our character are necessary. We become the changes we desire. God will be our strength and He will empower us to do what we are responsible to do. 
Copyright 2011, Homecoming Books

Monday, November 14, 2011

Becoming Ready

     Becoming Ready

“When the Lord saw that he had caught Moses’ attention, God called to him from the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ 
‘Here I am!’ Moses replied.”
            Exodus 3:4

"Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires, it isn’t strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose. When they drive us blindly, or we willfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on earth. That is the measure of our character defects or if you wish, of our sins."

            - Alcoholics Anonymous

We became entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

The way that God deals with us on a personal level will be as unique as we are as individuals and as mysterious as God is himself. While we all share common ground with one another, we will have some very specific and unique experiences that will prepare us for the life that God has planned for us. What God uses to get hold of one person may not work for another. No matter how it happens, each of us will be led—if we are not already there—into a wilderness experience. Our hopes will be lost and our dreams will be destroyed. We will be reduced to the helpless and dependent state of a child. As painful and difficult as this may sound, this is all good news, because only in a childlike experience of dependency can we be made ready to receive the best that God has to give us.


Our friend Moses is one example of how God pulled someone into a life- changing encounter with himself. As a young man, Moses had a difficult time staying out of trouble. Conflict seemed to follow him wherever he went. He seemed to be at his best and at his worst when he was responding to the people and the circumstances around him. Moses had a strong desire to change the things that he thought were wrong, but very often his best intentions—combined with his misguided reactions—made things worse. Moses used his God-given talents in ways that were both bad and good. Moses was, in himself, conflicted, just like we are.


The story of Moses’ life is told in the biblical books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. These books paint a colorful picture of a man who had all the best intentions, and at the same time they also show us a man who had a painfully difficult time turning his good intentions into healthy and productive action. Moses’ character defects often blocked the good outcomes that he intended. We need to read the biblical record in order to see the complete picture of Moses’ life, but here are a few low and high points of interest that will help us to see how God worked to change Moses’ thinking—which in turn changed Moses’ way of living.


Born an Israelite and separated from his parents as an infant, Moses was raised by the daughter of the king of Egypt. He was educated by the best that the culture of his day had to offer. One day as a young man, seeing one of his Hebrew countrymen being beaten, Moses went to his countryman’s aid and killed an Egyptian citizen. Later, when Moses was confronted about the killing, he fled into the wilderness in order to escape prosecution for the murder that he committed. There, in the wilderness, he married and started a family, and he lived in obscurity. In his running away, Moses abandoned himself to the wilderness. He abandoned his lost hopes and his broken dreams. But God did not abandon Moses. After many years, the king of Egypt died. Moses, who was now tending sheep for his father-in-law, had given up and maybe forgotten all about his ideas of heroic acts. But God had not forgotten, and God had certainly not given up on Moses. God was at work deep in Moses’ heart and mind during this time of obscurity. God was preparing him for the future that He had in mind for him. When God’s work of preparation was fulfilled, He reached out and made contact with Moses through the burning bush. When God spoke, Moses, having been made ready in ways that he was not even aware of, answered back to God. Then, because he was ready and willing, Moses set out to become all that God had prepared him to be. As a result of God’s work of preparation—coupled with Moses’ humble willingness to change—Moses returned to Egypt, where he led his Israelite brothers and sisters out of a captivity they had suffered for over 400 years. (Please read Exodus Chapter 3 for a more detailed account of how all this happened.)

Like Moses, we have spent years living in obscurity and pain, as proven by our addictions. We never meant to end up the way we were, but we did. We never intended to get sidetracked, but we did. Our addictions prove how we had given up on ourselves, how we had lost our hopes and our dreams. But—and here is the good news—God has not given up on us. He is at work. He is sustaining our lives and He is waiting for us to be ready to have the defects in our character removed from us.


Our good intentions and our character defects are like two sides of the same coin. They live together, side by side, until we become entirely ready to have the character defects that corrupt our good intentions removed from us. This means that we are ready to be made into fundamentally different people. Staying the same will no longer be acceptable to us. We want to be different in order to move on and experience the life that God has to give us.


Feeling dissatisfied with who we are creates a deep desire for change. Dissatisfaction and desire go hand-in-hand, much like our good intentions and our character defects. The kind of dissatisfaction that leads to desire for change makes us intentional about our recovery. It motivates us to take action. The desire that we feel for change is a gift from God. It is a quality that is unique to the human experience. It reveals the redeemable condition of our heart. Godly dissatisfaction and the desire to change create a vision for how we will live—not only recovering from our addictions, but as men and women who are truly free. Godly desire is about becoming ready to have the entire panorama of our inner life reformatted and changed by the perfect design of God. Godly desire makes us ready to set aside our own demands for personal satisfaction. It makes us ready to be the kind of people who love other people in ways that only God makes possible. Our old nature will dry up and begin to fall away. We will bloom from the inside out. We will realize that we are prepared—or maybe it is better to say that we are being prepared—to live life in a way that only God can empower us to do. Just like our friend, Moses.


The story of Moses’ life is a wonderful example of how God makes good use of our failures. It is safe to say that Moses was better prepared by God during the time that he spent living in obscurity than in any way that Moses could have ever prepared himself. Just like with Moses, God is doing His most intimate work inside of us during the times when we feel the most broken and hopeless. It is during times of difficulty and failure that God whittles away at our ego and prepares our character to become more like His own. We can’t always see or feel this most intimate work of God, but its reality is proven through our own willingness—the willingness to change that we now have but did not have before.


Nothing is ever wasted if we are willing to give it to God. The more God rules our minds and our hearts, the more our failures and addictions will become assets to us and to those around us.
COpyright 2011, Homecoming Books