Now and then, someone will come up to me after a speech I’ve given or a lesson I’ve taught and ask, hesitantly, “Are you an alcoholic?”
Sometimes that amuses me, and sometimes I want to ask, “What if I say yes?”
I am not an alcoholic, but I have “worked” the Twelve Steps for codependency since before that dis-ease was a word.
I’ve gotten rewarded for care-giving and care-taking, but I soon learned about “the disease” to please, and how far from authenticity I was, when acting out of that disease.
I’ve been praised for putting others first, but when I began looking at how I’d made idols out of other people, how I’d given my own power and authority away and how I’d allowed fear to control me, I began to see how that much of my people-pleasing, care-taking and codependency issues were all habits, attitudes and behaviors that were more about my surviving in my world then they were authentic caring for others.
I wasn’t proud of that.
In truth, codependency is a defense mechanism. It is a half-lived life, and it has a whole lot of manipulation, deception, control and duplicity in it.
I’m not proud of that, either.
What I wanted was real love between myself and others, instead of love that was tainted with my own self-concern and fear. I still want that.
For several years, I worked alone, not telling anyone about “my program”, but then The Program exploded into the collective consciousness through the works of such people as Claudia Black, Anne Wilson Schaef and Pia Mellody. One of the people who inspired me when I was in college, writer and speaker Keith Miller, had also found the Steps and he and his wife Andrea Miller, began working to move the Steps into churches.
Keith’s Book, Compelled to Control – about obsessive and addictive control issues – and Andrea Miller’s book with Pia Mellody, Breaking Free, became like textbooks for me. Books with daily readings from the Hazeldon Foundation were like water in a dry desert for me.
Soon, I began to connect with others who understood the issues of codependency, and then, I began to integrate the principles of the program in a Bible study I teach and in spiritual growth groups.
Teaching the Twelve Steps was one of the ways I was learning to integrate them into my own life. You know that old axiom: You teach what you want to learn, and that is why the Twelfth Step is absolutely vital in recovery.
I wrote in the first blog of this series that it was important to me that what I was doing had truths that resonated with my Christian faith and the biblical principles that had been at the heart of my spiritual formation. Indeed, the principles of the Twelve Steps opened up new layers of understanding and a depth of meaning for the Bible for me.
Later, my training in Centering Prayer facilitated a deepening of my practice of the Eleventh Step, and in fact, many people in recovery have used my books about contemplative prayer and contemplative praying as a resource for working the Eleventh Step.
Carl Jung is reported to have helped formulate “the Program”, and my study of his work and my own long-time depth analysis have given the fourth leg of what I call the “four-legged stool of my spiritual life.”
Richard Rohr, in his book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, has integrated the Good News with the Steps in a brilliant and life-giving way, and so I am using his book in this series as part of the conversation in each blog.
Rohr writes this in his introduction:
“ The New Testament calls it salvation or enlightenment, the Twelve Step Program calls it recovery.” (p. xv)
Seeing the process of transformation from both a biblical perspective and a program perspective makes sense to me.
The truth of this statement makes me smile:
“The trouble is that most Christians pushed this great liberation off into the next world, and many Twelve Steppers settled for , mere sobriety from a substance instead of a real transformation.” (pp. xv –xvi)
That makes me smile because one of my favorite things to say and teach is that “salvation is more than staying out of hell and getting into heaven.”
In fact, I kind of get up on my soapbox about religion that focuses only on the sweet by-and-by, ignoring the present moment.
I press the issue that salvation is about the process of becoming whole in this life, and I really make some noise about how it doesn’t make sense and it isn’t very attractive to think you’ve gotten a pass out of hell and a ticket into heaven, and it’s OK to treat other people badly in this earthly realm.
(Those are just some of my pet peeves, from a lifetime of being in and around the religious establishment. And by the way, I have a well-worn book in my library on toxic faith and religious addiction.)
Rohr’s statement also makes me smile because I have witnessed what happens when a person merely stops using or drinking, stops people-pleasing or obsessing, or tries to stop compulsive behaviors without the hard, laborious process of transformation. I believe that the Living Christ or, as Thomas Keating says, the Divine Therapist, can transform us, but I also believe that each of us has to work at that process, “helping God help us.”
These scriptures from the Apostle Paul’s writings are vital in my own life:
Be transformed, by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)
Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for
it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Those scriptures emphasize the part and the work – the hard work – we recovering people must do, but that work we must do is balanced by these words from Paul:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is
not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not of works, so that no
one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Recovery from any self-destructive behavior takes time, effort, patience and awareness. It also helps to have other people who are in the process with us, acting as guides or sponsors on the rough path toward wholeness.
Richard Rohr also says this: “The Twelve Step Program parallels, mirrors and makes practical the same messages that Jesus gave us….” (p. xvi)
My old West Texas friend Jack Goss used to say that “you can be so heavenly that you aren’t any earthly good.”
The Twelve Steps have moved me to face the here and now of living on this earthly plain in a way that has changed my thinking about what it means to be a spiritual being, living an earthly life, and for me, my spirituality has to walk the daily paths of my ordinary, everyday life. It has to be practical; it has to work, and the practices I practice must be workable in the world in which I pay my bills, care for my home and family, do my work, interact with strangers, acquaintances, friends and family.
We were not made to live in ivory towers, and yet daily life is filled with anxiety and trauma, and sometimes crisis, tragedy and horrors that are almost unbearable. How are we to live, then, given the realities of such?
To be brought to the program is not about failure, as I see it, but it is about being brought to the point of great need and, as the program puts it, powerlessness over _____________. (You fill in the blank.)
In our culture, we are good at distracting ourselves away from the difficulties of life, and we are good at denial. I am amazed at how many ways I can avoid facing something either in myself or in my outer world that is hard or, even, unbearable. Truthfully, we humans are pain-avoiding and pleasure-seeking creatures, and that is not a crime.
In his book, Richard Rohr comments that “The Twelve Step Program too often stayed at the problem-solving level, and missed out on the ecstasy itself—trustful intimacy with God, or what Jesus consistently called “the wedding banquet. The world was left with the difficult task of trying to live with even more difficult “dry drunks”…..” (p. xx)
That comment resonated with me because I see church members for whom their religious practices has never healed them at a deep level, so that they never get to the hard issues of ego-centricity, control, power, prejudice, hate or anger, fear, jealousy, etc. As Rohr puts it, “They never went to the inner room where Jesus invited us, and where things his secretly” (Matthew 6:6) (p. xxi)
So it is that in these blog posts, my intention is to go deeper into my own experience, inviting that Divine Therapist to move within the places that I have pushed away, blocked, denied and lied about, to bring me to a place of greater inner freedom from the things that keep me from living the abundant life Jesus promised. (John 10:10)
I want to live with the fruit of the Spirit having full expression in my life. I want the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that the Living Christ/Holy Spirit gives in my inner life, and manifested in my outer life, and so I return to the Twelve Steps again.
I don’t return because of failure. I return because I know for sure that Thomas Keating is right when he says that we cannot go to the next level of faith without having the current level challenged.
My current level of faith is being challenged, and I know that that is a nudge and an invitation to go deeper, to discover the places where I am blocked and to experience the healing and transformative grace of the Divine Therapist in ways that are life-giving and life-changing.
My Twelve Step sponsor asked me one time, when I was resisting the next stage with all kinds of rationalizations, justifications, and blah-blah-blah moments, “Would you consider for just a moment that you are just like everyone else, and that this program that has worked for millions just might work for you?”
Ugh. It was a wake-up call.
I must thank her again for saying that, and for the fire in her eyes when she said it.
What about you?
How do you respond to the invitations to go deeper in faith?
In what ways do you resist or put up a battle?
What kinds of things do you say to yourself to avoid going into the next level of faith?
Do you feel humiliated when you can’t handle something?
Do you ever get frustrated because your talk doesn’t match your walk?
Do you ever feel that your religion or religious practices are empty, meaningless, dry, boring, pointless or even irritating to you?
What is the one thing you don’t want to have to face?
If it is true that which you fear most is the things you must do, what is that thing you most fear?
Are you ashamed about not being “together”?
Do you think your biggest problem is someone else?
Do you ever feel inflated about your own enlightened state, your greater maturity than others, your deeper spirituality? (How does that work for you?)
Do you keep on doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result?
(Don’t forget: that is the definition of insanity!)
I’ll end with this beautiful African saying, for they are words full of grace:
Those who love you are not fooled by
mistakes you have made or dark
images you hold about yourself. They
remember your beauty when you feel
ugly; your wholeness when you are
broken; your innocence when you feel
guilty; and your purpose when you are
Wouldn’t it be incredibly wonderful if one of those who loves you like this is you?
Grace to you –