Working the Steps – Step Eight, Part 2

My newest book, Practicing Resurrection:  Radical Hope in Difficult Times has just been released by Smyth and Helwys Publishers.

When I began writing this series on the Twelve Steps, I had not yet even outlined the book’s chapters, but now that the book has been written and released, it is time to differentiate between this series and the new book.   I do, however, see that working the Twelve Steps is a powerful way to “practice resurrection.”  I hope you will read both.

Thank you so much for reading this series on the Twelve Steps, formerly named “Practicing Resurrection”. From now on, this series will appear as “Working the Steps”. Step Eight, Part 2 can be found below.


Working the Steps:  Step Eight, Part 2

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

If I have wounded any soul today,

If I have caused one foot to go astray,

If I have walked in my own willful way,

Dear Lord, forgive.

Leaving the birthplace of Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi, on a late summer road trip across the South, I unwrapped my new CD of Elvis’ gospel music and popped it into the CD player in the car.

It had been years since I had heard this song, but I can remember my mother’s singing this old hymn.  For a few miles and with the power of memory, I was back in my childhood home, feeling nostalgic.

However, with a lot of life between then and now and a longtime practice of working these Steps, the “If I have” beginning to each line of that song caught my attention.

“The question isn’t if I have wounded someone else or gone my own willful way,” I told my husband.  “I have,” I stated firmly, “and it’s my job to know precisely how I have done that!”

No one sings a gospel song quite like Elvis, and I would love to linger awhile in the “If I have’s”, but these many years of working the Steps won’t let me play that coy game with myself.

“If I have” may be a substitute for “help me to see what I’ve done”, but it must be the first step I take toward becoming aware of the ways I have harmed myself and others.  If I stop with “If I have done anything wrong”, I’m playing games with myself, asking for cheap grace.

Before I can get to forgiveness, I have to look at my own actions, motivations, words and habits that have caused pain or suffering to myself or others.

I can tell myself “It wasn’t that bad” or I can hope that the persons I’ve hurt didn’t notice what I had done.

I can justify what I did by saying, “He started it” or “I didn’t know what I was doing.  I can make any number of excuses, but the only way out of the deep hole of denial is to stop digging and begin telling myself the cold, hard, unvarnished truth.

I can minimize what I have done or blow it up to be bigger than it was, which is a strange way of avoiding telling myself the truth.  Being the best of the worst sinners and doing the most horrible of all bad things that anyone could ever possibly do doesn’t really tell the truth about what I’ve done.  Awful-izing and embellishing the story is yet another way to distract myself and lead myself astray into the drama of it all.

Making the tale of my shortcomings and harmful deeds more than they are may be entertaining.  They might even make funny stories, but in the end the old “Tell the truth and nothing but the truth” is the best policy.

Working this Step is hard.  It’s humiliating and painful, but here’s the Good News:  It is also liberating.  It is the way to forgiveness and freedom.  It is the way to activate the amazing grace and mercy that is available, if we have the courage to open our minds and hearts to it.

* * * *  *

When I did this Step the first time, I divided my life into seasons, going back as far as I could remember, and simply asked God to show me what I had done to hurt someone else in each phase of my life.  I wish I could say that it was hard to remember, but it wasn’t, and what I was to realize was that all of those memories I had stuffed were wrapped in regret, embarrassment, shame and guilt.

So it as with a sense of relief and even hopefulness that with my journal in hand, I wrote down all I could think of as each incident came to mind, sifting through my memory.  Carefully, I wrote down the precise nature of my wrong.  I recorded how I hurt the other person, and sometimes I cried.

I had to take breaks, too, so that I wouldn’t overwhelm myself with guilt.  I remembered, as well, the counsel of my sponsor who told me to try to find just the right amount of zeal in uncovering my wrongs.  I didn’t understand at first by what she meant about finding the balance between being too hard on myself and not hard enough, but over time, I came to understand that finding that balance was a gift that came with a willingness to tell myself the hard facts and the unvarnished truth about my actions, attitudes and words.

When I finished with that first list, my sponsor had me go back to my journal and write down everything I had done to hurt myself, which included the times I allowed someone else to injure me.  Again, I wrote about the exact nature of that self-injury and how it felt when it happened.   Later, it occurred to me to write about how I felt about the incident as I was doing this Step, comparing the felt and perceived impact from the past and my experience of the incident in the present.

Over time, I have learned to keep my accounts current, to pay attention to the times when I offend someone, unconsciously or consciously.   I work to know what I’ve done when I have done it, and I work to stay conscious and aware of my motivations that cause me to say that cutting remark, withhold affection or love, criticize, offend or harm another person.

In these years of working this Step, I have also learned how to handle other peoples’ harmful acts toward me in a way that helps me acknowledge the hurt or anger, but not react to it in a way that makes the problem worse.  Ignoring the impact of others’ actions and words doesn’t make the hurt go away, but untreated wounds do fester over time.  I’ve learned that others’ injuries become self-injuries if I don’t deal with them, and I’ve also learned that if I allow resentment and anger to fester, those energies will leak out or explode out in words or actions that will hurt both myself and others.

** * * *

On surely one of the hottest and most humid days in Houston’s history, I stood in a line on the campus of Rice University for what seemed like an entire morning to hear the Dalai Lama speak.  My husband and I were herded with the crowd from building to building for some unknown reason.  Perhaps the crowd was bigger than expected or the security concerns were such that we were moved around so much, but the wait was so long that we were tempted to leave.

Packed into the basketball gym, we waited even longer for the appearance of the man who is an ambassador for kindness and happiness. I don’t remember what his topic was that day, but I do remember that the crowd listened to him in rapt silence.  At the end of his speech, he took some questions, and his answer to the last question is the one take-away of the day for me.

The Dalai Lama’s answer was powerful, but equally impressive was the change in his voice from the relaxed, happy tone to a deep bass and a stern tone.  He got up from his chair and walked to the edge of the low stage, getting as close as he could to the young man who had asked a question I have long forgotten.

“You don’t ever allow another person to abuse you or inflict violence on you by words or actions,” he said, which made perfect sense to me.  It was what he next that brought the entire gym to utter silence.

“By allowing another person to injure you, you are participating in his violence he is inflicting on himself.”

I have never forgotten what he said next.

“When a person abuses another person, he hates that person for letting him do it, and he hates himself for doing it, and the person who is abused hates the abuser and hates himself for letting himself be abused.   And that is how the cycle of violence is perpetuated.”

* * * **

The cycle of abuse begins with hurtful words – insults, put-downs, labeling, name-calling

The parties blame each other or someone else —

The anger escalates into actions that are harmful and destructive —

Left unaddressed, the anger escalates into physical violence –

Once physical violence begins, it can be deadly.

* * * **

What about you?

What do you dread most about writing down the actual names of the people you have harmed, including yourself?

Can you see this list as the way to forgiveness and freedom?

What do you have to lose?

What do you have to gain?

There is grace ahead – all the grace you need.

Believe it.


Practicing Resurrection: Step Three, Part 2

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

My self-will is the only part of me that I can know is going to wake up raring to go in the morning.   It is tireless in wanting its way and thinking it knows best.

My self-will is also really good at engineering self-sabotage, as long as my will is under the domination of my complexes, my fears or my codependency.   As long as I have “My will and my way” on the throne of my life — or as long as I have another person on the throne of my life, I’m under the control of something other than my best self-interest.

When my self-will is running riot, I can spout all the religious language in the world, but the truth is that it isn’t God who is running my life.

The other truth is that when I’m in the grips of codependency, I routinely and unconsciously turn my will and my life over to the care of other people, especially people I want to please.

Especially people whose rejection I fear.

Especially people upon whom I depend for approval, security, or _________________.  (the

options are infinite)

Especially the people who hold some kind of power over me.  (I can hardly bear to write that!)

Looking back over my life, I don’t have a ton of regrets, but I do regret that I handed over some of my power to certain people.  Sometimes I didn’t know any better.  Sometimes I knew better, but did it, anyway.  Sometimes I thought I didn’t have a choice, and sometimes I was just not strong enough or brave enough to take the stands I needed to take.

I’m not going to become a victim of my own regrets, but it has been helpful for me to take a look at the people I let take up too much space in my head and learn from those few regrets I have.

I’ve learned that if I can turn over those regrets to God’s grace, even the worst mistakes I’ve made can become lessons and can even give me strength and wisdom.

The key is if I’ll surrender those hard experiences to God and let God’s love make sense of that which doesn’t make sense and make good what was intended for evil.

* * * * *

When I was a child, I did what most children did in my particular religious world.  We said it two ways:   I invited Jesus into my heart  or I turned my life over to God.

That early surrender was so easy and natural.  After all, I didn’t have that much to surrender to God when I was nine!

Looking back, I don’t doubt the childhood decision I made, and I don’t doubt that God as I understood God then or understand God now honored that decision.   My understanding of that experience is more sophisticated now than it was when I was 9, but my God-concept is ‘way bigger than it was when I was a child.

The truth that I stand on is that at that point in my life, I gave as much as I knew of myself to as much as I knew of God.

The problem was that with my limited understanding at that time, I didn’t realize that there was going to be a great deal more to my relationship with God than anyone bothered to tell me.

I suppose it is best that I learned it for myself.

What I know now is that it isn’t until you have an understanding of what your “will” really is that you can fathom what it means to surrender  it to a Higher Power.

I know now that you have to have a sense of your own self to have anything to surrender to God, and what I believe is that you probably have to be like the Prodigal Son and walk away from your beginning place (your childhood home and family) to understand what it is like to return home.  When you come home to yourself, I’ve learned, and when you grow up, you always go back to your family of origin as a changed person.

* * * * *

I grew up in a culture that places high value on self-reliance and self-responsibility.   Independence and being able to take care of yourself and your responsibilities is the mark of an adult.  The proclamation of a two-year-old, “I’ll do it myself!” can become the defiance of an adult.  To need help is considered a weakness.

Furthermore, in our culture the very word “surrender” indicates defeat.  It means you lost or failed and you must resign yourself to being at another’s supervision, superiority or domination.

In our culture, it is even considered a weakness to apologize to someone, even if you are wrong, as if apologizing is demeaning and humiliating.

Surrender, turning yourself or something over to God, asking for help, yielding to a program of recovery, being malleable may be prompted by a humiliating experience, but the real truth is that surrender, in the spiritual sense, is an act of extreme courage.  It is an act of humility, and is ia declaration of a willingness to be led to a healthier way of life.

We humans do resist surrendering our wills to another, and yet, to resist is to persist in a pattern that keeps you doing the same self-sabotaging behavior over and over.

The act of surrender is one of the hallmarks of all spiritual growth and is to be found in all religions.

In my lifetime I have made countless declarations of surrender.  I have turned the same thing over to God repeatedly and then taken it back, refusing to give God time to work.   I have thought that I knew best.  I have believed that something that was outside my realm of influence was mine to repair, only to discover that no matter what the issue is, everything goes better for me if I can surrender myself and/or the situation, the problem, the challenge or the feeling to God as an on-going habit.

At first, I thought that surrendering my will to God would take away my freedom to choose.

I thought that surrendering my life to God would give him permission to push me around and pull me into places I didn’t want to go.

Now and then, I thought that giving my will to God would mean that I no longer had to do anything about stuff and could just rest on a flowery bed of ease, waiting for God to move me like a puppet on a string and arrange things for me.

I never have expected God to open up parking places for me, but I did think that if I gave myself to him, he might give me special rates on the hard trips of life.

At times I assumed that giving myself to God would mean that I wouldn’t have to struggle with myself any longer, but that I would just automatically stop being codependent.  I would instantly have deep wisdom and know what to do about everything.  I would not have an inner battle with fear or depression, anger or shame, and that other people in my life would quickly step in line, obviously impressed with my recovery.

What I have discovered is that surrendering my will and my life to God has meant these things and a lot more that I still have to learn:

— I now have access to a power greater than myself who is willing to help me help myself.

— I now have direction to the people, places, opportunities and information that I need to

learn how to live this new life I’ve chosen to live.

— I have access to mercy when I fail.  I have access to grace when I need it.

— I have people come into my life at exactly the right time to be my teacher, my guide, my


— I have access to patience and the ability to keep on keeping on when I think I cannot go

another step.

— I have a feeling of being loved profoundly of who I am and who I am becoming.

— I have a deeper, greater and more prevalent sense of the exquisite beauty of life.

— I have more compassion for others and their struggles because I know how hard it is to

recover from any kind of addiction and any kind of character defect.

— I have more self-compassion and more patience with myself as I try to replace old,

self-defeating habits with new, self-nurturing ones.

— I no longer am attached to my “pie in the sky” idealism; instead, I am able to accept

the complexity of life, the imperfections of life and the mystery of life.

There’s something more, too, about turning my will and my life over to the care of God.

I have a sense of being carried by that Power greater than myself.   I have a sense of the holiness of life — and a sense of God’s presence in everyday, ordinary events.

Singer/songwriter Peter Mayer says it best in this song that always takes my breath away when I remember the long, arduous passage from childhood innocence to adult faith, the long and winding road of recovery and the long, hard walk to freedom.  This song speaks of the holiness of everyday life, one of the gifts of surrender:

When I was a boy each week

On Sunday we would go to church

Pay attention to the Priest

and he would read the Holy word

and consecrate the Holy bread

and everyone would kneel and bow

Today the only difference is

Everything is Holy now



Everything is Holy now

When I was in Sunday School

We would learn about the time

Moses split the sea in two

and Jesus made the water


I remember feeling sad

Miracles don’t happen still

but now I can’t keep track

cause Every things

a Miracle

Everything, Everything,

Every things a Miracle


Wine from water is not so small

but an even better magic trick

is that anything is here at all

Sooo, The challenging thing becomes

Not to look for Miracles

but finding where there

is’nt one

When Holy water was rare at best

It barely wet my fingertips

but now I have to hold my breath

like I’m swimming in a sea of it

It used to be a world half there

Heavens second rate hand me down

but I walk it with a reverent air

cause Everything is Holy now

* * * * *

Taking myself off the throne of my life — giving up having to be god in my life and others — and opening my mind and my heart up to the Mystery of God has infused my life with a sense of love, joy and peace that I never could have imagined while I was refusing to give up control of my life.

Don’t get me wrong.   Under stress, I’m still vulnerable to feeling that I must be in charge, and if the threat is really big, I can go into action on a dime, thinking that it’s all up to me to run the world.  I still have to take myself off the throne of my life, and I have to take others off that throne, as well.  I suppose it — the eternal vigilance — won’t be over until it’s over.

Challenged, I still  may get defensive and try to impose my will on another person.

Angry or anxious, I can slip into one of  Dr. Jung’s complexes in a heartbeat.  Thankfully, I now have the tools for recognizing that I’m in a complex (most of the time) and can work my way out, often with heavy doses of self-compassion and self-soothing.

If I’m hurting or if I am lonely, I’m still vulnerable to the big temptations to slip back into an unconscious state, asleep at the wheel of my life while thinking I’ve got to run my life, and then turning to old behaviors to assuage my pain.

Thanks be to God my Twelve Step sponsor taught me that “it’s progress, not perfection that matters.”

Over and over, though, life hands me the opportunity to return again and again to the stance in life that I have found to be the stance of peace, and that is the surrendered heart and mind.

Over and over, like the prodigal returning home, I can return “home” to the Father’s house, assured that my failures and flaws do not keep the Father from welcoming me home with loving arms, mercy and grace.

And the miracle is that even when life is messy, even when I’ve blown it and gotten off my path, the habit of surrender leads me back to the place where I remember and recognize that everything is holy now.


What about you?

How do you know when you’re clinging to your “my way or else” mode?

When do others’ wills and ways take over your mind and heart and control you?  How does that feel, on any given day?

Complete this sentence:

I’d rather _______________________ than turn my will and my life over to God!

Think about it long and hard before you answer:

To what and to whom do you typically hand over your will, your decisions, your thoughts, your

life, your well-being?

And then answer this:

How’s that working for you?

Book Signing in May 2015

Practicing Resurrection Step Three Part 1

Practicing Resurrection

Step Three:  We made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

“I’m not sure I can do this!” I said to my Twelve Step Sponsor.

I had more than willingly expressed my eagerness to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood him — in general terms.  Coming to this specific issue that I needed to surrender to God was another thing.

Looking back on that early, innocent eagerness, I recall now my childhood experience of inviting Jesus into my heart.  With what childlike trust I had in my parents and with my eagerness to please them and Jesus, I had no problem accepting him as my personal savior, an act that I was told would guarantee me protection from hell and a glorious entrance into heaven.

With all that I knew of myself and all that I knew of God at that nine-year-old point in my life, I gladly gave my life to Jesus.

Now, as an adult with a lifetime of struggle with my own stubborn will, I don’t question that childlike trust, but I do know that I didn’t have a clue on what it was to “follow Jesus” at that time except to do what I had seen my peers do before me and to do what my parents wanted me to do.

Now, sitting with my Twelve Step sponsor, I was pressed to the wall with the need to surrender what I wanted, what I thought I had to have and perhaps could not even live without, I wasn’t so sure about that surrender thing.

It turns out that surrendering to God would not be a one-time event for me, either at nine or at thirty-nine nor now.   I would have many opportunities to do that, some of them more willingly than others.

Nor was surrendering my will to God turning out to make everything nice and easy for me, no matter how sincere I was.   Sometimes I had to let go of the same thing over and over, I’d learned, and sometimes I had to let go of things that were mighty precious to my ego!

“I can’t do it,” I said again, trying to impress on my stubborn sponsor  the impossibility of doing what was being asked of me, which was handing over to God the very thing I valued most in life.

“All you have to do is be willing to be willing,” she said, quietly.

Even now, years later, the memory of the tone of her voice makes me want to weep, for in her voice I heard nothing but tenderness, compassion and her desire for me to be free.   Her words to me were pure love.

I’d chosen well when I chose my sponsor.  She was as stubborn as I was.   She was tough and then, in a moment, the greatest tenderness possible would come from the same voice that, seconds before, had held firm to the program and the next step indicated.

It was from my sponsor that I first heard the words “my self-will run riot”, and nobody had to explain to me what that meant.   I felt some better when I read that the great Christian writer Oswald Chambers had struggled with his own stubborn will.

When my three daughters were young, I lamented to my mother about how strong-willed my little girls were.  She chided me by saying, “Oh, Darling, you should be glad.  They will need  strong will to do whatever they are meant to do in life.”

I had a sense that my parents had supported my own strength, but it was my confrontation with my own stubborn will run riot that had me up against a wall I could not move.

Perhaps it was then that I began to learn the difference between a stubborn will and a strong one, and, even more, I was to begin to learn the difference between a self-will and a surrendered will.

Therein would lie freedom, if only I could learn the important grace of letting go and letting God take over.

This Third Step starts with making a decision.   That decision lies at the crossroads between freedom and slavery.  It is at the crossroads of admitting our lives are in chaos, shambles, disarray and even insanity because of our powerlessness over a lifestyle, an addiction to a substance, persons or an activity and admitting that there is a Power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity and the willingness to do what needs to be done to cooperate with that Power and participate with that Power to move into the state of freedom and grace for which we were made.

Track back to the origin of the word decide and you find that it means to cut, to make the cut, so no wonder some of us tremble a bit when we come up to those moments when we have to make the cut between what has been and what could be or must be.  It is no wonder that making the decision creates fear and anxiety in us!

What if I cannot keep my commitment to my decision?

What if I make the wrong decision?

What if I make this decision and I learn something new that I don’t know now?

What if other people don’t approve of/like/support my decision?

What if I can’t live with my decision?

I suppose it’s when your back is up against the wall that to make a decision can be harder than it’s ever been or easier than it’s ever been.


About 8 weeks ago, I knew that I needed to make another important change in my life.   For too long, I had lived as a compliant or a victim, depending on the situation, to what was going on in my outer world without putting some things that were extremely important to me first in my time management and daily life.

I could have gone on forever, letting other peoples’ schedules and agendas run my life, fitting in what was most important to me as I could.

While this particular decision was not especially of the importance as turning my will and my life over to God, it was something I needed to do if I was going to live out this particular part of my life in the way I knew was best for me.   It wasn’t a moral or ethical decision I needed to make, but a time management decision, and it was that decision that would make the rest of my life work better.   Simply put, my decision was to break an old habit and form a new one, a new one based on putting first things first.

I didn’t have a great deal of confidence in myself, but I did some research on what it takes to form new habits.    I researched on the internet about forming new habits and breaking old ones, and I read The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.  I thought and thought about how I would set myself up for success because I really, really wanted to form a habit that was really important to me, and then I discovered this “movement” called “The Hundred Day Challenge”, and I knew I had found the key for myself.

I had no intentions of telling anyone what I had decided because I was so afraid I would fail and break my commitment to myself, but on the first day I went to my yoga lesson after I had made my decision, I blurted out my decision before I had even unrolled my mat.

It doesn’t matter to me that what I needed to do is easy for some people.  It doesn’t matter to me that I should have made this decision long ago. What mattered to me was that a part of my life was out-of-control and I knew that bringing it back in line was going to make a huge difference in my daily life.  What matters is that keeping my commitment to this 100 Day Challenge is an important piece in my recovery from codependence.

“I’m going to do yoga first thing every morning for 100 Days, ” I told my teacher, and then I added, “and I am going to do my Centering Prayer right afterwards.”

The words literally fell out of my mouth, and I was terrified that I had told her.

Before I could give in to the fear, however, my teacher responded with such a positive affirmation of my decision that for the first time in this process, I felt confidence that I could do what I had set out to do.

Tomorrow is Day Fifty, and I have been amazed, surprised, encouraged and deeply moved by the Power greater than myself that has come from within to help me, energize me and keep me inspired one day at a time.

What I have learned about myself in just these fifty days has amazed me, but more than anything, the help I’ve received just from making the decision brings me to my knees every morning with gratitude and a sense of awe.

It may seem like a little thing, but it isn’t.

This decision and this process follows a lifetime of struggling with my stubborn will to do things my way and on my own timetable.

For the record, I have a list of other parts of my life that I still need to decide to turn over to God, but what I’m learning is the power of taking first things first and keeping it simple.

* * * * *

My friend, mentor, teacher and longtime guide in matters of the soul and heart Father Keith Hosey listened to an update of my life and my struggles on his annual trip to lead a retreat at the Cenacle Retreat Center, here in Houston where I live.

“Learn to say Yes sooner, ” he said to me, and I looked at him with what was surely a puzzled face.

“When God is leading you, say Yes sooner,” he repeated, and then he chuckled.

“You take too long to decide whether it’s going to be God who leads or your own will. Say Yes sooner.”


I’m glad I decided to choose such wise teachers!

What about you?

What decisions are hardest for you to make?

Do you put off making decisions that you know would be good for you or might even save your life?   What are the reasons you give yourself for doing that?

When is a time when you made a decision that you felt was empowered by God, working within you?   What was that like?

When was a time when you made a decision that was against your best interest, against what you believed God was asking of you, out of defiance, out of fear, out of rebellion?   How did that work for you?

In your life, how are deciding, trusting and obeying connected?

What do you fear most about making the wrong decisions?

Do you fear defying God’s guidance, especially when it is a guidance toward sobriety, serenity, courage and peace?

My favorite verse from Deuteronomy 30:19 in  the Old Testament is this:

I have set before you today life and death,

blessing and curse.

Therefore, choose life.

Make a list of the things you choose/decide that bring blessing and life.

Make a list of the things you choose/decide that bring curse and death.

May we all choose well — and choose blessing and life.

Grace to you —


Practicing Resurrection: Step Two Part Three

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

So, what is sanity?

And why does this step say that the Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity?

Does restoration imply that there was a time when we were sane?

Is it easier to define insanity than it is to recognize sanity?

* * * * *

The truth seems to be that our dysfunctional, disabling patterns are so much a part of our daily lives that they feel normal to us, even when we are in deep pain.

That young children will choose to return to an abusive home and even cry for the abusive mommy and daddy is a fact that makes perfect sense because we all long for homeostasis.

 We all like, prefer and seek out that state of being which is familiar to us, and for some of us, chaos is familiar. 

 For others, drunken stupors or highs are the norms.  For workaholics, “home base” is working until you cannot go another step.  Some people don’t feel “right” until they are consumed with fear.  Increasingly, rage, hate and anger are commonplace among persons, so common that those addicted to those feelings states aren’t comfortable until they are whipped up into a state of anger.

I’ve seen a person “lose her mind” when she needs the approval of another person and cannot get it.  I’ve even seen persons who are addicted to being abused, used, mistreated and shamed.

I’ve seen people who don’t feel OK if they aren’t running on fumes.  I’ve known people who get high on the adrenalin rush and almost can’t work unless they are “flying high”, pushing themselves harder and faster and longer than anyone else.

Addiction to any person or persons, activities, feeling states or substances creates insanity, and for those who have lived in those states long enough, sanity is threatening.  Change itself often creates stress, but when you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired of whatever is causing you pain, you’ll do what it takes to restore your sanity.

“Sanity may look different for you than for me,” a friend told me, and I had to agree.  Perhaps, too, chaos that is intolerable for one is tolerable for another.  Many of the words found in the Steps describe conditions that might be on a continuum, or at least they mean different things to different persons:  unmanageable, powerless, coming to believe, Power greater than ourselves, and others.

* * * * *

So it is that I’ve thought a lot about what sanity is, in the context of these Steps and related to what it means to recover from an addiction.

This isn’t a textbook definition, and it isn’t the definitive definition of sanity, but a reflection on what sanity may be, gleaned from my experience, study and on-going recovery from codependency.

It seems to me that sanity is the answer to the Serenity Prayer.  Sanity is  serenity, courage and wisdom, at work in everyday life.

Sanity is living from your own center, from the inside out, instead of being tossed about by whatever is going on in the outer world.

Sanity is peace, and it is living in the moment, fully present to what is.  It is being here and it is being here now.

Sanity is being organized around activities, processes, people and things that create health and wholeness, and not controlled by those factors that disturb, disorient, destroy or keep us attached to our addiction.

Sanity isn’t the absence of conflict, either inner or outer conflict, but it is choosing to be peaceful and serene in the midst of conflict.

Sanity is being able to make healthy choices instead of being in chains to old, unhealthy patterns and choices, victimized by my own inability to choose health over sickness.

Sanity is not passivity, and it certainly isn’t denial.  In fact, authentic recovery leads us to be actively involved in life, our own lives and in our relationships.

Sanity isn’t about avoiding  the truth; instead, it is radical honesty about what we are feeling, thinking, wanting and doing.    That honesty may be spoken, or it may be acknowledged in the privacy of one’s own inner thoughts, but self-honesty is a basic requirement of sanity.

Sanity is a state of being in which what you do matches what you say.   It is a state of inner harmony and integrity, so that what you do in your daily life reflects what is true for you.

Sanity is knowing the True Self that is at your core, and living from that source.

Sanity is being who you are and not who someone else wants you to be.   It is living authentically and in congruence with your natural temperament, gifts and values.

Sanity is much more than this –and I am pretty sure that in recovery we are truly restored to the way we were meant to live in the first place — free from addictions, true to ourselves and who we are intended to be, expressing our gifts and talents that are written into our being and

* * * * *

For years, a poster hung over my bathtub.   It depicted a young woman, dancing on a beach either at sunrise or sunset, with the inscription, “He restores my soul,” from Psalm 23.

Over the years, I pondered that poster and thought a lot about that particular Psalm, one of my favorites from childhood.

More recently, I learned that the word for religion comes from the word religare, which means “to tie back together.”

It seems that all of us need those practices, routines or rituals that will restore our souls and reconnect us to ourselves and to our Higher Power.

I’ve written about those spiritual practices in my book Dance Lessons:  Moving to the Beat of God’s Heart.   I wrote about them because I have learned that the regular and habitual practice of particular disciplines is as necessary to my life as breath is to my physical body.

I must have the daily practice of Centering Prayer or some other form of meditation.

I must have regular Sabbath rest, a degree of solitude and enough silence to hear the still, small whispers of God’s grace.

It is necessary for me to have physical exercise, regular sleep and enough of it, good nutrition and plenty of hydration to keep my body healthy.

I need to feed my mind nourishing and challenging intellectual food, and I take seriously the spiritual discipline of friendship.

Gathering with my family of faith, living fully within that community in such a way that we give support, nurture, comfort and care to each other is vital to my spiritual well-being.

I take seriously the spiritual practice of having fun, laughing deeply and often and, when it is time to mourn, weeping for that which I’ve lost.   “Tears are the body’s way of praying,” my friend and teacher Keith Hosey told me, and I know he is right.

In the last three years, walking the labyrinth has become a vital part of my life, my prayers and my efforts to live the Serenity Prayer.

You can’t force a spiritual experience and you cannot manufacture sanity, serenity or peace, but with a consistent spiritual practice, you make yourself available for an encounter with God.

What about you?

What does sanity look like for you?

How do you put yourself in a position to receive restoration of your soul?

How long has it been since you have simply sat in the silence, being fully present to your breath and to the sounds of silence?

What keeps you from doing that?

What helps you stay centered?

Who gives you support to live the benefits of the Serenity Prayer?

Grace to you–


Practicing Resurrection: Step Two Part Two

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

So, what about this “Power” that is greater than myself?

And how does one come to believe in that power?

Are they talking about…..God?

I know that people in recovery groups often talk about “not-God”, and I think I have an experiential understanding of just what it is to make what is not-God into a god.

Like most human beings, I know what it is like to put activities, people or substances in a position in my life that belongs only to God and wind up serving that which demands more and more of my attention, energy and finally, my life — to my detriment.

Now and then, it is important for me to think about how much power I have given to things which are “not-God”, also known as idols.

other people

other peoples’ needs

other peoples’ opinions

other peoples’ feelings

other peoples’ approval

other peoples’ preferences

other peoples’ bad moods

other peoples’ schedules, agendas, etc.

It works like this:  Instead of consulting my own needs, wants, etc., I am more tuned in to what other people are needing or wanting, or what I think that they want or need, thereby giving other people authority over my life, which includes my choices, my feelings, my schedule.

Instead of following my own Inner Guidance System or following what I know of God,  I allow another’s guidance to overtake mine, even if it means that I do something I know is wrong for me, go along with something I don’t believe in or concede to a decision that is counter to my best interest.

When I do that, I’m in the throes (stranglehold, grips, iron bars) of codependency.  I’m not thinking clearly.  I’m not choosing wisely.  I am giving away my personal power, and I’m likely going to be full of resentment when I wake up out of my codependent fog and realize that “I’ve done that thing one more time” that I said I wasn’t going to do.

There are other things which are “not-God”, to which we bow in worship, often unconsciously, sometimes deliberately and usually with a full-blown rationale for why it is the right thing for us to do.

Here are four “not-Gods” that we treat as gods, with great justification:


caretaking of others


doing good works

These idols are tricky because they make us look so good.

The problem with those idols is that we get so much reward for serving them well, and if you happen to be in a relationship with someone who makes one of those four good things his god, you may feel guilty if you feel resentful or angry toward the way that person choose to spend his time.

The problem with recovering from our addiction to work (It’s called workaholism) or people-pleasing and care-taking of others is that when we begin to take care of ourselves, set healthy boundaries and bring our lives back into balance, other people may not like it.  They may, in fact, get really, really angry at us, and they may even punish us or leave us.

I have made up my mind that it is enough of a burden for me to serve what Carl Jung called “the complexes” that belong to me without also being forced, manipulated or seduced into serving other peoples’ complexes.

There is a another “class” of activities we humans turn into idols, activities that, in some peoples’ lives, are not addictions.   In others’, addiction to gambling, shopping, gaming, watching television all lead to a life half-lived.  The inability to stop doing those things that steal your time, your money and your best energies is an addiction that can destroy relationships, careers and health as surely as an addiction to a drug can.  Sex and love addiction and the addiction to power and control reveal a mis-guided dependence on those behaviors that are intended to bless us and give us meaning and joy.

It is also possible to turn substances into idols, and those gods — alcohol, drugs, food — can become such dominating and dominate gods in our lives that we live for the next meal, the next fix, the next drink and miss out on the best parts of life.

* * * * *

All of those idols I’ve listed, and more, are one thing, but the hardest idol of all to knock from its throne is the tendency of all of us to believe that we are lord and master of our own lives.

We can create our own reality, we’re told, especially by gurus who make millions of dollars with that seduction.

We can chart our own courses in life, we are told by people who have something to sell or want you to be a salesperson for their product.   We are the masters of our ships and the shapers of our own destiny, and while there is some truth in that and while I believe in goal-setting and working for your goals, the truth is that no one of us has control over other forces that impinge on our daily lives.   Such audacity reminds me of a poster I saw when I was in college:

The only thing you need to know about God is that you ain’t he.

In Greek mythology, the one thing the gods won’t tolerate is human hubris, which is the tendency of us humans to believe that we know best or that we can write the rules of life.  That arrogance leads us to think that the same rules that apply to the rest of the human race don’t apply to us and that we can ignore the laws of nature and get by with it.

* * * * *

There came a day, then, when I came to believe — with a whack on the head — that there is a God bigger, greater, wiser, smarter and more magnificent than I am.

Repeatedly, then, from that first encounter with the grandness of the real God, the creator of the universe, the source of all that is and the dynamic life-giving energy that pulsates throughout all of creation, I have come face-to-face with the reality that God really is bigger than

my imagination

my ability to force things to conform to my way

my understanding or knowledge

my willfulness

my cunning

my street-smarts or common sense

my connections to power sources

my family name or reputation

my accomplishments

my acquisitions

my achievements

the biggest bank account in the world

the loftiest seat of power, prestige or position

the longest resume

the most degrees

the biggest honors

and all other things I have tried to solve my problems and all other things on which I have  relied for my happiness, security and meaning.

I’ve often said that the recovery is akin to the ash heap on which the biblical character Job had to sit in order to “recover” from his old ways of thinking and be reborn into a new way of life, which included, primarily, a new relationship with the Almighty.

I love Job 38-41 when, after all of the yammering of Job’s friends, God says, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me,”  (Job 38:3) and then goes on to ask in vs. 4, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?”

For four chapters — and God only knows how long that interrogation  actually took! — God questions Job about the creation of the world, essentially putting Job in his place with a firm and unrelenting confrontation with the reality that it is the Creator of the whole world who ultimately wins.

Here’s the good news:  I believe in the God of unconditional love, and I believe that in the end of all things that concern me and all things in the universe, God and his love win.

We live, however, in the meantime, and sometimes that interim time is mean, especially when we get confused and think that we are God and that God answers to us.

My gosh!  I want a God who is greater than I am, don’t you?

(Here’s the rub:  When your God-concept is anything other than Unconditional Love – or if your God-concept is a Cosmic Bellhop, Santa Claus, a County Sheriff, a Judge and Jury or a kindly old grandfather who will look the other way when you’re in your addictions, you’ll probably just as soon go along with a god-concept that looks a whole lot like you!)

Ponder this:   What do you think it means to believe in a “God greater than yourself”?

Does that scare you or make you feel hopeful?

Which of the gods that you serve causes you the most trouble?

Have you noticed that the small gods, like those I listed above and more, always demand more and more of you and give less and less back to you?

Where did you get your God-image?  Have you updated it since childhood?

Does your image of God include a God who can help you let go of your dependencies and addictions to the lesser gods and live into the fullness of life intended for a person made in the very image of God?

What does your dependence on little gods have to do with your ability to trust in the God of the universe?

Does your God-image look anything like your earliest caregivers or authority figures?

“I don’t believe in God,” persons sometimes tell me.

“Tell me about that God you don’t believe in,” I respond.  “I probably don’t believe in that God, either.”

Then again, sometimes I tell people who are enslaved to a God-image that is beating them up, “You need to fire that God.  That God isn’t serving you well.  You need a new God-image.”

As for me, I’m not likely to be able to go very far with a God I can’t trust.

Let me know what you think.

Grace to you —


(I wrote a lot about the God-image in my books Sitting Strong:  Wrestling With the Ornery God and Joint Venture: Practical Spirituality for Everyday Pilgrims.  You might want to check them out, if you are interested.)

Practicing Resurrection: Step Two Part One

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

The story of the Prodigal Son  pivots on the moment when the son who had wasted his inheritance on fast living and winds up in a pig pen, dirty, hungry and broke.

The biblical narrative states that he “came to his senses” with the disgust of his plight, realizes the servants in his father’s house are better off than he is and makes a decision to return home, but as a servant.*

It’s that “come to your senses” moment that is the same thing as “coming to believe” in the second step that is pivotal for any one of us who is caught in the grips of an addiction to a substance, a behavior or pattern of behaviors, or a person.

Coming to your senses is the beginning point of recovery.   It is when you realize that you were intended for better or more than “this”, whatever “this might be.

It is that moment of waking up to yourself and the cry of your own heart for freedom from whatever is enslaving you and freedom for a life of love, joy and peace.  Coming to your senses is a turning point which, later, you will look back on and mark as the time as a reference point for “before recovery” and “after recovery.”

I have learned, however, that while there may be one big turning point that towers over the rest of your life, there can be many moments in the process of growing toward wholeness when all of a sudden, out of the blue, you have yet another awakening that opens up another new process of discovery on the journey.  In fact, every morning there is that moment when we pull up out of the night’s journey and come to our senses once again, and with that awakening is the choice to live the 24 hours that stretch before you one way or another.

When I was a child, I was taught that if I would “give my heart to Christ”, I would go to heaven when I died.   In my tradition, that decision was called “being saved”, and with that decision, I must have assumed that

— the decision I’d made meant I should have an easier life than those who hadn’t given

their hearts to Christ

— if I followed the rules, as they were laid out to me by my parents, teachers and peer

group,  I would be rewarded in proportion to my obedience to the rules.

— if, when things weren’t working like I expected, I would work harder, longer and more

fervently, I would finally get my reward as I expected.

I can’t blame my teachers for what my child’s mind assumed, though I have realized through the years that I’m not the only one who made that assumption.  What I did not know at the time was that salvation is both event and process.  Salvation  is about becoming whole, which probably takes all a lifetime.

What I did not know when I was a child was that “being saved” might be about the afterlife, but it is also about the quality of life here and now.  It is about relationships now.  It is about personal love, joy and peace in the present moment.  It is about how you treat your own body, your own life, other people and the earth while you’re living on this plane.

What I have learned since I was first introduced to the Twelve Steps is that “coming to believe” is about waking up to the one wild and precious life I have been given now and taking responsibility for my personal emotional, physical, intellectual, financial and relational well-being now.

From the vantage point of today’s challenges, I can look back on that moment when I first heard my sponsor speak the words “We came to believe….” and realize that in that moment, the quality of my life was about to change radically.

Coming to believe, for me, means an awakening to the reality of faith – faith, as a verb.

Coming to believe, for me, means that I wake up to the power of love.

Coming to believe means that I begin the journey of recovery, a journey that is a way of life for the rest of my life.

Coming to believe begins with the oft-repeated affirmation of radical hope:  Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

Coming to believe is the activation of the life-force within me, a force that can lead me from within to the places, people, situations, teachers, books, experiences that  will become the rich mix of resources that will shape my future.

Coming to believe is the beginning of growing up, no matter how old you are.  It is the beginning of owning one’s own power. taking authority of your own life and beginning the laborious agony and ecstasy of becoming whole.

* * * * *

It amuses me greatly that there is debate about what it is that starts the process of labor and delivery for a human being, but it seems that there is some hormone that trips the switch to set the birth process in motion.   Some people who know a lot about such things have told me that the suspicion is that it starts with the baby.

There seems to be something in us human beings that trips the switch of belief in a Power greater than ourselves, a belief that is strong enough to wake us up and propel us out onto a journey toward wholeness, sobriety, serenity, courage and wisdom.

It sometimes takes hitting a low bottom to activate the process of the new birth, but once it is activated, all kinds of forces seem to go to work to help us move out of the pit of addiction and into the freedom of life.

For me, it all started when there were four things in my life that I could not change, things that were so out of my power of control that nothing I tried worked.

I wasn’t smart enough to change those four things.

I wasn’t rich enough, pretty enough, crafty or cunning enough.

I wasn’t strong enough, powerful enough or well-connected enough to change those

things I could not change.

Nothing that used to work for me worked any longer.

Nothing I had tried before made any difference, and the more I tried, the more I ground myself down into a hole of despair and failure in some of the parts of life that meant most to me.  As a practicing co-dependent, I was up against the will of other people, which was not my responsibility to change.  I was up against, the realities of life over which I had no control, no matter how hard I tried.

Nothing worked, but it was that hard, painful, humiliating admission that I was powerless over my four Big Problems that finally brought me to admitting that by my continued attempts to try to change the things I could not change, I was making my life harder and myself more miserable.

That big admission – that I was powerless over other people and those particular circumstances – somehow turned my switch on to a journey that would change my life.

Thanks be to God for those four problems that, like the story of the four friends who took their paralyzed friend to Jesus on a mat, took me to the feet of the Healer who knew just what to do and how to do it.

First, that Healer had to light the candle of belief within me bright enough to help me see the first step I needed to take to walk myself out of the darkness I was in.

What about you?

Have you hit bottom, using your well-used ways and means that no longer work for you?

Have you had your turn in a pigpen?   What was your pigpen like?

Are you still resisting letting go of what has worked in the past, but no longer works?

Or, have you had that “turning-point moment” when you came to your senses and came to belief?   What was that like for you?

Do you still think that what you have always believed is going to work for you this time, if only other people will straighten up and do what you want them to do?

Or, has something happened in your life to make you willing to examine your childhood beliefs, most of which may be unconscious to you, so that you can decide what is not adequate for today’s challenges?

Do you still cling to your self-defeating ways simply because you are too afraid to let go of them?

Or, have you come to the end of your ability to make life work, based on what you have already tried, and yet you have a faint sense that there is something greater, higher, more healthy that is possible for you?

Years ago, when I couldn’t let go of a particular habit, my sponsor said to me, “Sometimes, when we can’t let go and can’t even pray to be able to let go, we have to start with being willing to be willing to let go.”

Being willing to be willing is often all it takes to trip the switch of belief and possibility.

Grace to you,


Practicing Resurrection Step One

We admitted we were powerless over _______, and our lives had become unmanageable.

I’ve been browsing the web tonight, doing some research on the Jewish symbol “chai”, shown below, which means “life”

Since I first saw the movie “Fiddler on the Roof”, I have loved the boisterous song, “To Life!, and in my researching tonight, I began to discover why.  The chai symbol and the toast, l’chaim”, reflect the emphasis on life and the celebration of life as a central theme in Judaism.

Indeed, even the laws of Judaism are given and to be followed to preserve and protect life itself.

So, what does this have to do with Step One of the Twelve Steps?

A lot, it seems to me, and I want to make the connection between this ancient Jewish symbol and the idea of the preservation of life and the last part of the first step, the part that states “and our lives have become unmanageable.”

When I first heard the name God, I assumed that everyone had the same understanding of God that I had.  (There will be more about this in Steps Two and Three.)

And for years, I thought I knew what it meant for one’s life to become unmanageable.

Now I know that both assumptions were incredibly shallow.

When one’s life is unmanageable, I believed, he or she has become hopelessly in the throes of his addiction to alcohol, drugs, or whatever other substance, practice or person is in the driver’s seat of one’s life.   Most likely, the severity of that addiction has led to the loss of one’s family, one’s job or one’s health.

That is what I was told, and I believed and accepted it.

That easy believism didn’t do much for my need to face the facts about the kind of havoc my codependency was wreaking on the lives of my loved ones.   It didn’t help me recognize my “unmanageable life” and its rough places because I could always point to the extreme unmanageability of losing your family, your job or your health and say, “I’m not there yet; I still have all of those things that are so important to me.”

(Comparing oneself to another person, either or up down, is pretty much always a bad trip to take.  The truth is that I can always make myself feel better by comparing myself to someone whose life is obviously a wreck, and I can always make myself feel worse by comparing myself to someone who has her life, seemingly, in such a state that she can manage it.  Either judging myself up or down, I can avoid seeing my own mess or I can keep myself down by comparing my insides to another’s outside.)

A life that is unmanageable can look like this:

— a deep well of self-hate or self-doubt that hides behind a neurotic drive to success

— trying to be what other people want to the degree that you lose your own sense of the purpose

for your own one wild and precious life

— being tuned in to caretaking and others’ needs, wants and moods to the degree that you lose

touch with what you need, want and feel

— making a habit of giving up your agenda for the day to take on another’s crisis

— allowing other peoples’ moods to control how you feel

— soothing your own discomfort in life with distractions that harm you, such as excessive

shopping and spending

— quaking before your own life challenges and avoiding meeting them by sabotaging your

goals and desires and taking up the success of another as your life’s purpose

— distracting yourself from your life’s mission and purpose by wasting time, frittering away

your opportunities and avoiding your responsibility for your life

— allowing other people to control you

— controlling other people to the extent that you create conflict, disharmony and resentment

— lying when the truth is easier

— making a habit of making excuses for why you can’t do what you say you want to do (In some

circles it’s called a “loser’s limp”)

— making a habit of playing the victim, all in an attempt to avoid rising to the occasion of living

your own wild and precious life

— criticizing other people as a defense against facing your own character defect

— being so heavenly that you are of no earthly good – and so people avoid you

— abusing your body by working too hard, eating too much, not getting enough sleep and

not getting exercise, all of which generally lead to illness or health crises

— neglecting facing your own character defect until it not only causes trouble for others, but

becomes so strong a force in your daily life that you, too, are miserable

I’m sure you can add to the list, but the general rule of thumb , as I see it, is that unmanageability has some common traits among all human beings, but each of us has our own tipping point when we say, “I have to do something; I cannot stand this any longer.”

That is when life can begin anew – When you know that, by your own definition, your life is unmanageable, it is the first day of the rest of your life.


The truth is that I have reached that point of recognizing and admitting that my life has become unmanageable more than once.

I’ve had to face those moments when the actions or habits I have maintained have led me to a place that I don’t want to be in relationship, in personal health issues, in the management of daily life, and when I am at that place, I also have to admit that I got there because I had avoided, neglected, ignored or simply rebelled against the laws of life that govern everyone else.

In general, we all get to the destination that is at the end of the line of the train we have boarded.

So it is that the “life principle”, represented by the Chai symbol, has come to mean a lot to me.

It represents the reality that God intends for us to live our lives fully, and that to do that, there are certain principles, laws of nature and practices that I must follow in order to have the fullness of life that I want.

Many years ago, a friend of mine told me about her journey out of the darkness of addiction to alcohol and her struggles to stay sober.  I knew that this person had an unusual grace and peace that emanated from her, but I had no idea how desperately she had fought for her own life or how fiercely she worked to preserve her life and her sobriety.

“I am 100% responsible for my sobriety,” she told me.  “What that means is that I must oversee every part of my life.  I have to have the right nutrition, sufficient rest and daily exercise.  I have to be with the kind of people who support healthy living in their own lives, and that means I cannot be around negative people.”

She paused for a moment or two, and then she said, “I have to be with people who are choosing life, and not death.”

In that moment, I had two responses.   I knew that I had much to learn from this person who now radiated joy and grace, life and love.   I also was profoundly grateful that she was choosing to be with me.

And in that moment, I made a decision that I want to be the kind of person whose words and actions are life-giving and full of hope not only for others, but I want to be that kind of person for myself!

I want to claim the life principle in daily life, and that means that I must face the places in my daily life where stuff is unmanageable – my surroundings, my schedule, my moods, my physical state of being, my priorities – and do an on-going assessment to make sure that I have the humility to take on only what is mine to take on, and let the rest go.  I must make sure that I mind my own business and stay out of others’ affairs, except when asked and then, with fear and trembling and caution.

For my entire adult life, I have been guided by the words of wisdom from God to the Hebrew people and recorded in Deuteronomy 30:19:

I have set before you today life and death

blessing and curse:

therefore, choose life.

What about you?

What is your definition of “unmanageable”, as it pertains to your life?

Do you ever try to meddle in others’ unmanageable lives?   How does that work for you?

In what areas of life do you tend to drift into unmanageable situations or conditions?

What strategies do you have for setting order back in your life?

Do you tend to get pushed off-balance by others’ demands, or by your own choices?

When you are off-balance, how do you soothe yourself?    Does that help the imbalance?

What makes your life manageable?

Who helps you keep life manageable, and who makes it hard for you to do?

Where are you most vulnerable in slipping into unmanageability –

in health habits?

in emotional turmoil?

in financial situation?

in managing your anger?

in conflicts with others?

in taking on more than you can do?

in taking on what doesn’t belong to you?

in neglecting to manage your own inner life?

Tonight, as I write this, I think of those of you who read this blog and comment on it, those I do know and those I do not know, and in my mind, I’m making a toast to you all:  l’chaim!

To life!

To life and all of its fullness!

Grace to you – always –


Practicing Resurrection: Introduction 2

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.

(Philippians 2:12)

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 –


Practicing Resurrection – Introduction

God uses us to help each other,

lending our minds out.

It was poet Robert Browning who penned those words, and when I quote those lines, I add that God also uses our hearts, our hands, our feet, our checkbooks and our acquired wisdom along the way.

God knows, I need all the help I can get.

God knows that it’s good for me to help others, too.

Nowhere does Browning’s line apply more aptly than in the healing work that goes on among the fellowship of recovering people who are working the Twelve Steps.

Now and then, life has a way of inviting me back to the Twelve Steps.   I wish I could say that I go gladly and eagerly, but the truth is that it is usually a new challenge that pushes me back to a program of recovery that works for me.

(Please know that the word “challenge” in the above paragraph is a euphemism.)

It’s been over four decades since I was first introduced to the Twelve Steps by a friend who had found Al-Anon, pushed there by tragedy and heartache.   She brought the Steps to my house, insisting that I could not tell anyone that I had seen them, for the “anonymous” part of the program of recovery was vital.   She was so insistent on my protection of the anonymity of the program, in fact, that she wasn’t going to let me copy the steps.

However, I instantly felt a resonance with the Steps, and I knew that I had to have a copy of them.    We argued, mildly, but I was as insistent about having the Steps for myself as she was insistent that they belonged only to those in Alcoholics Anonymous.  Finally my friend relented, but I had to promise that I would never tell anyone where I had gotten them.

My friend didn’t think I needed those Steps since substance abuse wasn’t  a problem for me or a family member.   What I saw, however, was that in the declaration of the very first First Step, which declares a powerlessness over alcohol, you could substitute any number of things over which you could be powerless – emotions, relationships, people, habits, behaviors.  Whether my friend initially saw my point or whether I wore her down, I don’t know, but that event changed my life.

So it was that I took those Steps and began to “work” the program every day while my infant daughter napped.

How could my friend and I have known that there would come a time when the Twelve Steps were available for everyone, anywhere?

Google the two words, “Twelve Steps”, and then step back to be amazed at what you can find on the internet!

Who could have imagined that in only a few years, the term “codependency” would be coined to express and define a condition that could taint and torture human relationships?

Who could have foreseen a time when something like “work addiction” would send a person into treatment?   And how did people determine the guidelines for something called “love addiction”?

Who could have imagined that there would be a time when the “recovery” section of any large bookstore would include many shelves of books addressing the issues of addiction to work or love?

Who first used the term “religious addict”, anyway, and what is the line between a healthy or toxic relationship with work, religion or relationships?

My friend finally took me to meet with some of her friends who were in Al-Anon, but I had to promise that I would not divulge that the friends were members of Al-Anon.  I wanted to meet them and talk with them enough that nothing could have made me break my friend’s trust or theirs.   Later, I finally found a sponsor who would work with me, week by week, unpacking the truth of the Steps for my life.

My sponsor, a recovering alcoholic, often lamented that it was easier to work with a drunk, as she put it, than with me – for my “gods” were other people, and serving those gods and serving the god of “good works” is an addiction for which people get rewarded.

I’ve said on this website and publically that my spirituality and spiritual practices rest on a four-legged stool, and that one of the legs is the Twelve Steps, originally intended for Alcoholics Anonymous.   I am forever indebted to what is called “the program” for providing me the tools and a process of discovering serenity, courage and wisdom.

How could I ever have known, starting out, how important the Serenity Prayer would be in my life, or how much I would rely on the slogans of recovering people, such as  “First Things First,” “Keep It Simple” and “Let Go and Let God” in daily life and in crisis?  How many times have I reminded myself to “do the next thing indicated”?

I’ve learned a lot, working the Twelve Steps over a lifetime, and part of what I have learned is that no plan is perfect, including the Steps. Being a fundamentalist about the Steps is as counterproductive to me as being a fundamentalist in my religious life.  The Steps, like doctrine, point the way to the Source and are not, in and of themselves, the Source, and it is important for me to know that and say it.

You won’t find me saying that the Steps or my ways of practicing my religion are the only ways in which people find their way to wholeness or to God.  However, the Steps have worked well for me, and so it is that I return to them now.

Perhaps the process, written on this blog over the next several weeks, might be meaningful to some of you.

I hope that if it is, you’ll come along, responding if and how and when something resonates within your own life.

In my book on suffering, Sitting Strong: Wrestling with the Ornery God, I wrote that recovery can be compared to the ash heap on which the Old Testament character Job sat, wrestling with his old image of God and a new understanding that was being born within him, an image of God who didn’t demand sacrifices and good deeds so much as God whose presence was within.

It was in that book that I defined different kinds of “Job experiences” and explored the idea of  suffering as “standing under something until you can understand it”.   I posited the idea that we are to carry that which is ours to carry – a sorrow, a tragedy, a character defect, an experience – until we wrest the meaning of that thing which has brought us to our knees or knocked us on our faces.  The recovery process is very much a Job experience, and in working the program, we carry our own process, standing under that which is hard and unmanageable until we understand it — and in doing so, we are transformed.

When I was introduced to the Twelve Steps on that long-ago day, I knew instinctively, intuitively and immediately that the Steps were biblical, and because of my belief system and my own personal values, that was important to me then, and it is now.   It was important to me that the Steps work harmoniously and with integrity with my own Christian faith, which is vitally meaningful and important to me.

I knew in my heart that the Steps were life-giving and in these years of working and teaching the Steps, I have learned that they provide a way in which the mystery of the Living Christ can do for us what Jesus did when he healed, transformed, liberated and empowered persons whom he encountered in his earthly ministry.

So it was that I stepped out on a lifetime journey, knowing at a deep level that the Steps were a sure path, a trustworthy process and a way to do what poet Wendell Berry says when he suggests that we “practice resurrection.”

In the Introduction to Breathing Under Water, Richard Rohr writes these words, words he calls “counterintuitive wisdom”:

We suffer to get well.

We surrender to win.

We die to live.

We give it away to keep it.

 I  entitle the series “Practicing Resurrection”, borrowing a challenge from one of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry, in his poem by that name.

What about you?

Are you curious about the Twelve Steps, or are you committed to them?

Have you been drawn to them before, or are you cautious about them?

Are you sick and tired of some of your own counterproductive or self-destructive habits?

Are you weary of your own character defect?

Is someone else’s character defect, unacknowledged and untreated, wearing you down?

I have some friends who have been turned off by recovery programs, and I have friends who have been turned off by church.  Perhaps you are one of those.  If so, I understand being turned off by zealots or by people who can talk the talk, but can’t walk the walk.

Perhaps, though, there are some of you who, like I, periodically run or drift or fall into something that qualifies as “that thing (person, habit, circumstance) I cannot change” and are struggling to get up and go again, one day at a time.

Perhaps there are some of you who might be curious about what life might look like if you figured out how to practice resurrection.

If so, I invite you to join me in this exploration of the Twelve Steps.  It may take twelve weeks, but I’m guessing it will take longer.

However long it takes, I hope to learn more and more about what it means to practice resurrection.

And I think that practicing resurrection has a whole lot to do with living in a state of grace.

For now, then, and always….grace to you –