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,