Recovery Room: Desire’s Siren

Welcome to the Recovery Room. Today, I’m writing on the process of recovery from any-old dependency at A Deeper Story. Will you join me? And for more Recovery Room pieces, follow this link.

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At 4:00 in the morning on September 21st, 2014, I passed the mile-marker—it had been one year since I took my last drink.

As writers are prone to do, I sat in on oversized chair on the morning of the 21st, and considered the occasion. I’ve made a great deal of progress over the past year. I’ve learned to identify the anxieties that trigger my desire to drink—family illness, career stress, church cynicism. I’ve learned to confront those anxieties head-on, learned to sit in them and ask that a good and abiding God would meet me and speak quiet truth. I’ve learned to avoid numbing discomfort with liquor.

I reflected on these things, and along with a sense of accomplishment, pride began to well up. With this pride came creeping notions.

Maybe I’m strong enough to handle a drink now.

Certainly I know the tricks to stop at one glass of whiskey.

If I’m not drinking to numb the pain, then what’s the harm in a drink?

I could slip across the street and buy just one forty ounce beer; no one would have to know.

Continue reading at A Deeper Story.

 

*Photo by Michael Johnson, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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Recovery Room: Approval Addiction (A Guest Post by Jennifer Dukes Lee)

Welcome to the Recovery Room.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: we’re all recovering from something. Maybe it’s booze, pills, sex, eating, puking, exercise, theology, or trumped up religiosity. Maybe it’s material, power, or the need to be seen as competent. We push pain back with our vices of choice, don’t we? Be honest.

Allow me to introduce you to Jennifer Dukes Lee, my friend who enters the Recovery Room and confesses that she is an approval addict. JDL is a published author who’s pushing into her own recovery with a rare authenticity. Enjoy her story, then head over to her site for more.

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I feel an old anxiety rising up in me, as I tap at these computer keys.

Maybe this is how a recovering alcoholic would feel if she walked into a dimly lit tavern, where ice cubes clink against glass and the bartender counts out the glug-glug-glugs from a tipped bottle.

Someone else will have to tell me if I’m right—if this is how a recovering alcoholic would feel in a bar. (And maybe it all depends on the day.)

I can’t say for sure, because booze isn’t my vice.

Your approval is.

Let me tell what I’m feeling as I step inside, leaning my back against a wood-paneled wall illuminated by a collage of neon signs. I can already taste it, how badly I want it: Your approval and acceptance. I know how it feels on the way down—like a familiar, comfortable burn to appease my inner addict, my inner pain.

I have a two-faced heart: I both want what I want, and yet I don’t want it at all.

All the world’s a tavern, it seems, and maybe we’re all thirsty for something that we know won’t do us any good.

I don’t belly up to this bar for a whiskey. I don’t pay much attention to whether they’re serving IPAs or Pabst. I’m paying attention to the faces. Your faces. Who’s in this room today? And does what I have to say make me worth listening to?
I see you, and I wonder if you will swivel in your seats to see me. They call it “being known” these days.

I’m not proud to admit how often I have wanted to “be known.” I’ve wanted to make a good impression, especially around smart folks like you.

I’ve been coming clean from that, and God knows it hasn’t been easy. Dying daily never is. Maybe it’s the way someone comes clean from alcohol dependency, one day at a time. It’s both painful and exhilarating—like you’re breathing air into your lungs for the first time in your life.

It’s how a daily death makes you more alive.

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My friend, Seth, and I have been talking about that—about how recovery is universal.

Recovery isn’t just for the drinkers and the users.

It’s for me.

Let me tell you what I’ve been recovering from:

Let’s say my heart was a beer stein or a wine glass. I’ve spent a lot of my life holding the heart-cup out to people like you, hoping you’d fill it by telling me that I’m kind, that I’m smart, that I’ve got something important to say. That I matter.

I want you to say good things about me when the saloon doors swing closed behind me after I leave. (But I assume the worst.)

I have figured your good words would save me from my inner addict—the one who has feared rejection, of being “found out,” and of assuming that I don’t really belong in whatever room I’ve been invited into. I’ve been a poster child of “imposter syndrome.”

After years of imposter living, a person can barely tell where the mask stops and the skin starts. And it can take a good long while to find the “real you” again.

I’m in the middle of finding me.

I’m in the middle of my do-over.

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The other day, Seth wished us all a Happy Easter from The Recovery Room. I smiled a knowing smile.

Because every morning is Easter morning where I live. Easter is how I live in the tavern of this world, and still function without asking for another glass of whatever I think will numb the ache.

I don’t need to numb the ache. I need to understand the ache. I need to feel the ache, and then ask God to help me deal with it. Every day, I ask myself hard questions, like the ones the Apostle Paul asked: “Am I now trying to win the approval of man, or of God? Or am I still trying to please man?”

I used to think that I’d wake up some day and then it would be gone. Poof! I wouldn’t want your approval anymore.

But my recovery? It’s ongoing. I have learned that I am in the constant process of coming clean. I am caught between who I once was, and who I will be.

I’m learning not to resent the process, because my recovery makes me needy for Jesus, needy for Easter.

In my childhood church, we sang this song throughout the Lenten season: “Every morning is Easter morning from now. Every day’s Resurrection Day the past is over and gone.”

I want to live every morning like it’s Easter morning, like a fresh coming-alive. I also want to live like it’s Good Friday, because I have to die to live.

The world has never known another god like this—a God who loves sinners, who says, “I’m giving you a do-over.”

The same God will say the very same thing tomorrow. Isn’t that something?

In my recovery, I need a God like that.

And thanks be to Jesus, I have one.

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JDL HeadshotJennifer Dukes Lee is the author of Love Idol, a book that chronicles her own story of recovery. The book helps people dismantle what’s separating them from true connection with God and experience the freedom of a life lived in authentic love.

Photo by Seth Anderson, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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If you haven’t heard the BIG NEWS yet, sign up for the Seth Haines’ Tiny Letter: A Compendium of Projects, People, Places, and Things. The Tiny Letter is a personal newsletter sent to subscribers once (sometimes twice) a month, and it highlights my personal projects, a few good folks, the places I go, and the things I like. The inaugural edition–the newsletter containing the BIG NEWS–has already been sent, but if you sign up for the newsletter, I’ll forward you a copy!

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Best Books for Business: Wendell Berry’s Collected Poems

The following is an excerpt from my most recent piece of The High Calling:

In the real world, the market functions to maximize profit, and sometimes operational principles affect real people. In the real world, dollars and cents are often the measure of greatness, not the integrity of the process. In the real world, all of those business books offering the keys to success fall just a little short in one regard—they tend to focus on monetary success without regard to neighbors, nature, and quality of life.

It’s true: each of those books prepared me a little more for my life as an American businessman—they taught me to consider costs, to identify bottlenecks, and to effectively communicate organizational goals. For that I’m grateful. But where these books fell short, I found a supplement: Wendell Berry’s Collected Poems: 1957-1982.

You can read the piece in its entirety by following the link. Won’t you join me?

 

Featured image by Adam Wilson. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.

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If you haven’t heard the BIG NEWS yet, sign up for the Seth Haines’ Tiny Letter: A Compendium of Projects, People, Places, and Things. The Tiny Letter is a personal newsletter sent to subscribers once (sometimes twice) a month, and it highlights my personal projects, a few good folks, the places I go, and the things I like. The inaugural edition–the newsletter containing the BIG NEWS–has already been sent, but if you sign up for the newsletter, I’ll forward you a copy!

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Recovery Room: An Anniversary of Inner Sobriety

On Sunday, September 21, I will celebrate my first anniversary of sobriety. I suppose some see their sobriety anniversary as a sort of birthday, an event worthy of candles, party poppers, and groovy house music (all things of which I am decidedly for). I’m choosing a different analogue, though; I’m choosing to celebrate Sunday as my own personal Easter. That being the case, this week constitutes the consummation of a personal Lent, a season of reflecting on the death of addiction and the resurrection to new life.

Though it may seem counterintuitive at first, I have not centered my reflection in the celebration of being drink-free. Instead, I’ve turned inward, beyond the obvious point of celebration. I’ve examined the condition of my inner sobriety, asking whether I’ve dealt with the things that led me to over-imbibe in the first place.

Mr. Webster defines sobriety a number of ways, including the way in which it is most colloquially understood—“not addicted to intoxicating drink.” And though that is certainly one aspect of sobriety (often the most difficult to accomplish), if we stopped there, the quality of our sobriety would be judged by our ability to modify behavior. We are more than Pavlov’s dogs, though, more than animals to be trained.

When one practices sobriety through the lens of the Gospel, one is reminded that that Jesus didn’t come to prod us toward behavior modification. He didn’t preach white-knuckle accomplishment or celebration of right behavior at the expense of the heart. In fact, the primary focus of his teaching was on the heart of the inner man. Consider his examination of adultery, how it was not centered on the act itself, but rather on the lust of the inner man. “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he said. (Matthew 5)

The quality of my sobriety, then, isn’t marked by mere abstinence from a particular vice. Instead, the quality of my sobriety is only as good as the quality of my inner sobriety (i.e., am I free from the addictions of the heart, from lust, anger, or greed?). Has my inner man been transformed into something resembling the shape of an olive branch, something carried in the beak of a great dove? This is the crux of inner sobriety.

“How do you examine your inner sobriety?” you might be asking. Our processes may differ, but this week, I’m giving space to these questions:

Have I dealt with the pains that led me to over-drink?

Are there new pains that threaten to consume my heart?

Are there areas of fear, anxiety, or anger that consume my thoughts?

Do I think of death or disease more often than life and the possibility of healing?

Have I confessed my darker thoughts to my wife, therapist, or a trusted friend?

Am I walking in forgiveness with those around me?

Am I actively pursuing peace with those with whom I disagree?

Are there addictions I’m using to self-soothe, to numb the pain, anxiety, fear, or anger?

Am I honest about the state of my frailty, about how close I am to reaching for the bottle (or sex, or shopping, or religious certitude)?

It’s my strong suspicious that avoiding the work of examining my inner-sobriety creates fertile ground for relapse. And even if I could white-knuckle my way through abstaining from alcohol, I’d simply manage to transfer my addiction elsewhere—eating, drinking, Xanax, sex, consumerism, purging, feigning religious devotion, over-engaging in social media, or all of the aboev. This is the way of my wayward heart. Sound familiar?

Jesus left us with this grand promise:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

This sort of world-transcending peace marks the character of inner sobriety, I think. And so today, I’m asking myself, “is that peace rooted in all areas of my life?”

Yes, I’m moving toward my own personal Easter, and this is not the Easter of externalities. It’s not about broken bottles and modified behaviors. It’s not about one-year AA chips, or rounds of applause. This is an Easter of inner rebirth. You’re invited to come along. Do you want to?

**Note: Join me in walking through the inventory of questions above. If you find yourself high-centered on one, sit with a piece of paper and write your thoughts. If you find yourself high-centered on either of the last two questions (no matter the coping mechanism), consider seeing a trusted therapist, priest, pastor. There’s no shame in coming clean.

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If you haven’t heard the BIG NEWS yet, sign up for the Seth Haines’ Tiny Letter: A Compendium of Projects, People, Places, and Things. The Tiny Letter is a personal newsletter sent to subscribers once (sometimes twice) a month, and it highlights my personal projects, a few good folks, the places I go, and the things I like. The inaugural edition–the newsletter containing the BIG NEWS–has already been sent, but if you sign up for the newsletter, I’ll forward you a copy!

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Cynicism, Irony, and the Application of Charity

The aging couple was introduced to the church body. Long-term missionaries, they had served (or was it survived?) West Africa for over twenty years. I considered the statement, but instead of allowing space for a holy wow, my thoughts turned to more negative notions.

How does a woman wear tired like an accessory, a man’s carry sorrow like a knapsack?

How many churches wanted a piece of their story in the early days, before the results weren’t quite so world-changing as expected?

Certainly, there were colonial implications to their work; weren’t they the embodiment of the “great white hope?”

Was this a complicit, parasitic relationship?

What does a couple do when their entire economy–their occupation, health, and home–is threatened by a ravaging disease, and why does God not eradicate the scourge?

How does the church economy value their effort, really? Can a relief worker return to the church economy after the work is completed? Will there be money for transition, for reintegration?

I tuned the questions out, took a minute to survey the room. I noted a gussied up hypocrite or two. I am a lawyer during the week, which allows me a window into the secrets of others. Some have tax issues; others nurse failing businesses. Some are contract-breacher; others are trespassers. I noted all of this less from a position of judgment, and more from a position of juxtaposition. Oh, the irony of we who lift our hands on Sunday, and scoop them into the mud on Monday.

This is my church. And though the noting of their hypocrisies were convenient in the moment, in all honesty I must confess–I am them.

How often have I contributed to the burnout of the missionary, given the promise that I would visit, or call, or support, only to renege? How often have I spoken holy words on Sunday, only to utter curses on Monday? Have I been the contract-breacher, at least in the metaphorical sense? There is no doubt.

They say that the younger generation is leaving the church in droves. Recent reports show that attendance for the Southern Baptist Church (the church of my youth) has been on the decline for seven years. Article after article discusses the mass-exodus of millennials from the church.  I don’t need statistics or articles to tell me what I already know, though—church attendance is down because my generation has become consumed with cynicism and a taste for pointing out hypocritical ironies.

Yesterday, I considered my own cynicism, my own penchant for noticing the hypocrisy of my fellow church attendees. I asked myself, “how does it feel to carry this load of negativity?” and the answer was “not so good.” So, I did that thing that the good book teaches us to do when the darkness of our own hearts creeps up on us. I simply uttered, “I’m done with all of that; teach me to love.”

Then, in a sort of Brave New World altar-building experience, I tweeted:

I tweeted this during church, mind you, so I didn’t expect much of a response. Apparently, though, I am not the only person tweeting during church. (Counterpoint: perhaps everyone really has left church and they are all sitting at home tweeting Brave New Church thoughts?) The tweet was retweeted, began to build momentum, and as it began to make the rounds a few thoughts occurred to me.

Maybe the millennial church, if only a small minority, is tired of the cynicism and the noting of hypocritical ironies.

Maybe we’re all ready to walk in a better, more hopeful way.

Even if it’s just a minority of folks, maybe we can lock arms, sing a few hymns, and decide that we’ve had enough of all of the negativity.

Perhaps we can live toward the coming kingdom.

These might be pipe dreams, and I’m not suggesting that we should not ask hard questions and push against hypocrisy. Isn’t there a way, though, to move from the default position of cynic to the default position of wow. Maybe it begins with extending charity to those around us, with the recognition of the beautiful people of both the local congregation and the church at large. That’s my best guess, anyway. To that end, and in an attempt to make a personal shift, I pray in the words of St. Francis, “mighty God, great and glorious, enlighten the darkness of my heart. Grant me, Lord… a perfect charity.”

And if I’m employing proper scriptural imagination, my best guess is that perfect charity will drive out cynicism. Let it be.

*****

If you haven’t heard the BIG NEWS yet, sign up for the Seth Haines’ Tiny Letter: A Compendium of Projects, People, Places, and Things. The Tiny Letter is a personal newsletter sent to subscribers once (sometimes twice) a month, and it highlights my personal projects, a few good folks, the places I go, and the things I like. The inaugural edition–the newsletter containing the BIG NEWS–has already been sent, but if you sign up for the newsletter, I’ll forward you a copy!

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