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.

///

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.

///

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.

*****

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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  • Oh, this, Jennifer, this: “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.” Man do I know that better than I wish I did!

    So glad to see you here, offering truth and hope for all us who are struggling to find approval in all the wrong places. Seth – thanks for having Jennifer, one of my very favorite writers (and very favorite people!).

    • Thanks for being here, Michelle. Feeling a little vulnerable here, even though I wrote a whole book about this. Maybe my “imposter” is lurking today. 🙂

  • sethhaines

    JDL,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story here. It’s true, we are all addicted to something, and we’re all in need of the remedy. You share very boldly here, and I’m grateful for it.
    I’d like to say more, but maybe I’d be feeding your addiction?
    In all seriousness, thank you.

    • Thank you for the invitation, oh, how many months ago? Finally got around to finding some words to put to the feelings. You’re doing a great work here, Seth. I thank God for your vulnerability in this place, week after week.

  • Michelle Anderson

    So good. So true. From one recovering person to another.

  • Jack

    This blog is a cool cistern…is 42 too old to begin a do-over.

    • No, 42 is not too old to begin again. I’m 42, by the way. 🙂

  • Miah Oren

    Thank you Jennifer! I also wished that one day this hurt would go away, but it’s a good reminder to go to God with the pain instead of trying to do it all myself.

    • Amen, Miah. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Jennifer, your vulnerable story is healing to those who long to numb the pain of suffering through the blood of Jesus instead of another vice. You inspire courageous living, one day at a time. Thank you!

    • Grateful for you, Shelly. Thank you for reading along, and for loving me when you see my behind-the-scenes reel. 🙂

  • pastordt

    Lovely, Jen. And yes, yes. We are all addicts, often to a number of different things. And that approval thingy? Know it way too well — in recovery for that and a long list of other things, too. Nice to see you here.

    • I’ve got a long list of issues, too, Diana. It’s good to have the Recovery Room to hash some of it out.

  • As a fellow addict, thank you for your brave, Jennifer. I am going to set my cup down today and rest in the promise of pre-approval. You are a lovely, yielded vessel, my friend.

    • Grateful for your kindness, Aly. Thanks for “getting” me, and for being a voice for the PreApproved.

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