The 5 Embraces of Addiction Recovery

In the last 10 months, I’ve hosted a series of guests as they’ve stepped into the Recovery Room and written about coming clean from various addictions. Alcoholics, undereaters, overachievers, suck-it-up-ers, over-workers, they’ve all shared their stumbling, drunken stories and written of their journey into sobriety.

Comment after comment, email after email, others have reached out in response; me too, they say. But comment after comment, email after email, I hear this from others—I just don’t know how to quit.

Maybe you’re like so many of the others. You recognize your own addiction, but the thought of coming clean is unbearable. A day without the drink, the credit card, the sex—is such a thing possible? 

It’s not an easy process, this road to recovery. There is a way through, though. Embrace the difficult yet not impossible.

1. Embrace Confession

Alcoholics, sex addicts, workaholics, and even shopping addicts—there is a twelve step recovery group for just about everyone these days. Each of these Anonymous recovery programs starts with the same first step–admit your powerlessness over addiction and confess your life has become unmanageable.

Addiction is the monster in the closet, the boogeyman under the bed. Confession brings the light of truth to addiction, allows mother, sister, brother, or friend into the room. Confession allows a community to help expose addiction for what it is–a beatable thing.

St. James says it best in the good book, “confess your sins one to another so that you may be healed.” A wiser word was never written; confession is the first step to wholeness and healing.

2. Embrace Community

I was asked a few months ago how I made it through the recovery process without joining my own Anonymous program. I stopped, mulled the question, and said, “it’s all about the community.”

In September of 2013, I quit the bottle under the outspread arms of an Austin Spanish oak. I was in Austin with some good friends, brothers from my hometown. I confessed my problem, told them I couldn’t seem to control the alchohol on my own. Straight faced, nodding, arms on shoulders, they said, “we’ll walk through this with you.”

And they have.

In scripture, Paul exhorts Christians to live a sober, Spirit-filled life. He writes, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” I once wondered why Paul contrasts individual drunkenness with the Spirit-filled Christian community, and this is what I’ve come to believe: The addictions of our life are often born from our own isolation, from our pain and anxiety.

The community of faith steels the legs of recovery. Community encourages the spiritual work. Community holds the addictions born from isolation at bay. Community and confession–they are kissing cousins.

3. Embrace Cliché

The early days of sobriety dawned like a house fire. Each day anxiety would set in, and my nerves would burn. The want for gin was less like a craving and more like an obsession. Gin and tonic, gin and tonic, gin and tonic–I was a broken record skipping on the beat.

I called my friend Heather, a sister who’d walked through her own bout with addiction. “I have to do this forever?” I asked. “I have to say no to gin for the rest of my life?”

“You’re approaching it all wrong,” she said. “I know it’s cliché, but it’s the best I have. Just take it one day at a time.”

Heather is a writer, and she knows full well how other writers hate clichés. We avoid them like the plague. They are a cancer. (See what I did there?) But as famed author Jack Kerouac said, “clichés are truisms and all truisms are true.” Put another way, there is a reason clichés become cliché.

One day at a time. It’s the most overused cliché in recovery circles, but it holds true. Jesus put it another way–give us this day our daily bread. In recovery, you don’t need a lifetime supply of bread for today; there’s a limit to how much a man can eat, see. Pray for today’s provision. Meal plan for today’s provision. Give thanks for today’s provision.

And if you need a list of good recovery cliches, I’m here to oblige.

4. Embrace Forgiveness

The drinking, eating, puking, shopping, working, sexing—is it about the act itself?

Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend, and we were discussing various addictive behaviors. “For me, it wasn’t about the alcohol,” I said, “it was about escaping presence and pain.” Isn’t this the way with most addictions?

Being present in and to the world, being awake and aware can be a painful thing. Remember the abuse as a child, the spiritual manipulation? Feel the anxiety rise, the panic attacks that come at the end of the day’s work struggles? Hear the voices behind your eyes whispering, maybe your mother, perhaps your father, your husband, your boss? “You’re not good enough,” they say.

True sobriety—inner sobriety—begs us to recognize and face the sources of our pain and anxiety. Who first whispered the lies that stick in our craw? Who is the source of our pain? And once the sources are identified, then what?

Jesus—God in flesh—was hung for heresy. The innocent of all innocents looked down on the murdering men and prayed, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”

Forgiveness is an act of creation; it brings a garden of peace from the blackness of hate and hurt. Forgiveness brings resolution to the anxiety. Forgiveness is the antidote to the poison of life.

5. Embrace a Lifestyle of Recovery

Recovery is not a one time renunciation of addiction. It’s a daily process, a journey. Confession, community, forgiveness, these are the one-day-at-a-time, every-day-at-a-time imperatives.

A few weeks ago, Elizabeth Esther, author of Spiritual Sobriety (Convergent, 2016), asked about my process of recovery. I wrote,

As often as possible (at least a few times a week), I take an inventory of my emotional distractions. Is there an unresolved issue that’s giving birth to anger? Am I refusing to forgive someone? What voices fill my head or my heart in times of quiet? I list those things and take them to God, asking him to change my heart. There, in those quiet places, I clean out the spiritual entanglements. I declutter the room, confess my sin and make space for King Jesus to sit on the throne of my heart. Only then can he properly direct my emotions and guard my sobriety.

This is the trick, I think. It’s only God who can guard our sobriety, and only then if we embrace a lifestyle of inner-sobriety, of confession in community. Is it hard work? Yes. But as sure as the sun will set, I can tell you this—recovery is beautiful.

*****

In October, my first book, Coming Clean: a Story of Faith, hits the bookstore shelves. It’s a story of doubt, forgiveness, and recovery. Would you consider pre-ordering Coming Clean and help spread the good news of recovery? You can pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Givington’s.

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