Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Your Three Most Dangerous Advisors

In just a couple of months I'll mark my thirteenth anniversary in recovery from sex addiction. That doesn't mean I've been sober for thirteen years. It means I've been pursuing recovery for that long. Addiction is a struggle that many never successfully overcome. I certainly spent years trying in vain to succeed in recovery. Today I can admit the biggest reason for the struggle was my reliance on three very flawed advisors.

Me, Myself, and I

It wasn't until the hail Mary pass of a three day intensive intervention with Dr. Doug Weiss that I was confronted with an obvious truth. I was attempting to manage my recovery by my own strength. You see I'm a very strong willed person and determined not to lose. Once I admitted my addiction and sought the tools of recovery I determined to strike out on my own and win the recovery battle. I was smart enough, strong enough and doggone it people liked me (hat tip to Stuart Smalley).

Here's the problem. Those three advisors lived in my head which is the most dangerous neighborhood I know. If I were able to advise myself out of addiction it would've happened long before 2004. If my counsel was so wise and reliable there's no reason I would've fallen into addiction in the first place. I couldn't heal myself. No one can.

Today I've been sober for two years, eight months, and fifteen days. Accomplishing that means I almost never listen to myself (or me, or I for that matter). On those rare occasions when I do listen to me the advice is usually still questionable. Instead I call my sponsor, share with my Celebrate Recovery group, talk with the men I sponsor or seek my wife's opinion. Nothing beats having trustworthy advisors around you. Nothing beats a community of recovery.

Recently I challenged a friend to consider the ways in which he might be leaning too much on his own counsel and understanding. I'll challenge you in the same way. If you're struggling in your recovery chances are you're listening to the three most dangerous advisors that threatened my success. I humbly suggest you stop listening to them today. Seek out more reliable counsel.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Evil Twin

This week a news story broke about a woman from Indiana who had a tumor removed from her brain. The tumor, it turns out, was a mass that included hair, teeth and bone. I don't know if that gives you the total creeps, but it certainly does me! It sounds like the makings of a really scary horror movie.

But as quickly as that story broke this article came out clarifying that the tumor was not an embryonic twin that was undeveloped and had lurked in the woman's brain for 26 years. It was actually some form of germ cells that had coalesced into a tumor called a teratoma. I won't pretend to understand all the science behind it but I immediately connected this to recovery.

There have certainly been times in my recovery where I've identified my addict as this separate entity inside of me that did really bad things. Like an evil twin. Personifying my addict was part of the process I went through to understand my behavior that had wreaked havoc on my marriage and derailed my life. But my addict is not an evil twin.

Addiction is a germ growth. It is sin run rampant. And make no mistake, it has teeth. Addiction is as debilitating as any teratoma (the type of tumor discussed in the story in case you didn't click the link above). And left untreated it can be deadly. Understand this. Recovery is the surgery it takes to deal with this creepy, horror show growth that's ruining your life.

And it's a lifelong process, let's make that clear. included...start recovery as if it's a day surgery. It isn't.

So if you're in the midst of the struggle against your evil twin stop conferring personhood on your addiction and start treating it like the tumor it is. Get into recovery and get serious about finding healing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

This is Not a Game

When people gather at a recovery meeting there are some who have been in recovery for decades and some for hours and everywhere in between those two extremes. Some have worked the 12 steps multiple times and others have yet to take step one. What is absolutely true for all of us in recovery is this is life and death. It is not a hobby, it's not an optional activity, it's not a casual evening out.

Recovery is a lifetime commitment to face the hurts, habits and hang-ups that hold us back from being fully engaged and both physically and emotionally present in the lives of the ones we love. Instead of retreating to the self-medication of addiction we choose to stay in touch with our feelings and, in so doing, connected to the important people in our lives.

Recently I had the chance to talk about recovery with someone who isn't in it but needs to be...desperately. He may not yet be ready for it, but at least he was open to the conversation. He admitted that when he acts out in his addiction he's usually less tolerant, irritated and edgy with his family. It's a sign of the distance addiction puts between us and our loved ones. And the truth is unless we get into recovery that distance grows until the gap is too great to cross.

Clinging to addiction does incalculable damage and recovery addresses this. However, it doesn't always reverse it. The sooner you admit that your efforts to control your addictive and compulsive behaviors are a miserable failure the more likely you are to avoid unrecoverable damage. As long as you go into recovery fully aware that it's for life, it's for real and it is not a game, you'll have a chance.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Recovery at Church

Celebrate Recovery is a 12 step program birthed at Saddleback Church in California. It has spread to churches worldwide with great success...and lots of struggle. That's because recovery and church don't always play well together.

It is my experience that church is actually a very effective addiction incubator, particularly for those who work in the church. I've met my fair share of pastors and professional church workers who are addicts. This includes addiction to drugs, alcohol, work, power, sex, and all the self-protective mechanisms to which addicts fall prey. Often under the guise of Christian charity or grace the church, in reality, becomes a place where there is little or no accountability or discipline.

Recovery is about admitting your life has become unmanageable, acknowledging that only God has the power to restore us to sanity and establishing rigorous accountability, discipline and transparency with God and people you trust.

This makes recovery programs at church hard to maintain.  People in recovery need rules that don't change. That are fairly and evenly enforced. They need the protection of a disciplined environment where all the stated rules are upheld. Where realistic expectations are expressed and maintained. 'Graciously' bending the rules or allowing 'flexibility' or not expecting rigorous honesty and transparency may seem 'Christian' but these are the death knell to recovery.

I've seen it time and time again when church people in charge of recovery groups...Celebrate Recovery in particular...decide that the rules are malleable. Meeting weekly is 'usual' but can be adjusted. Following the prescribed meeting format is 'typical' but not guaranteed. Holding people to strict adherence to the guidelines is 'preferred' but not insisted upon. This is the sort of approach that is both dangerous for those in recovery and fatally undermines the long term success of the recovery program.

Add to that the typical attitude of the larger church that their recovery ministry is one small part of their overall ministry and primarily for 'those people'. An attitude that completely misses the point that the core principles of recovery are crucial and should be practiced by everyone...without exception. After all addiction is simply a manifestation of sin and, as St. Paul tells us, 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.'

Elsewhere we read, 'If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.' That's not just addicts, that's everyone. The difference between church and recovery is that in church we admit we are sinners. In recovery we admit our sin in enumerated detail.

So the next time you attend a church based recovery program and they start playing fast and loose with the rules, challenge the leaders to get with and stay with the program. Otherwise go find somewhere that does.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Routine - The Bane and Blessing of Recovery

When you were steeped in your addictive behavior you had routines. You may not have recognized them as routines, but they were. You traveled certain routes, visited certain places, hung out with certain people and behaved in certain ways that were predictable...habitual, if you will. These habits helped to sustain your addiction. There was a regularity, a familiarity to the routine that allowed you not to think about what you were doing so you could just do it.

Then you hit bottom (except for those still headed to the bottom).

Once you enter recovery one of the most important things you can do is develop a whole new routine. In fact, if you fail to develop a whole new routine you will most certainly fail at recovery. I can say that with certainty because we are creatures of habit. We are drawn to routine and our old addictive routine will call us back if it has not been replaced by a new routine.

That's one reason why those who are just entering recovery are encouraged to attend a meeting every single day for at least 30 days. If you establish the routine of attending a meeting every day your old routine will be crowded out. If you develop a new group of friends you won't have time for your old group of friends. When you anchor yourself in a new routine of recovery your old routine of addiction is less likely to find a way back into your life.

This is for certain. You are a creature of habit that will gravitate toward routine just as sure as water runs downhill. If you're not intentional about establishing a new routine your old routine will return.

If you don't have a new routine yet, start today. If you do have a new routine, stick with it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Why One Day at a Time?

If you're in recovery you know how important it is to take one day at a time. To think about maintaining recovery for a week or a month or a year is so overwhelming that when we do that we often just give up.

In the Biblical book of Matthew Jesus says that each days troubles are sufficient for that day. That's an interesting thought. He doesn't say you won't have trouble. He says the trouble you will have today is sufficient for today. Think of it this way, God has baked just the right amount of trouble into your day. Trouble helps refine us. It causes us to confront our weaknesses and shortcomings; our character defects. Without trouble would you be in recovery right now?

The problem comes when we take it upon ourselves to add trouble to a day that already has exactly the right amount of trouble in it. When we do that the recipe is thrown all out of whack. And we end up with a disgusting mess, sometimes so bad we convince ourselves that returning to our addiction is easier than sticking with recovery.

So stop adding trouble to your day. Your day has just the right amount of trouble and if you take life one day at a time you'll have God's strength and the support of your recovery community to deal with it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

I'm Not Fireproof!

I've been away a very long time from this blog.  And, to be honest, I've been away from regular attention to my recovery, as well. Two years ago I accepted a new position that required a move from Colorado back to Illinois. It took me a long time to decide to make the move.  I did a lot of praying and seeking counsel and talking with my wife and family. I felt I was being very good about my due diligence.

One concern I had was that the environment I would be going into was not healthy. I made the mistake of discounting this. I felt I had worked my recovery long enough and diligently enough that I was strong enough to go into an obviously unhealthy place and maintain my health. In terms of my recovery this was a tragic and costly mistake.

For a few months I clung to my commitment to stay in recovery. I attended meetings weekly and tried to hold on to my sanity and sobriety. But I dramatically underestimated the power that unhealthy people and an unhealthy place can have when you put yourself in the middle of it on a daily basis.

Now two years later I've been set free from that place but it's been a year and a half since I've regularly attended any recovery meetings. So there is much work to be done, messes to clean up and a long road ahead. I am not discouraged even though I'm disappointed with myself.  It's a lesson I need to relearn that jumping into a fire thinking your fireproof doesn't keep you from getting burned!