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.