One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. This month is Step 10. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle with what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!
“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it” (Step 10).
“We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. ‘How can I best serve Thee—They will (not mine) be done.’ These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 85).
“Learning daily to spot, admit, and correct these flaws is the essence of character- building and good living. An honest regret for harms done, a genuine gratitude for blessings received, and a willingness to try for better things tomorrow will be the permanent assets we shall seek” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 95).
12 Step groups do not have a graduation. There is no Certificate of Completion. There is no end goal at which one arrives. Sobriety is a lifelong process.
There is an important shift at this point in the journey, however. Through the first nine steps, the recovering addict has learned how to reconnect with God, how to forgive him- or herself, and how to reach out and seek forgiveness from those they have harmed. It is not an easy journey.
Now, the recovering addict gets to do it all over again; only this time on a daily basis! You see, alcoholics are never truly cured. Many people, including several mental health professionals, disagree with this. However, if you attend enough 12 Step meetings you will story after story of people with long-term sobriety relapsing. When they do, it is rarely a one-time slip up. The disease of alcoholism and drug addiction is progressive. If someone with 10 years of sobriety picks up again, they do not start over in their addiction. They do not even pick up where they left off. They often pick up and start using as if they had never stopped. In other words, a person with that length of sobriety who starts using again would use as much as they would have been using had they not stopped 10 years earlier.
So alcoholics and addicts recognize that we are not cured, but we have a daily reprieve. Each day we wake up is a new adventure in sobriety. If we are to maintain the sobriety we have worked so hard to attain during the first 9 steps, we will repeat the process every day.
There is an emphasis on humility and proper use of self-will throughout the 12 Step process. Both elements are on display in Step 10. Each day, I must renew my connection with God through prayer. Each day, I must acknowledge that my past is behind me and I only have today. Each day, I must honestly analyze my interactions with other people. When I make a mistake, I must admit it. When I insult or injure someone, intentionally or otherwise, I must make amends for it. When someone hurts me, I must address it.
Step 10 pulls no punches: PROMPTLY admitted it. The addict has spent a lifetime covering up his or her tracks; a lifetime avoiding dealing with people. In order to first attain sobriety, the recovering addict learns how to live appropriately among other people. In order to maintain that sobriety, the recovering addict learns to practice these principles every day. No longer can I allow mistakes to go unchecked. No longer can I allow relationships to suffer from silence and avoidance. No longer can I allow resentments to fester. I deal with these, and other, issues as they come up promptly.
Throughout this series, I have been intending to highlight how people who are not in recovery (specifically church communities) can aid those who are in recovery. At this point of the recovery process, it is likely you will not know the person is in recovery; unless you have known their story to this point.
This is an area where the culture of the church is important. There are two common misperceptions in the church: 1. addiction is an issue of self-control and 2. once the substance is removed the problem is solved. Both misperceptions are toxic.
If the church acts as if addiction is purely an issue of self-control many addicts will be afraid to open up about their struggle. If the church acts as if the removal of the substance equals the removal of the problem many addicts will be afraid to open up and ask for help along the journey.
In all of our spiritual journeys, we must remember there is no difference: sin is sin; brokenness is brokenness; separation from God is separation from God. There are no levels. If you truly want to help a person in their journey of sobriety, remove the stigma of the terms “addict” and “alcoholic.” I am a recovering alcoholic. I know the things I have done. I have faced many consequences for my actions. But the past does not define me. Please do not treat me as if my issue is any different than yours.
Further, don’t tell me that I should “be over it” now. It has been a number of years since my last drink. It has been a number of years since the last time I wanted a drink. But I am still a recovering alcoholic. This does not mean I am defined by the label alcoholic, but it is an admission of an important truth: I cannot drink alcohol. Ever. Acknowledgment that I am a recovering alcoholic is a reminder to remain vigilant to the dangers of giving in to that addiction ever again.
Most importantly, I need you to walk with me. I need you to encourage me. I need you to listen to me. This is the same for everyone. We need to build a community where all of us are safe sharing our struggles as well as our victories.
Sobriety is a daily journey. So is spirituality. Let’s journey together.