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Acceptance is the key

27
Jul

Struggling with addiction? “Acceptance is the Key”

Every 12-stepping, recovering addict knows the “how” of recovery. H.O.W. is an acronym: Honesty (step one), openness (step 2), and willingness (step 3). Only later did we discover that the starting point, step one — honesty — requires acceptance. Bill Wilson knew this when he wrote the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Chapter Five lays out the AA 12 step program. Wilson’s first paragraph in this chapter contains these words:

{Many have and will fail}, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average.

This “honesty with self” is incredibly difficult. From birth we’ve turned inward to find the answers to life internally without the help of God or others. In so doing we’ve effectively made ourselves God. The acceptance that is required for healing to begin is acceptance of the fact that every human is “just like” every other human on the planet when it comes to being able to control our internal or external lives.

This lack of honesty regarding our limits and failings leads to dishonesty about our glory and beauty. We are so scared of the initial darkness that we create an inescapable matrix for ourselves. This “matrix,” or, for some of us — matrixes — become(s) our only reality. Our “false-self(s)”  is the only self(s) we know. We cease to know ourselves and yet honesty and addictionintuitively feel the reality that we are not known. That breaks our heart and we are pushed further into our addiction. These realities are why honesty and acceptance are the starting points for healing. When we embrace them (or they embrace us, a whole new landscape emerges. We begin to see ourselves in ways that seem unreal. But they are. Honesty and acceptance are the starting point for our journey to wholeness and life

The second half of the Big Book of Alcoholics is a collection of stories of women and men who have recovered from alcoholism. Perhaps none of the chapters are as famous as “Acceptance was the Key.” It is linked below and a large chunk of it is quoted as well. Consider what the doctor who wrote it had to say. Read it slowly. Where are you as you get ready to start or restart your journey?

It helped me a great deal to become convinced that alcoholism was a disease, not a moral issue; that I had been drinking as a result of a compulsion, even though I had not been aware of the compulsion at the time; and that sobriety was not a matter of willpower. The people of A.A. had something that looked much better than what I had, but I was afraid to let go of what I had in order to try something new; there was a certain sense of security in the familiar.

At last, acceptance proved to be the key to my drinking problem. After I had been around A.A. for seven months, tapering off alcohol and pills, not finding the program working very well, I was finally able to say, “Okay, God. It is true that I—of all people, strange as it may seem, and even though I didn’t give my per- mission—really, really am an alcoholic of sorts. And it’s all right with me. Now, what am I going to do about it?” When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away. From that moment on, I have not had a single compulsion to drink.

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point it out, because I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did. A.A. and acceptance have taught me that there is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; that we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here. When I complain about me or about you, I am com- plaining about God’s handiwork. I am saying that I know better than God.

For years I was sure the worst thing that could  happen to a nice guy like me would be that I would turn out to be an alcoholic. Today I find it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. This proves I don’t know what’s good for me. And if I don’t know what’s good for me, then I don’t know what’s good or bad for you or for anyone. So I’m better off if I don’t give advice, don’t figure I know what’s best, and just accept life on life’s terms, as it is today—especially my own life, as it actually is. Before A.A. I judged myself by my intentions, while the world was judging me by my actions.

Acceptance has been the answer to my marital problems. It’s as though A.A. had given me a new pair of glasses. Max and I have been married now for thirty- five years. Prior to our marriage, when she was a shy, scrawny adolescent, I was able to see things in her that others couldn’t necessarily see—things like beauty, charm, gaiety, a gift for being easy to talk to, a sense of humor, and many other fine qualities. It was as if I had, rather than a Midas touch which turned everything to gold, a magnifying mind that magnified whatever it focused on. Over the years as I thought about Max, her good qualities grew and grew, and we married, and all these qualities became more and more apparent to me, and we were happier and happier.

Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, pps.  416-418 
18
Apr

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, part 12: Rehab

If you are only just now joining the story, I’ve just checked into rehab…

Keystone felt like a cloud of cotton, protecting and engulfing me. The old house became my safe place. I don’t think I’d ever felt that secure before. The hardest part about rehab was getting over myself so that I could go. Once I was there, it became the only place I wanted to be. It didn’t matter that sex addicts are at the bottom of the addiction barrel. 

Think about why this is true. If you are standing in a checkout line at your grocery and you hear, “I just celebrated ten years clean from alcohol (or any drug), you might hear people congratulate them. If you heard the same thing: “I just celebrated ten years being clean and sober as a sex addict…”  I bet you can almost see people grabbing their children to make sure they are safe There is a stigma that accompanies sexual addiction that other addictions don’t carry.
Keystone ECU's old Victorian Home

Keystone ECU’s old Victorian Home

While we did most of our work in groups, we each had an individual therapist with whom we also worked. Susan was mine. She gave me three gifts that I hang onto fifteen years after leaving.

On Saturdays, we had a household outing. We’d vote for what activity we wanted to do that week. Staff rotated working the weekends and on Susan’s weekend, I rode in the front seat with her as we drove to a theater to watch Ice Age. I prattled on, proud of the recovery work I’d done before getting to Keystone. For some reason, I recited the 3rd and 7th step prayers. She interrupted me, asking me to slow down and pay attention to what I was praying; urging me to view prayer as something more than an item I checked off my list to stay sober.

A little while later she asked me to read pgs 416-418 in the Big Book of AA each day. I ended up reading them every day for three weeks. Old timers in AA know those pages deal with “acceptance being the key” to recovery. Susan was ahead of her time.  These days, ACT or “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” is a hot commodity in the therapy world and is at the forefront of addiction work. This was 2002, and she was already working to help me accept who I was and what I did while not allowing my super ego to tread on hope and empathy.

Prodigal book coverRight next to my bed, so that I see it when I get up every morning, is a framed print of Rembrandt’s, The Return of the Prodigal Son. It hangs there because Susan asked me to buy and read a book by the same title by a man named Henri Nouwen. It became my favorite book. If you remember, from an earlier post, it was while reading this particular book that I got a letter from one of my former staff. I will never forget one of his statements he wanted me to understand, “I will not go down to the pig trough to eat with you.” The spiritual abuse that sent me reeling into rehab was boomeranging back at me; as pastors I trained, responded to me and my sin the only way they knew how — abusively.

My new friends knew the importance of this book to me. During our last session before I left, they have me back my book on which they had each written messages to me on the inside covers; everyone that is except “C.” C wrote on the cover. He circled the Father, drew a line to him and then wrote “You.” Then he circled the kneeling son, drew another line to point at him and wrote, “the church.”

As I recall this part of the story, chills are running up and down my back. I didn’t know it at the time, and I know that C didn’t, but he was a prophet when he vandalized my book. I don’t do my work solely to work with pastors, missionaries, their families, and congregations…  While that is incredibly important, I do this because the church desperately needs to see these women and men find resurrection and then experience their post-resurrection embrace.
The stairs inside the Keystone Home

The stairs inside the Keystone Home

There are two other vibrant memories from my time at Keystone. First, it took me three weeks to realize and stop engaging rehab like a chess game. I always scanned the horizon, trying to figure out the staff’s next move so I could be ready for it. Writing this makes me really sad. I was so messed up! And though sorrow never feels great, in a strange but very real way, it gives me hope. That same sadness grows when I realize lots of people see life as a game. Playing exhausted me. And it scared me. I didn’t know how scared I always was. I don’t want others to live that way. That is why I became a counselor as well as a pastor.

I had at least one other, “Aha” moment while there. During a group session, I realized I had no integrous core. I was a holograph. Until that moment, I was proud of that fact that I could be “all things to all people.” I’d learned from childhood how to be a chameleon in order to successfully navigate life in other peoples’ homes. Later the commitment to “being whatever I needed to be,” was theologically solidified by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9.

Chronic Shame book coverI didn’t realize that I became a holograph partly to dodge my shame. Patricia DeYoung, in her remarkable book, Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame: A Relational and Neurobiological Approach (2015), talks about splitting off parts of ourselves that we find shameful. Later, she creates three ways we label those parts: The “Ideal me,” the “bad” me, and the “not me.” The “ideal me” is who we think we need to be and know we are not. The “bad me” is the “me” we believe stops us from being the  “ideal me.” The “not me” is the “me” we can’t bear to acknowledge. It is humanly impossible to be aware of “not me.” Something inside us recognizes that if we even recognized “not me’s,” existence we’d die. While growing up, nearly the only thing I knew was

While growing up, shame ruled my family and me. So it is not surprising that I “stuffed” more of myself than I held onto. This is the reason I work as a Kintsugi artist of the soul. I want to work to help join my clients’ fragmented and forgotten parts with gold so that they become beautiful to them and their world.

This isn’t the end of this story. Leaving Keystone, I had no clue that the darkest days of my life were still ahead of me. And, while acknowledging that truth, it is important to add that I am not certain I’d still be alive if it weren’t for the time I spent there. I still carry Keystone with me. And I am incredibly grateful for the gifts I was given while there.


Previous sections of the story: 1 /2/ 3 /4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11