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 

I’ve Never Been to a 12-Step Mtg Before, part 2: How to Recover the Imago Dei

Every 12-step / 12-tradition fellowship has slogans to help addicts; all of whom struggle with forgetfulness. Nearly all of us forgot we were addicts, and the results were almost always disastrous — if not for us – for the ones we loved. One of the first slogans people coming to meetings are introduced to is the “HOW” of recovery. Recovery requires “Honesty, Openness, and Willingness.” Honesty corresponds to the 1st step; openness to step 2, and willingness to step 3.

We admitted we were powerless, and our lives had become unmanageable.
We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

While it seems straightforward, the first step requires a level of honesty with which most addicts struggle. There are two things to admit:

I can’t stop, and

My addiction has beaten me and will continue to do so.

Most users can acknowledge one of those two statements. The trouble is that while we admit our powerlessness one day, and then, the next, admit our unmanageability. Acknowledging them both at the same time feels impossible. It requires reaching the end of ourselves to accept that both are true. And only after we have done that can we resume our climb the stairs.

Unlike a normal staircase, recovery steps are too high and wide to take two or three at a time. You can’t skip recovery steps. Lots of people come to recovery rooms knowing either that their life is unmanageable or that they are powerless. Then they leave because they can’t take that first step. They are not that broken. Once you take the first step, however, if you don’t take a second you become a nihilist.

The second step is about openness — being open to something outside of ourselves that can set us free.

symington book coverNeville Symington wrote a book he titled, Narcissism. The book shook the foundations of the psychoanalytic community. For Symington argued that narcissism is at the root of all pathology. That is a big statement and creates a huge paradigm shift. Symington believes that narcissism develops in infants when their needs are not met. So they turn away from something Symington labels  the “Lifeforce,” and choose to rely on themselves to find relief.

Adapting his construct is helpful. It explains how choosing to turn inward and isolate leads to pathological behaviors. The choice certainly leads to addiction and death. The second step responds to our narcissism. It asks us to repent, turning back to the lifeforce, and in so doing, overcome our pathologies.

The second step is addressed in many ways in 12-step rooms. Invariably, if you stick around long enough, you will hear, “First, we came… Then we came to…. Then we came to believe.” Most addicts who grew up in the church think this is going to be the easiest step. It isn’t. On the contrary, my reformed, evangelical, fundamentally-sound, biblically-based God; created by some of history’s greatest theologians could not help me get sober. Though I tried for over a year. I drove my sponsor and friends nuts. Finally, after learning how to work the second step on paper, I disregarded my impeccably crafted, reasonable, all-powerful God who I was unable to

Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson

trust, and I got sober. I’m in good company, for I’m not the only one that gets stuck on this step. Bill Wilson addressed us in the Twelve and Twelve on pages 29-33. It is worth reading. (The link takes you directly to the short chapter on the 2nd step, and you can read for yourself what he had to say.) The second step was the hardest step for me to take. Probably, because I thought it would be the easiest. I wasn’t as “open,” as I assumed I was. It took me a long time to realize that fact.

The third step in this recovery three-step dance is, “Willingness.” If you make it this far, someone will ask you, “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get clean and sober?” and, you’ll have to decide; for step 3 says, “We made a decision…” It doesn’t say that we “Turn our will and our lives over.” Rather, it means that we make a decision to do so. If the step said, “turned our will and our lives over,” it would become something we do once. It isn’t. Instead, we make a decision, “to continually turn our will and our lives over.” When we realize this simple truth, we start to understand why another slogan, “One day at a time,” is so important. For, it is too much to say that I will turn my will and my life over tomorrow or the next day. I can’t be sure I will want or be able to. I can only say that I’m making a decision to do so today. And, frankly, if you are like me, you have to make that decision much more than once each day. However, when I commit to doing so daily, my friends remind me of my decision, and I get to live.

It is important for those of us raised in the church to notice that the third step also has two-parts. When I grew up, right before the altar call, preachers used to beseech us to turn our lives over to Christ. Because we’ve heard about, “surrendering our lives,” so often, it almost became part of our DNA. Turning our wills over to God, however, wasn’t anything I heard in church. I’m glad because I don’t like doing it. Turning my will over became my sticking point. To be willing to do so required me going back to my second step again and again, until God became trustworthy.

I couldn’t do it alone. We are not supposed to. All these steps are “we,” steps. My sponsor used to say to me, “Remember, we don’t have to do any of this alone.” My addiction made me isolate. It was created and flowed out of shame, and shame is the destroyer of relationships. Shame pushes us further from others and deeper into isolation. We find recovery to rediscover relationships. We go to recover our relationships. And, as we do, we live into our Imago Dei. When all is said and done, we go to 12-step rooms to recover the Imago Dei.