I was a fan of recovery work long before I took a seat at the anonymous circle. I could look at lives being transformed, see God working in the most incredible ways in the lives of addicts. Heck, I had taken many an addict to recovery homes, rehabs, and even AA meetings. But I didn’t need “that” kind of work. I was in church, on the worship team, and running a ministry of my own. Recovery work was for those people. My how hard the mighty must fall, and how loving a God to tenderly place me there.
I have been in a recovery group now for a year and five months. I wound up at that meeting after a long series of battles surrounding alcohol and pills began affecting me and my kids. I had done counseling, ranted to trusted friends, prayed, been slain in the spirit (not kidding), listened to many prophecies over my life, forgiven over and over as best I knew how and NOTHING worked. Late one night I took the matter to The Google and my search included “How do I FIX an alcoholic” (any Enneagram 1’s out there?), “How do I know my person is a REAL alcoholic?”, and “HELP with an alcoholic.” Al-Anon continued to pop up. After a five minute video that basically told me I was the one needing help, care, and love, I thought “Well, what the hell? I’ll give this a try”. I was desperate and the issue was affecting my children directly. I wasn’t so sure what kind of “help” I needed so desperately, but I was willing to go. Brett agreed to attend with me.
“Hi, I’m Emily.”
And so it began. Readings on loving detachment, boundaries, humility, forgiveness, resentment, manipulation, denial, hope, peace, and joy ensued. Each member shared an experience or thought from the reading and one by one strangers became sages. There was even laughter. “These people laugh?”, I thought. I was certain this group would be about licking each others wounds and co-miserating. Wasn’t this a group for victims fallen prey to the evils of alcoholism and addiction? I listened to the story of a woman whose husband was a total ass. He was emotionally and verbally abusive when he got drunk, she tried hiding his keys, limiting his drinks, all the usual tricks. But, he just left her, cheated on her, and then returned home in a stupor. Apparently this was his pattern. After she shared, I thought, “Ok, now here’s where we’re going to give her some good solid advice as well as a divorce lawyer so she can get rid of this sorry sack of *&^%.” But the group just listened and said in unison, “Thanks for sharing.”
“WHAT!? Where is the justice here? Where’s the action plan and strategy for how to leave him?”
Then another lady shared that her son had returned from jail to live with her only to relapse again. She had continued to give him money and shelter. She was older and had the most gentle demeanor. She shared:
“I’ve learned in here that I don’t have to provide for his needs. He is an adult and got himself into this mess. But I’m having trouble watching him suffer as his mother. I’m sure we’ve failed him in so many ways but now he has to learn to move on. This program teaches me to lovingly detach and so I’ve decided to let him know tomorrow that he will begin paying rent or have to find another place to live.”
“Is this where we fist bump and applause and cheer for her?”
“Thanks for sharing.” the group again repeated.
A year and five months I’ve been listening and learning from this program and the brave warriors who make up our group. I had no idea how desperate and broken I truly was. When I strong arm pain, I refuse freedom. I gridlocked grief and everyone around me was suffering. I cauterized joy by focusing so much on others problems. The twelve steps in Al-Anon have taught me how to love and care for myself in a way that seems counterintuitive to my “Jesus first. Others second. You third.” evangelical acrostic theology. When you’re surrounded by addicts, it’s easy to believe your problems are not real problems. Someone always has it worse, has it harder, your pain is not THAT bad. You learn to minimize. Addicts especially are master manipulators (they’ve had to be to survive.) So, in close relationship to an addict, it’s easy to yo-yo between codependency (zero boundaries) and rejection. If you’ve got the Al-Anon disease, like me, you’ve probably done both. You also begin to believe that you’re crazy - your mind reels, you repeat conversations in your head, you self-justify your bad behavior because they have the problem. You can’t take ownership of what’s yours because the line between what’s yours and theirs is so blurred. You don’t know where you start and they begin.
Pride seeps in and warps your love into duty, obligation, work - the curse of the ground. You become overly responsible for others. And let me tell you, ministry is a minefield loaded with grenades, and most of them are ministers. Step Seven: “Humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.” With step work, and particularly with a good sponsor, this is no vague and pious plea. This is pen to paper work complete with reading and questions to help you see very clearly. It requires gut level humility and humility means “We can accept ourselves as we are. We do not have to beg or demand things from God, we simply ask.” (Pathways to Recovery, pg. 72). Humility, as Jesus teaches us, means that “we live in a circle of belonging, not rings on a ladder” (Courage to Change, pg. 33). Humility isn’t degrading. It is not humiliating nor does it bring shame. Humility means I must take my rightful place in the world, as a child of God. It means that to love my neighbor as myself, then I had better love myself to begin with. Humility means, I work the exact same steps, with the same tenacity, that I would pray my addict would work themselves. Humility means my ego gets the boot every time I watch it flare up as control, manipulation, codependency, or pride. I don’t have to control, fix, and manage in order to feel purposeful and alive. I don’t need to be revered, acknowledged, or affirmed in ministry by anyone other than the One whose approval I didn’t even earn in the first place. I can learn from Jesus when He spoke about the Pharisees:
“The Scribes and Pharisees love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in public flattery, receiving degrees like “Doctor” and “Reverend”. DON’T LET PEOPLE DO THAT TO YOU, PUT YOU ON A PEDESTAL LIKE THAT. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God. Let Him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title as “Father”; you have only one Father. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them! There is only one life leader for you and them - Christ! DO YOU WANT TO STAND OUT? THEN STEP DOWN. BE A SERVANT.” - Matthew 23, The Message
If you or someone you know is in need of help with addiction, Jesus Said Love offers “Fight Club” on Wednesday nights at 5:30 p.m. for females only in the Waco area.
If you live with or love an alcoholic (or someone’s drinking or any addiction bothers you a lot), you can visit www.al-anon.org
If you’re struggling as an addict and want help, visit www.aa.org