by: Staci Stallings
If you read the last post, you know that we are embarking on a journey through the 12-Step program. As I study these steps, I realize they are not about alcohol at all although that’s where they started. What they are really about is a systematic approach moving from the Tree of Me to the Tree of Life… from a life dependent upon me, my willpower, my strength to a life dependent upon God, His strength, His peace, His mercy, and His love.
The amazing thing is as I read these in that light, I see how relevant they are to stopping the cycle of misery in a life and turning it toward a cycle of love and acceptance. It is honestly the steps I went through that brought me out of my misery into a life set on the foundation of God. It is how I moved from “I can to do this” to “I need Jesus!”
As I also told you in the last post, some of this understanding I’ve gained on this point came from reading the book “Left to Tell” by Rwandan genocide survivor, Immaculee Iibagiza. This is so important because her story is a physical representation of the emotional, mental, and spiritual battle we all fight every day. So in her story, one can come to understand how Satan works in our lives under the surface to get us to doubt and to ultimately give up on God and how relying on God can bring us to freedom.
It is in this place of bondage where we will start.
“Addiction” is a concept most of us know something about even if we’ve never seen it up-close-and-personal. Addiction is that state where we need something more than life itself. We will trash our family, our friendships, ourselves in order to have what we are craving.
But how does an addiction start?
I think it starts when we realize that through the substance we can gain something that feels beneficial to us. Most of the time, that is simply a temporary escape from pain.
The truth is, we all have pain. It might be physical pain from abuse or self-abuse. It might be mental or emotional pain. But all of these have a root in spiritual pain. And in the addiction, we are looking for something outside ourselves to make us feel better about ourselves and life. The world is set up to cause this pain. At the deepest part of this pain is an understanding that we have been separated from God and we have been led to believe that He no longer loves us, that our sin was too great, that we are forever separate, that we are on our own. Therefore, we do what Adam and Even chose first–we eat from the Tree of Me. When we do this, we further separate ourselves from God causing more pain.
It is that pain of separation, manifested in a million different ways, that we are trying to escape. And we do so through behaviors that do not serve us long term in productive ways.
Maybe we choose societal-ills like drinking, drugs, promiscuity, over-eating, or violence. Or maybe we choose things that others will cheer on like working harder and harder, gaining money, or achievements and accomplishments. All of these are ways we talk ourselves out of feeling bad and gain for a moment an escape from the pain.
But if the pain remains, we will go back to the thing that got us out of it over and over again. This is when addiction sets in.
In the extended version of Step 1 on the 12-Step Program page found here, we see this cycle:
- Pain ->
- Reaching out to an addictive agent, such as work, food, sex, alcohol, or dependent relationships to salve our pain ->
- Temporary anesthesia ->
- Negative consequences ->
- Shame and guilt, which result in more pain or low self-esteem
Notice that PAIN comes first. Then we “find” the thing that temporarily helps us escape the pain. However, the negative consequences soon set in. Now for me, who was caught in something that looked “good” to everyone else, the negative consequences were as simple as the praise dying down. People went on with their lives. I was no longer at the center of their attention. I became “invisible” again. Which landed me right back in the pain I had momentarily escaped. That meant I had to do something to get out of that pain again.
For me, my “something” was achievements and success and accomplishments. So the second the praise died down from “all those A’s,” I had to start over. Worse, as every alcoholic and drug-user will tell you, it began to take more and more and more to get that same “high.” I had to do more, be better, accomplish more in order to gain the praise that got me out of the pain. So instead of getting a 96, I had to have a 100. Then instead of a 100, I had to have a 105. It was exhausting.
In my book “Princess,” Heather goes through this exact thing, except she has figured out (just as I did) that there comes a point when others get tired of you “being perfect,” and the thing you have based your worth on and have learned will get you out of pain begins to turn on you as others get annoyed with you always getting A’s or good grades. You learn that some people will be very jealous and will inflict more pain because of the thing that will get you out of pain. It’s a trap.
It’s ALL a trap!
So the First Step is: We admit we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
Here’s an easier way to say this, “I can’t do this anymore.”
Have you ever felt like that? Just at the end of your energy, at the end of what you know to do, at the end of your rope? Some people call this “rock bottom.” I mean you have tried EVERYTHING, and the pain just keeps coming back.
I know I was there, and it was only the Grace of God that saved me. I know others who have gotten there and who just refused to take this first step. Some times rock bottom is a LONG way down, especially if you have been taught that it’s all up to you, you have to be strong, you have to learn to “stand on your own two feet.” Oh, yes. The world has laid quite a trap beneath us.
So today, your first step is to look at your life and see where it feels out of control. Maybe it’s in your marriage or with your children. Maybe it’s in your job or your finances. Maybe it’s your weight or your time management (busyness!). Whatever it is, consider that in that area you are addicted to something outside yourself that you are trying to assuage the pain. See the pain at the bottom of it. Is it having never felt good enough? Is it trying to prove yourself to someone? Is it just feeling emotional pain that you can’t even yet pinpoint? Whatever it is, today is the day to ADMIT that you are powerless to stop the pain, that you have tried everything, and it’s NOT working.
Then breathe and quietly invite Jesus in by simply saying, “I need You, Jesus. I need Your help here.”
I wrote a Twitter post the other day, something like this: “God will only unlock the doors that you give Him the key to.” Someone wrote back that they believe God can open any door whether He has the key to it or not. Well, yes, He can. But He will not take the key from you. In fact, He has already opened the door through His redemption of you on the cross, but it is YOU (and me) that are choosing to stay in that cell. It’s time to choose something different. It’s time to come out, Lazarus. It’s time to rise again, to be reborn, to shake off the chains and walk free. And the first step is to admit you can’t do it on your own.
Like Imaculee, we are confined to that little bathroom, with killers outside intent on our destruction. In the story, this brave woman finds a place of peace and rest while in that bathroom jail cell… by going to God, by prayer, by meditation. We will get there in the 12-Steps as well, so stay tuned!