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July 31, 2012

Redeemer of My Soul, Subject of My Sentences

Early in my recovery, I was doing everything I could think of to battle lust, but nothing was getting me sober. Well equipped with rationalizations, I was eager to file my latest slip under “just one of those things.” I thought I was doing my part (frantically reading recovery material, responding to the questions in the manual, and going to meetings) but it seemed I just had to accept the fact that God wanted me to slip a few more times; you know, so I could stay humble. Needless to say, although I was doing new things, I did not yet have a new heart. After telling my sponsor that I thought it wise to move on to Step 3, I got a wake-up call; he informed me that my continued relapses meant I hadn’t really taken steps one and two.

He pointed out that most of my sentences started with “I” -- “I’m doing everything I’m supposed to. I’m trying so hard. I really want to change.”

“That,” he said, “is a sign that you have not yet given it over to God.”

The Big Book describes the change of heart that needs to occur for God to give addicts sobriety as: “an entire psychic [mental] change;” “much more than [being] inwardly reorganized, [having one’s] roots grasp a new soil;” obtaining a “new God-consciousness;” “Entering upon a new relationship with [one’s] creator;” “[having] our whole attitude toward life reorganized;” “Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of [our] lives [being] suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives beginning to dominate [us].”

After many dramatic and powerful (though sometimes gradual) incidents of addicts “taking up their beds and walking,” the Big Book declares: “He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.” The necessary change of heart seems to have been accompanied by a change of sentence construction, with “He”--referring to God--at the head. Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions puts this mental shift another way: “The notion that we would still live our lives, God helping a little now and then, began to evaporate.”

As I reexamined the way I talked about recovery, I saw that I was still acting like I was running the show--like I was the super hero charged with defeating this powerful villain, and God was my sidekick. The resulting defeat forced upon me a drastic change in attitude; God was to be the superhero, and I His sidekick. As His sidekick, I did not need to have the whole game plan in front of me, nor was I responsible for defeating the bad guy. My job was to cooperate, help in any way I could, and often just get out of the way, while God did the real work.

After this attitude change I did many of the same things--went to meetings, studied recovery material, phone calls, prayer, etc. But the manner in which I did them and the way I talked about them became much different. When sharing in meetings, statements such as the following disappeared from my speech:

* I know I can do it if I put in more effort.
* I was put on this earth to become stronger; to learn to do things without God’s help.
* I just need to keep fighting this thing.
* If I am completely honest and stay out of isolation, my addiction won’t just stick around forever!
* I just need to remember to keep my guard up.
* I need to do some inventorying so I can figure out what went wrong and do better next time.
* I know if I surrender my temptations to the group more, I will gain power over my addiction.
* If I can just identify when I am hungry, angry, lonely, or tired and address that need in a healthy way, I’ll be able to beat this thing.
* If I cut off all my access, then I will not act out anymore.

Notice how the subject of each sentence above is “I,” and the verbs (“put in more effort,” “become stronger,” “keep fighting,” “am honest,” “stay out of isolation,” “keep my guard up,” “figure out,” “surrender,” “identify,” “address,” “cut off”) reflect faith in my own abilities. I find that these days my sentences look more like the following:

* God can do it if I let Him.
* God put me on earth to be tested--to see whether I would trust in myself or turn to Him for strength.
* If somehow God can fight this thing for me, no captivity is too powerful for Him to overcome.
* If God doesn’t intervene, I am likely to be trapped in my addiction for the rest of my life, no matter what I do.
* God can bless me with sanity where my best defences fail.
* God will reveal my character defects to me as I inventory so I can surrender them before they take over.
* God will not take away anything I am still holding on to--He respects my agency. As a gesture of my humble willingness to be changed, I need to be honest and open with Him and others in the fellowship.
* God gave me certain needs and with His help I can meet them in His way and accept that they will not always be met perfectly.
* God can free me from my addiction, no matter what my circumstances are.

I read a story once in which a recovering alcoholic described seeing a bird diligently flapping to stay aflight, then relaxing and spreading its wings as a stream of wind carried it to new heights and enabled it to do all sorts of impressive dives and maneuvers. This added power would have been obstructed had the bird continued flapping with its own power. She compared this to the enabling power of God that blessed her with freedom when she was too weak to go on by her own strength. This has been my experience as well--since I let God be in charge of my recovery (and every other aspect of my life), He has blessed me with more peace and sobriety than I’ve ever experienced before!