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THE BOOK OF LIFE RECOVERYInspiring Stories and Biblical Wisdom for Your Journey through the Twelve Steps
By STEPHEN ARTERBURN DAVID STOOP
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSTEP ONE
We admitted we were powerless over our problems and that our lives had become unmanageable.
I don't really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate.... Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? ROMANS 7:15, 24
Andrea's Story of Recovery: Getting Out of the Insanity
Many years of insanity finally brought me to where I am today. I could not seem to break the cycle. To my way of thinking, I had to do it all myself. I had to somehow, someway, pull myself out of the dark abyss of alcoholism. I tried every which way I could, but I could not do it. Then, in February 2007, my life started over.
My story is not unique. My childhood, sadly, was not unique. It was abusive—physically, mentally, emotionally, and sexually. All that stuff. If you've been there, you know it creates heartache and pain that don't subside. That's where the drugs came in and took me out of where I didn't want to be.
I started using drugs when I was twelve years old. The first thing I ever tried was a hit of acid, and it was on from there because it made me laugh and feel free, and I knew that's what I wanted. And so, from twelve years on, my life revolved around drugs in one way or another. Still, I was known as a good girl. I lived a dual life. At home I tried to be the peacekeeper, tried not to allow all the craziness to go on—the upending of dinner tables, the random punches, the pulling of knives. That kind of stuff was everyday life in my household. I learned to be the good girl, and that's why, when I was doing drugs, I had to keep my good-girl face on so nobody would know what I was doing. Trying to be two people at once creates a form of insanity in itself.
I have to admit, I really loved to party. Because I had never had a good time when I was young, whenever I went out as a teenager or a young adult, the party was on. My goals and dreams began to revolve around how I could continue to party and still make something of myself—the good girl and the party girl. Instead of going to college, which would have been way too much work, I went to vocational school for a year and became a certified dental technician. At night, I worked in a bar. I thought I had the best of both worlds—I did well at my job, because that's what I had to do, and I was a great partier. Things seemed to be going really well.
My life went on like that for years. I ended up owning my own company and growing in the business world, but I never reached my full potential. Of course, that's all in retrospect. Now I can see where my decisions were hindered by the drugs and the alcohol and the parties.
My unraveling began when I was thirty-one and became a mother for the first time. I had never had a role model and didn't know how to be a mother. Worse yet, I was an alcoholic mother, with an alcoholic husband. He and I had two children together, but by the time the second baby was three months old, we had split up. I became a single mother of two with a business to run, doing speed to keep me going. And, you know, that just doesn't work. After a while, you run down. There just weren't enough hours in the day to do all the things I needed to do, and there wasn't enough speed to keep me going. On top of that, my judgment was impaired and I made one bad decision after another. When my daughters were four and six, I discovered crack cocaine and I lost my soul. Before long, I had also lost my home, my business, and my kids.
For thirteen years, I ran on the insanity that crack brought into my life, along with all the other crazy things that came from the life I had lived. During that time, I also gave birth to a third daughter. But I did not raise any of my girls. (Thank God for the families that loved my children when I couldn't.) And never once did I come to grips with the fact that I was powerless over my problems and that my life had become unmanageable—even though I was going to recovery meetings throughout those thirteen years. I would get sober for a little while—long enough to get the judge off my back and get my kids and a job—but then I would think, Well, now I can drink. And pretty soon, after a few drinks, I would decide, I'll just smoke a little crack. And, you know, before I knew it, I'd lost my kids again, lost my job, and was right back in the middle of that sick cycle of insanity that we live in as alcoholics and drug addicts.
In 2007, the day finally came when I ran out of chances. My eighty-year-old mother was my last victim. I had already taken everything I could from her, but when I stole her car for the third time—even though I brought it back before the cops could catch me—I ended up in prison with a two-year sentence, of which I had to serve half. My daughters came to court, and they were angry that I wasn't sentenced to more time because I had created so much wreckage and pain during my years of drug addiction. When I went off to prison, I really didn't think I would ever have anybody back in my life after all I had done.
But even after all that, my story is one of recovery. While I was in prison, God spoke to me and I had a spiritual awakening. When the door closed on that prison cell, I thought, What have I done to myself? It had never occurred to me I would end up in jail. That was definitely not part of the dream. I was fifty years old and I was really scared. I got on my knees and said, "Okay, God, I surrender to you. If you're here and you hear me, I really need you to speak to me right now."
When my cellmate offered me her Bible, I closed my eyes, opened it up, pointed to the page, and then looked to see what it said. Here's what I read: "The Lord has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, and I will praise the Lord.... I will praise You, for You have answered me, and have become my salvation" (Psalm 118:18-19, 21, NKJV). Today, the Lord is and always will be my salvation. And there is no doubt in my mind that my finger went right to those words so that I would know God was speaking directly to me. The message could not have been clearer to me.
During my year in prison, I worked really hard at getting my act together, and I applied to get into the drug program there. At first, my request was denied, but I kept insisting, "I need this program." The man in charge said, "I really doubt it. But maybe you'll hear from me." The next day, I received permission to enter the drug program. They even let me leave temporarily to appear in court for a hearing on a four-year suspended sentence from an earlier brush with the law. The day I appeared, the judge who had said, "If I ever see you again, you'll do every day of these four years," was not presiding, and the suspended sentence was not revoked. That could only have been the hand of God at work.
When I went back to prison, I worked even harder. I found a sponsor—a woman who was going to be incarcerated for the rest of her life because she had killed two people while driving drunk. When I asked her to sponsor me, she said, "You had better do everything I say, or you will end up right here next to me."
Once I was in the program, I worked the Steps. I had a counselor therapist who assisted me, and I revealed the deep, dark, dirty secrets of what had been done to me and what I had done to others. I also read my Bible every day. At first I didn't know how to read the Bible, so before I opened it, I would pray, "Please, God, give me the understanding of your Word. Let it hit me so I know what I'm reading." Still, in the beginning, the words didn't always make sense. I also started reading Our Daily Bread, a devotional booklet produced by RBC Ministries.
While I was in prison, I wrote to my kids every day. I received two letters in return. The first was from my eldest daughter, who wrote, "Dear Andrea, you don't deserve to be called Mother." The second letter was to tell me that my first grandson had been born and what a loser I was to choose crack and end up in prison so I couldn't even be there when my daughter had her first child. Though it hurt to read such harsh words, I said, "That's okay. God is the healer of families." And I just kept writing.
When I walked out of prison, I paroled straight into a drug program, but I left after six months. Four months later, I was back in prison. That just goes to show how you can be in a recovery home for six months and not be doing the deal. I still needed to connect my head with my heart—and I needed to turn to God to lead me every step of the way. I had to learn how to surrender to him. Back in prison, I really hit bottom, but then things began to change for the good, forever, one day at a time.
If you're going to be in a program, you have to do the work. And you have to decide that's what you want to do. If you make that choice and continue to walk it out day by day, you will find that you have a life beyond your wildest dreams. That may sound corny, but today my life has turned around so that I don't have to hurt anybody.
My children love me now. I have my own place, along with my youngest daughter, who is sixteen. I hadn't paid rent in twenty years—I'd lived off my mother and anybody else I could—but now I've had a job for three years (thank God for my business experience) and I'm paying my bills. Before I fell off the precipice of life into a deep, dark abyss, I had been promoted a couple of times, and it was the same company that hired me back as a parolee. We hire a lot of parolees and people who are in recovery.
I just want to tell you that recovery is there for the taking. All you have to do is get on your knees and ask God to direct your thinking on a daily basis. I suggest a Bible study resource such as Our Daily Bread as a good place to start. Read the daily message. Read the Bible verses that go along with it, and that will begin your journey through the Bible. Ask God to reveal his Word to you, and you will find that it all makes sense somehow. And when you lay your head down at night, say a prayer that you will be better the next day.
STEP ONE INSIGHT
We all know the meaning of the phrase "playing possum." It describes how a certain animal falls over and pretends to be dead when faced with a threatening situation. We humans are apt to do the same thing. When we encounter situations we perceive as dangerous or beyond us in some way, we cop out—we play dead. It's a form of surrender. In the animal kingdom, such a tactic often confuses the predator, and the one playing possum is left untouched. But it doesn't always work that way.
For most of us, playing possum is something we are determined to avoid at all costs. We see it as a sign of weakness, defeat, or humiliation, and there is something inside of us that recoils from such negative ideas. Everything in us wants to say, "No, I can handle it!" Unlike the opossum, we typically are determined to fight on and never surrender.
Recovery from our problems, addictions, and dependencies always begins by playing possum in a genuine way—by admitting defeat. When it comes to alcohol, drugs, sex, or food—or whatever the problem is that we can't solve or control—we begin the healing process by coming to terms with the absolute truth that we are powerless. Our problem has the upper hand, and we are incapable of breaking free on our own.
Our battle tactics to avoid surrender are common. The first weapon we turn to is our own willpower. "I should be able to handle this on my own," we tell ourselves. "In fact, I can handle this all by myself!" We convince ourselves we don't need a program or anyone else to help us. "I can break this dependency!" To prove the strength of our willpower, we may succeed in breaking the pattern of our problems or our dependency for a period of time—sometimes for six months or more. "The problem has gone away," we tell ourselves. But then, invariably, because our enemy is stronger than we are, we once again experience defeat and humiliation—left to face the reality of our powerlessness. No matter how hard we try, we always end up in the same place. It's like an endless loop that keeps us chasing after what we can never achieve.
We may also avoid surrendering to the truth of our powerlessness by using the weapon of blame—calling someone or something else the cause of our troubles. We tell ourselves, "I wouldn't have this problem if it weren't for ___________." (You can fill in the blank.) The fault always lies outside of us. Blaming is a wonderful way to avoid the reality of our powerlessness. If our problem is someone else's fault, then he or she is the key to fixing everything. We need the other person to get fixed first.
We can spend a lot of time and effort in blaming, and all we get out of it is a continuation of our problem and a growing bitterness within. This bitterness comes not from our powerlessness over our problems, but from our helplessness in changing the other person. There is a world of difference between powerlessness and helplessness.
Denial is probably the most common weapon in our arsenal. Everyone around us sees what is happening to us, but we're blind to it. They tell us we have a problem, and we deny what they are saying. When other people tell us that we are in denial, they may think we're using it as a weapon to keep them off balance in their relationship with us. But the real purpose of our denial is to keep ourselves from facing the truth. Denial protects us from the truth. The more we use the weapon of denial, the more everything stays the same.
Another common weapon is isolation. If we tell ourselves that we almost have everything under control, we will gradually withdraw from anyone who presses the truth upon us. We often end up destroying friendships and even our family relationships. But when we stand alone, we stand defeated. We are powerless on our own! That's why the first word of Step One is we. Nothing changes for very long for the loner. It always takes a community to help us recover from our dependencies and our problems.
Our society teaches us the concepts of individualism and self-sufficiency, and thus the suggestion that we can't do it on our own goes against the grain. Further, when we are bound up in our problems, we get the grandiose idea that we don't need anybody—including God. But this prideful attitude will keep us fighting a losing battle with our problems, our addictions, and our dependencies. Honestly, we can never make it for very long on our own.
Maybe you have taken pride in the fact that your work hasn't suffered yet. But that's a hollow achievement. The truth is, our work is usually the last thing to fall apart. We will do everything we can to keep our jobs in spite of our problems. But eventually, as our addiction and our problems grow stronger and our lives become more unmanageable, our work will be affected as well.
The downward spiral will not stop until we finally come to grips with the fact that we are powerless. This is so hard for us to accept. If you're a woman, it may be even harder for you to accept because women have been fighting to regain a sense of power in society for decades. A woman may say to herself, "I need to claim my power as a woman!" But claiming power is not helpful when we are dealing with addictions, dependencies, or perpetual problems. The struggle to retain a sense of control simply keeps us on the treadmill to nowhere. The truth is that once we accept our powerlessness, we stop the erosion of our sense of who we are.
When we finally surrender and accept the reality that we are truly powerless, we begin to develop eyes that gradually open to the truth of our lives. When this happens, our recovery begins—the process of getting our lives and our families back. We begin to see that our lives really have become unmanageable. As we let go of the defensive posture of denial, we see clearly that our relationships have suffered. People have pulled away from us to the point that our only "friend" is our addiction or our problem.
As we see more clearly the consequences of our behaviors, we are left with the pain of how we have hurt those we love. We are filled with an awareness of our guilt and shame—and we may be tempted to go back and bury ourselves in our dependencies so we can avoid the painful truth of what we have done to our lives. But once we begin the steps to recovery, we must stay the course. Remember, this is just the beginning.
Excerpted from THE BOOK OF LIFE RECOVERY by STEPHEN ARTERBURN DAVID STOOP Copyright © 2012 by Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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