The Secret to Permanent Sobriety: Part Two

The Never-Ending Journey)

In my last post I shared how addiction recovery programs and motivational mantras can help us to find sobriety for a time, but they are not a total cure for our sickness. If we are trying to find a way to fix our addiction in one great action, we will be forever disappointed. The secret to permanent sobriety is that there is no secret to permanent sobriety.

Yes, it is possible to live a life free of your addiction, but not as the result of a single grand gesture. It comes by a continual sequence of innumerable efforts. We seem to think of our recovery as a state, a place that we can reach and then stay there. But the fact is, sober living is the byproduct of a lifelong journey for personal improvement, and once we stop taking steps in that journey the sobriety will also falter. Thus, each program and each mantra is only a step that gives us a reprieve for a time, but it must be followed by another step.

The good news is that once we accept that the single grand gesture that brings permanent sobriety is a myth, then we can also accept that the daily gesture that brings a period of sobriety is real. Only by surrendering our desire for the big fix can we finally appreciate the little one. This is why the AA mantra has always been “one day at a time.”

Ongoing Programs)

And speaking of AA, the reason why twelve-step programs are able to permanently sustain an addict in his or her sobriety is because they never end. There is no graduating from a twelve-step program. You come to the meetings, you work the steps, you finish the last one…and then you start over at the beginning, and find someone to sponsor, and keep coming to the meetings.

I mentioned previously that I went to a one-time intensive recovery program, but even they did not profess to be the final cure for all that ailed us. As we finished up their program they repeatedly reiterated to us that if we hadn’t already, we needed to join some continuous recovery program to maintain our sobriety. I admit that I was lazy in making that transition. I was in a good place for the moment and I took their advice halfheartedly. I had seen for myself that I could be restored to sanity, but I guess I had to also see that I could start slipping back into insanity as well.

I have since made a commitment to myself that I will never allow myself to be inactive in my recovery work again. I will always be attending some sort of meeting and doing some sort of homework. I will always ask myself what the next step for a healthier life will be, rather than say that my life is good enough where it is.

Change Within the Ritual)

There is another seduction that we have to recognize and reject as well. After an addict accepts that a singular effort won’t keep him sober and he commits to regularly meeting with a group and doing recovery homework, he might think that he is now in the clear. He believes that he has found the recipe to a happy life, and if he repeats it over and over, it will carry him through to the end.

But this still isn’t quite true.

And the reason why it is not quite true is because we do have an enemy who actively makes war with our souls. I personally believe in the reality of the devil, and I believe that once we find a line of defense that keeps him at bay, he immediately starts concocting another method for attack.

This is how warfighting works, after all. Once an enemy has been defeated in one battle, they aren’t going to keep attacking on the same field under the same conditions. They are going to change tactics. At first they might deploy forces to a weak point. When that point is fortified, they might shift to guerilla, strike-and-run tactics. When precautions have been made against that, they might send spies into the country and stir up sedition from within.

The strategies that worked for you yesterday will not always be fit for the threats of today. You have to be prepared to change tactics just as much as your adversary does. So yes, you keep going to your recovery group and keep doing your homework, but you do that so you have a reserve of strength to respond to the ever-shifting battle.

As an example, in the beginning the addict does this work so that he can learn to overcome his immediate temptations. By the repeated effort, he gradually makes progress, and finally seems to be able to live with a constant sobriety. But now that he is living a healthier, more grounded lifestyle, he finds that the people in his home are resisting that change. His new patterns have broken their expectations of him, and even though he is clearly happier and healthier, they will exert pressure to return the relationship to more familiar places. Thus, the assault has changed from temptation to relationship. The attacks are coming from within the addict’s very own home. Now the addict must learn not only how to establish boundaries with his own behavior, but also with others. A twelve-step program and recovery homework will help him to connect to his higher power and have the strength to do this, but he is going to have to employ new practices in his life to keep up.

To Be a Warrior)

Every addict in recovery is called to fight an eternal war. Every addict is called to forever be a warrior. I realize that this probably sounds exhausting and grim, and perhaps on some days it is. But thankfully, miraculously, there really is an incredibly joy that comes out of living this sort of always-active lifestyle. In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous they say: “There is, however, a vast amount of fun about it all. I suppose some would be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity. But just underneath there is deadly earnestness.” Later on, they also say: “But we aren’t a glum lot. If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life.”

Getting started is hard. Sometimes it is hard enough that I try to put it off and look for an easier way around it. But when I finally stop wasting my time in vain pursuits, get to work, and build up just a little bit of momentum, I suddenly find that this labor becomes the most pleasant and rewarding work in all my life. Not only do I feel a sort of satisfaction and excitement about the whole thing, I am also able to look myself in the mirror with dignity and pride. I know that I’m genuinely doing my part and that God is making up for the rest.

Perhaps you are also one of those who has lapsed between programs. Perhaps you thought you were all better, and seemed to be so for a time, but now the enemy is knocking at the gate once more. Perhaps you have felt afraid that this means you will never be whole. I hope these posts have helped you to see that there is still hope for you. Not hope for a one-time cure-all, but hope for an ongoing pattern of life, one which evolves and grows with the changing times, and which keeps you healthy in the moment, from moment-to-moment. It might require a paradigm shift for you to accept these realities, but I pray that you will make that shift quickly. Once you do, you will ascend to a higher truth and sobriety than you had the first time around! A truth and a sobriety that works, and then works again and again!

Next Steps

I have just finished my study of Genesis. Over the past week, as I’ve been approaching this milestone, I’ve been thinking about what it is I want to do next. I could move on to a study of Exodus, or I could go back to doing topical studies, or I could try something else.

And as I’ve thought about it, I feel that I would like to be more open about my personal journey. I’d like to share about the spiritual journey I’ve taken thus far in life, and where I am trying to go with it now. I want to talk about the principles and practices that mean a great deal to me, and which ones I am still working on. I want to discuss how I have felt my soul saved by Christ, and how I have tried to become a genuine disciple as a result.

In order to explain my journey, it will be necessary to explain more of who I am and who I was before Christ rescued me. That means shining a light on private areas of my life, such as my wounds and shame. I don’t intend to go into excessive detail about every thing that I regret in life, but I do think it is important to admit at least their general nature, in order to provide hope to others who can relate to those experiences.

As such, these next episodes are going to put me in quite a vulnerable position, and I hope that you will receive what I share with compassion. I’m going to first lay out a little groundwork, though. Tomorrow I will give the roadmap for what the next several days will cover. Thank you, and I’ll see you then.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 33:17-20

17 And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house, and made booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

18 And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan-aram; and pitched his tent before the city.

19 And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for an hundred pieces of money.

20 And he erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel.

Jacob continues on to Succoth and makes a more permanent dwelling-place there, but then continues again to the city of Shechem. Some scholars have wondered whether the temporary stay at Succoth was to heal from the thigh wound he endured from his night-time wrestle, but whatever the reason, at long last Jacob had found himself in the land of Canaan once more.

But though he was back in familiar country, Jacob did not try to move in on his father’s abode. Rather he bought his own place, with his own money, and erected his own altar to the Lord. Jacob is putting in his stakes, finally choosing a place of permanent abode.

Or so he thinks. In a little bit we will read how he is moved once again to a different part of the country, and even in his old age he will move to Egypt when famine strikes the land. He seems to have his heart set upon settling down, but like his grandfather Abraham, his fate is to spend considerable time as a stranger in a strange country.

Spiritual Analysis- Genesis 20:1

1 And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar.

In Abraham’s own words, he was “a stranger and a sojourner,” journeying from place to place throughout his entire life. He had spent much of his time in the valley and mountains of Canaan, but now he left the area of his future inheritance for Gerar.

Earlier, when he went to Egypt, we were told that he was compelled to do so by a famine. Here it is not explained to us whether he was driven by need or by want, and I am very curious to know. I recently noted how Abraham’s living out in the open had meant he was free to follow his own morals, as opposed to Lot who dwelt in a dangerous city where he made compromises with evil. But in the next verses we will learn that Abraham is similarly afraid of the people in the land of Gerar, as he once again tries to conceal the fact that Sarah is his wife. As before, this results in a difficult situation for the two of them. It would seem strange to come to a land that he considers so godless and dangerous as a passing curiosity, but then what was the reason?

In any case, Abraham will eventually have his fears of this land resolved, will make important friends therein, be free to live in honesty, and even his long-promised son Isaac will be born there.

Leading to Water- Genesis 37:23-24, 28; 41:38, 40-42

And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;
And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.
Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?
Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.
And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.
And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck;

COMMENTARY

And when Joseph was come unto his brethren, they stript Joseph of his coat, and cast him into a pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver
I have already considered the story of Jacob, and how he became an active author of his life rather than having everything handed to him. And this pattern seems to have been an integral part of his lineage. As seen in the verses I have shared, it was certainly the same for his own son Joseph.
Joseph, like Jacob, began his life in comfort and wealth. He had everything that he needed, but then he also lost it all when his brothers stripped him of his precious coat and sold him as a slave to a foreign land. If anything, he lost even more than his father had.

Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled. And Pharaoh took off his ring  and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and put a gold chain about his neck;
But also he ended up gaining more than his father as well. Like Jacob, he ascended by his personal effort and by his reliance on the Lord. From a slave, to a prisoner, to the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. Who else could claim a similar journey? Certainly it was a far different inheritance than the one he would have expected as a child, but it was an inheritance that was truly all his own.
Like these patriarchs, we are not meant to just “inherit” our journey, or testimony, or purpose in life. If there is anything made clear in the stories, it is that God wants us to have an experience that is all our own. Our lives shouldn’t be built on someone else’s foundation. Mine should be rooted in Him and me, and yours should be rooted in Him and you.

Leading to Water- Review of Jacob

Over the past few days I have considered the story of Jacob in the Old Testament, and I have found that it has several lessons to teach. First, though it is important to understand the context of where Jacob begins his story.

Jacob was born into a rich family and likely lacked for nothing. He even obtained the birthright from his father, and thus all of the luxuries he enjoyed as a son would one day become his very own. His father and grandfather were also very spiritual men, and had no doubt educated him about God and the covenant that he had been born into.

Yet for having had a claim on everything, from a broader point of view Jacob actually possessed nothing. These were Abraham and Isaac’s wealth and blessings just being handed down to him. His forefathers had earned all this, not him. Fortunately, it was not his destiny to just become his father. It was intended that he would find his own self.

And so he was sent out from his home, and his comforts, and his family, and the entire land of his youth. Alone in the wild he made his pillow out of stones and asked God for the thing he wanted most: to just go back home to his father’s house.

But that was not what happened.

God’s intent was that Jacob build his own house. To be motivated in that cause, God led Jacob to Rachel who awoke a powerful love in him. He felt inspired by her to toil and labor for the things his heart yearned for. Fourteen years he served for her, and along the way he obtained for himself large flocks of goats and sheep. These became the foundation of his own personal vocation, a wealth that he had earned rather than inherited.

Eventually Jacob did return to his homeland, bringing with him his great entourage. He received word that his brother Esau was coming to meet him, though, with a large host of men. It seemed certain to Jacob that Esau was coming to kill him and everything that he had. Family, servants, flocks…all of it.

Once again Jacob had a private conversation with God, pleading for the thing he wanted most: that he and his family would be kept alive.

And that was what happened.

Esau’s heart had been softened and he welcomed his brother in peace. Not only this, but Jacob was given a new name from the Lord: Israel. This is a very fitting symbol for how Jacob had truly become a new man. His own man.

His relationship to God was his own. His family was his own. His vocation was his own…. Through the help of God, his entire life was his own.