Source, Setting and Symbol

“God is faithful, and by Him you were called to fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”          1 Corinthians 1:9

To be transformed from a seeming state of utter hopelessness and helplessness, to the joy of being clean and sober is an unmitigated miracle of God. Called out of the darkness, the recovering addict and alcoholic now stands in the Light of recovery. 

Like all miracles, it occurs in a place. It happens somewhere: under supervision at rehab; in the rooms of a 12 Step fellowship, or by a direct spiritual experience during a worship service or prayer meeting. Miracles need a setting, and symbols to concretize the experience. 

Symbols such as therapeutic conversations and alumni programs at treatment centres; the principles for sober living outlined in the 12 Steps and other recovery literature; and the Christian creeds, prayers and Holy Bible, are all outward manifestations of God’s goodness.

Most importantly, the setting and symbols flow from a source: the presence of the omniscient, omnipotent,  loving, caring, God who is greater than any manifestation of the obsessions and compulsions which plague the afflicted. God is the source; the settings and symbols are evidence of His devotion to the sick and the dying. 

During the early months of recovery, every minute of every day is dedicated to maintaining abstinence. During the early years, the habits which support a recovery lifestyle must be learned and practiced, until a wellness foundation is built. Despite the ups and downs, the initial joy of the emancipation of slavery to substances bathes everything in a golden hue. 

“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” Psalms 118:8

Over time, the drastic, erratic lifestyle and emotional turbulence subsides. The recovering person’s perspective on life becomes more realistic. The bloom fades from the early magnificence of simply being clean and sober. The old habit of fault finding returns. What was overlooked in the beginning: the chipped paint or the untended shrubbery at the treatment centre, the chronically relapsing attendees at the 12 Step meetings, the human failings of the people who were the strong support at the beginning, are now seen in a different light.

When the early acceptance of everything recovery related, sours into resentment because of unmet expectations, God’s unconditional love and strength are needed in a more profound way to soften the emotional blows of disappointment. 

Hopelessness, broken hearts, and dark nights of the soul will arrive long after substance abuse has ended. The dis-ease is progressive; it continues to worsen with or without abstinence. (Just ask anyone who has relapsed). Recovery must always be sought, just like it was at the outset, and the settings and symbols are best reinforced by a personal relationship with God, to prevent a relapse or worse. 

To be happy, joyous, and free on a good day, and to get through anything clean and sober on all the other days, God must be the strong foundation: the source of provision for all emotional, mental, physical and spiritual needs. 

When God is rightly acknowledged as the source of recovery, humility, wisdom and understanding flow from Him through the recovering person. With Jesus Christ at the centre of the recovery experience, the setting, the symbols, and the people so crucial for long term success can be respected and loved for what and who they truly are: expressions of God’s mercy and beneficence.

The adversary waits with enduring patience and hidden cunning to reclaim all unsuspecting souls. Evoking the presence of Jesus Christ, through prayer and thanksgiving will provide the counsel, strength and guidance needed to navigate every joy and every challenge faced in recovery. 

Relying on the source, and respectfully recognizing the setting and symbols, enables anyone to have as much clean time as they want. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not;
In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6


Photo: Brandon Jarman at Unsplash

So, What’s the Problem?

“How many alcoholics does it take to change a light bulb?”
“Ten. One to change the bulb and nine to go to the meeting and say, “I wouldn’t have done it that way.”

The problem is terminal uniqueness, regardless of how compliant the addict or alcoholic seems under certain conditions. The problem is not one of being too weak to say, ‘No’ to that next drink or drug. It’s just the opposite. Addicts and alcoholics are some of the most strong willed people God has placed on this earth. Just ask anyone who has ever been in a  relationship with one; and herein lies a glimpse at the foundation of the problem. 

Non-addicts and alcoholics generally know when to ask for help. When a problem becomes too great, they stop trying to do it alone. Not so with the afflicted. 

Like getting in the fighting ring with a heavy weight boxer, the addict or alcoholic will return to drinking and drugging again and again, and again, and never admit defeat. Convinced beyond all reason that under different circumstances they’ll be able to ‘lick this thing’, they’ll die trying to prove that they’re right. 

So it’s not a problem of self will, it’s a problem of humility. Consequently the solution is not an application of will, it’s one of surrender. The understanding that surrender simply means, ‘moving over to the winning side’ does little to move the alcoholic off their mark because they’d rather be right than be happy.

In addition to the belief that they can handle anything and everything on their own, is the unwillingness to compromise (unless it’s on their terms). This insistence upon being in control alienates those near and dear to them who would like nothing better than to somehow be of help.  

We all know people who insist on having their way and calling all the shots. The difference with an alcoholic or addict is that if they don’t come around to a more collaborative way of living, they will die trying to prove themselves right. 

Even after years of continuous sobriety, the need to be right, and to have others understand their way of seeing things, is the underlying cause of the addict’s pain and confusion. 

The path to wellness can only begin with the realization that something has to change, and it’s probably them. The blame thrower has got to go, and this understanding must come from within. No one can convince them of this.

Recovery begins with the desire for change, and the willingness to act on that desire. It begins with a chink in the armour, a little crevice into which the unconditional, unfailing love of God can enter to soften the resistance. 

Such love usually finds its way into their lives because God will use just about anybody to carry the message that the suffering and self-loathing of active addiction can end; and that by doing a few simple things on a daily basis, anyone seeking recovery can have as much sobriety or clean time as they want.

The first step is quite literally one of asking God, in all humility and with a sincere desire, for a miracle; and then to do whatever is necessary to stop.

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6,7

Jesus Christ is standing by right now. At this very minute, He is waiting to help anyone who asks. Whether the alcoholic is trying to draw their first sober breath or the addict finds themselves at the brink of hell, surrender is the lynch pin that swings wide the gate to freedom. Surrender and ask God for help.

“.. ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” Luke 11:9


It’s Time

“Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He shall exalt you.”   James 4:10

Success in recovery is eminent when we recognize our need for God’s help to live clean and sober lives; including abstinence from addictive behaviours like disordered eating, gratuitous sex, reckless gambling, and compulsive smoking, retail therapy and/or technology addiction. Because addicts find the best sport in high risk stakes, and have little sympathy for how our habits affect the lives of others, our need for complete dependence upon God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, is greater than for non-addicts.

We may be long past the time when anything about our destructive behaviour is fun, and the affect we have upon our friends, family and employers causes us deep pain and embarrassment. We barely remember the relief we used to feel from our addiction, and now find ourselves desperately longing for a way out.

Surrender, and an admission of defeat swings wide the door to new possibilities. This is as true for the alcoholic desperate for their first sober breath, as it is for the man or woman with many years of recovery looking for a way out of some other manifestation of obsession and compulsion.When the pain of not doing something, becomes greater than the pain of change, we are ready to take action.

The moment of our readiness is a great mystery. If we’re on an elevator going down, we can get off anytime we want to, we don’t have to take it all the way to the bottom. Even with partial readiness we can make a beginning. A 180 degree turn can be made by 180 one degree turns, consistently over time. Our willingness to surrender can deepen with practice.

When we finally see our addiction as a lousy movie in which we have cast ourselves as the major player, we can stop hitting the ‘repeat’ button to watch it again and again. Whether it’s our first admission of powerlessness or our twentieth, a turn for the better always follows complete surrender, asking for help from God, and other trustworthy recovery support friends..

“Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ The chains fell from his wrists.” Acts 12:7

Like the angel who broke Peter’s chains and released him from prison, God will break our chains when we believe, and act on that faith.  We tend to give over the parts of ourselves which we think will be pleasing to God, when what He really wants is the 10% we haven’t given him yet. Admitting complete defeat, and sincerely offering up our fear, pain, and denial sets us on our feet to begin anew. Surender means moving over to the winning side.

“For you have been called to freedom….” Galatians 5:13

Imagine! We have been called to freedom! Praise Jesus! The years of self-loathing, self-destruction, and causing a train wreck every time we give in to our compulsions can end here and now! We are given the power to change by God. We are saved from further destruction because He calls us to freedom.

When we set our compulsions ahead of our reliance on the Lord, we place the reins of  our lives into the hands of the adversary. Step away from the problem. It’s that simple.

When we sincerely ask, and listen for God’s answer, He will direct us to partners in faith, and others who can help us. However much we want to do it alone, we cannot recover alone. Isolation is a symptom of addiction. When we become willing to pursue our recovery the way we pursued our addiction, all will be well. We have transferrable skills like commitment, determinism, willingness, and single minded focus, that canbe used to our advantage, under God’s direction. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6