Archive for the ‘Journal Through Recovery’ Category

Step Four means looking deep into me. Way deeper than I ever imagined.

One year. Twelve steps. A spiritual awakening.

My timing is terrible or perfect. Depends on your perspective. My journey through recovery landed at step 12 at the end of one year. Step 12, regardless of your flavor of recovery, is the culmination of a harrowing adventure of self discovery for most. For me, it has been truly as described. A spiritual awakening. And having experienced that awakening, it is now my charge to revisit these steps and to carry this message to others. To show the path that was shown to me.

My year hasn’t been smooth or simple or straight or calm or soothing or any other serene type words. Quite the opposite. It has looked like one of my earlier titles for a post – a rollercoaster. Lots of ups and downs. I remember clearly my step one, where I had to read my litany of sexual sins to a room full of people I didn’t know that well, while I sobbed under the weight of my shame. I can’t understate the importance of working step three, where I finally realized that I had turned my life and salvation over to God but never my will. I hadn’t ever truly believed that I could trust my secrets to Him and that He wouldn’t abandon me too. Ups and downs.

Completing a searching and fearless moral inventory in step four was way more suffocating than I imagined. But foundational. I review that list as my list. My flaws. The ones He imparted to me. Some are gone. Some are ingrained. All are there because of how He made me. And I am aware of them all. I know they are there and can only be endured by His strength, not mine. This realization gave me the courage to complete step five, to share my flaws with someone else. Someone not in recovery, who didn’t know my stains. Scary and valuable.

Through these flaws I see into the struggles of others. I can carry this message to others because my flaws are still here. Reviewing these flaws in light of step six, being entirely ready for God to remove them, for me meant truly being ready for God to bear them, for Him to have dominion over all of me. And using them for the difficult work to come. Amends.

Having a clear understanding of my defects of character has made it clear to me how I have hurt and damaged others. This awareness allowed me to identify those I had harmed, shaped my heart to become willing to make amends, and then actually following through. Seeking out a daily living amends to my wife. Constantly staying close to the pain and the brokenness my years of betrayal have caused her and building some stability with her, one moment by one moment. Spelling out in detail the years of absence and abandonment I caused to my boys and listening as they poured out their hurt from my lack of connection. And seeing the gift of time…the opportunity God has given me to make amends to them.

Today having an actual relationship with God. One where I listen and talk. Give and take. Understand and seek understanding. This year has been a true spiritual awakening. Gradual. Time consuming. Unending. And ready for the next step.

At the beginning of my Step 11, seeking to improve my constant contact with God, my sponsor (as a reminder, he is the only smiling happy sadist I have ever met) instructed me to develop a process for making decisions. I did that and it actually works for me and my wife. Good stuff. So on to finishing these steps, right? Not quite.

So he challenged me to make a list. Every day. A list of the things that were distracting, anxiety inducing, stressful. Things that seemed insurmountable. Things that were too big for me. That felt too big for God. Ok, that seems a little bit scary, put the source of my fear into writing. Giving them reality and weight.

And I did. I started writing them down. Actually acknowledging their existence. By doing that I found…that they didn’t immediately go away. Ok, so that sucks. Thanks, sponsor. Now I am even more anxious about them. So I kept doing that, writing them down, putting them aside.

I pulled out a list from a month ago. Here is my list in its entirety. These are the things that were keeping me up at night:

My son’s college choice
Paying our bills
My job
Paying for college
Work credit card bill

Those were my worries, the things that were causing me endless anxiety and stress. Thirty days ago. Thirty days of focusing on identifying my issues and fears and making sure I talked about them with God.

Something weird happened. Those aren’t fears or anxieties anymore. They weren’t all solved how I wanted them to be solved. What did happen is I gave them up. By identifying them and recognizing my powerlessness, I got practiced at overtly sharing them with the One who can.

In focusing on improving my constant contact with God, I have realized something that I learned in step one. Yes, I know, I am a very slow learner. I am powerless…not just over my addiction. I am powerless over my fears, my anxieties, my bills, my relationship with my wife, my son’s college. My list.

Psalm 55:22 says “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you.” Not He will give you everything you want or He will solve all your problems. Not He will check all the boxes on my “wish” list. He will sustain me.

My list is different now. It includes things like worrying about my parents being able to continue to afford assisted living, my youngest son integrating into a new school, my wife starting a new job. My list keeps changing. I wish I could say I don’t worry or stress or feel anxiety over my list. I could say that but I wouldn’t be rigorously honest. What has changed is my contact with God has changed.

Instead of holding onto my list, obsessing over it, trying to fix everything, I do some of those things, but I also talk to God about my list. I know I am powerless to handle my list. I know he isn’t powerless. He is all powerful, the Almighty, the Great I Am (does that name for God just not sound cool??). Talking to him about my list breaks my isolation and my control. It improves my constant contact with God, and He listens.


“I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see…”Amazing Grace, John Newton

How many times have you sung that refrain? As a Southern Baptist from a very rural, small town in Mississippi, I would put the number in the thousands. I thought I understood what John Newton meant. I read about his story, as a reformed slave trader and Anglican clergyman. He had what can only be described as a “spiritual awakening.” He couldn’t unsee once he could finally see. And I now understand why.

When I first read about John Newton, I thought that he finally was able to see his own sin. That he could see his evilness as a slave trader, how he transported human lives as cargo. I thought that is what he could finally see. Only now, I think it was more than that. I think he saw his own brokenness. I think he probably already knew he was broken the entire time. What I think he finally saw was what I finally saw…so was everyone else.

I have said that before. I actually even know Romans 3:23 – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And I can even Google and find Romans 5:8 where Paul says “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Of course I know we are all sinners. Only, I thought I was the only one who was really a sinner. You know, the bad ones.

I had lunch with a friend from church last week. A friend that I respect and have been in Bible study with. I had the opportunity to share my story with him. I didn’t expect to or really honestly even want to. But he hit one of my criteria for telling my story…I heard in his conversation that he could benefit from it so I told him. As I told it, he kept asking questions, ones that only someone who knows they are broken too would ask.

I have another friend from where I used to live who has been talking with me about job advice and how to transition to a new role. He is struggling. Not just with the job itself or finding a new one. He is hurting, broken, dealing with the damage from isolating. I know the pressures he faces, the overwhelming feeling of grasping for control and not being able to find it.

The difference in what I sang about being blind and now seeing is that they are no longer words. Now I do see. I see my friend hurting from a pain he doesn’t think he can share. I watch the lack of trust my wife now has in even the small things I tell her because of my lifetime of deception. I see my mother and the hopelessness she finds on some days when my father can’t remember where he is, who his friends and family are or why she left to go to the bathroom.

And what I have found in my new sight is that like my brother John Newton, I can’t unsee anyone around me. I feel the trauma, loneliness, fear, anxiety and isolation that comes from being separated from our Savior. I see something else as well…I see hope in community with my brothers and sisters. I see the promise of eternity with my family and friends in the presence of God.

Replacement therapy. Ever heard of that? So replacement therapy is when you try to make up for a deficit of a substance normally present in the body. Think nutrients or blood. Sounds simple enough and logical. Tonight I heard about another type of replacement therapy. Replacing the negative and destructive thoughts and behaviors with positive or good thoughts and behaviors. I will have to admit, I never thought of this type of replacement therapy.

I went to a group meeting tonight. The Tuesday one I like that isn’t too large. The leader is consistent, kind, and encouraging. Not bad qualities to have. So tonnight the topic was on Step 7 and humbly asking God to remove all our shortcomings. Did you catch that word? Humbly. Yeah, that one. So the steps leading up to Step 7 are focused on identifying those flaws and character defects that have led us down this path. Sorry, to identify those that have led ME down this path. I have done that. I have done Step 7. I have humbly asked him to remove them. I have also witnessed that happen. He has instantly removed some, He hasn’t others. I kind of expected them to all go away immediately. Yeah, I was that dumb. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

We went through the meeting, everyone shared. And the leader was closing the meeting. Until one guy I know and knew before recovery had something else to say. I am glad he interrupted because I hadn’t really tuned in to the discussion because I had already done Step 7 and asked God to remove my shortcomings. So obviously I had this, right? I was an expert. Only, I almost missed it. And I love how God connects everything.

He stopped us and said he wanted to say one more thing that was important to him. Something he almost missed when working Step 7 that his sponsor pointed out to him. He said he would have missed it because he hadn’t seen this written down anywhere. Ok, I am listening now. He said that his sponsor encouraged him to not just humbly ask God to remove his flaws and defects of character. He should also ask God to REPLACE them with fruits of the spirit. Where his flaw was focus on self, he prayed that God would not only remove that but give him the desire to focus on others before himself. That when you remove a behavior or trait from your life, something has to fill it. So why not be intentional in seeking out fruits of the spirit to fill in for my flaws? Wow.

In my life, I have removed many of the destructive behaviors I previously had. I have filled in that time with relationships in recovery, with writing, with presence in my wife and kids lives. I spent this morning reviewing my flaws from my Step 4. God, I have asked you to remove my arrogance. Replace it with a spirit of humility. Remove my flaw of criticism and replace it with the gift of encouragement. Take my pride, please Lord take my pride, and replace it with a knowledge of my identity in and through you. Thanks for the word at group, my friend. Replacement therapy is what I call it. What an amazing gift God gives us. The opportunity in recovery to know our flaws, identify them by name, and seek His help in replacing them. Pretty damn cool.

I was sitting in group tonight, caught up in my everyday life. The stressful day I had with my job. The things I needed to do at home. Worrying about my kids and the issues they have in their lives. Wondering what kind of mood my wife would be in when I got home, hoping for a relaxing and peaceful night. Peaceful. To be at peace. What does that mean? There are multiple definitions. I kind of like this one courtesy of Miriam-Websters: a state of serenity or tranquility. Ok, I am not aware of that state. I am most certainly not at peace.

So God has this great way of continuing to reinforce the lessons He has for me. Like this one. About peace. And that I am not familiar with that state. Just as I am thinking about peace and my lack of it and how I am sure I am the only one who isn’t at peace, another guy in our group says that he is afraid to be at peace. He never has been and in anxious just thinking about being at peace. Yeah, exactly. Not worrying makes me….worried!

Romans 5:1 says that since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we can have peace. 1 Peter 3 says that we are to seek peace and pursue it. In John 14, Jesus told us He was leaving his peace with us. The great writer C.S. Lewis said that God could not give us happiness and peace apart from himself. Yet…I am not comfortable with the idea of being at peace. I don’t know how to be at peace.

So then another guy said something that really solidified it for me. He said that he had been a Christian since he was 15 but he was just now grasping it, what it actually meant to be a Christian. He had been living in God’s grace but not pursuing righteousness. He hadn’t really been living out his faith. I had to just stop and meditate on that and how it applied or didn’t apply to me. It does. Apply to me, I mean. Stay with me.

When I did Step 3 and turned over my life and my will to the care of God, I chose to turn over my thoughts and actions to Him. What I haven’t done is really pursue His righteousness. I have been trying to live out the steps, to follow them, to use them as my path of sanctification. However, I hadn’t really consciously pursued God’s righteousness, to seek to become more like Him in how I live my life.

So what does that have to do with peace and being at peace? According to His word I can have peace because I have been made right in His sight by faith. Not only can I have it, I am supposed to PURSUE it. Really truly seek it out and aspire to leave at peace. That is a little different than where I am at the moment, not at peace. So, this is something I aspire to, to be at peace. At least some of the time. And peace for me means a state of serenity and tranquility. I like that goal. God, grant me peace.

My wife has mentioned many times throughout the last year of my recovery that she likes that I have friends. Yeah, me too. Only she meant real friends. Not acquaintances. Not people I say hello to, how is it going, what’s up (sup for you millennials), or how’s work? No, she means David and Jonathan type of friends. Funny how God keeps improving my constant contact with Him. See, I was in Bible study not long ago and the lesson was on, yep you guessed it, friendship. What real friendship means. Not what I thought it was or meant.

So as many of you know, Bible studies are required to have five main points. Or that is how it seems to me. Sermons have three main points, Bible studies have five main points. I think that is a law. Somewhere in Malachi or Amos I think. Anyway, this Bible study had five main points. Stay with me, they were good ones.

The entire focus of this Bible study was about the friendship between David and Jonathan. Yep, that David. The adulterer, murderer, man after God’s own heart. And Jonathan, basically the rightful heir to the throne who was being usurped by David and who loved him more than he loved the idea of being a king. 1 Samuel 23 outlines their friendship, again focusing on five main points of how Jonathan and David demonstrated friendship. Basically, you demonstrate your friendship through:

  • Presence – a Biblical friend shows up, even when it isn’t convenient
  • Prayers – you pray for your friends; not that lip service stuff, real prayer where you lift up your friend and their needs to your Father
  • Protection – you step up for your friends, even if it involves sacrifice or risk to you; especially when they can’t protect themselves
  • Personal loyalty – friends mess up, sometimes badly; Biblical friends have “fierce allegiance” especially when they stumble
  • Promise – friends seal friendship with loyalty, with a promise to be a friend; that means always

After I entered recovery, let me be clear – after I was found out to have lied to everyone around me, I had to tell a friend that I had kept a whole part of myself from him. This was someone I had spent almost every Saturday morning with on long runs for the past 6 years. I had to tell him that I hadn’t been completely open with him, that I had kept things from him, that I had purposefully lied to him to make myself look better and to protect myself and my sin from being found out. So really all those five points above, I had kept none of them.

I didn’t know how he would react. I feared he would not want to be my friend. Ok, I knew that he wouldn’t just walk away. I knew he was too much of a Biblical friend to do that. I expected that he would agree to be my accountability partner and he would help me to stay accountable and transparent and honest. I expected him to be my friend. I didn’t expect that he would let me be his friend as well. See, he didn’t cut himself off from me. He didn’t keep things from me or not trust me with his struggles or issues or stumbles. He let me practice and learn to be a Biblical friend to him. That gift has been huge.