by Bengt Olaf Thor
We admitted we were powerless over our dependencies that our lives had become unmanageable
But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.
Step 1 asks us to confront the chaos and the unmanageability of our dependent life-styles. The paradox of every addiction is that the more we try to compulsively control ourselves and others through the practice of the addiction, more out of control our lives spin.
In what counterfeit ways do we seek for interior security through co-dependent manipulation of the outside world? We may struggle desperately through our perfectionism or workaholism to win the praise and approval of our fellows. We may become preoccupied through hypochondria with health and bodily functions in pursuit of a kind of physical immortality and invincibility. We may strive to shore up our own fragile self-esteem by allowing a love partner to become the only source of affirmation for our worth.
In the depths of our dependency, we are like sheep, “weary and scattered. “Scripture assures us that the True Shepherd, Jesus Christ, views this human discord and fragmentation with deep compassion. Twelve Step recovery allows us to confront compassionately but firmly our own human unmanageability.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform that is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; But the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
Two indicators of addiction are the gradual loss of identity and the progressive violation of one’s own values in the practice of the addiction. The gospel describes these addiction symptoms in the following terms: It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (verse 20)
In assessing the presence of addictions and codependencies, we frequently ask the following simple diagnostic question: Is the dog wagging the tail, or is the tail wagging the dog? For example, the conscientious workaholic may have strong values concerning the primacy of home and family life. However, as the workaholism progresses, the workaholic does violence to those values by diverting increasing amounts of time and energy into work pursuits. The tail is now wagging the dog.
A universal warning sign of all addictions is the frightening recognition that I have begun to “do what I will not to do.” This recognition is the beginning of the awareness of powerlessness and can be used by God as the beginning of the end of the addiction.
Psalm 6:2-4, 6-7
Have mercy on me, O Lord,
for I am weak;
O Lord, heal me,
for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled;
But you, O Lord- how long?
Return, O Lord, deliver me!
Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake!
I am weary with my groaning;
All night I make my bed swim;
I drench my couch with my tears.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
It grows old because of all my enemies.
It is human nature to want to be (and to believe that we are) in complete control of our circumstances and our lives. But truly fortunate people come to a point in their lives when they realize this is definitely not possible or even desirable. These people are the fortunate ones because they have come to the end of themselves just as the psalmist David has come to the end of his physical and emotional resources.
“My bones are troubled” is a Hebrew way of saying, “I am wracked with pain. “David, the valiant warrior, admits his weakness, his emotional collapse. But instead of being defeated by this admission, David has actually placed himself in the strongest position possible. Now he is free to transcend the emptiness of his own resources, free to surrender trying to manage things on his own strength, and free to partake of God’s unlimited resources!
Have mercy on me, O Lord,
for I am in trouble;
My eye wastes away with grief.
Yes, my soul and my body!
For my life is spent with grief,
And my years with sighing;
My strength fails because of my iniquity,
And my bones waste away.
David laments, “My life is spent with grief.” For those of us who have contended with crippling dependencies, such lamentation is necessary if we ate to fully surrender our broken lives to God.
Although we may associate brokenness, or powerlessness, with defeat, in reality this admission is the first building block toward lasting victory over all of our addictions and dependencies. A paradox of our recovery is that we must give up in order to win.
Usually the admission of powerlessness cannot be achieved unless we have first assessed the magnitude and gravity of what our addiction has cost us. We may want to compile a list of the losses that have resulted from the practice of our dependencies. These losses may include such things as diminished vocational achievement, impaired intimacy in our most important relationships, and even a ruptured spiritual relationship with God.
Only as we appreciate the full grief of those losses can we approach the surrender required in Step1. Grieving as David grieved cleanses our wounds so that the healing can begin.
O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your wrath, Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure!
For Your arrows pierce me deeply, And Your hand presses me down.
There is no soundness in my flesh Because of Your anger, Nor is there any health in my bones Because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head; Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
My wounds are foul and festering Because of my foolishness.
I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long.
For my loins are full of inflammation, And there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and severely broken; I groan because of the turmoil of my heart.
Lord, all my desire is before You; And my sighing is not hidden from You.
David is called “the man after God’s own heart” (see 1 Sam 13:14; Act 13:22). We would think that such a person would have a life of peace and serenity. Yet Psalm 38 shows us that David experienced periods in his life when he had to go back to Square One. In this psalm, he mourns over how unmanageable his life has become. He has strayed from allowing God to control his life; and because of this, he admits he has become foolish (v.5) and crushed by his own behavior (v.4). David realizes his behavior has caused him great physical and emotional pain. He declares in verse 8, “I am feeble and severely broken. “Nevertheless, surrender to God does not come easily, for he still experiences groaning “because of the turmoil of [his] hart” (v.8).
An ironic aspect of addiction is that letting go of the things that cause us misery is extremely difficult. But with David we can say to God, “My sighing is not hidden from You” (v.9). God knows our struggles and will give us the power to look to Him for help.
My dishonor is continually before me, And the shame of my face has covered me,
Because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, Because of the enemy and the avenger.
A sense of shame is one of the most toxic emotions we can experience. Modern medical understanding of addictions and compulsivity tells us that our drivenness is often an effort to escape from or compensate for a profound sense of shame and inadequacy. Thousands of years ago, a psalmist spoke of this phenomenon when he lamented that “the shame of my face has covered me” (v.15).
What is this shame that can envelop and paralyze us? We may feel shame about our estrangement from God. We may harbor shame feelings about our inability to pull in the reins on addictive or compulsive behaviors. We may regret and feel ashamed for the damage we have inflicted on others through our life-styles. We may carry memories of false shame about the dysfunction of our childhood families.
At Step 1, we face a turning point. Will we allow this flood of guilt to overwhelm us and to drive us back into the practice of our dependencies? Or will we yield this colossal unmanageability over to the care of God’s grace? The choice is ours.
For He will deliver the needy when he cries,
The poor also, and him who has no helper.
He will spare the poor and needy,
And will save the souls of the needy.
Pretending or assuming that we are strong and able and in control prevents our taking even the first step toward physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Wise King Solomon wrote that God was ready to save any who would humble themselves to cry out to Him for help.
Deliverances will come only for those who acknowledge their lives are unmanageable. As long as we are too proud to admit our failures and powerlessness, we will not begin to see God work in our lives.
Even when we begin to acknowledge the unmanageability of our condition, we may find ourselves looking to friends and relatives to rescue us. It is only as we come to grips with the fact that God alone is our ultimate source of healing that we are ready for true liberation.