My Name Is Paul And I’m An Alcoholic, Step 12

One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. This month is Step 12. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle with what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs” (Step 12).

“So cooperate; never criticize. To be helpful is our only aim” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 89).

“When a man or woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone. He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being. He has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered. In a very real sense he has been transformed, because he has laid hold of a source of strength which, in one way or another, he had hitherto denied himself. He finds himself in possession of a degree of honesty, tolerance, unselfishness, peace of mind, and love of which he had thought himself quite incapable” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 107).

The journey of recovery is one that never ends. There are at least two reasons for this. First, the recovering alcoholic knows they have learned how to rely on power from sources other than him- or herself. Those of us in recovery have learned about our Higher Power. We have learned to rely on a community. We have seen many people start to pull away from that community and relapse. We have seen apparently hopeless cases stay sober because they immersed themselves in the 12 step process. We have learned that in order to maintain sobriety, we need to maintain our work in recovery.

Second, the recovering alcoholic knows they now have a responsibility to pass the message on to others in recovery. 12 Step groups work because those who have received the gift of sobriety stick around to pass that gift on to others. When someone with long-term sobriety attends a meeting, they often have the opportunity to share their story. Those who are new to recovery are able to hear that this process does work and is working. Those who are new in recovery need to hear that this 12 Step stuff makes sense and is effective.

The process of recovery leads to a spiritual awakening: the alcoholic often arrives at AA during a dismal period of life. They learn to admit they are powerless and in need of help. They connect with God and with a community. They begin to realize what life is like without the use of alcohol. They learn that life can be lived sober.

Everyone’s spiritual awakening is different, but this part stays the same: everyone learns they cannot live life on their own; they need others.

12 Step groups continue because people who have received help from others stick around to offer help to others.

There are some elements to the way those in recovery help one another that churches need to learn.

First, you can only help people after you have experienced your own spiritual awakening. But once you have that awakening, you must share it with others. In AA jargon, this is called “passing it on.” It is my responsibility as a recovering alcoholic to pass on the message I have received to others. Before my own spiritual awakening, however, I had nothing to pass on. I had no real, vital message for recovering alcoholics until I worked with others. Throughout my journey, I learned many lessons from several people. As I continued working in recovery, I began sharing those lessons with others.

Second, the message that is passed on is not forced on others. The term “12 Step work” can mean attending meetings, going to rehab facilities, or going to a person’s house to address their use and abuse of alcohol. But the message is never forced. I cannot make someone accept that they are an alcoholic. I cannot make anyone attend 12 Step meetings. I cannot make anyone do anything. I can share my story and encourage a person to follow the same process I followed. But the decision is theirs to follow it or not.

Third, the message is sobriety; not “how I got sobriety.” There are as many paths to sobriety as there are people who have been in AA. When I share my story, I talk about the things that helped me get and stay sober. I talk about meetings, having a sponsor, and doing service work. I talk about working on my relationship with my wife and children. I talk about my involvement in church work. But the specifics of my journey will likely not work for you. My first sponsor believed in God. But he did not believe in the Gospel of Jesus. He helped me get sober. Some of my sponsees have church experience that is similar to mine; others have had no church experience at all. We help each other in our sobriety. The focus is not doing things the same way or the “right” way. The focus is admitting powerlessness and turning our lives over to God.

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Churches have a lot to learn about how to interact with and encourage people who are in recovery. These posts through this year have hopefully exposed you a little bit to the 12 Step process. In 2015, I will use this space to continue the conversation of the relationship between the church and those in recovery.

What is Your Highlight/Lowlight? Please Read and Share!

Today is the day to ask for everyone’s highlight and lowlight. Once a month, I like to share mine and ask my readers to share theirs, too. Our joys and our sorrows are important and should be shared in community. I want to celebrate with you and I want to weep with you.

I originally wrote about highlight/lowlight here.

My highlight this past month (and there have been several) was graduation of the 35th class at FaithWorks of Abilene. I love to see how lives are changed during the course of our 13 week semester. I am grateful to play a small role in that change.

My lowlight is that while my family is getting together for our combined holiday gathering (I call it Christ-giving; others call it Thanks-mas), we will be missing one of my brothers who is sick. I am sad to miss him.

What is your highlight/lowlight? Please share either in the comments here or on my facebook or twitter page. There is strength to be gained in sharing our lives with each other.

The Day After

Today, I am sharing a post I wrote 7 months ago on the day after Easter. I think it is still relevant for the day after Christmas. Today is just another day. No excitement, no fanfare, no bells and whistles. Just life. Will you remind me that the promise of the baby is still true? Will you remind me that He is risen?

A Second Time Paul

The Day After.

It’s often a day of disappointment. Remember all those December 26ths growing up? No? Why not? Because the excitement was on the 25th. The excitement was on the day of celebration; not the day after.

It’s often of day of questioning. Why did we spend so much time on the day before? Was it worth it? Did we actually gain anything? Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like it. The day after allows us to apply hindsight and question everything.

It’s often a day of emptiness. One of the worst days to deal with when a loved one dies is the day after the funeral. Because all of the food has been eaten. All of the stories have been shared. All of the guests have returned home. And you are left to deal with the reality of life with a huge hole in your heart.

It’s often…

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Advent 2014

Here are the four Advent lessons I shared this year. Three of them (Hope, Peace, and Love) were presented at Freedom Fellowship in Abilene. The fourth (Joy) is the basis for a fourth lesson, but I just amended it slightly and posted it as a written piece.

I love Advent. I love that we have a season to remember darkness, sadness, and waiting.

Hope: Hoping When There’s Nothing Left to Hope For

Peace: Peace in a Peace-less World

Joy: #icantbreathe, an Advent Reflection on Joy

Love: Protesters, Drummers, and Virgins. An Advent Reflection on Love

#icantbreathe, an Advent Reflection on Joy

Advent is a time of waiting. Advent is a time of darkness.

Yet there is still a message of hope, peace, joy, and love. But sometimes, the message of joy is hard to find.

Over the past few years, I have grown more aware that Advent is for people who don’t know how the story is going to end. What I am also coming to realize is that there are many people for whom that is still a reality: there are way too many people living in our country and throughout our world that have no idea how their story is going to end.

The unfortunate reality that goes along with that fact is this: there are many people for whom things are going so well they are deaf to the cries of those who are hurting.

#blacklivesmatter does not need to be changed. #icantbreathe does not need to be corrected. Nonviolent protests do not promote violent outbursts. People need to speak.

I am a privileged person. I have the opportunities that other people do not have. I have a voice that is often denied others. I cannot truly know the pain and fear of living as a minority in a culture with a history of oppression. I do know this, though: if I am feeling as if I cannot breathe, I can only imagine the difficulty for people who face the fear of death every day.

I Can’t Breathe because there seems to be no one to trust: those in power want more power; those in media want more ratings; those with national followings want more followers. There seems to be fewer and fewer people actually concerned with those who are suffering.

I Can’t Breathe because POC who are killed are villainized immediately with terms such as “thug” and rationalizations such as “he shouldn’t have been there in the first place” as if that justifies taking someone’s life.

I Can’t Breathe because people try to make one tragedy nullify the reality of another tragedy.

I Can’t Breathe because people are insisting support for one group of people necessitates rejecting other groups of people.

I Can’t Breathe because when I say the church needs to do a better job with addicts or those who suffer from mental health disorders I get only a little push back; yet when I say the church needs to do a better job with race relations I am called a racist and told to quiet down.

I Can’t Breathe because people are referred to as “it” and described as “demon.”

I Can’t Breathe because peaceful, non-violent protestors are immediately linked to violent crimes perpetrated by others.

I Can’t Breathe because our society is obsessed with the right to own a gun yet adults and children are shot on the spot for holding a toy.

I Can’t Breathe because our society is obsessed with the right to take life (war, death penalty, militarized policing, abortion) instead of being obsessed with what values life.

I Can’t Breathe because as I prepare to sing songs of worship and praise yet I am filled with despair thinking things will never change.

I Can’t Breathe…

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But…

“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy.”

The story is not over.