Archive for November, 2008

As you begin to write your experiences, your state of mind will be your most important asset or your greatest liability, either helping you or hindering you greatly. Obviously, you want it to help and not hurt you.

Therefore, this is not a time for vindication or for heaping blame and condemnation upon others. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. To heal, you must abandon your insistence upon retribution. STEP 7 is about you and your healing—not about “them.” If you insist on making it about how badly you were wronged, you will not make much progress. It’s as simple as that. You must abandon your anger and your need to be right.

Instead of vindication, this is a time to embrace your wounded-ness—a time to acknowledge precisely who you are. Covering the truth with a blanket of self-righteousness never works in life, and it certainly will not work in recovery either. Avoid it at all costs, and make a conscious choice to be the precise opposite. Be candid. Be transparent. Be proactively forthright.

In an effort to be self-protective, many wounded people try to fool themselves and others, constructing elaborate façades that bears little resemblance to the truth. They project an image, which is false, and try to make themselves and others believe it. This façade becomes their reality.

Living a lie isn’t taking good care of yourself, and if you want to heal, you have to abandon your denial of reality and embrace the truth. It’s the only way. You have to be who you say you are, regardless of what that may be. Stop pretending to be what you are not.

Be who you are, and allow God’s healing touch to reach down and pick you up. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve fallen. In fact, the Scriptures teach that the person who has been forgiven much is more capable of love than the one who has been forgiven little. All that’s required is honesty—scrupulous honesty. With it, all things are possible. Without it, you’ll continue to languish, unfulfilled and unloved—even by yourself.

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Environmentalists tell us everything we do leaves an imprint on the earth, either positively or negatively—either friendly or unfriendly. It’s the same thing with our moral actions. We are either friendly or unfriendly to the people we love and to ourselves. The Scriptures teach that the sins of the fathers are passed down through the generations adversely impacting our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

The tentacles of self-defeating behavior sink deep into the fabric of those we love, and they become just like us in ways we wish they wouldn’t. Liars begat deceitful children; those with substance abuse problems are much more likely to have children with the same issues; and people with low self-esteem produce likeminded children who are shackled by the same emotional prison.

This is where the value of STEP 7 really takes hold. Not only will your honesty help you but it will also help those you love for future generations. Through your honesty—your painstaking inventory, you can break your emotional chains and begin to lay claim to a brighter future for yourself and for your children’s children. Those who are in your genetic pool will either be blessed or cursed by your life just as surely as they will by your carbon imprint.

The choice is your, but there is also some really good news. By being honest and admitting your culpability rather than continuing to live in denial, you can wipe the slate clean and create a new beginning. You can clean your emotional pool of all pollutants with the stroke of a pen, just like the man who wrote Amazing Grace. Although he was a slave trader adversely impacting thousands, he turned his life around, and the product of his transformation has blessed millions for generations.

You have that same power, and it starts with your candor. If you think of it this way, being fearlessly honest isn’t that hard, is it? The positive value of your life still lies ahead—not behind, but to bless all that you touch, you have to wipe the slate clean first. There’s no other way. Isn’t it time to begin?

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Writing about your “subsequent behavior”—the behavior after being abused—should prove to be very enlightening. As always, be certain to be very specific. It will help—no question about it.

For many, acting out behavior is very typical after an abusive episode—excessive drinking, overeating, or whatever it takes to numb the stinging pain of humiliation and rejection. Because your emotions are out of balance, so is your restraint, as you abandon moderation and cling to excess. In time, you efforts at “self-medication” become a problem greater than the original one, and your direction in life becomes cloudier. Your behavior becomes self-defeating in every sense of the word. Eventually, nothing seems to go right, and you sink deeper into a hole.

Because the acting out behavior causes its own set of problems, you need to be rigorously honest about it as well as about your abuse. It’s the only way to get your life untangled. It will not work to say your situation was caused by an outside event like abuse. You’re still responsible for your actions—all of them. To turn your life around, you have to be completely forthright about the compromises you’ve made—about behavior you would rather keep secret. The more ashamed you are about your actions, the more you need to write about them. There’s no other way. You have to come clean—completely clean.

When you do, a tremendous weight will be lifted from you, as you unburden your mind and your soul. You need never feel guilty again. You’re doing the work necessary to break the chains that have held you captive for so long.

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As you write your experience, being as honest as you know how to be, you may experience pain similar to when the incident first occurred. If this happens, it’s desirable and should be welcomed rather than avoided. By embracing the pain and acknowledging the feelings as you write about them, you will be decreasing their power over you, which makes it much easier to release them. The pain, which has been debilitating in the past, will begin to diminish. It’s like lancing a boil, which is initially painful. Once you’ve done it, the festering internal infection will begin to diminish. It’s the same when you address your abusive experience head-on. You neutralize its power to produce shame, despair, and other toxic emotions in your life.

That’s why STEP 7 is so important. It’s where your recovery begins to take concrete form. It’s when you start to feel whole once again. While writing, there may be a tendency to try and gloss over your behavior. If this happens, avoid it at all costs. If you maintain an attitude of self-vindication, you will not make much progress. You’re after honesty—not proving how right you are. Although you may have been guarding your wounds or even nurturing them, that’s not what STEP 7 requires. You need to be fearlessly honest about what happened—exactly what happened.

Justifying your role while condemning the role of others will not work. Even if you were faultless when it happened, was your response appropriate? Have you been unforgiving? Where have you fallen short?

Regardless of what the truth is, you need to express it—in writing. Because truth sets you free, you need to be completely truthful. Nothing less will suffice. If you insist upon vindicating yourself, you’ll stay stuck, and will have to repeat STEP 7 again and again—until you can become honest with yourself.

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As you begin to write the narrative of your abusive experience, there are a few important considerations to keep in mind. As stated repeatedly, complete honesty is required—not just about what happened to you but about your part in the abusive situation as well. For most, it’s not difficult to write about being abused. After all, you’ve rehearsed it repeatedly since it occurred. Isn’t that correct, especially when the incident was fresh in your mind?

Being completely candid about your own role may be much more challenging. Here’s why. In our minds, we want God to take our side about everything—no questions asked. We want Him to vindicate us completely. We’ve been victimized, and it’s God’s responsibility to correct the situation. We’re right; they’re wrong. It’s as simple as that. All that’s missing is God’s validation of our position.

Unfortunately, there’s usually another side to the story—a side we rarely think about. It’s the role we played and its negative impact on others. In STEP 7, we have to look at our part and take full responsibility for our actions. We need to ask questions like these:

  • When I was abused, did I respond abusively?
  • Did my behavior adversely impact another in any way?
  • Has the way I’ve responded wounded others?
  • Was there any acting-out behavior on my part?

We have a tendency to remember being wronged, while disregarding the wrong we have caused ourselves. We want to give ourselves a pass because we acted out of our hurt and disillusionment. As we see it, our poor behavior is understandable, maybe even warranted. It’s not the same for others.

This isn’t true—not even close. You are responsible for your part in everything—just as responsible as your abuser. That’s why so much reflection is required. You need to examine your own conduct and the state of your heart. Be fearlessly honest. It’s the only way. Remember, the goal of STEP 7 is to heal, not to vindicate you.

Write about your experience—all of it. Be as forthright as you know how to be, and resist the temptation to skirt over your role. When you’ve finished, you will have made progress in your recovery.

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Steps one through six are primarily vertical in nature, focusing on how you relate to God. Putting that relationship in order is the most important part of recovery. It’s the key to all others. Until you and God are solid, little recovery can begin—nor can any substantial change in your behavior. At best, you would learn to talk the talk, fooling others, but your insides would still be hollow and disquieted—like those who are abusive. In order to become the vibrant person you’re meant to be, you must reconnect with God. It’s simple to do but not easy.

Once your vertical relationship has been solidified, however, it’s time to focus on your horizontal relationships—relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. That’s what STEP 7 is all about. It’s where your recovery makes a turn from being focused inward to being focused outward. Even though this step entails spelling out your personal experience in substantial detail, it’s when you begin to turn your attention from yourself toward others.

For many, this part of recovery can be very difficult. Often, people prefer to “let sleeping dogs lie,” refusing to dredge up the past. They believe this course of inaction is wise, but it isn’t. They’re just fooling themselves—exalting their fears and ascribing wisdom to them.

If the “dogs” had been sleeping, there wouldn’t be debilitating emotional pain, would there? Since anger, guilt, shame, and many other toxic emotions keep the lives of abused people in perpetual turmoil, the dogs have been anything but asleep. You can’t recover without taking an accurate moral inventory. You have to face your past. There’s no way to get past it.

As you prepare for this week, make a commitment to be completely forthright about the abuse you’ve experienced and your subsequent behavior. Without scrupulous honesty, most of the value of this step will be lost. If you can be honest, much of the pain from your past will fade and soon become a distant memory.

In recovery, there is a saying: You are only as sick as your secrets.

Like so many pithy statements, it’s accurate. STEP 7 is your opportunity to expose your behavior to the light—to the Lord. It can be difficult—no doubt about it. At the same time, it’s freeing. Right now, you may have the weight of the world on your shoulders, producing significant apprehension. It may make you want to quit, or at least put off STEP 7 for a while—a long while.

Resist this urge at all costs. Be courageous and move forward. The reward is worth it—guaranteed.

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Jesus lived a very simple life. Nothing about it was grandiose, and He made no attempt to exalt Himself—that’s for sure. He was perfectly content to leave the outcome of His work in His Father’s hands, which is exactly what we are learning to do in recovery—one day at a time. Christ wasn’t wealthy and eschewed materialism. To Jesus, doing His Father’s will was the mark of success—the only mark of success. Two millennia later, nothing has changed—nor will it in the future. The outcome is in God’s hands not yours. You can’t control what the future will be—never did, never will. It’s not your job.

Through substantial reflection and introspection, you have learned to take responsibility for your actions and to forgive the behavior of others, including those who abused you. Each step in this process was necessary to prepare you for the future—to prepare you to become the person you were always intended to be. By working the 11 STEPS, you have purged most of the debilitating power of the toxic emotions that enslaved you to self-defeating behavior. By facing your anger, shame, and fear, you have freed yourself to walk into the future without the need to medicate emotional pain with alcohol, drugs, prescriptions, over-eating, or anything else.

You are free to become the person God always intended you to be. Instead of dreading the future, you can get up each morning and smile at what life has in store for you. Through daily prayer and reflection, you can keep your recovery fresh and know that whatever you do, God will be with you—He has your back.

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