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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There’s something in each of us that wants to be heroic, to be noble, and above all, to be admired. It’s part of human nature—a characteristic common to all. While working the 11 STEPS, perhaps the thought has occurred to you that your time has finally come—your time to shine in the sun—to be acclaimed and broadly admired.

If that’s a thought you’ve entertained, you’re correct to have done so. As you make strides in recovery, God is strengthening you with power in the inner man. Your value has skyrocketed because God is molding you to be the person He always intended. If you continue, you will undoubtedly achieve more than you ever dreamed possible.

It’s unlikely, however, that you will ever see the full scope of your impact. You’re not meant to. It’s not God’s way. The trick is to see life as He sees it—not for God to see it as you want it to be.

We want to be exceptional—noticed by those around us as a cut above the ordinary. It’s our calling; we’re sure of it, and we want everybody to notice. God’s criteria for success is different. He wants us to cultivate faithfulness and let Him be responsible for all the rest.

He wants us to keep our eyes on Him and not on our accomplishments. It’s why He orchestrates our lives so carefully to keep us from measuring the good we’ve done. It goes largely unnoticed, except in His eyes. He sees what you’ve done, and He knows the state of your heart when you did it. If you do something for public acclaim, you’ve obtained all the value you will ever receive from it. If, on the other hand, you are exceptional in the way you do ordinary things, you have become a co-laborer with God Himself, and the value of your actions may be incalcuable—blessings that transcend generations. That’s what has value—eternal value.

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STEP 6 is where recovery becomes difficult, and it’s easy to get stuck. When you’ve been abused, it’s understandable to be angry. It’s normal and even healthy for a short while.

Unfortunately, more people than not get stuck in their anger and become bitter, resentful, and irreconcilable. That’s not healthy. It leads to a wasted life—a life God never intended you to live. It’s certainly not a life you want for yourself either.

Making the effort to turn away from your pride and your desire for vindication, however, can be as difficult as walking up a hill. When you walk uphill, you go against gravity and have to make a concerted effort to move forward. It’s much more difficult than walking downhill—the easy way out. By going uphill, several positive things happen. You get stronger as you make each step upward, and you gain confidence. You also know you are accomplishing something worthwhile—something that makes you more fit for the challenges of life.

It’s the same in recovery. It takes real work to abandon your pride, but that’s what you have to do. You have to stop showing your battle scars and begin the process of thinking about someone other than yourself. Doing this is like walking up a hill. It requires substantial effort, but like climbing a hill, it becomes easier the more you do it.

The sooner you stop defending your right to be offended, the sooner the healing process can begin. If you insist on maintaining your position, you will remain stuck. You can’t move forward to a peaceful life while you continue to throw stones. There’s no way to become stronger while you languish in a rut.

You have to let it go—all of it. Nursing your anger and resentment is like nursing an infection that keeps you constantly sick. Take your medicine, which in this case, is draining the infection of all malice, bitterness, and revenge. When you do, you’ll begin to get well. You’ll begin to strengthen.

This is hard for many people—perhaps most. Recovery is difficult—like walking up a hill, but it’s also rewarding. Because this can be so difficult, STEP 6 may take more time for some of you. If it does, that’s OK. Take as much time as you need, remembering that the goal is your recovery—your complete recovery.

You want to be everything you’re supposed to be in life, and this can only occur by purging yourself of toxic emotions. Once this happens, you will begin to experience love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness—the life you’ve always wanted for yourself.

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The political season is over, and we have a new president. Because I was so vocal about my concern over President-elect Obama, I thought I would let you know what I intend to do in the future.

I will pray for him as the Scriptures command. While I can’t pray for his policies to be successful, I can pray for ten things at least. Here they are:

  1. Pray for Obama’s protection.
  2. Cover his wife and daughters in prayer.
  3. Pray that Obama will govern with God’s wisdom.
  4. Ask God to keep our president humble.
  5. Pray for wise and righteous advisers to surround him.
  6. Ask for the spirit of reconciliation.
  7. Pray that Obama will adopt pro-life convictions.
  8. Bind all evil forces assigned to manipulate our President.
  9. Pray that Obama’s door will remain open to Christians.
  10. Pray that our nation will enjoy God’s peace and blessing during the Obama administration.

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If you’ve made the decision to compartmentalize Christianity—to keep God at arms length, you have essentially thrown the baby out with the bath. You have neutralized God’s power in your life.

When you discarded Christianity—or at least most of it, you were probably surprised so few negative consequences followed—at least not at first. You walked away, and God just let you go. He didn’t chase after you, even though it broke His heart to see you leave.

God never chases after anyone and always honors an individual’s decision to stay or wander away. In this case, “Free Will” is not a doctrine; it’s reality—your reality. When you chose to shelve Christianity, perhaps throwing stones as you went, God honored your right to do so. There’s something noble about that. God respected your decision and treated you like an adult, even when your behavior may have been very childish.

Leaving is not the end of the story, however, it’s usually just the beginning. You may think you’re done with God, but He’s not done with you—not by a long shot. Because His Spirit lives in you, He has a huge stake in your future—in who you become. For a while, you probably enjoyed being finished with Christianity, but life has a way of coming full circle. Like the prodigal son, pursuing materialism or vice is not as rewarding as you thought it would be, is it?

Has God orchestrated your circumstances so your life is meaningless, or is it worse than that? Are you miserable or just bored? Are you tired of suffering the consequences of poor behavior—of being half dead while you’re still alive? Do you own enough of your soul to admit this, or do you still live in a state of denial, telling yourself you’re OK—you’re fine the way you are? Are you finished running, or do you need to run for a while longer?

When you come to the end of yourself—when you’ve bottomed out; there’s no place to go but home—home to your Heavenly Father. At the end of your anger and your rebelliousness, there is nothing but sorrow and pain—a life unfulfilled and wasted. You’re not where you belong, and you know it.

Come home—not to meaningless religion or more abusiveness, but to a deep, fulfilling relationship with God Himself. He’s waiting; it’s time. We can help you make the transition. It would be our pleasure.

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If you’re trying to get somewhere, turning into a cul-de-sac is never a good idea. The further down the road you go, the further back you have to travel. It’s a road that leads nowhere—a dead end; probably like the life you’ve been living. At first, it may appear to be the right direction but, at some point, you realize it isn’t. Turning around and coming back the way you came is a good analogy for what you will be doing in STEP 5.

In this STEP, you will be addressing two areas. The first is your relationship with God, which is your vertical relationship. This is the easy part because God is so eager to have you back. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve strayed or how wretched your life has become, He’s there for you whenever you are willing to acknowledge the error of your ways. He wants you back—no ifs, and, or buts.

The way back is clear, but you have to be honest with Him, acknowledging the exact nature of your wrongdoing. You can’t hedge on this. It won’t work. You must be forthright.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 New American Standard Bible).

Once you’ve confessed your wrongdoing, it’s over. You’re forgiven, and you can count on it. You’re square with God, and you don’t ever have to worry about it again. That part is complete and you can move on with confidence that you’re completely clean.

The second part, the horizontal part, is more difficult. Undoubtedly, your acting-out behavior has adversely impacted others, perhaps quite a few others. Like coming out of the cul-de-sac, you have to address how you have wronged others. The list may be long, but you must make a good faith effort to apologize to each person you’ve offended. This can be very hard, but when you do it, you’ll be glad you did. The experience can be very rewarding, regardless of how the offended person responds.

Apologizing for poor behavior is important but it doesn’t mean a thing unless it’s accompanied by making appropriate amends. This means you have change your behavior or repay a debt. You can’t skirt this. You have to do it. The quality of your recovery depends on it.

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After making an apology for poor behavior, there’s an overwhelming sense of relief, which leaves you relieved—feeling lighter than air. You say to yourself, “That wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it was going to be.”

If that was all there was to it, you would be correct, but there’s another part that’s harder—much harder. It’s making amends for what you’ve done wrong. For example, if someone treated you unkindly, and you’ve maligned that person’s character in response, essentially bearing false witness against that person, an appropriate amend would be to go back to those you deceived and set the record straight. This is necessary in spite of what has been done to you because you’re the one in recovery.

Resolving a situation like this is never an easy task. Receiving forgiveness from someone by making an apology is comparatively easy to making amends that fits the situation. Additionally, making amends runs counter to our prevailing American culture. We want to ask forgiveness while skipping restitution. By believing an apology is all that’s required, you might think you’re avoiding the hardest part, but you’re also relinquishing your right to a blessing—a profound blessing.

This is where substantive change in your character can occur. For that to happen, however, you have to travel the full distance and make amends for your behavior. In essence, you’re saying, “I used to be this way, but no longer. As part of my apology to you, I make a commitment to never behave like this again. To prove my sincerity, I’m also going back to the people I’ve deceived about you, and I’m going to tell them the truth. I’m sorry. It will never happen again.” Then do it.

Making amends like this is difficult, but it’s what changes you—real and substantive change. By doing this, you refuse to circumvent the truth. You refuse to deflect. You refuse to practice denial.

You face the truth courageously, knowing God has your back every step of the way. Responding like this will change you from the inside out. It’s where recovery principles weave themselves into the fabric of your being, and you start to grow into the person you’re meant to be.

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Part of repairing your relationship with God is repairing your relationship with those you have offended. This is where the rubber meets the road in recovery—where it really gets tough. It’s easy to repair your relationship with God. He’s always there and always forgiving. It’s His nature.

It’s entirely different with those you have offended along the way, many of whom are less than forgiving. Some may not want anything to do with you and your “so-called apology,” which falls on deaf ears. They may even treat your attempt at reconciliation with contempt and scorn. This makes it very difficult, but you have to make an attempt, regardless of the consequences.

Remember, you are only responsible for your part of the problem, not theirs. Since you can’t control the outcome and force them to reconcile, you don’t have responsibility for the result either. How someone reacts to your attempt at reconciliation is their responsibility, not yours. Once you’ve addressed the issue, leave the outcome to God, and trust that He is working in the heart of the other person.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to acknowledge that you regret past behavior, especially to a spouse or a parent, but it must be done. There’s no way around it. Besides, it’s just one of those things that nags at you—never giving you rest until you’ve done it.

When it’s over, however, and you’ve addressed the problem, it’s an entirely different story. The relief you experience is palpable. A tremendous weight has been lifted from your shoulders, and your relief makes you feel lighter—literally. It’s like a ball and chain has been removed from your heart, which it has, making the entire episode worthwhile.

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