Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol [drugs, compulsive sexual behavior, spending, food, gambling, codependence, unhealthy relationships], that our lives had become unmanageable.
Scripture references: 2 Corinthians 12:5-10, Romans 7:19, Proverbs 14:12
In his Second letter to the Corinthians (12:9), the Apostle Paul tells us that "power is made perfect in weakness." Sometimes this line is translated as "my strength is made perfect in weakness." This central message of our Christian faith is also essential to the very survival of people in recovery from addictions, compulsions and destructive behaviors, attitudes and relationships. It starts with Step One. We admit our powerlessness over the substances, behaviors, attitudes and relationships that drag us down, destroying our spirits, our lives and our very essences. Paul captures this great human quandary well in Romans (7:19), "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." Surrendering, defeated, we finally are able to say, "God, I am weak. I am power-less."
Paul explains in 2 Corinthians that we can be boastful and feel elated, but to keep us from ever being too high on ourselves, we're given thorns in our flesh -- messages from Satan, or perhaps what we might describe today as visitations from our personal demons. We pray to God to remove these thorns, to free us from our demons. In Paul we read that power is made perfect in weakness; in order for us to be filled with Christ, we must be weak. This is the seeming contradiction embedded in our relationship with God, and in addiction and recovery. To have the strength to live free of our demonizing influences, we must let go absolutely, surrender everything and let God's love fill us, melt us, mold us, transform us. At the moment we hit bottom, as we finally admit we are powerless and can't do it by ourselves any more, we attain our moment of greatest strength. This is the paradox of the crucified God, the One who is resurrected. Out of the depths of despair and weakness comes the ultimate transfigured and transcendent strength.
I remember well the day I reached the end of my alcohol and drug use, one day at a time. I had gotten drunk on the job, acted inappropriately and then called in sick for an entire week afterward. I finally came back to work and was greeted with an intervention. My boss took me into her office and she confronted me about my behavior: I had scared and hurt people; through my actions I had let my employer and my coworkers down. She sent me to our Employee Assistance Program, where a wise counselor made a horrible-sounding statement in a comforting tone: "Someday you'll look back on this as the moment you hit bottom." From that place at my bottom, I wasn't ready to perceive that the only place I had left to go is up. But now, more than 20 years after what I now remember as a glorious day, I can see how far down I had gone and what an incredible, fantastic journey going back "up" has been -- by letting go and letting God do for me what I could not do for myself.
We need bread for this journey of recovery -- spiritual sustenance. When many of us come into AA or other 12 Step programs, part of hitting bottom is feeling ourselves to be emotionally, morally, ethically and spiritually bankrupt. In all but the ultimate sense, we are dead. Proverbs (14:12) describes "a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death." Our disease does indeed "want us dead" as we are told so powerfully by our peers in recovery. Sober, we begin to recognize the Higher Power at work in our lives. We begin practicing spiritual disciplines, in number of forms. We learn how to pray, many first by simply reciting the Serenity Prayer at meetings. Some of us begin to practice meditation, to find a center and a place of peace and tranquility we need in order to begin to be comfortable in our own skins. We use the tools of recovery contained in the 12 Steps, along with those deceptively simple but profoundly wise Program slogans like "easy does it," "one day at a time" and "keep it simple." We absorb the wisdom found in 12-Step literature and related recovery books such as the AA Big Book; "Alcoholics Anonymous"; SCA's "Hope and Recovery"; the "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" of AA, NA or OA; Patrick Carnes' invaluable "A Gentle Path through the Twelve Steps"; or David Crawford's "Easing the Ache."
Coming into recovery, many people supplement the spiritual disciplines they learn by joining a faith community. One day, we venture upstairs into the sanctuary for a worship service after we've spent some time in a church's basement attending AA, NA or OA meetings. Others discover a worship community in a recovery-based congregation, such as my own Step By Step Ministry or the powerful Lifeline ministry, both here in New York. In our new church home, our spiritual lives are enriched as we experience the scripture, tradition, liturgy, music, hymns, prayers and preached messages.
Christian fellowship, at its heart, empowers us to open the doorways and windows of our hearts, minds and souls, letting God's love and light flood into our lives. Here, as in recovery, we let go and let God turn our weakness into strength. The paradox and miracle both of faith and of recovery is this: The more we admit our powerlessness and open ourselves to God's will for us, the greater becomes our power to do good, and the more joy and fulfillment we feel in the doing. Let's join Paul in "boasting of our weaknesses," our wounded places, our deepest imperfections, for that is where God works the greatest wonders in our lives.