Here is the promised post in which I consider a broadly understood definition of “Recovery from Addiction.” I had planned to write this one last week. It didn’t quite happen then, but here it is now.

Consider these perspectives and context about addiction and recovery. In my post on Addiction (Nov 10), I referred to the prevalence of “external solutions” that contribute to all addictive process. Furthermore, the belief in such external solutions is heavily promoted by our consumerist culture. Someone is always ready to point at your “problem” and offer to sell you something that is supposed to fix it. Such a transaction plays right into the essence of the addictive process itself. It convinces you that you are lacking or damaged in some fundamental way, and that you need something “from without” to fix you, comfort you, or “fill you up.” (By the way, some people and religious institutions also try to use “God” in an addictive way. Spiritual consumerism, perhaps?)

How we think about ourselves, our communities, and the addictive process can help us to move toward recovery. One way of thinking is to affirm that no one outside of ourselves has the right, nor sufficient information, to make a definitive diagnosis about what is fundamentally wrong with us. (There may be some medical reasons for specific diagnosis and treatment, but we must be careful not to generalize that approach too much.) A second perspective is that the experience of inner emptiness does not have to be problematic. In fact, emptiness is necessary for any real creativity to emerge. A third perspective identifies isolation as both a symptom and contributing cause to addiction. Some in the recovery community say that addiction is a “family dysfunction,” or more generally, a systemic dysfunction. This means that the recovery of the individual is intimately connected to the recovery of the system or family.

In my experience, recovery is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to achieve in isolation. While AA refers to itself as a “selfish” program, that does not imply isolation. It just means that trying to “fix” others does no one any good. Participants are just trying to be responsible for their own stuff. Healthy community does, however, promote recovery.

So what are some of the things that actually happen in recovery?

1. Safety and confidentiality are highly valued in 12-step groups. Can our religious congregations or families make the same claim?
2. Each person who participates knows that everyone is there for the same basic reason. There is no basis for organizational hierarchy or for the superiority or power of some people over others.. Again, can our religious congregations or families make the same claim?
3. People actually talk out loud about their own problems! The opportunity to talk honestly and to be heard respectfully generates powerful healing energy. Where else can people share honestly with one another about human struggles? Where else can respectful listening happen?
4. Realistic hope (as opposed to wishful thinking) triumphs over fear. This is not magic. Hope is lived out one small risk at a time.
5. People in recovery become appropriately responsible for their own participation in community as they identify and release what they cannot control.

Fear is at the center of all addiction: fear of not having enough, fear of not measuring up, fear that others possess what we need, fear of punishment, fear of losing, etc. And of course, being spiritual beings, we can experience fears related to divine power over us, too. The Bible says that “love casts out fear.” We could learn much about the practicalities of love from observing 12-step communities.

Perhaps the most general description of recovery is the giving and receiving of love in community.

Community of Promise contains two different images of “The Promised Land.” One is a hierarchy where obedience is believed to affect divine reward or punishment. The other is a cooperative system where divine and human engage in a co-creative dance out of which their community emerges. I think the first one generates addictive patterns and the second one promotes recovery.

What do you think?

Wayne Gustafson
“The Promised Land is within and among us.”

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