I’ve been sober 13 years but it took more than two years of “slips” for me to learn a painful lesson:
We cannot think our way into right living. We must live our way into right thinking.
Like many newcomers to AA, I loved going to meetings and talking about my problems. I read about the 12 steps and memorized them, but I failed to understand that the key to sobriety is to actually do the 12 steps, which of course requires taking action. Not surprisingly, I picked up alot of white beginner chips in those first two years after slips.
Apparently I’m one of many Orthodox inquirer or converts who is familiar with addiction and depression. It’s a package deal. I’ve never met a recovering alcoholic who does not also struggle with depression. Often the depression and anger gets worse after one sobers up.
It is no coincidence that I’ve heard from so many fellow recovering 12-steppers and depressed blog friends. From my little experience and reading, I see many parallels with Orthodox Christianity and Alcoholics Anonymous.
Few ever maintain sobriety in AA without a good sponsor, a guide to help you take the steps and continue taking them after you get sober. Trying to work an individual program in AA is a recipe for disaster (as I know) and I see the same kind of problem with evangelical Christianity.
Although evangelicals understand the concept of repentance, it usually comes down to private confession. More and more I hear pastors urging their flock to seek out spiritual mentors, but my hunch is that few of us ever practice any sort of gut-level honesty with another person.
Our guilt and shame stays in our head. I have few other Christian men that I “get real” with. Just about the only relief comes on Sunday morning when I’m reminded that my sins are covered by the blood of Christ. But by Monday morning I’m on my own.
The truth is that I need an earthly spiritual father. I need someone to tell me things I don’t want to hear and to help me see my sin and warped motives, which I am not very good at diagnosing. Left on my own, I usually come to the conclusion that my problems are the result of what someone has done to me.
I need the sacrament of confession and the opportunity to give thanks in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper along with those I’m in communion with, who go forward to receive the body and blood of Christ every Sunday.
I liken my first two years of attempted sobriety to what I’m currently experiencing in my evangelical mega-church. It’s not like we don’t acknowledge something ain’t right. Go into any evangelical Christian bookstore and counseling books by the prosperity preachers on TV now top the rapture books on the bestseller list.
Christian counseling is offered in almost any decent sized church. Last year I took a Biblical counseling introductory course at the same time my wife and I were in marriage counseling. All the solutions to our problems are right there in the Bible we were told. The way to deal with our problems was to write down Bible verses and keep them in our wallet or purse and read them when despair or temptation to sin cropped up.
But what this boils down to is essentially talking, reading, and praying about my problems. It’s very similar to what I experienced when I first tried to stop drinking. I had plenty of information and a desire to do the right thing, but I was basically self-guided and of course my prayers were all self absorbed.
What I’m discovering is that the path has already been trod for 2000 years, and that “program” hasn’t changed. I’ve heard that in the first decade or so of AA, the percentage of those getting sober and staying sober was very high. Today it’s much more of a revolving door as individualism threatens to stamp out the actual taking of the 12-steps. The phrase “Take what you want and leave the rest” would’ve been a heresy at an AA meeting in the 1940’s.
My battle with depression and continuing sobriety is always contingent upon God’s grace and my taking action. The evangelical “program” has given me glimpse of His grace and mercy, but I don’t have anymore room left in wallet for more Bible verses.