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On Thanksgiving Day, while driving to visit relatives, it took my wife and me an hour and a half to finish thanking God for all the blessings in our life.
One of the biggest gratitudes for me was that that day was my 30th “birthday” of my new life in sobriety and recovery. It was not until my third year of recovery that I could see that its blessings were going to outweigh the pleasures and comforts I had gotten from my two addictive habits.
What were my addictions?People can be addicted to a chemical, a person, a behavior or even to avoiding something (eating, sex, leaving home, throwing things away, for example). I have learned that not being specific about my particular addiction protects my anonymity. This keeps my focus on the solution, not the problem. So let’s just say that I have regularly attended two different 12-step fellowships. I also have attended Celebrate Recovery meetings where people in bondage to any bad habit are welcome to come.
We addicts who have completed the 12 steps to the satisfaction of our sponsors I will refer to here as “recovering.” (For more information about this, including a user-friendly summary of the 12 steps, see the tab for Recovery on my Web site below, and read the article there, “How to Work a 12-step Program.”) We recovering addicts have most often received some major blessings, and here are my favorite features of our recovering life:
1. We don’t pick up another addiction.Addicts who quit their habit without working a program of recovery almost always pick up another pain-killing escape from reality to cope with their emotional and physical discomfort. We in recovery have learned where our pain comes from, and how to make changes in the underlying causes of our frustrations.
2. We entrust our wills and our lives to the care of God (not to the control of God).Most believers pray for God to change things outside themselves, and to change themselves physically (health and wealth, etc.) The serenity prayer teaches us that letting God change our heart and our ways takes courage, and it takes serenity to let go of trying to change toxic people and their habits. The serene have become addicted to a God who gives us the freedom to heal and grow.
3. We believe that God is close by, with easy access.To addicts, our “higher power” is whatever brings us the people, principles, prayers, and practices of recovery (it takes all four). In meetings with nonbelievers, we refer to “the God of my understanding” or “my higher power who I call Jesus.” This makes it easier for non-believers to get started, and for all of us to avoid arguments over religion and theology. Atheists and believers who’ve been burned by church start out thinking of God as the wisdom and encouragement of their sponsor or home group, and their view of God grows from there.
4. We protect each other‘s privacy and anonymity.This way we focus on principles, not personalities. We don’t use our last names, our spouse’s first names, or say where we live or work. This helps us tell our stories more honestly. We’ve learned that everybody has a story to tell, and we can always tell our own with more honesty, humility, hope, and humor after we have listened to theirs.
5. We have found relief from believing some very popular lies.The church and psychology too often join with addictions in teaching us several very commonly believed fictions: the illusions of analysis, control, popularity, and perfection:
6. We have learned how to live simply.We try to live substantially one day and one moment at a time, by being present most of the time in the here and now. We don’t so much think about owning things as getting to take care of them for a while. This can include our bodies and our loved ones.
7. Our groups keep it simple too.Groups own no property, keep no funds to manage, and take no stands on outside issues like politics or religion. This way, we don’t have much to argue about.
8. We keep membership requirements low.No dues, referrals, votes, or performance standards are required, just a desire to stop our addictive behaviors. I never wanted to join a group that would let anybody in, regardless of their age, gender, race, education, wealth, religion, politics, lifestyle, sobriety, or mental health, but I have loved it. I never wanted to be just a regular guy, no more special than the next guy. But it is so liberating — it loosens all of us up.
9. We retrain our brains with new principles.The principles first prescribed by Alcoholics Anonymous have given rise to many popular slogans. For example, we often hear each other saying things like this in ourselves: We Let go and let God, One day at a time, Easy does it. We Keep it simple and Do the next right thing, because It works if you work it. Our brains learn these the way they learn addictions – by many repeated exposures.
10. We find that our gratitude is very contagious.By avoiding attitudes that give us entitlements and expectations, we avoid resentments. We are sincerely grateful when our loved ones trust and include us in their lives again. We don’t feel like they owe us anything for our efforts at recovery, because after we’ve worked through the twelve steps, we enjoy our recovery work.
These all make up quite the benefit package. I have found many advantages and much wisdom from my studies in psychology, and from my Christian faith as learned through the church and the Bible. But most psychologists I know, and most active churchgoers, haven’t received very many of the blessings I have found in recovery. I doubt I would have found more than a couple of them without my addiction that made me seek recovery. No wonder I’m so thankful I’m an addict.
Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach with offices in Middletown, Lexington and Shelbyville. He can be reached at
502-633-2860 and at www.mynewlife.com.