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Sunday, November 22, 2015

He’s a real addict…. What’d you call me? Denial and Acceptance.

MT 4 Christ’s tagline is “Personal Testimony of a Former Catholic, Atheist, Episcopalian, Buddhist, Drug Addict: Now Clean and Sober Living for Jesus Christ”.  Say that four times fast! 
Did you? You may have a problem….highly impressionable. 

I recently attended a narcotics anonymous meeting to support a friend.  Okay, I know how that sounds.  “Was your friend’s name?  Marc?”  No, I really have a friend who was giving his testimony and asked me to attend. I’m not on narcotics! ….at least not for a long time…Honestly.

Anyway before my friend spoke, the group went over their guidelines and rules. What I found interesting is that in N.A. they don’t differentiate between drugs and alcohol. If you are in recovery or attending these meetings you have already admitted that you have a problem and N.A. asks that you leave the distinction between addict and alcoholic at the door.  As most of us know, alcohol is a drug.  So I thought that was good guideline. One thing a support group doesn’t need is on faction of the group feeling that their problem is more socially acceptable or “not as bad as” someone else’s problem. 

This tendency to justify ourselves or minimize or responsibility of guilt expands far beyond recovery circles.  It is a basic coping mechanism that allows us to live with ourselves whether you have a substance problem or not. We have all done it.  “It wasn’t that bad.” “I’ve never killed anyone.” or “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”  are all examples of justifications that seek to minimize our guilt or reassure ourselves that we are still “good” people.  

Now I know behavior and morality can be judged on a relative scale but the Bible says in Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”.  So if all have sinned, there are no “good” people.  We all have to answer to God for our sins. The only way we pass God’s judgment is to have faith in Christ who not only paid for our sins on the Cross but also led a sinless life.  If we have faith in Christ, His payment for our sins and his righteousness are imputed to us. 

I say all this because I believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” and that no one comes to the Father (God) except through Him (John 14:16) and I genuinely want anyone that reads this to be saved.     

I also say all this because I am just as guilty as anyone at justifying, minimalizing, or just plain old excusing my bad behaviors.  I hated the idea that some “holier than thou” person was going to tell me what to do, or more accurately, to tell me what I couldn’t do.  The Catholic Church I grew up in said it was wrong to have premarital sex or to get drunk. The movies (like Animal House, Porky’s, and Weird Science) and my own desires told me that it looked like a lot of fun.  So I did what I wanted, which was to drink and to (eventually) have premarital sex.  I knew what I was doing wasn’t right and eventually ran away from the Church and denied God’s existence in order to be comfortable with my lifestyle of selfishness. 

            The problem is when you decide to do what you want over what you know to be right is that the compromises get bigger and bigger.  I think the real gateway drug is alcohol. I know some people don’t cross the line into anything illegal and just get drunk but once you establish taking a drink to relax or feel better you may seek out other experiences that booze doesn’t give you.  Before I started drinking I never thought of “doing drugs” but after you open the door to giving into intoxication it isn’t a difficult transition to marijuana or other drugs.  I held my ground at heroin and crack.

 I saw a movie in health class when I was in junior high or elementary school about kids in New York City doing heroin and the main character dies of an overdose at the end. I didn’t like needles and I didn’t want to die so I didn’t seek out Heroin. I wasn’t going there.   
I tried cocaine in college but I was wary of it. Cocaine had a stigma of a “hardcore” drug that could ruin your life and was expensive. I was on a limited budget in those days and I was happy with booze and everything else so I didn’t chase after coke. 

I may have compromised with cocaine but drew the line at Crack. It was the 1990’s, ICE-T and Chris Rock were in New Jack City, and told me all about the dangers of Crack.  Crack, like Heroin, had a junkie kind of stigma to it. I was a college student, I wasn’t going there.  
Looking at the last few paragraphs, it may seem like I’m trying to paint myself in a good light but really I’m not. I just like to hold on to the few good decisions I made in my youth.  I thank God for whatever fear, trepidation, or discernment that led me to avoid making these mistakes because I could share volumes on the mistakes I did make. 

Am I concerned about my reputation? Of course! No one wants to think people are judging, looking down on, or (even worse) pitying them.  However, since coming to faith in Christ I have found freedom from my issues by confessing them and I am more concerned with God’s opinion of me than that of man’s. 

Part of coming to faith in Christ is humbling yourself.  The Bible says in James 4:6 “…God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” and in James 4:10 “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”   For me, humbling myself before the Lord was to admit that I had a problem with alcohol and going into recovery.  I had managed to lay down all other drugs in my life years ago but booze was socially acceptable and legal.  I was a somewhat responsible worker and father but I liked to drink to excess. After coming to Christ, I knew I shouldn’t be turning to booze to feel better or to stop boredom.  I could fool myself and had for years but booze was a major part of my life and at times it wasn’t pretty.  I wanted to be free but couldn’t even conceive of it. However, now I have put my faith in Christ and I see the truth of Matthew 19:26 where Jesus says ”With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  

That is the message of hope I want to share.  My life wasn’t unmanageable ( in my opinion at the time) but I was a slave to a habit when I could be free. All I had to do was to trust in Christ to free.

I went to my first recovery meeting thinking I was really trying to get myself right with God and that I didn’t really have a problem but was willing to give up booze in order to be closer to Christ. In my head, I was thinking that I was in recovery for sanctification reasons only.  I was so in love with God (or maybe I just thought I was so awesome) that I was willing to give up booze to show it.  I was going to be a credit to the recovery group and help the unfortunate ones that really had a problem get closer to Christ like I was.  You could call my state of mind, self-delusion or having visions of grandeur but the common term for what I was suffering from was denial. 

It may have been a well-defined partial denial, but like pregnancy, you either are or you aren’t.  I knew I had a problem but step one of recovery was to “admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life was unmanageable.”    
The words powerless and unmanageable were a real problem for me. I had the power to stop drinking for a couple of months at a time if I tried. I felt as if my life was definitely manageable. I was managing my drinking for 25 years, sometimes not as well as others but I felt I was managing.  However, I wasn’t there to fight the process.  Powerlessness means failing.  Staying sober was something I was powerless to maintain. I always would find a reason to give in, that was unmanageable. 

Like I said, that is step one. I would imagine, that like me, that these terms are a stumbling block for many people contemplating going into recovery.  The best way to determine if you have a problem is to get an outside opinion.  The national council of alcoholism and drug dependency has a test, to help make a determination of whether or not a person is an alcoholic at this link: https://www.ncadd.org/get-help/take-the-test/am-i-alcoholic-self-test . Chances are you know if you have a problem.


 The good news is you can do something about it.  Call on the power of Christ to change your life.  Contact your local church or look online for a Celebrate Recovery group near you.  

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