Recently on a trip to Perth, I had some time to sit down, reflect and write. As I did the following emerged and I thought it was the beginning of a new book for me. As I read and reflected on it this morning what I see I see occurring is the beginning of a new Living Life Recovery curriculum manual. The beauty of the Twelve Steps is as we grow spiritually our understanding and application of change.
Sorry if it’s a bit long but I felt God wanted me to share it here.
For the past thirty years, I have been involved in “Bible-based Recovery” and my goal has been to express the love of God through the Twelve Steps of recovery. Through the years I have participated in, led, written, prepared and delivered many 12 Step messages based on my own experience, strength, and hope in Jesus Christ. Through those years I have also received a lot of encouragement and rebuke from many both in and outside of recovery circles and groups. But in those thirty years, my God has remained faithful in His promise to me to lead when I choose to follow.
This book is a result of thirty years of walking in faith in my Lord and Saviour, following where He leads and trusting Him that it will convey His message of hope through my experiences, strengths and hope to a fractured world in need if His recovery.
As I lay in bed last night a vision came to me of this book and what God wants me to say through it. It is my journey of ‘Living Life Recovery’ in relationships with my God. It is my hope and prayer that I can express what God wants to say to a fallen world and in particular to those still suffering the negative effects of addiction and compulsion in their own lives or the lives of a loved one or friend.
It is based on the ‘Twelve Steps of Living Life Recovery’ because I truly believe one size does not fit all in our walk, we each need to put our faith in Jesus and trust the He will reveal to us each the road He wants us to take. The destination for all of us is the same; personal relationship with The Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus. But there are many ways to get there. This book is a glimpse of mine.
STEP ONE I admitted my life was a mess and I was out of control.
For many people, this may seem like an obvious and logical assumption for someone caught up in the dysfunction of alcohol addiction and drug abuse. For me, it wasn’t. I began drinking at the age of 15 but I never became a problem drinker till I was about 18. And, I never really considered myself alcoholic until I found myself in my first rehab at 23. I would like to say realizing I was alcoholic and discovering the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous made me stop, but it didn’t. I was young and naive and I believed drinking was what alcoholics do and I was alcoholic so I should drink. But through a series of abstinence and relapse, I realized I was incapable of stopping and staying stopped. Alcohol took away from me everything relationships, jobs, family, dignity and self-work and I believed eventually through my drinking, or because of it one day because of my beliefs, behaviors, and actions my life would end and I would just be another tragic statistic.
Admitting my life was a mess for me wasn’t easy. Fortunately or unfortunately I’m still not sure which from the age of 15 when I left school I was always employed and had sufficient funds to both support and cover up my addiction. I managed to hide the reality of my addiction from my family and those close to me. Though in hindsight I now recognize that in some instances people took advantage of the fact I was a blackout drunk and would create stories of my previous nights’ antics based on what others said.
I drank to get drunk. Recently my Mother asked me “Did your upbringing contribute to your addiction?” and I honestly answered “No” because I don’t believe it did. What I believe contributed to my addiction was the fact I loved drinking and I was careless in the fact that I would try anything to experience the feelings that came with being out of control. Because I believed that was how my life was meant to be. Work, drink (or take drugs) get drunk or stoned and repeat.
Now there are many stories I can tell about my life being messy and being out of control but I don’t believe they are important. What was important was in that first rehab in a group therapy session the group leader asked us to ask ourselves the question “Do normal people do this?” A simple question. But on reflection of my life to that point I realized the life I was living wasn’t ‘normal’ So all alone in rehab in Western Australia, I found myself confronted by the question “what do I need to do to make my life normal.” It was through that reflection I began to realize how out of control my life was. It was then I decided I had to seriously do something to change my life.
What I did then was to study the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in depth and try to apply them to my life. But it wasn’t enough!
I learned the Twelve Steps and applied them to my life to the best of my ability. Because that is what AA told me to do. But at that time I was also aware of my lack of spirituality and I realized the Twelve Steps were a spiritual process. So I purchased a daily Bible-based devotional and begin reading it in my morning devotional time. I also started attending an AA spiritual concepts group. As I progressed in the process and began to realize the enormity of the process in front of me I also took AA’s advice and got a sponsor. For me at that time in the recovery process (or maybe they weren’t the right sponsor) all my sponsor asked me to do was things beyond my capability for where I was at that time.
STEP TWO I believe that God exists, that He cares about me and He can help me to regain control of my life.
Through reading my daily devotional and my personal knowledge of faith from attending the Salvation Army and the Boys Brigade as a child I knew Jesus was the answer to my lack of spirituality. There were a couple of old-timers in the rehab I was in who spoke often one on one to me about their personal relationship with Jesus. But knowing I needed His involvement in my life and applying it were two different things. I was still at that time very selfish, self-centered and yes couldn’t understand me. So spiritually I progressed very slowly. However, as my knowledge of the Twelve Steps grew others in AA began to notice me and I was given a position of service responsibility I was not equipped to handle. The result was eventually I crashed and I relapsed.
As I progressed spiritually through prayer and meditation and improving my conscious contact with God He started to speak to me. And what He said was “If you are serious about recovery and you want to get it you need to leave Western Australia” I was and I did.
By then I was 22 years old and I went to Adelaide in South Australia where I had lived for a short time in one of my alcohol-induced geographical. When I arrived there I had nowhere to stay so I rang AA and asked if they knew where I could get a bed. They pointed me to the Salvation Army homeless men’s shelter.
Whilst I knew God was working in and through my life, at that time I was anything but Christian or obedient. I still wanted recovery on my terms. So I stayed in the homeless men’s hostel at night and walked the streets of Adelaide through the day, and kept drinking. I also spent numerous nights in the Salvation Army detox unit there. One day I was approached by one of the staff who told me “if you want to continue to stay here you need to give something back.” So I was taken to Red Shield Industries, the Salvation Army’s recycling industry and introduced to a Salvation Army officer who asked me “Is it okay if I pray with and for you?” I had nothing to lose so I said yes.
Now volunteering for Red Shield Industries I was allowed to stay in the homeless men’s shelter. I kept drinking and my visits to detox got more frequent. One day someone spoke to me in detox about the Salvation Army Bridge Program in Mount Barker and I said I would like to go there and give it a try. So I was booked in with a counselor to discuss my options who informed me “You can’t go to the Bridge Program. Your attitude is all wrong and it wouldn’t work for you.” I could not believe what I had been told and I guess it showed. Because at that time a new Salvation Army officer was appointed in charge of the men’s hostel and detox and he visited detox that morning and was introduced to some of the clients, including me. He said to me “Don’t I know you?” He had arrived from Western Australia and knew me from my interactions with the Bridge Centre in Perth. Obviously, I looked down from my encounter with the counselor and he asked me what was the matter. I told him what had happened and he turned to the same counselor and said “make sure he is on a bus to Eden Park (the rehab) this afternoon.
It was then I realized the reality of God caring about me and being willing to do whatever we needed to do together to help me regain control of my life.
STEP THREE I am making a decision to let God help me change and commit to working with Him to do so.
A special bus was put on that day just to take me to Eden Park. When I arrived in the afternoon I was instructed to go straight to a group. It was a Twelve Steps group. The step they were discussing was Step Eleven “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God. Praying for knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry it out.”
On that first day, the penny dropped. I had an Aha! moment, where I realized what was missing from my recovery journey, was ‘conscious contact with God’ Sure I had prayed and I had meditated but God was not included. I still wanted recovery on my terms. But that day I made a conscious decision to include and involve God in my prayer life. And again He spoke to me and what He said was “You do not need to live like this anymore follow Me and I will lead you.” I believe had I left the Bridge Program that day I would still be here. I had made the decision to let God help me Chang and I was committed to working with Him, not against Him in the process.
I didn’t leave, I stayed for several months and in those months I concentrated on improving my consciousness of God and seeking His will for my life.
I got involved in Bible studies. I attended meetings and I started applying the Twelve Steps, which I knew really well but never understood to my life. As a result of my interaction with God in a personal relationship, He revealed to me a five-year plan for my life that included becoming a member of the Salvation Army, who I would marry and where I would work.
When I was at Eden Park Salvation Army Red Shield Industries commenced a new recycling industry in the Mount Barker where I started as a volunteer, became the Assistant Manager and eventually ended up as the State Manager for South Australia before moving to Melbourne as the Territorial Transport Manager.
Whilst in Mount Barker I also commenced running Alcoholics Victorious groups and helping other Salvation Army Corps (Churches) establish meetings.
In 1990 I also married (through Gods guidance and help) my beautiful wife Karen Ernst.
All through the decision on that first day at Eden Park to let God help me change and commitment to let Him lead.
STEP FOUR In order to help me change, I will investigate and record with God’s help my sinful habits and attitudes
The decision to let God lead was an easy one. In the process of recovery up until this time I had completed four step fours. The last of which was whilst living in the homeless men’s hostel. So I decided with Gods help what I would do this time was to investigate areas of my character that didn’t align with Gods will for my life.
The biggest stumbling block was pride. I don’t know where or when but somewhere I developed the belief that God was for weak people and I never saw myself as weak so even though I knew I needed God’s help I wasn’t sure how.
Investigating and recording areas of my character that didn’t align with God’s Word soon filled up a couple of A4 writing pads and resulted in a lot of time in communication with the Holy Spirit. I began reading a lot of Christian books around this time. To date, I have an extensive library of books. I also purchased my first Recovery Bible from the Bible Society and aligning the Twelve Steps with scripture. This not only enhanced my scripture awareness of the Twelve Steps it also increased my understanding of The Twelve Steps.
I began topical Bible studies on the character flaws on my list and I started studying a number of Twelve Step programs. My thought at that time was (and it was a God thought) If I am going to be of any use at helping others in recovery I need to learn all I can about it.
I also purchased my first copy of The Serenity Prayer devotional and trying to understand why Bible-based recovery was bringing me everything I had ever hoped for in recovery when the AA Twelve Steps alone didn’t. The answer now is obvious but back then it wasn’t. The answer was a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus.
I also read for the first time the book ‘Good Morning Holy Spirit’ which resulted in a profound change to my approach to faith in Jesus and walking daily in the Spirit.
If this all sounds a bit far fetched to anyone reading it I apologize but its how it happened and I have had thirty years to absorb it.
Step four for me this time was about finding out what things in me needed to change to get me prepared to become the person God was calling me to be. For anyone commencing the process, I have one suggestion to take time to study and understand what is on your list and how it is preventing you from being what God is calling you to be.
STEP FIVE On completion of my list I will share it with someone I trust
Alone in a State in Australia where I knew no one finding the right person for this task seemed impossible. Until I prayed and God presented the right person. Who not only became the person I shared my list with but also became one with of my closest friends.
Now one of my problems on my list was ‘compulsive lying’ so in order to make sure I didn’t lie, hide or embellish the truth I gave them my list and authority to ask me any questions or comment on anything on it.
This step was one of, if not the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and meant there was another person on this earth who knew me at least, as well as I, knew myself. But there was no fear and I knew that person would never share what we discussed with anyone else or raise it again with me after the process was finished unless they saw old habits creeping back int my character.
The relief and release of this step. The knowledge that someone now knows my demons as well as I did was an important part of the recovery process for me.
As I said the person with whom I shared my list remained in my life for a long time after we shared it and continually encouraged me in the recovery process in the early days. They are probably responsible for much of my faith development as I began my Christian walk.
My advice to others approaching step five. STOP! PRAY! and WAIT! God has the right person and He will reveal them to you when you are ready.
STEP SIX After discovering my sinful habits and attitudes and confessing them,
I am now willing to let God change me.
Knowledge of my sinful habits and attitudes and someone else was aware of them drove me to do something about them. I didn’t want to live the way I lived anymore and I knew unless I changed the game was up for me.
I’d like to say it was easy to be willing to let God change me but for so much of my life had lived in self-preservation.
So how was I going to apply this step to my life? Rightly or wrongly what I did was read. I read a lot of books on spiritual and Christian living. I also started an investigation on every 12 step curriculum I could get my hands on and identified people I wanted to live like.
With Gods help and Holy Spirit inspiration, I commenced living a plan for my life that included every area of my life and where I wanted to end up in each. This project has taken up a lot of my time and changed regularly as the fog of my addictive personality changed.
Daily prayer and morning devotion became an important part of my life and God became my first point of contact rather than my last.
Matthew 11:15 says If ever you were willing to listen, listen now! I was and I did and as a result, God began the process of changing me through faith.