Criticisms of Recovery - Part 1
by Dale S. Ryan
Let's begin with the obvious. The
most argumentative, tenacious, illogical and misguided criticism of
recovery comes not from other people but from me. When it comes to my
own recovery journey, I am the person who resists the most. Like many
of us, I have always been my own worst critic. I can think of 50
reasons, easily, why my recovery is just a pop-psychology,
I do not need any external hostility to recovery in order to remind me
of how I should be better by now, of how I should be able to just pray
about it and trust God, or of how I should spend more time helping
others rather than selfishly focused on my own needs. I have yet to
find a criticism of recovery that I haven't already internalized in
some way. I have recently finished reading a series of books highly
critical of the recovery movement and there were few surprises for my
personal Inner Board of Critics. This distinguished panel of Judges
has left few stones unturned in criticizing my own recovery. I suppose
there are some obvious reasons why we resist our own recovery so
tenaciously. Let me mention just three.
Resistance to the Truth
First, of course, we experience denial as having such tangible
benefits. Denial has a lot of appeal - it always seems like it's going
to be less painful than facing the truth. I've gotten along so far
without having to face this, why should I have to deal with it now?
The truth, by contrast, always seems like the worst possible thing.
So, we resist recovery because it is less appealing than denial. This
is, of course, why few of us choose recovery just as a kind of
personal enrichment activity - most of us don't begin the recovery
journey until our pain becomes so intense that we are forced to take
measures that in ordinary circumstances we would resist if at all
Resistance to the Process
Secondly, recovery requires us to commit ourselves to activities that
few of us expect to be enjoyable. Make amends? Confess? Keep coming
back? Tell the truth? Recognize our powerlessness? Accept help?
There's got to be an easier way! These are just not things we
experience, at least at first, as Good News. Few of us experience the
spiritual discipline of confession, for example, as a wonderful
opportunity for personal enrichment. On the contrary, it seems like
one of the worst and most impossible things imaginable. We resist
recovery because it is a demanding process.
Resistance to Change
And, thirdly, we resist our own recovery because recovery always
involves change and change is destabilizing. Change often means
swimming upstream against the pressure of generations of dysfunction.
Change means being willing to be unskilled at new but healthier
strategies for living - none of us are very adept at telling the truth
at first. Change means tolerating the confusion, ambiguity, and lack
of control that comes in times of transition. Most of us prefer
stability to change and that explains some of our resistance to
So, I am the person most resistant to my recovery and there are good
reasons for my resistance. The only good thing I can think to say
about this is that you can probably relax a bit if you are worried
about the kinds of resistance to recovery that will come from other
people. You will find people who think recovery is a kind of
faithlessness to Christ. You will find people who think recovery is a
kind of self-indulgent, getting-off-the-hook escape from
responsibility. But you probably won't find anybody more critical of
your recovery than you are.
God is, of course, quite familiar with our tendency to resist
recovery. Fortunately, God has made it very clear that no matter how
tenaciously we resist grace, God will persist.
Writing to a congregation struggling with self-criticism, the elder
statesman John said: "Dear children, let us not love with words
or tongue but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we
belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence
whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts,
and he knows everything.(I John 3:20, NIV)" Like John's audience,
we are full of self-criticism. But, as we continue in our recovery
(putting love into action and telling the truth), we will find that
our shame-full self-criticism will eventually yield to the God who is
'greater' than our self-criticism. The God who knows everything is
greater (more grace-full, more loving, more committed to us) than our
shame bound hearts can ever imagine. We can set our hearts at rest
because God is more grace-full than our shame-damaged hearts. And that
makes all the difference.
May your roots sink deeply in the soil of God's love.
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