Dealing with Your Dark Side Part 4
Confronting the Civil War Within
by Patrick Means
In this final installment of his
four-part series, Patrick Means presents the last three of the six
tough steps needed to confront the dark side within.
4. Drive A Stake
Author Earnie Larson is credited with the droll maxim "Nothing
changes if nothing changes." This is nowhere more true than in
confronting the restless power of our dark side. Just identifying a
negative behavior pattern isn't enough; we have to take practical
steps in the real world to break our pattern. This is tricky business,
for our human nature will do everything in its power to keep us from
going through the pain connected with true change.
For me, with my "boom or bust" pattern of overcommitting my
time and my money, followed by stress and collapse, change has
involved downsizing my life and expenses to fit inside the
"box" that circumscribes my physical, emotional and
financial resources. Among other things, this has meant taking on
fewer new projects and doing a better job of maintaining the walls
around those activities that for me are energy-giving rather than
In addition, my wife and I have made a pact to evaluate each new
opportunity facing us in light of my past pattern of overcommitting.
To counter the self-deceiving nature of our disease, we ask ourselves,
"Would someone looking in from the outside say that this looks
like our old pattern?"
5. Don't Go It Alone.
Recovery is not a solo activity. We must wage this war with the
support and the perspective of a friend, a therapist, or, best of all,
a support group. The result will be the kind of deep, nurturing
fellowship that John in his first epistle says comes only from
"walking in the light" with other believers. In choosing a
group, avoid two extremes that can be found in the Christian community
- the "moral monitors" and the "chronic
The Moral Monitors. Several years ago, my dark side
behaviors blew apart my life and ministry. At that time, the Christian
organization in which I'd been serving assigned me to an
"accountability group" to monitor my recovery. These five
men took on the role of my "moral monitors." Every week,
they would ask me questions about my actions, my Bible reading, my
thought life over the past week, and would alternately take notes on
my responses and dispense advice. There was never any honest sharing
from the other men about any area in which they were struggling; it
was a one-sided "reporting." The atmosphere, instead of
being encouraging, was shaming, and, as a result, my own experience of
authentic recovery didn't begin until almost a year later after I had
left this first group and joined a recovery group. In this later group
I found the companionship and encouragement of fellow pilgrims on the
journey toward wholeness. In that atmosphere, it was no longer shaming
to own my failures, and it was finally safe to be deeply honest.
At best, a group filled with moral monitors will only intimidate us
into "looking good" temporarily; at worst, it will simply
drive our dark side behaviors underground. True change only comes from
the inside out, and not the reverse.
The Chronic Caretakers. While it's unsafe to be honest
in a group of moral monitors, there's a sense in which it's too safe
to be honest around those we might label "chronic
caretakers." Caretakers can't stand to see others express pain,
and will immediately attempt to comfort anyone expressing pain in
their presence. But this often short circuits the healing process. As
Keith Miller says, "It is the pain of living that creates a
hunger for healing that only God can satisfy." Caretakers may
also try to talk you out of your insights into your own dysfunctions.
"Oh, don't be so hard on yourself," they'll say.
"You're not that bad!" In actuality, we are that bad. It's
only by owning the extent of our brokenness that we can find healing.
So the group we choose must be both safe, as well as one that allows
us and encourages us to do the tough, painful work of true recovery. A
good group is worth looking for. Once you've experienced the depth of
honesty and acceptance provided by a good group, you will be spoiled
forever for going back to the superficial fellowship that
characterizes so many meetings in the church today.
6. Go In Grace
2 Corinthians 4:1-2 says "Therefore, since we have. . .received
mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden
because of shame." In other words, shame pushes us to hide our
dark side, while God's grace and mercy cause us to "not lose
heart," and to continue dragging our broken behaviors into the
light over and over until we get better. Without a grace-full attitude
toward ourselves as we work through our recovery we will soon lose
heart and give up.
The reality is, when all the practical steps toward change that can be
taken are taken, our dark side is still a fearsome, powerful force
within us, and will be until the day we die. No mere self-improvement
course by itself stands a chance of taming, or containing, its
That's why the 12 Steps encourages us to admit our
"powerlessness" over our bad behaviors, and to trust God
alone to "restore us to sanity." That step of humility puts
the responsibility for our recovery squarely on God and his grace.
"God is opposed to the proud," James tells us, "but
gives grace to the humble."
In the final analysis, like so much of the Christian life, recovery is
a mystery. It's the hardest work we'll ever do, requiring depths of
honesty and courage beyond anything we have previously experienced.
But, ultimately, recovery is a grace-gift from a loving God in
response to our complete dependence.
For the rest of this series seePart One
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without the express written permission of the author is prohibited.