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, navel-gazing, trusting-the-wisdom-of-men-instead-of-God, self-pity-party.
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 possible.
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 recovery.
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.
Go to Dale Ryan's Articles in STEPS Magazine.
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