Step Two: Journey Through the Twelve Steps

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This year, we have a monthly series discussing ways to engage and work each of the Twelve Steps.  Stemming from the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, the Twelve Steps have made their way into the treatment of many addictive behaviors.  Our specific focus will be on sex and love addiction, particularly in Christian women.  If you’re interested in finding an in-person, online, or phone meeting for sex and love addiction, check out Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.  Before you read this post, check out our introduction to the Twelve Steps to learn about support and resources.

Step Two: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 

Admitting our powerlessness over our addictive behaviors is incredibly important on the road to healing.  But this admission is not a magic fix.  The question soon follows: who, or what, will help us overcome?

You’ve likely had the thought that you could stop your addictive behavior if you just tried harder.  There are a multitude of different strategies we use to try to stop.  This overconfidence and self-reliance ultimately backfire, and it becomes easier than ever to become entrenched in the addictive behavior once more.

A common reminder to addicts from AA is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Achieving sanity involves accepting your need for help and seeking a new path to healing.  Observe the strategies of the others in your 12 Step group – how have they learned to overcome?  You’ll find a solid foundation in a Higher Power that can free them from the weight of this addictive behavior.  For our purposes, we’ll refer to this Higher Power as God.

What if I don’t believe in God?  Or what if I don’t trust Him?

Step Two can be fraught with unease or uncertainty based on your experiences with faith.  You may have had strict religious parents who taught you about a punishing God.  You may have minimal experience with spirituality, but assume it’s not for you based on depictions in media or news.  You may have attended a church and received wounds or pain from church leadership or other Christians, and felt alienated from God as a result.

Add to this the stigma of sexual addiction, and you might find yourself experiencing intense shame in churches.  Maybe religion has been a way for you to beat yourself up for the addiction or make up for the wrongs you’ve done in your addictive behavior.

When this is the case, my encouragement to you is to be open to trying out faith.  As we know from the Stocksdale paradox, finding meaning and purpose for a future without addiction will be the biggest motivator to get you through the pain of withdrawal.  Meaning and purpose are often found in spirituality or relationship with God.  Your openness to explore and curiosity about what spirituality or relationship with God might look like for you are steps toward this mission and purpose for the future.

Working Step Two

Examine your relationship with trust.

Trust isn’t easy, especially if you’ve had your trust betrayed in the past.  I’ve experienced this before when I believed that I had to do everything on my own if I wanted it to be done right.  Another common way you might experience distrust involves hiding information or deceiving those around us.  Deception is a significant part of addiction because it can feel incredibly vulnerable to trust someone with our deepest, darkest secrets.

When you’re asked to trust someone else, what does it feel like?  Do you have difficulty trusting others?  What happens when you need help – do you ask for it, or do you try to make it on your own?  Were you able to trust your parents or caregivers growing up?  Exploring this relationship with trust has direct implications for your relationship with God.  Often if we struggle to trust others or ask for help, we see ourselves responding the same way with God.

Explore the image you have of God.

What comes to mind when you think of God?  Before I was a Christian, I always imagined a mix between Santa and Zeus – a big man with a thick white beard and white robes sitting on a cloud and looking down on the world.  A.W. Tozer, a noted theologian, says in his book The Knowledge of the Holy* that what comes to mind when we think of God is the most important thing about us. 

How did you imagine God as a child?  What did your family members think or teach about God?  How did that image change or stay the same when you grew into an adult?  What views does your spouse or friends have about God?  Draw a picture of what you imagined God to be like in the past and present.

Identify the roadblocks.

This exploration may lead to a clear idea of what’s standing in the way of trusting God.  Whether it’s based on past failures of trust with loved ones or wrapped up in an image of a distant, accusatory figure, we can see the impacts of early beliefs about God on our present-day spiritual life.

Be patient with yourself as you seek to break down those roadblocks.  Especially if you’ve had destructive views of God in the past, it likely won’t be an easy task to begin to trust Him.  At first, it may be that the only connection you can have with God comes from observing others in the group who have relationship with Him.  Let this be enough for now and seek to be open to experiencing a similar relationship with God as you work this step.

Begin a daily spiritual practice.

Imagine that you’re searching for a dress or suit to buy for an upcoming formal event.  You might look online at a few options, doing some research into styles, colors, and fabrics you like.  When it comes to choosing a size, you might compare the suggested measurements to your own in order to guess how it might fit.  But even if you do the greatest depth of research possible, you won’t truly know how the dress or suit fits until you’re able to try it on.

Similarly, we can approach understanding faith like an intellectual exercise: we read the Bible, debate with others, and try to reason our way into understanding God.  But we can never truly understand the experience of being a Christian until we “try on” the practices of the faith.

Begin attending a church service or Mass.  Seek a daily prayer and meditation time where you read the Bible and journal or pray what’s on your mind.  Practice communion.  Connect with Christian believers through a Bible study or home church.  Get a feel for what the spiritual life could look like for you.

Write a prayer affirming your trust.

When you’ve completed these exercises, you’ll become aware of some areas where it is easy to trust God, and other areas where it is significantly more difficult.  As you begin to think God’s trustworthiness, I encourage you to write a prayer to God both naming the insecurities that you may feel about trusting Him, while also affirming your choice to trust him.  There are several Psalms that provide great examples of this pattern: Psalm 22 and Psalm 31 are a few favorites.

Identify affirmations of truth about your trust in God.

You may notice how often we as humans are directed by our thoughts and emotions, even if those thoughts are distorted or skewed by addicted thought patterns.  Once you’ve made the commitment to seek trusting God, your thoughts can derail this commitment if you aren’t conscious of their impact.

Take time to select a few Bible verses or other affirmations that help remind you that you are able to trust God.  I particularly like Philippians 2:13, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”  Also good are Isaiah 26:4 “Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock” and Jeremiah 17:7, ““But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.”  Memorizing one of these short Scripture verses can help you to remind yourself of truth when it feels difficult to trust.

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Do you have a hard time surrendering to a God that feels shaming and vengeful?  Are you struggling to trust others such that you can’t even imagine trusting God?  Are you feeling hopeless about recovery when you think you have to do it on your own?  At Restored Hope, I understand the battle that comes with a desire for spiritual comfort, coupled with doubt that comes from the addiction itself.  I’d love to meet with you at my Ann Arbor therapy office to talk through what holds you back from trusting God.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to talk more and set up your first appointment.

 

 

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