Before I stopped drinking, I lived in a vicious cycle of trying to balance my bad deeds with good deeds. On Sunday mornings, I sang in the choir, taught Sunday school, and led Bible studies. I read the Bible and was sincere in my prayers, but I could not stop drinking and going out late at night on weekends.
One Sunday morning after a pretty serious bender, I went to the prayer railing for a laying on of hands. I desperately wanted to stop the madness. I could not live the double life any more.
A lovely old couple asked me how they could pray for me, but I was too ashamed about what I had done the night before to tell them. I said something generic like, “I am in desperate need of prayer in all aspects of my life!” They smiled and prayed a generic prayer that was based on what they saw every Sunday morning: “Lord, please bless this loving husband and devoted father to handle the many burdens he carries for the church, his community, and probably his workplace. We can’t imagine a more godly man, so please let him know how much he is loved.”
Shame! I was too ashamed to say what I had done the night before. It was completely 180 degrees out of sync with who I was on Sunday morning, and the only one who knew how bad it was, beside me and the people at the dark places I frequented, was the Lord. How could I go to Him with a straight face?
Create in Me a Clean Heart
David also faced this kind of dilemma and prayed one of the most sincere prayers in the Bible when he prayed, “create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and a right Spirit within me.” He was in a similar predicament as I was. He had reached a place in his life where everything was going great, but it still was not enough. He was one person in public, but another person in his private life.
One day while his brothers-in-arms, his “thirty mighty men” who had fought with him against their many enemies, were out fighting for Israel, David found himself home alone. From his rooftop he saw something (someone!) that he did not have – the wife of Uriah, one of his best friends.
Not only did David abuse his power as king to seduce her, but he ordered her husband, his friend, to be murdered by proxy in order to have her all to himself. However, when his closest adviser confronted him about the true nature of what he had done, he humbled himself and cried out to God.
When I was in a similar place, I, too, cried out to God on a regular basis, but I could not seem to stop the old life. What I didn’t realize was that it was a heart issue first. Until I allowed the Lord to deal with my toxic shame, my fear of telling people how lonely I was on the inside, and how terrified I was of being judged, I could not begin to deal with my self-destructive tendencies to self-medicate.
The alcohol I took did not work any better than hitting oneself in the head with a hammer will cure a headache. As they say in recovery, I had “a God-sized hole in my heart and only God could fill it.”
This was the reason I needed to do a thorough spiritual inventory of all my relationships when I got into recovery. It was not enough to simply stop drinking. Buried in my past were traumas and misunderstandings that were still influencing the way I made decisions and how I viewed the world. I had a living minefield of broken relationships I was trying to dance through without getting blown up. It was no wonder I went running back to numb the pain with self-medication all the time.
Taking Time to Reflect on Past Hurts and Harms
The practical way to do the inventory is to find someone who has done it and ask for help. It is a process, and we need accountability. Some people get a sponsor who is in recovery, but the most important thing is to learn to trust someone, and then be as honest as possible. (For helpful resources with this process, consider Maryland Celebrate Recovery meetings at www.marylandcelebraterecovery.org and/or CrossRoads Freedom Center at www.crossroadsfreedomcenter.com.
For me, this began when I listed all the people I had ever had conflict with or depended on for anything. I started with the family and friends I depended on for care and security during my childhood. I continued into social relationships I tried to establish in order to feel like I was part of a community from school to sports to work and church. And finally, I looked at significant others with whom I chose to establish a deeper bond of commitment through sacrifice and lifelong relationship, my spouse and my family.
I looked objectively at each of these relationships. What did they say and do that hurt me or helped me? Regardless of whether they started the hurt or I did, I asked myself what did I say and do in response or that could have possibly caused their response? The old saying, “it takes two to tango” comes to mind here. However, if someone hurt me as a child, I must remember that I did not do anything to cause the abuse to me. Hurt people hurt people. The people who hurt me would not have done it unless someone had done it to them, so I opened the door to forgiveness and freedom.
In many situations, I needed to go back and own up for my mistakes, too. But it was crucial to have support and wisdom about this process. The goal was not to go back and reconnect with broken people, but to walk free from the shame and take responsibility when it was healthy to do so.
A New and a Right Spirit
Once I had taken the time to try to “clean up the wreckage of the past,” it was important for me to put certain spiritual practices in place, such as keeping short accounts – one day at a time! Many times I found I could be back at the same place of isolation or confrontation, even in recovery! And without any self-medication, I was feeling all my feelings instead of numbing them, including anger, fear, and sadness.
And unlike before, even though I was going to meetings, volunteering in the church, and doing all the right things at home, it did not seem to satisfy like the old rollercoaster life. Yes, the lows were not as low, but the highs were not as high either. The fire of passion and romance had turned into the warm glow of sustained commitment. Even in my prayer life, it was difficult to sustain the same “first love” feeling like when I recommitted my life to the Lord and vowed to do all things through Him who gives me the strength.
Having worked through the inventory, though, I finally realized that life did not owe me a living. I am not just okay . . . I am blessed! I am a child of the King! I don’t have to relive my past any more.
I changed my focus from myself and my needs to the needs of my family and others. I began to have real relationships that were based on giving instead of receiving and this was more rewarding than any of the cheap substitutes I had sought before.
Today, I still have difficulties, but they only last a day or less because I work one day at a time, and I live one moment at a time. I have a clean heart and a new and right spirit within me by God’s Grace and it is never more than a simple prayer away.
Lord, help us to clean up the many messes we made in the past and to find healing for our hurts, in Jesus Name, O Lord our Healer. Teach us to embrace quiet times alone with you so that we can bring serenity into a broken world that is desperate for peace. Establish new paths and new ways of living for us as we surrender to Your Holy Spirit’s Guidance and Comfort, so that we never again feel alone or forsaken. Your Love never fails. Amen.