Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Power of Powerlessness

Step One

We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.

(Bet you thought it was time for Step Two, didn't you?)

When one begins the spiritual practices of the 12 Steps, one quickly learns that the steps are never finished.  We always return to step one and start over - not just when we have completed them all, but any time we are confronted with our slavery, any time we see those telltale signs of something being out of control.  We need to learn how to go back to this step, to use it, to mine it, to depend on it as positive movement out of our slavery.

For those who thought that focusing on and contemplating our secrets, failures, shortcomings, and character defects was dreadful and unproductive, the thought of doing it on a regular basis is insanity.  Of course, pretending that you have no unmanageability in your life, no failures, or shortcomings, or nothing that you would prefer to hide from others seems like insanity to me.  Continuing to blindly bulldoze through your life doing the same old things you've always done and hoping for different results seems pretty unproductive.  Admitting our slavery simply aligns us with what is already true about our lives.

But did you know that admitting powerlessness can actually be very empowering?  

Of course, that is the beautiful paradox of recovery - of Christianity!  It is only when you give your life away that you may truly live - the very paradox we explore in the practice of fasting.

First, by facing and admitting our darkness, failures, compulsive behaviors, fears, etc., we begin to release the shame that attaches itself to them.  Remember Adam and Eve in the garden?  They ate of the fruit, and they were ashamed.  And it was because of the shame that they hid - from God and from each other.  That hiding didn't help them; it isolated them.  It was the beginning of the death that was promised when they ate the fruit: The death of fellowship with God, of self acceptance, of vulnerability, of relationship with one another ... the list goes on.  Hiding is the fruit of death.  Naming our weaknesses empowers us to come out of hiding.

Naming our slavery also loosens the grip that compulsive behaviors, hurts, disappointments, and fear have on us.  For example, we can often feel like no one really wants to hear about what is really going on with us, and that feeling controls us; it squelches us, prompts us to pretend, to say stupid things, to hedge our comments, minimize our feelings, avoid vulnerability, limit intimacy, and apologize for taking up time or space.   Or it may make us a constant comedian, a compulsive discusser of our topic of choice, an expert at small talk, pop culture, and memes, or just downright disconnected from reality - twitchy, compulsive, neurotic, and never quite able to say exactly what we mean.  This is not self-control!  This is oppression!

But when we just say it - when we can just name what is true, what is real, what is vulnerable - suddenly we are free.   We dispel the myth that we are somehow unwanted or unlovable, the only one to struggle or hurt.  We are free to talk about everything, free to connect, free to be known and loved and accepted as we are.  We are free to be ourselves.  Free to be heard.  Who doesn't want more freedom in her life?

Then there is the fact that admitting our powerlessness is actually doing something new.  And doing something new is not only the best possible opportunity for getting different results, it means that, right now, in the moment of your admission, you are not perpetuating your slavery.  In other words, it is very difficult to practice this step as a spiritual discipline and also stuff your face with doughnuts, say, or masturbate to porn.  By practicing this step intentionally - again and again - you are actually already replacing old behaviors with something new.

I wrote recently about my friend who is obsessively distracted.  One of the things she learned is that she cannot be thinking about and focused on distractions when she is focusing on and practicing her admission of powerlessness.  Admitting powerlessness can seem negative to a lot of people, but it is actually a positive behavior that replaces oldnegative ones.

We reclaim all kinds of power in practicing Step One.  But probably the best part is the way we are setting ourselves up to need and ask for help, and to need and search out God.

And that leads us again to Step Two ...

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