by Jonathan Daugherty
I have yet to meet a sex addict (who is active in their addiction) who isn't angry, or at least easily irritated. I used to be like this myself; grumpy, selfish, ready at the drop of a hat to chew people up and spit them out. Addiction, by it's very nature, is imprisonment to something that never satisfies. Such a cycle of futility isn't how one grows in contentment and joy. No, addiction is a pathway to agitated bitterness.
It is interesting, though, when an addicted person finally admits their powerlessness and starts to seek help, they rarely, if ever, see the recovery process as a pathway to gratitude. More likely is that they see recovery simply as a reversal of their "bad habits" that are ruining their life. If they could just stop doing whatever it is they are doing addictively, then they would be happy. But happiness isn't a synonym for gratitude. Happiness, even in recovery, is still self-centered.
Now, before you get upset at me for calling happy people selfish, that's not what I'm saying. My context here is recovery from addiction, and every addict is a self-worshipper. Addiction and narcissism go hand in hand, even if such self-centeredness isn't manifest as loud, obnoxious bravado. Therefore, when an addict enters recovery, he does so with a firm foundation of self-absorption in place. This is why in early stages of recovery, the addict is still only thinking about himself; how to stop behavior, how to fix his relationships, how to avoid consequences, how to do recovery on his own terms, etc.
But when an addict gets past the initial "immature" stages of recovery (this isn't to shame anyone, but simply state the facts about the "growth process" in recovery), there comes another "tier" of growth that challenges the initial assumptions of what recovery is all about. Is recovery about changing behavior so I can still be the center of my universe and get everything I want, but maybe just in a "healthier looking" way? Or is recovery about total transformation from a self-centered idolator to one who serves others and finds genuine joy in doing so? Could recovery be about gratitude more than it is about "clean" behavior?
These questions begin to challenge the recovering addict. To what degree do they want to follow this path of recovery? Are they okay setting up camp at the first water station they come to, where their behavior may look better, but they can keep their lives and relationships revolving around them? Or does their soul feel the tug of something deeper, something significant, something that feels like it comes from the very heart of God?
I remember when I felt this tug in recovery. I was actually several years into my recovery journey. Good things (God things!) had been happening in my life, and I had a type of contentment that I hadn't had before. I was grateful for these changes, but I kept feeling deep in my soul that there was even more to discover on this journey; even deeper gratitude to experience. But it wouldn't come from gathering more information or more accountability partners or more Internet filters. This gratitude comes from giving it all away.
God doesn't think or act like we do. We operate from a place of selfishness; God operates from a place of selflessness. We gain for the sake of keeping. God grows for the sake of blessing others. Fundamentally, we start from different places when it comes to us and God. He is perfect and unstained by sin, while we are imperfect and drowning in sin. But the best hope in recovery comes from God! He draws near to the broken and outcast, while our tendency is to discard and abandon. It's this hope in God, not in our "clean" behavior, that starts to shape our gratitude.
So, back to my story and how gratitude started shifting my recovery. I began recovery with a type of gratitude, one we are all most familiar with: thankfulness for receiving good things, especially undeserved kindness (i.e. grace). And this is a wonderful feeling! I was growing in recovery and things were changing in my life; behaviors, attitudes, friendships. It was wonderful to receive these blessings and I was truly grateful for all these gifts from God.
But I was challenged to embrace a deeper gratitude, the honor and privilege to give away everything God had given to me. I have to admit, this didn't seem like something that would produce gratitude in me at first. I thought gratitude was only connected to receiving, kinda like how you feel as a kid on Christmas morning when tearing into the presents under the tree. Gratitude is felt when I gain something, right? But how can there be a deeper gratitude from giving something away? How can I be even more thankful for that?
What brought this conundrum together for me was when I took a step back from my recovery journey and tried to look at my life as a whole; the good, the bad, all of it. I was struck with the truth that I didn't create my life; it didn't start with me, or even my parents. I was the handiwork of my Creator, the God of the heavens and earth, who saw me before anything was made and chose to give me life (Eph. 1:3-4, 2:10). Everything, all of me, was in His hands. This changed my entire journey from that point on.
Gratitude flows from my knowledge of God, not out of my circumstances. So, whether I am "receiving" everything my heart could desire, or "giving away" anything I don't really own (God owns it all, right?), I am grateful. My heart, my soul, is filled to overflowing with gratitude that cannot be measured by what I have, or even by how much I give away. This gratitude comes from the One who declared my life precious before I took my first breath. And for every addict I meet, I long to give away everything I have so they, too, might come to realize this great and precious truth: God loves addicts.
If you are "stuck" in recovery, still believing that the journey is merely about getting "clean" and acquiring more knowledge or insight or whatever, let me invite you to go deeper and enter the next leg of the journey where you can discover it truly is "more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35b)
I promise, you'll be grateful you took this deeper plunge in recovery...