One of the themes that we weave throughout our Gateway to Freedom workshop is that the men there are men of courage. In fact, it’s the first thing I tell them in the first session.
You should see the looks I get. Shock. Disbelief. Some even turn away and won’t make eye contact. You see, the idea of courage doesn’t line up with what their shame has told them. But that’s okay.
Shame never tells the truth.
The foundation of addiction, of any kind, is lies. Lies about God. Lies about happiness. Lies about relationships. Lies about self-worth. It’s all lies. These lies don’t just magically go away when a person takes that courageous step to enter recovery.
In fact, sometimes the lies just transfer their aim to recovery itself.
“Recovery doesn’t work.”
“Nobody ever really breaks free from addiction.”
“Nobody will love you even if you are sober.”
“You really are beyond hope; not even God can change what’s messed up in you.”
One of my favorite things to see happen at our 3-day intensives is the metamorphosis that occurs in less than 72 hours. Guys enter with their heads hung low, barely talking, avoiding eye contact, and just generally looking uncomfortable.
After all, they’re only there because they’re an “addict.” One of “those guys.” The least of the least, who deserve to be marginalized and cast out of society. Or so they think.
But we treat them like Jesus would, looking past their exterior of shame or super spirituality or false humility, and instead address their heart. And we tell them the truth about who they are in Christ; more than conquerors! Men of courage.
By Sunday, these guys are talking, laughing, sharing, crying, hugging, connecting. The truth of God’s grace bursts through the hard casing of the lies of shame that have held them prisoner to their addiction. And the hope of Christ breathes new life into their suffocating soul.
They discover that we weren’t lying to them – they are men of courage.
One man at a recent workshop shared in his closing comments how he felt about the road of recovery ahead, and I believe he described beautifully what the journey from secret shame to open courage feels like: hopeful anxiety.
Doesn’t that just paint the picture of what our journey of recovery and faith often feels like? There is such hope in the gospel of Jesus, who sets us free from the shackles of sin and darkness.
Yet there is often such anxiety in the process of working out that hope in our daily lives. We battle temptation, both external and internal. We face obstacles and challenges that we didn’t anticipate.
We regularly hear the truth of God’s Word and wise counsel, but sometimes it gets drowned out by the sound of our knees knocking together in fear; old shame lies whispering constantly in our ears.
I appreciate the honesty of this man’s description of recovery. It means he isn’t hiding from his brokenness any longer. Too often we paint our journey of recovery and faith with only flowers and lovely sunrises.
But those who honestly engage in recovery know there are many clouds and storms, moments and seasons that are fearful and discouraging. But if we can be honest – that we feel hopeful anxiety – then I believe our faith, and recovery, begins to flourish.
For it is the truth that sets us free.
Jesus doesn’t condemn us for being afraid on the journey. Nor does He shame us for all the substitute ways we have tried to meet needs that only come by way of confession and repentance.
Instead, He faithfully reminds us of the truth about who we are in Him; beloved friends, a new creation, a child of the King, conquerors. He looks at us in our brokenness and declares, “You are a man of courage.”
And you know what? He’s right. But will you believe Him?
Here are some healthy ways to respond to the “Hopeful Anxiety” of recovery:
It will do you and your recovery no good if you won’t tell someone the fears you feel about really engaging recovery. It’s scary to venture out into the unknown. Addiction is so familiar, even if it is killing you.
Recovery is like a foreign land; you don’t know the territory. Facing recovery with courage is far easier when you face it with a friend.
Step out in faith and share your story and struggles with someone who cares about you. Plug into a support group where you can be encouraged by those who have gone before you on this journey.
See Your Doctor
Some aspects of anxiety are not just “in your head.” Anxiety can manifest physically.
It is important that you see your doctor in order to determine if some of your anxiety about recovery needs to be addressed medically. There is no shame in needing medical help to get sober.
You are not a “less than” human being if you need medicine. You are courageous and respectable for doing whatever is necessary to pursue health and wholeness for your entire being, body included.
Write About It
Journaling is a powerful tool in recovery. When I first started my own recovery journey over 20 years ago, I was not interested in journaling. I thought it was a silly waste of time.
I was wrong. Writing down what you are feeling and learning is cathartic. It slows down your brain, exercises focus, and gives you a point of reference for seeing your progress in recovery.
Recovery is about learning to live life in a new way. Journaling can be one of those “new things” that help you transition to other new ways of thinking and behaving. It also grows the hope aspect of “hopeful anxiety” as you see the trends of your recovery moving toward greater sobriety.
Practice Doing Good
If you wait until you “feel” like pursuing recovery you will never get sober. If addiction teaches us anything it is that our feelings can’t be trusted to tell us the truth or lead us in healthy decisions.
Therefore, you must practice doing good even when you feel like doing bad. You will need lots of support in this part of recovery!
At first, you will feel way more of a pull toward your addiction than toward recovery. So do whatever is necessary to surround yourself with allies in your pursuit of sobriety. Call, text, or reach out however you can when you feel the pull to act out.
Lean on these friends to give you strength to do what is good even when you don’t feel like it. Over time you experience greater and greater victory over temptation and even your desire to act out will diminish.
Recovery truly is a hopeful anxiety.
There is a healthy tension in recovery between enthusiasm for change and fear of relapse.
Don’t be afraid of this tension. Lean into it and learn what true courage really means; it is not the absence of fear, but instead the choice to
do what is good and right in the face of fear.
Keep pressing on in your fight for freedom!