It was a Friday in November, 2013. I walked into my first 12-step meeting, a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting at Bering United Methodist Church in Houston. I arrived for the noon meeting at 12:00 sharp and left at 1:00 dull.
Attending that meeting was scary and intimidating. Saying, “My name is Mark and I’m a sex addict” ripped at my insides. I had begun a journey from which there would be no turning back – a journey toward recovery.
Since that fall meeting six years ago, I have attended 600 more meetings, attained five years of sobriety, earned a Master’s in Addiction Recovery (Liberty University), completed the certification process to become a PSAP (Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional), launched a national recovery ministry, spoken at dozens of venues, and written about 800 blogs, devotions, and articles on recovery. And I just published my fifth book on recovery – Jesus and the 12 Steps.
So this seems like a good time to look back over the past six years – since I stepped into that SAA meeting that would become my weekly “home group” for the next 13 months.
Let me share ten things I wish I had known about recovery six years ago.
1. You must own it.
Until you take ownership for your disease, you won’t take responsibility for your recovery. While your addiction is likely the result of trauma that you did not seek nor deserve, you must own your addiction, as well as your recovery.
2. Until you become desperate, you will not become well.
Jesus asked the paralytic, “Do you want to be well?” (John 5:6). The question was one of desperation. When the man indicated his desperation to be well, Jesus told him to pick up his mat and walk. Why? Because it is when we do the improbable that God does the impossible.
3. Addiction isn’t a bad problem as much as it is a bad solution.
At the root of sexual addiction you will find three things: trauma, abuse, and isolation. Addiction is not the cause, but the problem. And until you deal with the cause, you won’t solve the problem.
4. If you are 90% in, you are 100% out.
That’s why I still attend two 12-step meetings each week. It’s why I read recovery material every day. It’s why I have a sponsor and I sponsor others – 12 guys as of now. And it’s why I recite the 3rd Step Prayer, the 7th Step Prayer, and the Serenity Prayer every day. Recovery is not a part-time job or a spectator sport. You must go all in.
5. Your current strategy is perfectly suited for the results you are getting.
The wise sage Yogi Berra mused, “If all you do is what you’ve done, then all you’ll get is what you’ve got.” I can always judge how hard a man is working his recovery by the results he is getting.
6. The definition of failure is not “relapse,” but “quitting.”
I know a man who didn’t find recovery until he was 91. But despite hundreds of setbacks, “Jim” kept at it. He never quit and he never gave up. As a result, he is walking in freedom today, with nearly two years of perfect sobriety. Every man or woman who has ever found recovery has two things in common: (a) they endured multiple failures, and (b) they didn’t give up.
7. No one ever found recovery on his own.
You must have community. You need a small accountability group, a sponsor, a group, sponsees, and a church family. The opposite of recovery is secrecy. It is only when you walk with others that you walk in recovery.
8. You get to pick your behaviors, but not your consequences.
You make your decisions, then your decisions make you. There is always a connection between your actions and consequences. The Bible says your sin will find you. I know from personal experience, you can hide your behaviors for a time, but you can’t hide them forever.
9. What God allows, he redeems.
God will not use you despite your disease, but because of it. You will have doors open to you to bless other people like you couldn’t imagine. Just last week, I was speaking to the men at the national Castimonia retreat in Texas. After the meeting, a man followed me into the parking lot to say, “You may have preached to larger crowds as a pastor, but here, everyone listens.” So true! God is using me now in ways that only became possible because he is the God of redemption.
10. Don’t commit to a lifetime of recovery, but to a day.
Why would you make promises of how you will live in a time which God has not even promised to give you? We have no promises beyond today. Focus on one day at a time. Say it with me: “I’m not saying I’ll never act out again, but I am saying it won’t happen today!”