I carry with me two talismans of my recovery.
The first is a medallion celebrating two years of sobriety this month. I am fortunate that the desire to drink was pretty much taken away after I hit rock bottom – literally – on the marble floor of the hotel lobby at a work conference.
The second is a bracelet that arrived the day after that conference – the last thing I bought without telling my wife – that helps me remember I don't need to spend money when I am feeling "restless, irritable, and discontented."
But what recovery really looks like for me is the Pendleton shirt that I wear around the house on the weekends.
After I lost my job, I was at home a lot more often. I would usually wear jeans and a turtleneck and that favorite shirt.
I remember sitting on the couch one evening thinking, "I really like this shirt; I should buy another one."
It took only a few seconds for my new inner voice to respond. "Don't be an idiot. This is a Pendleton shirt, and it will last forever. You won't outlive this shirt; you don't need to buy another one."
Paul writes that:
“We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day .... in this tent we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed" (2 Cor. 4:16, 5:4).
Even though God is working in us to renew our inner nature, we may need reminders of that hidden process from time to time.
"One day at a time," says Alcoholics Anonymous. "Daily we begin again," say the Benedictines.
That first day after my fall, I spoke by phone to a fellow deacon from another diocese who I knew was in recovery. I confessed my fear that every day would feel like a burden, an endless process of giving things up, not being able to do what I wanted.
He burst out laughing and said, “You’ve got it all backwards! Any day that you don’t drink is an oasis, not a burden!” He went on to describe how people in recovery enjoy a “daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of [their] spiritual condition.”
That really stuck with me.
I have for 23 years practiced praying the Daily Office, and as I continue in recovery I understand more and more how the 12 Steps illuminate basic practices of the Christian faith. The familiar prayers are shot through with a deeper meaning now.
The Confession of Sin that begins Morning and Evening Prayer – what is it but a daily self-inventory (Step 10)?
The regularity of the Daily Office, the discipline of Bible reading, the prayers for ourselves and for the needs of others – what are they but “seeking conscious contact with God … praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out” (Step 11)?
Even though we "wish not to be unclothed," we may have to spend time each day being uncomfortably open and vulnerable – honestly sitting with our restlessness and our "stinking thinking" – before we can experience a new kind of peace and serenity.
Being content with what I have, being at peace with those around me, being calm about asking for what I need – these are what it means for me to be "clothed with joy."