15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25, NRSV)
In today’s passage from Twenty-four Hours a Day (April 6), the author asks, “Was my personality problem ever solved by going on the wagon or taking the pledge?”
My addictions served to hide me from myself. I practice sobriety in order to be authentic and to live a liberated life of love of self and others.
When I first sought sobriety, I began with Celebrate Recovery (CR), and I quickly realized that alcohol and drugs were not the only addictions over which I was powerless. In CR, each of the 12 steps is paired with a Biblical principle (Scripture). Step 1 is important to us all, but, in these many years, the CR paired Bible passage for Step 1 has had a more profound influence on me than so many other parts of my spiritual recovery journey.
In CR, Step 1 and its Biblical comparison read as follows:
1. We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (Romans 7:18)
I must be bold, now, and share with you that I am not a fan of St. Paul, and I am quite sure that were he and I to meet on the road today, sit together in prayer and conversation, spend time studying the Law, we would have very different interpretations of what sin is and how God through Christ responds to me missing the mark in my journey toward a fuller life with Christ.
Nonetheless, the words of Romans 7:18 meant much more to me, all those years ago when I first set out to get clean, than the words of step 1. And this was at a time when I was not yet baptized or proclaiming faith. I was, as it were, Saul. I recognized in myself this sense that I very much wanted to stop drinking and drugging, stop lashing out in anger, stop lying, stop spending into debt, stop hurting myself, stop promiscuous living. But the desire didn’t seem to be enough. I had a hole in my heart. I had a gap in my knowledge. I had no impulse control. And these words of Paul were saying that it was ok, that I was not alone, that people from all times and places and walks of life struggled in these ways, too.
Over the years, I learned about myself and my God-ness. I grew in faith and recovery. My doctrine changed, and I moved from one denomination to another. I am an Episcopalian now, and I am proud to be part of Integrity and TransEpiscopal. I have left my days with CR behind, but I still meditate on those Biblical principles CR compared to their adaptation of the 12 steps. I especially meditate on that passage from Romans. And not just Romans 7:18 – Romans 7:15-25. After getting sober, opening up to Christ and Christians, accepting Christ as my life guide, coming out as queer and trans, realizing that queer trans Christians DO exist and are LOVED, I found that I needed recovery more than I ever had because I still wasn’t doing what I wanted but was doing what I hate.
I was judgmental. I was a gossip. I was angry. I was controlling. I was afraid. I wanted to run away. I sought love through approval and praise for perfection, and I expected perfection from others.
I was hospitalized for decompensating into a psychotic state. What else does one do when one demands perfection and control of themselves and others and continually falls short but has no was to forgive themselves or others and also judges/condemns themselves because this thought/behavior pattern is incompatible with their worldview/faith/rule of life?
How closely I felt a connection to Paul.
Coming out of the hospital, I let go and let God. I put Christ first, myself second, and my family and church third. I turned taking my medication and attending therapy and letting people know when I needed help and accountability into daily offices (Rev. Mary Earle). I made a rule of life that included daily work and prayer and service related to mental health and recovery.
As I continue to learn and change, I know that Christ was there in the beginning, is here now, and will be with me always. In the valleys, on the mountains, and all the elevations in between. So, my personality problem wasn’t solved by going on the wagon or taking the pledge, but I’m glad that it wasn’t. Those defects of character challenge me every day to seek Christ more, and they have driven me to listen to others carefully and critically in order to discern who I am in Christ and what paths I might take to get closer.