Recovery Superstars

Duh.  I attended a “Treatment Centre” years ago that allowed opportunity for a number of us to be featured in speaking publicly about our recovery.  This was in very early sobriety, perhaps a few weeks or months.

The program was frankly a disaster.  The relapse rate was very high and drugs were used in the centre.  We were paraded into local churches and shown off by the “Executive Director” (note the impressive title) of the program.  He was praised for all the great work he was doing… followed of course by a plea for support from the congregation… which of course he got.

What a load of crap. 

Why do I bring all of this up?  The memory of my time there came up in a recent blog dialogue I was having with another blogger.  And it simply brought to mind a few key ingredients that I believe made for a successful recovery for me…. and what ingredients didn’t.

One that really DIDN’T was the opportunity to pump up my ego when it should have been squashed.  The program I was in published profiles of the “students” (guys living in the centre… so much for anonymity) and highlighted the higher points of our bad behaviours prior to being taken under the wing of the program.  We were then put in front of crowds of people to share our testimonies.  Egos ran wild as people came up to congratulate us for staying sober for what, a few weeks or months?  We were portrayed as recovery superstars.

Most of us with drug or alcohol problems have an underlying ego problem.  We are either over-confident or under-confident and drink our way around the unreality of our perspective.  How on earth can one gain a perspective when made into a small c celebrity… especially in the first few weeks or months of sobriety?  Our egos took over and many people, before they got any measure of recovery, went back out.  Why?  Probably because we thought we were all that.

In my experience, “Sobriety” and “Superstar” are oxymorons.  And people who try to be or make Recovery Superstars are just ordinary morons 🙂

Subsequent to this experience, I got my ego, my teeth, and my butt handed to me on a silver platter.  I crashed so hard that there was little ego left and no place left to fan the ember into a flame again.

Today, I am grateful for a program of recovery that limits opportunities to feed my ego.  And were it slips in, God seems to serve up people and circumstances to remind me that my ego is getting a little big for its britches and a dose of humility is in order.

Ciao.

Chaz

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About Chaz

Husband, father, brother, son, friend. Sober member of AA. Grateful for the life God gave me and for the happy struggle of recovery.
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15 Responses to Recovery Superstars

  1. The grain of truth still stands … ” You can’t keep your ego and get sober at the same time…” I’ve seen it time and time again over the last 10 years, and we survived them.

    Jeremy

    • Chaz says:

      Agreed Jeremy.

      I suppose the thing that baffles me is how, not only did this program take steps to help us detach from ego, it fed us opportunities to allow them to grow. But I suppose much of the leadership seemed ego-driven so how could they recognize it in others?

  2. What recovery program worked for you?

    • Chaz says:

      Well it was a combination fo things. Ironically, even some of the aspects of the aforementioned program.

      12 step practices make up probably the biggest portion of the influences that helped me get and stay sober. Yet with that said, I am reluctant to conform to or participate in the culture and fanaticism that a lot of 12 step fellowships drift toward.

      An effective 12 step program as it appears to have been originally practiced will help you get sane enough to reconnect with God. From my take, all aspects of the steps can be found in the Bible. The steps are simply a track to run on for working with some biblical principles.

      I also internalized a lot of common-sense psychology and mental health practices. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy made a big difference to improving my underlying depression and anxiety that plague me most of my life.

      Plus I embraced a lot of healthy lifestyl habits like continually working on my marriage, relationships, and health.

      So it was a lot of things. None of them though encourage boosting the ego. That is where I find danger every time.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

  3. Heidi says:

    Love this part–“An effective 12 step program as it appears to have been originally practiced will help you get sane enough to reconnect with God. From my take, all aspects of the steps can be found in the Bible. The steps are simply a track to run on for working with some biblical principles.”

    I needed that track so badly! I had so much memorized scripture and knowledge in my head, but nothing happened in my heart because of the ego, I suppose? How else do you explain it? I can’t.

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Heidi…. I have had a similar experience and ask the same question. I too was well acquainted with scripture and had many positive church influences that one would think would have prevented me from becoming an active alcoholic or would have been able to help me get free from it. Yet that didn’t happen.

      I too ponder the question… why?

      I recall reading something by Dr. Bob in AA stories about him asking a similar question about a similar set of circumstances. Something to the effect of regarding his alcoholism he had been preached at, prayed over, etc, etc, yet he didnt see significant results until one day another alcoholic sat down with him and they shared their stories and got and stayed sober. Why?

      I have no answer either. In fact, I have all but stopped asking for now and simply accept that fact that this is what has finally worked.

      The scary thing is that in some circles, like in the one I mention in my original post about the “Treatment Centre”, which did by the way attempt to be Bible based, did not work in my or many, many others lives. Now I am not offloading blame on this program alone. Maybe I just wasnt ready, who knows. What I do know is that they belittled 12 step until years later, they found out their “Graduates” frequently relapsed without ongoing support, so they started recommending AA.

      Many christians wish to debate the legitimacy of AA. They call it a cult and associate it with other faith systems. Fine, let them argue on. Many of these arguments I have experienced as manifestations of intellectual and theological pride and ignorance.

      I am not prepared to turn my back on the results of AA in my life and I practice the program of AA with no internal conflict of my belief in the Bible or Jesus Christ as my higher power. It simply works and for that I thank God. I thank him by living a sober, functioning life…. the life he gave me back and then some. I seek no title, rank, fortune, or fame for it. Which, I believe, is one of the reasons I have been able to keep it for this many years.

      Thanks as always for your comments.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

  4. T.K. Coleman says:

    This one really made me think, bro. Your ideas have relevance even outside of traditional recovery circles. In many ways, the egos desire to be a superstar versus the true self’s need to evolve is every man and woman’s battle. Like I said, you made me think. I want to sit with this post for awhile and let this one marinate.

    Cheers bro,

    TK

    • Chaz says:

      TK! Glad to hear from you. Been a while.

      As you state, self-destructive ego-boosting is not the exclusive domain of recovery groups… yet in my experience in 12 step groups, they are among the few that structure themselves in a way that minimizes opportunities to let egos take over. Ego-danger is kept front and centre constantly. The other recovery program that was the theme of my post did the opposite. It was, and still is, a formula for disaster.

      The Ego-Takeover Phenomenon can evolve in virtually any circle of endeavor. Including, but not limited to, work, education, faith, community groups, teams, politics, strata group, professions, and even charities or humanitarian groups doing the most noble work can end up fostering unhealthy egos in their members and leaders. How many times do we hear of noble charities that eventually have a corrupt member or leader who torpedoed the group via some manifestation of ego?

      This describes the organization that was the subject of my original post. It started with a simple minister who committed his life to helping street and gang kids in New York in the late 50’s and early 60’s. He had little money and no recognition for doing so. Now has morphed into a global organization with revenues in the untold millions, titles for their staff, publicity galore. And to what end? Ineffectiveness, scandal, and cover-ups.
      In my experience, the opportunities to gain recognition for achievements of any kind, especially in our world of abundant broadcasting via DVD, Web, Podcast, etc makes available a stage or soap box for so many of us to be in a spotlight and thereby let our egos run away.

      In my experience, we simply need to dial it down and do what we do rather than talk about it, broadcast it, and seek recognition for it. And never lost sight of the temptation of ego. It lays waiting. We ought not give it a foothold.

      Thanks for adding to the dialogue. Glad the post stirred up some thinking.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

  5. Debby says:

    Chaz –

    I “followed” your blog some time ago but realized I’ve not been getting your posts. So, I’ve tried again and hopefully, thins work this time. Anyway, I particularly liked this post. All so well said. Years ago, we had a pastor that liked to “feature” a woman who had a background of some pretty shady stuff including the practice of witchcraft. She had one of those “wow” testimonies. I remember a friend sitting next to me said, sarcastically, “I guess my testimony is too ordinary”. It sort of made the rest of us feel like being saved wasn’t enough. Obviously, we knew that wasn’t true but you get my point.

    We have a practice of inviting a graduate of our program to share and speak on our monthly awards night. There is not great celebration for the individual but for the recovery. You’ve reminded me that always needs to be our focus.

    Good stuff here. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Debby… I notice the same thing about follows. A bunch of mine fell off too…. I just checked and yours was switched off… I had followed you some time ago. Oh well… glitch.

      I am sure you can relate to the recovery superstar thing given that you run a treatment centre. Am sure you see guys come in all full of ego and looking for new ways to manifest it. They dont likely know they are even doing this.

      I agree with what you share about your speakers centring their speaking around recovery rather than themselves. Featuring so much of the person can be such a slippery slope. It is one of those fine, difficult to see lines that so many of life’s great issues have. On one hand, of course we are going to commend and promote the speaker and their story. They are the feature for a reason. Not unlike a cake meeting. Yet, this very thing can serve as a springboard for the ego. And every person’s line is in a different place. So we can only do our best.

      One thing I appreciate about AA is that i provides fewer opportunities to let ego run wild. Notice I chose the word “fewer” and not “none”. No program that I have seen is free completely of ego-tempting circumstances.

      On the other hand, in many of my church experiences, the cultures I was a part of made a practice of worshipping its leaders and putting them in positions that easily allowed their egos to run wild. In my experience the organized church is not very realistic about this. And my church-based recovery experience I described in this post was evidence of this practice of making celebrities out of people without consideration to what it did to them as weak, temptable individuals.

      I love it when I go to a meeting, especially my home group meeting, and don’t get asked to share. it reminds me that I am there to listen as well as continually learn to become a better and better listener. Thats where the power is drawn in. It is the intake process that then gives us something to live, develop, then share.

      At my cake meetings, I ask that anyone sharing please focus their sharing on recovery and not me. I accept congratulations and small affirmations, but I do not wish for any acolades. I am only another sinner saved by grace and an alcoholic sober a day at a time. I believe this deeply and am careful not to be falsely humble in stating so. As mentioned above, my teeth and backside being handed to me by the calamity I created in my life are helpful reminders that I needed God’s help to recover. My only part in it was obedience. God did the engineering and gave me the strength.

      Thanks for the reply Debby. I enjoy your blog and hearing about the work you do.

      Ciao.

      Chaz

      • Debby says:

        Chaz, I’m not familiar with “cake” meetings. Can you explain, please? Often times our men will thank us and it’s our practice to deflect that to God. “Not to us but to your name be the glory”. I know that can sound cliche and we understand the gratitude these men often feel. It’s not we aren’t part of their recovery but what we do is quite small. It only works when they work it. It shouldn’t be about “credit” but a changed life. Does that make sense?

        • Chaz says:

          Hi Debby… a cake meeting is simply an AA (or whatever A) meeting at which someone celebrating a sobriety anniversary is honoured and presented with a cake. Basically a sobriety birthday.

          It is not uncommon for cake meetings to be rah-rah sessions hyperfocused on the birthday person where others who know the birthday person get up and say kind things about them. While this has many positive elements to it, I have experienced many if not most cake meetings that end over doing it and simply pump up the person’s ego. Which is one explation many give for people going back out after a year of sobriety. The abundant affirmations run the risk of giving the birthday person a false sense of strength and security as their egos often take over. Which is potentially fatal to us alcoholics and addict.

          As an aside, many of us have changed our cake meetings to discourage pumping up the person but rather pumping up the program… which is what newcomers need to hear more anyway. I would love to say that we pump up God, but that simply is not the way in the AA culture in my community.

          We have sought to change cake meetings back to ordinary meetings that happen to include someone taking a cake as a small part of the meeting to help emphasize to us all that the program does work.

          So going back to my orignal post about the other “Recovery Program”, imagine the fragility of someone fresh in recovery if they are paraded in front of huge crowds and have their profiles published and distributed on sponsorship request cards and given broadly to members of local churches. Then asked to speak and have the dramatic parts of our stories showcased. I am talking about this all starting in very early recovery… days or weeks… and continuing on for the full year of the program. Can you imagine how many guys leave the program believing their own headlines but not really having any solid recovery functioning in them? The proof is in the relapse rate…. very high.

          Yes, I certainly understand your distinction between taking credit and simply rejoicing in a changed life. I suppose the distinction is set and supported in the design and running of the program… and most critically, in the attitudes of the leadership.

          Far too many people end up giving in to the temptation to build empires that serve as platforms and monuments to themselves. In my experience, church and para-church culture (such as the aforementioned recovery program), often set people up for failure by allowing irresistable opportunities to gain recognition, power, and material gain. All of the above were availed to the “Executive Director” of the program. History has shown through repeated corruption and runaway pride that many can fall to this temptation.

          Glad to hear that your group stays clear of this.

          The bottom line is, as you state, about changed lives. If we add anything to it, especially anything that tempts pride or the ego, we are in trouble. As I’ve seen it anyway.

          THanks for the lively dialogue.

          Ciao.

          Chaz

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