Jesus. Real Life.

Naturally Sacramental 2 – AA & the practice of honesty

Like the Vineyard, 12 step groups also put an unusually high value on the practice of honesty and see it as a fundamental way to welcome God’s grace and power. In fact, in my opinion, support groups see it as more valuable than the Vineyard.  The AA saying, “you’re only as sick as your secrets” sums up the extent that honesty is connected to healing in recovery. The several embodiments of this value in 12-step practice are really too many to name in a blog post.  They begin with step one of the twelve steps, and really never let up: “We admitted” are the first two words of step one.  Recovery begins with being honest about having a problem (breaking out of denial—a form of dishonesty). The sole purpose of the confidentiality given to what is said at meetings and to sponsors is to encourage and protect this foundational practice of honesty.

In fact, it is not overstating to say that honesty with oneself, with God, with another human being are the foundation of the program.  Further, this isn’t just an amorphous value, either.  The honesty in which 12-steppers see God as particularly present is often painfully specific—about the totality of one’s defeat by addiction (step 1), about the addict’s inability to manage his or her life (step 1), about the insanity he or she has been operating in (step 2), and about everything the recovering person has done wrong (steps 4, 5).   Steps 1, 5, and 10 actually contain the word “admit.”  The steps hit their challenging high point in step 9, in which amends are made for all past wrongs.  Then step 10 makes such admissions and amends a way of life going forward, as does the 12th, as the recovering addict seeks to “practice these principles in all [his or her] affairs.”  

And the meetings themselves also reveal the value placed on honesty in support groups.  Several meetings are devoted as venues for honest sharing of one’s experience with others, including especially one’s failures. 

The opening lines of chapter 5 of the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous) summarizes well the importance of the practice of honesty in the program:

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”

It is ironic that the sacrament of confession to one another–being honest to ourselves, to others and to God about our failures–is really what the support groups have fully embraced even while most Christian traditions (which gave it to the support groups in the first place) have all but abandoned the practice.  It’s fair to say, in fact, that even while Catholic churches in the West still practice and hold confession as a sacrament, support groups–not churches–are the ones mining the depths of this practice for all its power—for humility, for release from the past, for relational health and encouragement, and for real growth and transformation—practicing it both widely and deeply within their ranks, resulting in healing for millions of the most broken around the world.

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