Healing from addiction in an Orthodox context has many elements in common with more non-denominational recovery programs such as AA and NA and some which are much more firmly tied in with our Orthodox theology of healing for all afflictions.
The 2nd step of the renown “12 Steps” of AA and its related programs is…
“(We) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
In Orthodoxy, this concept is experienced and expressed through something sometimes referred to as “The Memory of God”. This is a gift given to us by our creator that allows to in a way “pray without ceasing”. To (with a moments focus and attention) become aware of God’s presence in and around and through our lives every day. The awareness of this bond, this intimate connection is a great balm for those struggling with brokenness of all kinds and has a particular impact on those stuck in the loneliness of addiction.
The 5th step in AA states…
“We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
In AA, this step is usually carried out with your AA sponsor. In Orthodoxy we call this “Life Confession”. Life Confession (a part of every conversion to Orthodox Christianity) is a soul searching accounting with your priest whereby the communicant shares with him all their failings and follies, their sins and transgressions. After this “Life Confession” regular confession with ones priest becomes part of ones Orthodox life. We believe as do those in the AA community that true healing doesn’t happen in isolation and having access to an ordained priest and counselor is one way we break through that box of loneliness and self dependence.
The word “We” figures prominently in the 12 steps and through all recovery literature. Likewise, Orthodox Christians are passionate about community. The idea that there is no lonely “I” trying to fight these battles by him or herself. The “We” signifies, community, support, conversation, confession and connection all of which are keys to stepping out of a life of brokenness of addiction and into a life of love, connection and true healing both physical and spiritual.
The 12 steps begin with admission. Admission to our selves and at least one other person that we have a problem. That we’re sinful (in Christian parlance). That we’re broken and desperately in need of help that only a supernatural source can provide. AA doesn’t work perfectly but nothing works like AA in helping people heal from addiction…no other program can match its success over decades and decades of helping people heal. As Orthodox Christians we believe AA and its related programs work because they are rooted in a Judeo Christian understanding of God as an all powerful creator who can and will heal us if we turn our lives, our addictions and our struggles over to him. Many of those struggling with addiction are really, underneath it struggling with an accurate picture of God.
Many come from backgrounds where the Imago Dei (the Image of God) has been twisted, perverted, marred and confused by evil and abuse. Many have themselves gone on to perpetuate that evil and abusive behavior in their own lives and they live with a deep sense of shame, of hopelessness…. a sense that there is no redemption for who they are and what they’ve done. That if there is a God he doesn’t see, he doesn’t care or worse, he’s abandoned them…. he’s disgusted with who they are. The reason recovery in a God centered context works is that it blows these lies away in the light of truth and hope. It reveals to those in raw pain and confusion, self contempt and anger the true nature of their creator and his love for them. From this foundation, they find new life, new hope and new purpose. For the Orthodox Christian, even the moments of pain and distance from God become holy and ordained. Purpose is found even in the darkness that ultimately draws us closer to the light. And with that purpose comes peace, understanding, intimacy and ultimately grace and in the end…. complete healing.