Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Anti-Slavery Campaign Interviews Series. John Lynch

The Wisdom of a Wounded Healer

Yago: John, you are welcome to this blog that celebrates the 125th anniversary of Charles Lavigerie Anti-slavery Campaign. Lavigerie said that "Missionaries must above all be deeply convinced of their powerlessness and nothingness. They must have recourse to God in all things, for they will be able to do nothing without His grace, and indeed His extraordinary grace." This quote reminds me of the AA's twelve step spiritual program. I would like to interview you on the issue of addiction and slavery. So, let me begin with the following question: can you consider addiction as a form of slavery?

John: I believe that it is a form of slavery in that it takes away freedom of choice within the individual. When one is driven to act by anything that is taking away freedom of choice, then I think it is appropriate to speak of it as a form of slavery. When people are addicted to over eating, taking pills or drugs or alcohol and simply cannot by their own will power stop, then I think they are slaves to that particular form of addiction. Most people can enjoy social drinking but for some, there is a moment when they cross the line from that experience into a form of pathological addiction of, for instance, drinking it might be appropriate to test out by asking some perhaps painful or difficult questions such as what is an alcoholic?; Am I an alcoholic?, and try to answer these questions honestly it means – a willingness to learn and openness in mind as well as complete honesty with self. There are different guides and questions which may be used to help determine whether or not a person is addicted, for instance in the John Hopkins University Hospital list there are about 35 questions and if your answer “yes” to three or four of these questions, then you are definitely alcoholic. There may be very many different reasons why someone has to pick up a drink it might be a question of escapism, it may be a maladjusted personality defect, or it could be an escape from intense physical  pain. At other times people may be a addicted or having to pick up alcohol in order to cope with a vague uneasiness. Taking a drink for instance may temporarily meet the need of feeling self-confident, helping the person to be calm, and more able to face a difficult threatening situation. If a person admits to some of the questions they may have moved from the sociological into the pathological form of drinking and can never again - be a controlled drinker.

Perhaps to escape the compulsive urge to drink there is the challenge to change a way of thinking. Again to illustrate this, there might be the craving for a drink in order to meet the inner demand for continuous happiness or excitement. It may be to boost the feeling of self-confidence, so in my opinion, a person who is addicted to alcohol or to food or to drugs or any other form, he or she is suffering from lack of freedom not only in the physical sense of the disease , but in the mental attitude as well.

Yago: Why is it so difficult to speak about addiction?

John: I think perhaps addiction to substances in one form or another or to certain patterns of behavior leads to lack of freedom, and generally speaking, it is a combination of being ill at ease, in the emotional or physical, or habitual way of acting, in which you are really no longer free to make choices. I know that over the last 30 years or so there has been a change in perspective and the possibility of openly speaking about alcoholism as an illness, rather than a moral choice, and this has allowed more people to speak openly about it. In contrast I think many others would find it very difficult to speak about sexual problems, or their dependency on medications.

Yago: According to your life experience in pastoral ministry what kind of addictions are more prevalent today?

John: There are many types of addiction prevalent in Western society today,  different programs are used to help withdraw from their usage. One of the most effective and successful has been the 12 step programs, which have emerged or used the basic suggested 12 steps of “Alcoholics Anonymous”.
In my opinion one of the most prevalent addictions at the present time is that of abuse of the Internet in regard to pornographic images. Many people in search of happiness or to avoid loneliness, search the Internet. Advertising in the mass media presents medications in one form or another which portray a quick release from pain. In one sense it is like a magic pill or a magic cure in which the underlying attitude is; "never should I have any pain" and if you only take a certain pill, or present a certain style of dress you will be free; but in fact that is not the case and I think in regard to younger people very often they are addicted to keeping up with the ever-changing fashions, we see a proliferation of magazines and articles depicting a particular form of dress for the time being. And many people are slaves to the fashions of the moment

Yago: Why does it take so long to admit addiction?

John: I do not think anyone wishes readily to admit that in a physiological or psychological dimension he or she is dependent and their dependency is beyond voluntary control. Denial of having a particular problem impedes or complicates the issue.

Yago: How does addiction affect a person?

John: Takes away or diminishes freedom. No one wishes to say or admit that they are on free or else not in total control. We hear echoed in our society, an addicted society: "Nobody but nobody tells me what to do," while at the same time they are overeating, or popping pills, or taking alcohol or other drugs in order simply to appear to function. But they cannot in and of themselves, for the most part, change or stop that form of behavior and dependency.

Yago: In the context of religious people what are the main obstacles to overcome addiction?

John: One of the things I think which impedes religious people from overcoming a dependency or addiction, is the thought that, if I only pray harder I will be able to overcome it. Factually, many people who are deeply religious try this method of praying but are usually not successful in controlling the urge to drink or to take the pill, which brings the form of relief or to meet their anxiety etc. Fundamentally, there will be no change until the person is willing to admit that they are not in charge, they are not in total control of themselves and in the way they have to stop, “Playing God” to themselves and turn it over to the Care of God of their understanding or belief system.

Yago: What is the wisdom that has made the AA program so successful?

John: The wisdom which has made the AA program so successful across Continental or Country borders is the fact that it came out of the lived experience of people who finally had to  accept, admit, and ultimately surrender to the reality that they were no longer in charge of their own well-being. Those who come to the AA program have to come for their own sake, not to please others and being able to share weakness or dependency or other troubles along with others, and find that they are accepted, not judged is a tremendous boon. The only Authority  is some higher power or force outside of self as the individual understands that power! In another  way, it is saying;” I am not the center of the world, I am not in control of the whole world nor even of myself.” “My way didn’t work!”. The 12 steps of the AA program are not imposed  from outside, they are suggested steps of well-being, which the individual may work in his or her own particular way, while listening to the lived experience of people, who have been tested and tried, and have admitted and then moved on to surrender to the fact of addiction. In the paradox of surrendering to win they then find a true freedom! This is worked on a 24-hour basis and above all the invitation to live in the “now” moment.

Yago: Are we living in an addictive Society?

John: I believe that we are living in an addictive Society. In many ways the very highly competitive attitude and atmosphere in which we live day by day in which the individual as well as different groups expect us to function, in fact takes away a great deal of freedom. In the past in some cultures one of the big questions was: ”what will the neighbors think of me” what will the boss think of me? What will my fellow workers think of me?”…. if they knew what was going on inside of me? And so most people individually and groups, put up protective walls! A sort of façade to hide what is really happening inside the heart of the person. So in this regard we are all slaves to expectations of individuals or groups, and this diminishes freedom

Yago: What can we learn from the essentials of AA?  

John: So often in religious circles and ways of presenting theological ideas we get caught into moralizing or observation of rules and regulations. I think one of the great freeing options  discovered and promulgated in AA is the fact that the only Authority in AA is Higher Power, as you understand it. In religious terms we would say The only Authority is a God, as you understand Him. There is no moralizing, but respect and acceptance of the other, even if you personally don’t agree with the other.

Yago: What insights do you have to people living with the difficult task of accompanying  addicted people?

John: I think the most important aspect is respect and acceptance. When another dares to share their innermost struggles, then I must accept and respect them… no judgment, no condemnation. Perhaps for instance when someone would share their  account of the 5th step:

“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs”
The only response is respect and acceptance. Perhaps the only response would be: "Thank you!"


“Pray don’t find fault with the man who limps
Or stumbles along the road,
unless you have worn the shoes he wears
Or struggled beneath his load.

There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt,
though hidden away from view,
 Or the burdens he bears placed on your back
Might cause you to stagger, too.

Don’t sneer at the man who‘s down today
Unless you have felt the blow
That caused his fall, or felt the shame
That only the fallen know.

You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, if dealt to you
In the self same way at the self-same time,
Might cause you to stagger, too.

Don’t, be too harsh with a man who sins
Or pelt him with words or stones
Unless you are sure, yes doubly sure,
That you have not sins of your own.

For you know, perhaps, if the tempter’s voice,
Should whisper as soft to you
As did it to him when he went astray,
‘Twould cause you to falter, too.

(Author Unknown)

Yago: What does it men "the preferential option for the poor" in AA. How  is  it related to love, forgiveness, and embracing the wounded  part of self?

John: In the writing of Jesus and reading of the 12 steps both say:

A) We suffer to get well
B) We surrender to win
C) We die to live
D) We give it away to keep it.

I think the AA suggested steps calls for ownership, both the light and the shadow. It accepts its own brokenness, yet seeks to establish wholeness. I can recognize my gifts as well as defects and come to readiness for my “Higher Power” (God) to remove the latter. In this regard it is the invitation to accept reality . In the program of AA in the healing process one might say: "dry up the drunken skunk, and you are left with the skunk!"  The basic  characteristics  remain:  we remember, it is our character we are working on, not that of the other!  This invites the letting go of any attitude of superiority. It is the invitation to turn our will over to God, and let His Will direct us how to patiently remove our defects.

Yago: Spirituality is the journey towards wholeness. A sense of wholeness  occurs once we are able to surrender to the Living God. What is the contribution of AA spirituality in the journey to become whole?

John: Spirituality is the challenge to admit our total dependence on God. Over a period of time we come to new insights as to defects of character and our shortcomings. As one works and re-works the steps of the AA program or similar  twelve-step programs we become more aware of who we are,  in our strengths and in our weaknesses, and rather than try to earn healing and forgiveness, it is the call to ultimately surrender to the care of the “Higher Power” or God, if we prefer to call it in that term. In using the word “turning it over to the care of” is important rather than just turning it over to God and hoping that something will happen. As we admit our dependence on God as grace or gift we also have to work at the healing process recognizing the shadow and the light and accepting both as present within self.

Yago: What does it mean for an addicted person to feel forgiven?

John: In AA we do not speak in the language of sin but rather in the acceptance of defects as well as gifts. The quest for a vibrant relationship with God and others is a long and deeply rooted quest. On the one hand, I often wrestle with self-reliance, intermingling with insecurity and egoism at times even now as well as in the past, the person can react often out of the presumption that, “I make myself right” then I will be good enough for God and others. In fact it is the struggle to trust God, and direct access  to the compassion of a nurturing and ever creating God; and accepting the genuineness of others around me. It is only when I can feel reasonably trusting of another, that I can offer a supporting hand. Very often it is like being caught up in the whirlwind of a storm being drawn into the eye of the storm and yet the struggle to let go! It is the effort to let go and come to the still-center of my inner hurricane and appreciate that there are huge and healthy insights and energy even in the center. I struggle to accept myself and to rely on God and others. There is a pride in me that wants to do it alone and in my way. There is a sick proud voice within that often accuses me: “how could you let yourself fall down so low in so far?. I rebel within at being a weak, human and fallible person. So side-by-side there is a battle royal going on within me between grandiosity on one side and self abnegation or self depreciation, on the other. It is the acceptance of the reality that at the same time I am both gifted and inadequate, a familiar pattern of pride and fear often hold the addicted person letting go of the old familiar patterns is like clinging in apparent paralysis of fear and self-doubt, it’s easier sometimes to stay stuck in prison than to take responsibility to be free in some ways. I want to be free and yet old patterns keep arising from within. Ultimately it is the honesty, the openness, and the willingness to accept and to trust the Higher Power and the goodness of those with whom I would choose to share.
I think it is when the addicted person is willing to accept himself or herself, as is- both with the gifts and the inadequacies which interact day by day, that the journey to wholeness comes about.

Yago: The addicted person is characterized by an amorphous personality, lack of sense of identity and ego boundaries. How does an addicted person recovers his/her dignity and sense of identity?

John: The person who is trapped by addiction may well have lost a sense of identity… Knowing within that all is not well and much seems lost and yet fear of sharing that with other people. I think it is through the lived experience day by day of people sharing in a group with others their vulnerability, and inner struggles, and finding that people accept and simply say "Thank you for sharing… Keep coming back". Gradually that acceptance and trust is deepened and those who were so afraid to peel off different layers of the onion skin, find that they can do so without judgment or condemnation and the fear of being empty at the core diminishes. The wonderful freedom would be when one says: “what you see is what you get”.

Yago: Richard Rohr says that we thought we got holy by doing right. In fact the journey starts by doing it wrong, by doing it utterly wrong, and grieving it, and morning it, and suffering it, and eating it, and tasting it, until you are sick and tired of being sick and tired. What can you say about this?

John: The person who has been spiritually, emotionally, physically drained, and in being rejected by others comes to new life through faith and trust. The fundamental acceptance is the recognition that he or she is not God, I am not the center of the universe. When this is accepted, the gradual deflation of the ego and the recognition of my limited, of my being not different, from but the same as, other broken people, allows me to move out of the "I" versus "them" and slowly through faith and trust to recognize is a question of being part of humanity. 

When I can get deflation of the ego and allow a better perspective in relationship to the Higher Power, in relationship to others and in honest relationship with self, that humility grows. In the distortion of the addiction the person over inflates his importance or puts himself down to the lowest level, conceiving thoughts that he or she is no good is the worst person in the world etc. The truth being, that neither perspective is correct, both ways are a distortion of reality.

Yago: To confess something is to name it, to put it in the lips, this is what I am so that our own ears hear it. It is the journey of accepting the exact nature of our wrong. How fundamental is the naming of the wrong for the addict person?

John: It is the ongoing perspective and new insights of reworking the steps day by day that one comes to him with more realistic self perception, diminishment of distortion, and a willingness to be the same as other people. The addicted person may be accused or misjudged by other people and yet in truth and in reality, when the addicted person says, "Yes, that was true, but it is not like that today, I was wrong but today I am trying to do something about it." When the addict accepts this and tries to make it real day by day, the fear of what others will say or do diminishes, and in so doing brings new birth, new growth, but it will not destroy the inner strength and the acceptance of a flawed self, who no longer is the center of the universe, but is willing to trust to believe others. In that regard faith is the acceptance of the word of somebody else, and I believe that this is so on the human as well as the divine level. It might be expressed in religious terms of saying, "God I believe, help my unbelief to diminish". As progress is made, because it is a program of progress, rather than perfection, that faith and trust increases, when that happens the possibility of loving others as well as self is greater. This is achieved by consciously letting go, & letting God!

Yago: We can be really addicted to power, prestige and possessions. These are mechanism to escape from our fragile humanity. This is what Jesus challenges. He calls us to own our own defects and limitations and not to cover them and therefore to project them to the other. What is the contribution of AA in this regard?

John: On the personal as well as the political and social dimension there is the constant struggle and temptation to power, prestige and possessions. These are in fact our temptations, which we can put aside as Jesus himself did. I think He did so because He was sure of his relationship with "His Heavenly Father", He models for us commitment and surrender. In the AA program constantly we are asked to take our own inventory not that of a neighbor or someone else: I think most of the time that we judge other people, we misperceive because we do not know what is going on in their heart nor what their past lived experience has been to bring them to that point.

In the recovery process we are invited to accept a person as is and not judge them because of some failure of what they did that may not be pleasing to me. In the 12 step program of AA the only desire that is necessary is to desire not to drink! While at the same time ultimately being willing to go to any length, to achieve sobriety, and in reality, that means taking this suggested steps off the wall, trying to live them within the heart. This is the counterbalance to the addiction of alcohol is which can be defined in many ways: but the one which I use here is: “self will run riot”, we no longer judge or condemn another person, for in many ways we have been, where they are, and we are willing to suffer with them as we face our own darkness. In accepting our own brokenness we become more willing “to suffer with, rather than because of”, the faults of the other.. It is a recognition of the phrase: “There but for the grace of God go I, All is gift !”

Yago: How important is to live in the now as the addict person journeys towards recovery?

John: In the 12 step program we have acceptance on the personal, and social dynamic level. The lived experience of people from different backgrounds, personalities, language or country have found that when they go through the door of any AA meeting, they can feel at home and feel accepted as they try to listen to the shared experience of people who have been, where they are. Communities who come together simply to share their experience, strength, and hope. One of the most fundamental attitudes is keeping the suggested steps of the program in perspective and is a priority in day to day living. It is a challenge to let go the past, to let go the projection of the future, and to live in the present. In a way whether on the personal or communitarian basis, it is the challenge to let go the faults of yesterday, the mistakes that we made, to stop the inner racing of the mind in projecting ahead, with such thoughts such as “what if” and staying in the reality of the present.  The future is only a promissory note, the present as it were is the cash in. It is living in the now moment.

In reality there is “no gain without pain”. The only constant in our lives is change. When the addict recognizes the addiction and is willing to accept it and try to live in the present moment seeking in faith and trust in the higher power, he or she can honestly live as “a wounded healer”, seeking each day honesty, openness and willingness, which are the essentials of recovery.
“God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”

Yago: John, I appreciate very much your contribution to this blog. Thanks for sharing with us your wisdom. We have been strengthen in our vocation as wounded healers.

John: Thanks to you, Yago!