by Dale Wolery
Natural disasters we commonly call them. Their potential for devastation can be enormous. Recently the infamous Santa Ana Winds once again flexed their indiscriminate muscle in Southern California. Trees and irreparably damaged dwellings are being trucked to land fills. Though not quite as dramatic perhaps as typhoons or hurricanes, it is the calling card of the first of Southern California’s four seasons (Wind, Fire, Flood and Quake).
In each “season” lives are lost or altered beyond recognition. Property damage estimates are tallied and enlarged. News clips and survivor photos customarily show faces of pain and loss. Canyons of hurt cut across memory’s landscapes. It is the same with Œnatural’ disasters everywhere.
But all the pain of natural disasters pales when compared to the pain people suffer in relationships. When people are polled regarding their deepest pains, nurturer’s disasters leave nature’s disasters far behind. People hurt people more, and more deeply than do the forces of nature. Mothers pass on more pain than the wind. Mother Nature can’t compete with abusive and distant dads. Our capacity to pass along intense hurt to the next generation is profound.
But just as in the aftermath of natural disasters we sometimes see dramatic examples of love and grace displayed in effected communities, so in our relational lives it is sometimes in the aftermath of disaster that we see possibilities and richness which were not visible or even imaginable to us before the pain.
A recent ferocious brush fire threatened a family’s home but it was saved by neighbors with garden hoses. In the center of the next morning’s front page was a picture of the rescued house and its banner saying a huge thank you to the helpful neighbors. Hope and help accompany every disaster. The same is true with relationships.
Whether relationship vitality is muted by alcohol, stolen by deceit, or left languishing from neglect there is hope. There is help. The recovery movement wrestles with life’s most complex questions to deliver healing. It refuses to shrink from tough realities. I find, therefore, more hope for healing damaged relationships in the recovery world than any other.
In recovery we start with the assumption that our relationships with God and others need to be restored. Simplistic and magical solutions are not tolerated. They don’t work and we know it – because we’ve tried them. Some of us have tried every quick fix in the book – from blame to reconversion – before beginning the long and challenging road of recovery.
When in comes to the pain which we experience in relationships, we know we must begin by accepting ownership of sin’s impact on our ability to do relationships. The sins done to us and the sins done by us leave their devastation on us. The consequences are unavoidable. It is for that reason that accepting responsibility for our own personal recovery is at the core of what works about recovery. We may want the other person to do the changing but are learning that this is not the answer. We know we must change.
And we are learning that we won’t change by just trying harder. We’ve tried, tried harder, tried our hardest. We’ve used the same old faulty solutions creating the same old faulty results. Recovery only comes when we begin to practice new ways of living in relationship – with ourselves, with God and with others. And that only begins when we are prepared to deal with what’s real. We know relationship pain will not be healed by merely reading another issue of STEPS, simply being alone with God or listening to a tape. We know relationship dysfunction is only healed in the context of new relationships, relationships that give grace rather than shame.
The good news is not that we don’t need to struggle anymore. The good new is that we can now struggle together. And not being alone makes all the difference. We know we will find insight to put into practice with others. No magic. Just insight, practice and progress supported by the encouragement, strength and hope of others in recovery.
Recently I behaved miserably toward my adult daughters. My functional `emotional’ age was probably about three. I assure you it was not a pretty picture. I was ashamed of my toddler behavior and ashamed of being ashamed. I created such a storm I was certain I would die a tormented pathetic failure. Recovery, however, works. I was able to give myself and my daughters some grace. I could not have done so without the years of practice in group and therapy. I thank God for recovery. Disasters can still happen in relationships. But I don’t need to get carried off to the land fill when the disaster is over – I can take responsibility for my own stuff, tell the truth, make amends and move forward in grace, remembering that progress, not perfection, is the aim.