by Dale Ryan
About six months ago, I started hearing people say “recovery is over.” I first heard this from a publisher of Christian books who told me: “It’s just not as hot anymore; I think it’ll be dead in six months.” Let’s be clear about what this person meant. He meant that the profitability of publishing projects that are explicitly about recovery has decreased. It will be more difficult, he thinks, to generate best-sellers on recovery.
I have no idea whether this is true or not. What is certainly true is that nothing lasts for very long as “hot property” in a media-intensive culture. It would not be reasonable, I think, to expect publishers or the popular press to treat recovery any differently than they have treated homelessness or domestic violence. Both of these issues were lavished with media attention in the 1980s, neither have gone away, but apparently both are no longer considered “news.” The media is driven relentlessly to the next high-profile social problem. People into “news” must move their focus on to something new long before any meaningful change has taken place. Real change is too slow, too difficult, too frustrating and too painful to qualify as newsworthy.
Maybe we should review the obvious: Recovery is not “over” just because you can’t sell as many books. Recovery is not about selling books. Recovery is not “dead” because it may not show up in Time this year. Recovery is not “over” because it is not as “hot” or as “newsworthy.”
The inner logic of recovery is completely different from the inner logic of our profit-driven, media-based culture. The fundamental difference is put succinctly by one of my favorite slogans from the 12 Step tradition: “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” The Christian community has done nothing of any consequence in the last two generations to decrease the incidence of addiction and abuse. I am unable to point to a single denomination which can claim to have implemented prevention programs capable of significantly reducing the amount of addiction and abuse in its pews. There is absolutely no reason to think that the incidence of sexual abuse in the Christian community is decreasing. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that addiction in the Christian community is declining.
If nothing changes, nothing changes. The need for recovery is not going away. It has not gone away in my own life. It does not seem to be going away in the lives of those I know best.
My own conviction is that we are at the very beginning of a remarkable movement of God’s Spirit. I believe that in the next decades we will see a dramatic expansion of distinctively Christian recovery ministries, both in the United States and in many other cultures. The passion for truth-telling and for spiritual vitality, which are at the heart of the recovery journey, may not be as marketable today as they were last year; but I do not think that God is obsessively concerned with marketability or newsworthiness. I find it very comforting to know that God’s commitments, passions and attentiveness are securely founded in covenants that are more stable and will last longer than what seems to be “hot” this year.
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