Why Do Recovery Programs Work?

The Recovery Movement

The term “recovery” seems puzzling in light of a person who reports a lifetime of brokenness. Recovery implies that one will return to a state of health that at one time existed. To a degree that is true. Considering that a child comes into this world as an innocent being, a restoration of innocence is one possible outcome of recovery.

The premise behind recovery programs is that there was an intended spiritual state of the human being that was lost already at birth because humanity is fallen by nature. Ideal parenting from birth should shape the child into a whole person intellectually, emotionally, socially, relationally, and spiritually.

We were created in the image of our Creator and that image can be found in every human being. However, because of Adam’s sin, it does not work that way, that image is marred and is not as intended. We come into this world broken. Recovery movements came about from the belief that restoration of the image of God is necessary for a human being to “return to a life of “sanity” as stated in Step Two of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Oxford Group (OG), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and Celebrate Recovery (CR) are three longstanding recovery programs with CR the youngest, now in existence for over twenty-five years. Formed initially to help people struggling in life with alcoholism, the success of these groups is amazing. If you are interested in the history of these movements and their basic philosophy, I encourage you to use the following links to get more detail on the principles that sustain these organizations: The Origins of AA,  The Birth of AA, The History of CR, and The Trademark Statement -DNA of CR.

Driven by Desperation

Human beings are noted for their determined search to find relief from physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual pain. Sadly, the search often ends with despair because relief isn’t found. But the means of relief is out there attested to by those who use one of these three programs.

A key reason for disappointment or outright failure is the work required to achieve the desired results. People want relief from their pain. But, often the nature of our culture as well as the mindset of the hurting person is to want a quick fix. “Just make my pain stop or go away” is what is often heard. However, to have lasting, genuine relief requires admitting the pain exists and that I am helpless to deal with it.

Human nature believes that I should be able to fix my problems. If I fail, the belief is that I am flawed so badly that I am beyond help. That belief leads to increased pain and hopelessness. Human beings further believe that “normal” is to be able to control of one’s life without a glitch. If I cannot control or fix my problems it is evidence I am flawed. Since perfect is normal then I must hide my struggle so I may continue to be accepted by others. The logic continues with the thought that no one would want a relationship with me as a flawed person. So, if I at least appear normal then I can be accepted, I must not let anyone see my flaws.

It is at this point that addictions begin. Why? Addictions  are substances or behaviors that give the hurting person the illusion that his flaws are not going to be discovered. Those addictive means that we use to hide our flaws are only a temporary means to numb or blind us to our pain. The pain will grow and scream to be attended to.

Look, it is logical. Our Creator designed us with alarm signals that go off if there is danger. Physical pain is a clear example. If you feel something hot on your skin, you jerk your hand away to preserve the body. To ignore the sensation would lead to second and third degree burns to the surface of the body. Severe injury can become further complicated by the immune system being unable to prevent infection and the growth of new skin.

Emotional, relational, and spiritual pain serves the same purpose. It warns us that we are facing a danger to our being and identity and something needs to be done NOW! The false beliefs that the pain exists because we are not normal is absurd. Do you tell a person injured in a car accident that the injury is his fault? No! Injury can only be prevented to a small degree. Wearing your seat belt can limit injury, but it won’t prevent an accident.

Accidents happen. That is a fact of life. And accidents result in injuries.

The sad thing is that growing up in an alcoholic family is an accident over which you had no control. Furthermore, any injury from your childhood was never attended to. Those injuries of the past are something that you will need to take care of when it is safe enough to do so. To attempt to heal while still under the care of alcoholic parents is next to impossible. It is normal to feel pain and hurt as a result of the relational injuries from the past.

he normal result of living in such an environment is to feel broken and to be left in invisible pain by those who were to be your caretakers and to provide healing when you were injured.
To recognize that the emotional, relational, and spiritual pain you feel comes from events in your past. Those events were when you were injured and can provide a starting point to find relief from your pain. As an adult you can address what you could not even acknowledge as a child. This is the time in life when a recovery program will be of great help and even an absolute necessity.

The Process

In the search for relief from the pain of injury and brokenness, two foundational needs in healing can be overlooked. These needs absolutely must be met if real change is to take place. The first need is for a safe environment that provides relationships that support positive change with love and acceptance. This is a simple reality. To quote Pastor Bill Muench of Round Rock, Texas, “No person can heal himself by himself.” We need a loving community around us if we expect to heal from our brokenness. The second need is for a spiritual relationship with our Creator who formed us, loves us, and will accept us in spite of our brokenness. Though we feel alienated from Him, He waits with open arms for us to come to Him.
Both the relational and spiritual needs are necessary, powerful aspects of recovery because they break down the walls of fear, doubt, and shame which keep us from seeing and/or believing that healing is possible.

Recovery groups begin with establishing boundaries which are absolutely necessary for safety. First noted is the careful separation of genders when sharing your story. The expression of emotional pain requires vulnerability which can evoke pity from one of the opposite sex and lead to loss of gender boundaries confusing empathy with inappropriate intimacy. Sexual boundaries are necessary to protect the healing process.

After the 1990s, AA groups defined three major boundaries. No sharing outside of the meeting information heard at a meeting was stated to assure confidentiality. No cross-talk was a rule established to prevent anyone from interrupting or commenting on what was being shared or getting into an ongoing conversation to try to “fix” the person. The third was to refrain from judging or criticizing the speaker. Sharing was to allow the speaker the time and freedom to express what he felt necessary.

At the beginning of each gender specific, open-sharing groups of CR these guidelines are read:

  1. Keep your sharing focused on your own thoughts and feelings.
    Not your spouse’s, someone you’re dating, or your family members’ hurts and hang-ups, but your own. Focusing on yourself will benefit your recovery as well as the ones around you. Stick to “I” or “me” statements, not “you” or “we” statements.
    Limit your sharing to three to five minutes, so everyone has an opportunity to share — and to ensure that one person does not dominate the group sharing time.
  2. There is NO cross-talk. Cross-talk is when two people engage in conversation excluding all others. Each person is free to express his or her feelings without interruptions.
    Cross-talk is also making distracting comments or questions while someone is sharing. This includes speaking to another member of the group while someone is sharing, or responding to what someone has shared during his or her time of sharing.
  3. We are here to support one another, not “fix” one another. This keeps us focused on our own issues.
    We do not give advice or solve someone’s problem in our time of sharing or offer book referrals or counselor referrals!
    We are not licensed counselors, psychologists, or therapists, nor are the group members. Celebrate Recovery groups are not designed for this. It is up to the participants to include outside counseling to their program when they’re ready.
  4. Anonymity and confidentiality are basic requirements. What is shared in the group stays in the group. The only exception is when someone threatens to injure themselves or others.
    We are not to share information with our spouses/family/co-workers. This also means not discussing what is shared in the group among group members. This is called gossip.
    Please be advised, if anyone threatens to hurt themselves or others, the Small Group Leader has the responsibility to report it to the Celebrate Recovery Ministry Leader.
  5. Offensive language has no place in a Christ-centered recovery group. Therefore, we ask that you please watch your language. The main issue here is that the Lord’s name is not used inappropriately. We also avoid graphic descriptions. If anyone feels uncomfortable with how explicitly a speaker is sharing regarding his/her behaviors, then you may indicate so by simply raising your hand. The speaker will then respect your boundaries by being less specific in his/her descriptions. This will avoid potential triggers that could cause a person to act out. Emphasize at the close of your meeting that Group Sharing Guidelines stay intact as participants fellowship with each other after the meeting.

These boundaries are intentional protection so the person can express his pain and brokenness finding acceptance thereby reducing shame and receiving acceptance.

Recovery Strengthens Core Self

The concept of “Core self” is not used in any recovery movement. However, if you have followed my posts you know that I see this concept of identity has a been proven in neurocognitive research. If you wish more information please go to Recognizing Differences Between Core Self and the Relational Selves

When injury and brokenness are either being hidden or presenting as searing pain, the individual cannot be Core present or executive in life. The brain is hardwired to protect every aspect of human existence, especially Core identity. The presence of pain proves several things:

  • There is crisis sensed and safety needs to found
  • The Core self is still alive or pain would not be present
  • The limbic or emotional brain preceives danger based on one’s past experiences or emotionally coded memories
  • The sympathetic nervous system is dominant and in fight or flight mode
  • That something needs to be revealed for the sake of healing once safety is found

In the context of safe relational interactions within accepting recovery groups, acceptance replaces the shame and rejection experienced in the past. This reduces the need to hide what the person felt were his flaws. Relational acceptance meets needs that were neglected for such a long time.

The spiritual aspects of recovery groups are laid out in the Twelve Step approach taken to addressing the brokenness. In a stepwise manner the Creator’s help is shown as necessary for healing. The participant hears others admitting to utter powerlessness over pain and becoming dependent on the Creator for relief.

It is only when one’s Core being makes those admissions that answers can be found, changes be made, and serenity be found. The Serenity Prayer can be mouthed by a Relational self because it is the socially expected thing to do. But when Core self speaks those words, Core faith states what is true in its existence—only my Creator who made me can restore me to health. We cannot recover from our pain by our actions. Our Relational selves are action oriented. Actions cannot stop pain, they only suppress or deny it which is but temporary.

Core self claims truth for its very being, In that knowledge of truth Core self is brought to the experience of restoration that breaks the lies of the past. This restores Core self to executive use of the mind. That is further evidence of healing taking place in the brain, because the parasympathetic nervous system responds to the prefrontal cortex by calming the limbic brain. Our prefrontal cortex is able, in the face of threat or perceived danger, to assert reality and truth. That truth is that intentional choices for safety can be made in the present. In the past such choices did not exist resulting in that unmanageable, condemning pain which is now being healed.

If you would like to share your thoughts on this post, please do so. I would appreciate hearing from you.

I encourage you to find a CR group that has been in existence for at least two years and give it at least one year of consistent attendance to experience relief.


Share your encounter with AWE