Has addiction stolen your identity? If so, you’re not alone. Many people with addictions find themselves looking in the mirror at a stranger, wondering who they have become. The good news: You can reconnect with the person you once were — or, with a few steps, become your best self.
The following analogy may help. If someone hacked into your computer, stole your social security and credit card numbers, and then bought an Xbox, Porsche and four-week vacation in Bali, you would feel violated, right? You would want to hunt down the wrongdoer and prosecute them, if possible. In the meantime, you would do everything in your power to recover your money and protect your personal information.
Similarly, with addiction, there are steps you can take to ensure that you will never again be robbed of your identity. So far this series has explored humility, honesty and hope as virtues that can be practiced in concrete ways, and now we turn to the role of faith – which is essential to the recovery process.
What Is Faith?
Faith can be thought of as a belief, confidence or trust in a person or thing. Faith is a spiritual principle and can be defined as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The Greek word for faith, pistis, refers to God’s faithfulness. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this faithfulness — exemplified in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection — is what paves the way so that we, too, can believe in the love of God. It is the “substance” or “evidence” that gives our faith the ground upon which to stand. Faith, then, is ultimately a gift from God, one that we cannot concoct on our own strength, but one that we can ask God to give us. In fact, I believe it’s already deep inside each of us —buried under the soil of our spirits — waiting to be unearthed and actualized in our lives. That’s good news!
The Stockdale Paradox
The “Stockdale Paradox” offers a helpful illustration of faith. Admiral James Stockdale was a pilot whose plane was shot down during the Vietnam War, and who spent seven-and-a-half years of captivity and torture as a prisoner of war. During those long days and far longer years, Stockdale organized a whole system of discipline and coded communications for his fellow POW’s. He refused, even when tortured, to give up strategic intelligence to his captors. Upon his release, he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Faith was essential to Stockdale’s survival and resilience. If he had fallen prey to despair and the belief that he would never be rescued and that his life would never improve, Stockdale would have sold out on the person he was. He would have traded in his high moral principles and battle-scarred courage for a far less noble existence.
Stockdale coined the paradox by which he lived this way: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” In other words, faith requires on the one hand a firm conviction that your future will be brighter and that you will overcome your biggest challenges, and on the other, a willingness to tell the sobering truth about your current reality and its difficulties. Sometimes this includes being honest about your doubts. I have come to believe that my doubts actually strengthen, not weaken, my faith.
One measure of your faith in a better day, or in your “higher power’s” provision of a brighter future, will be the degree to which you can look your current reality squarely in the eye – and not run away from the hardship it presents.
If you’re in recovery, this means sizing up the day before you without sugarcoating your problems or pretending they don’t exist; and it means employing coping strategies in the present that are sufficiently rigorous to meet the challenges of your current hardship. Paradoxically, then, you do this tough legwork while maintaining a conviction that you will one day be the person you know you are designed to be. Faith, in order to be real, requires action in the direction of your conviction.
Five Tips for Cultivating Faith
The following tips will help you inculcate faith in your life:
- Ask your “higher power” for the gift of faith. If faith is a gift, you can pray for it. “Help my unbelief” was the prayer of the father of a child whom Jesus heals in Mark 9. It can be your prayer, too.
- Visualize your future self. Visualization can be a powerful tool. As a regular discipline, spend a few minutes imagining the person you believe you are called to become, a person free from addiction in order to be free for so much more.
- Enlist a detailed plan for dealing with your current challenges, including concrete action steps. Take a hard look at your life today and make a list of all of the challenges you face that threaten to undo that vision of your future self, a self that is “happy, joyous and free” and alive to God’s best.
- Act now in accordance with your plan. Like Stockdale discovered, faith is not just an intangible belief; it is measured in concrete actions in the present that gradually will move you toward the future God has in store for you. Begin to act in small ways (based on the plan you have just devised) in accordance with your future identity. My Grandpa Benz used to call this, “putting legs to your prayers.”
- Find a coach, mentor or spiritual director. Faith fares better when there are others who share it with us. Find someone you respect, someone with a strong faith, with whom you can pray and share your plan of action. Faith, like many virtues, is more likely “caught” than “taught” — so try to surround yourself with people whose faith is contagious, understanding sometimes that these people can believe for you when you cannot believe for yourself.