Step 7: Humility Before Change


Contributor:  W. Travis Stewart, LPC, NCC writer for Addiction Hope

kids-177431_640In his book Inside Out, Christian Psychologist Larry Crabb tells of a man who came to him for counseling. At the beginning of the session the client had an urgent request:

I want to feel better quick.

I paused for a moment, then replied, I suggest you get a case of your favorite alcoholic beverage, find some cooperative women and go to the Bahamas for a month.

Now it was his turn to pause. He stared at me, looking puzzled, then asked, Are you a Christian?

Why do you ask?

Well, your advice doesnt sound very biblical.

Its the best I can do given your request. If you really want to feel good right away and get rid of any unpleasant emotion, then I dont recommend following Christ. Drunkenness, immoral pleasures, and vacations will work far better. Not for long, of course, but in the short run theyll give you what you want.

Change Isn’t Easy

first-aid-850482_1280True change is not easy, nor pleasant. We usually are driven to a desire for change because of some pain in our lives. We can’t pay our bills. Our spouse is angry with us. We are about to lose our job. Relief—this is what drives us to seek help. And yet, if what Larry Crabb says is true, relief and change rarely go hand in hand.

Of course, this idea is not original to Crabb. Jesus said it much more succinctly in John 12:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Change is not only uncomfortable, but, Jesus is saying that for true change, real conversion and honest maturity to take place, something inside us must die.

What must die? It seems it is our self-sufficiency and commitment to a pain-free life.

book-515081_1280Addiction and self-efforts at change are both driven by the same motive; relief from pain. Sometimes this drive does produce sobriety—but not inner transformation.

We all know people like this. Once, rigidly stuck in their addiction, they enter sobriety with the same kind of all-or-nothing thinking. Alcoholics Anonymous refers to them as Dry Drunks. Their mouths are dry of alcohol but so are their hearts dry of life. Their new addiction is rigid control of themselves and everyone around them.

Inner Transformation

face-622904_1280Real inner transformation must be preceded, accompanied and followed by humility; a humility of admitting that you can’t do it yourself. Something Dry Drunks can’t admit (oh, they may say the words, but there remains an angry stance in their hearts). Real humility works Step Six; asking God to remove your defects of character and a return to Step One in recognizing that you are powerless when left to your own devices.

All of this agrees with what Richard Rohr writes,

We can never engineer or guide our own transformation or conversion. If we try, it will be a self-centered and well-controlled version of conversion, with most of my preferences and addictions still fully in place but now well disguised. 

peace-of-mind-349815_1280If we are not radically changed from a power outside of our self then the agent of change is coming from within. And isn’t that a self-defeating cycle?

If we are to change, then what must die is our commitment to self-protection, our self-effort, our “trying to figure things out” attempts at changing our problems using our own strategies for relief. There has to be an admission of “I don’t know” and “I need help.”

This is true because addictions are rooted in far bigger issues than the addictive behaviors. One of those issues is what AA calls “stinking thinking”. Though AA has historically called alcoholism a disease, it has never shied away from the responsibility of those in recovery to take an honest inventory of contributing factors. High on that list is the problematic and distorted thinking that fuels the behavior.

This stinking thinking goes beyond thoughts like, “I’ll just have one more drink” or “I can stop tomorrow.” It burrows itself deeply into the core of our being and into our very approach to life. Thoughts like, “I can’t trust anyone” or “I’m unworthy” get closer to the core but, even those aren’t what fuel addiction.
At the very core of all of our issues is a commitment to make life work apart from God. This has historically been called sin—a word out of favor in this day and age. At its most insidious, sin does not look like drug use or lustful thoughts and behavior. It is far more subtle than that. It feels more like a commitment to always be better than my neighbor or to never admit that I’m wrong. It is a drive to get everyone to be happy with me or always be perfect. It is a Priority One refusal to feel pain and, at it’s most destructive, sin feels justifiable and like the right thing to do.

If this sounds morbid it is because we are forgetting the good news. God is creating something new in us. Christian counselor Bruce Edstrom says that God breaks apart the old heart in order to make room for something new. The prophet Isaiah foretold this, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

May God grant us the serenity to endure the pain of this life, the patience to wait on God’s will and work to heal the world and the courage to trust that He is up to a good work in setting our hearts free.


Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you struggled with humility in your recovery from addiction?  What impact has changing to humility had on your recovery?

About the Author

Travis Stewart earned a Master of Arts in Counseling (2001) and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (2003), both from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, MO.  Travis is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Missouri and a writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope.

Addiction Hope is proud to announce the initiation of a special Christian Track of blogs and articles to commemorate the blessing of our sister site, Eating Disorder Hope’s 10th year anniversary. Watch for further content noted as “Christian Track”.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions and co-occurring disorders.  These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.  We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors.  If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.  

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 4, 2015. Published on