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​Freedom from Bondage

I received a copy of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “Promises” at my first AA meeting. They’re not often handed out. It turns out it was just a whim that the meeting’s speaker had thought of, but I took them home and read them as I drank my way into oblivion. In the morning, I had pasted them on the fridge. I couldn’t have known in advance, but as it turns out, that was the beginning of my continuing sobriety, now 26 years ago. Since then, the AA ninth step promises have held a special place for me.


The very first of them speaks of a “new freedom.” Initially, I really had no idea what that might mean. When I was five years sober, I was in the midst of many exciting changes in my life. One of which was I was in seminary. There, I was challenged to examine naïve and more rich or adult ideas of freedom from a theological perspective.

When I was growing up, I thought of freedom as “doing what I want.” Drugs were certainly a part of this, but only a part. My dad used to say, “A man’s home is his castle.” My idea of freedom was caught up in that, a right to self-determine outside of society’s or others’ sight. My life was nobody’s darn business.

A paradox ensued. I came to discover that my allegiance to self, and to the drugs and private pursuits of my immediate gratification lifestyle, came to be a sort of prison for me. I wasn’t free. I was captive; in bondage and blind. I became isolated and disconnected from life’s meaning and value.

Kendall Soulen, a brilliant theologian who taught me to think about the healing that has taken place in my life, suggested in a lecture one day that true freedom is not what I had naively thought. Instead, he suggested, true freedom is the freedom to become who I am meant to be. Kendall’s vision was of a freedom that is communal and spiritual. It would view my past anarchy and self-gratification as an abuse or corruption of the freedom that G-d had made possible for each and every one of us, a freedom to love and serve.

When we view addiction through this lens, I think it is especially meaningful. In the disease of addiction, we truly become captive. Recovery breaks the chains, loosens the bonds, liberates the captive, and brings renewal of sight to the blind. I think this is why I always had a special fondness for the music and preaching of the civil rights era. The songs of freedom, justice, and liberation, while drafted in that time for people who were discriminated on the basis of gender and ethnicity, also hold out hope for the enslavement and brokenness of my world.

Yes, others would look at my life today as somewhat restricted. I do not drink or use any substances. In fact, I have bound myself to meetings, to a sponsor, to a home group, and to a program of recovery. However, it is this very giveness that makes me free to love to live with my values, and to share with others. What a gift I have been given! Today, in sobriety, I am free indeed.