This Is True! The Need for Affirmation from the Community

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On my path of recovery, one of the absolute best experiences I have had was my time spent in inpatient rehab. I spent 35 days in a facility in order to receive help for my addiction to pornography. However, to my surprise, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and I spent much of my time working to understand my life in light of this realization.        

This particular facility was in a rural area, and it placed patients in different houses based on their particular addiction. My diagnosis landed me in the “trauma” house. While there weren’t any other men in my community who had been diagnosed with OCD, we shared a common thread of enduring various forms of trauma. Though I protested at first, I look back now and feel blessed that my experience wasn’t so focused only on my issue with pornography.

Per my request, in the evenings I would be taken by facility staff to the “sex addiction” house in order to attend the 12-step meeting. While this house held about 25 men, not all of the men attending the meeting slept at that house, so I would hitch a ride back to my “residence” with other attendees. After a long day of doing recovery work, being crammed into a van with nine other men isn’t exactly my idea of relaxation!

Better Together: Doing Step Ten as a Group

During the ride back, as a group, we did what is referred to as the tenth step. Step Ten states that you “continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” In the format we did in rehab, we each took turns reviewing our day out loud to the group—accounting for failures, times we were dishonest, how we grew today, etc. 

At first, I admit, I was a bit annoyed that we were asked to do this because our days were already so planned out. I thought, can’t we have any free time to just talk and goof around? However, I quickly realized how powerful an experience this really is. Hearing other people reflect helps jog your own memory. And the group experience of being vulnerable gives you the courage to say things that are difficult.

Guys really opened up their hearts during the car ride. However, the best part of the experience was the ending. Beyond our daily examination, we were also tasked with coming up with three examples of self-affirmation. Examples included things like: “I am a good father,” “I am recovering,” “I am lovable,” to which the rest of the group affirmed, “this is true!” 

What was particularly touching was the fact that many of the things that people said about themselves weren’t actually true at the moment—they were more or less goals. It was powerful to sit and listen in silence to a 20-second pause because one of the men couldn’t think of anything positive to say about himself. Even for myself, I can remember feeling like puking when I said, “I am a good person” because I struggle to believe that this is true. However, I can still hear “this is true” from my fellow brothers as if it were yesterday. And it’s a response I still continually need to hear.

Group Knows Best: Making Sense of Our Need for Affirmation

One of the things that popular culture and therapists will often tell you is that “you are enough.” In some ways, they are right. Spun theologically, I think that the statement is in line with the Catholic teaching on human dignity—that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, and that reality demands an infinite amount of respect for every human being, no matter what. 

However, where the “you are enough” idea falls short has to do with the fact that we are social creatures and our identity is often tied to other people. Many times, there are pieces of ourselves that don’t come to life until a particular friend enters our life. If you’ve ever told a joke that most people don’t understand but your best friend does then you understand what I mean.

We need each other to know who we really are. That is why the instances of group affirmation at the end of the tenth step are so powerful. We certainly have the capacity to understand our own goodness. And if we didn’t, God could provide us the grace of understanding. But as Catholics, we believe in a sacramental worldview. That is, we believe that grace is unleashed in simple ways—in manners that correspond to our natural human experience. 

As I said before, God could give us the grace directly, or He could use another humble soul to pass on the grace that you most need. This is why it is so important that we receive support from other people—the Holy Spirit works through others. For those who may have been emotionally abused or neglected, part of your healing experience could involve the affirmation of fellow members.

Have you ever thought about trying to incorporate a group tenth step at one of your 12-step or Catholics in Recovery meetings? What positive affirmations do you need to hear from other people to really believe that what you’re telling yourself is true? How is God currently using someone else to speak truth into your heart?

Quarter Joe is a lifelong Catholic and has been in recovery for pornography addiction for nearly three years. He is passionate about the spiritual path of the 12-step model and the power of Jesus in the Eucharist in bringing healing and transformation.