Defining Unmanageable

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step 1 of the Twelve Steps of Al-Anon

Sixteen years of recovery work have taught me that I need to dig in deep to what particular words mean to me. (And seminary reinforced that with gusto.)

How has my life become unmanageable in this relationship I have with the Church? It’s going to take a few posts – because I’ve been in relationship with the Church since I was about 18 months old.

Today – let me look back in time and name out loud a few places where my self reacts to what I have been powerless over – for that’s what leads to my life being unmanageable.

  • Hyper-overachieving – as the church places hoops for me to jump through and get my gold star for perfect piety, participation, compliance, humility, silence, invisibility (et al), I decide to NAIL IT. Maybe if I nail it, the Church will finally acknowledge me. In all of my Cristine-ness – deep questions, out-of-the-box visions, holding us accountable to Jesus’ teachings, saying “who says” to “we’ve always done it that way” … you get the picture. If I score a perfect 10.0 on a hoop jump, then I will earn a spot to be taken seriously. Totally unmanageable – and, as I have sadly learned, I’ll never get that 10.0. And if I did? I still won’t be taken seriously, because everything I am stands against status quo.

    The unmanageable part is not recognizing the hoops and choosing not to jump through them. If I am not granted a seat at the table to share what God has through me, then I need to go to a different table.

  • Run away – when I bang my head against the proverbial brick wall for the millionth time, and finally realize nothing is going to change (well, what *I* think should change), I decide to run off to the next place. The Church is not the only place this survival technique comes into play – it is a classic response to alcoholism in a family as well as being a survivor of domestic violence. Instead of sitting with my discomfort and working through it (like a CPE verbatim), I run – maybe just inwardly, maybe not.

    The unmanageable part comes in the timing – sometimes I have left churches because the toxicity was threatening my sanity. That’s not the same as just running because I’m trying to control what is not mine to control.

  • Chameleon life – until 2002, my life tended to mirror the color-changing of a chameleon to its environment to stay safe. I am grateful to say I rarely slip into this survival mode anymore. But I still name it, for it kept me safe and it strangled me for over 3 decades. With the Church, whatever came my way became my new “thing” – a program, a theology, a class, you name it. I jumped on board with all the passion I could. To belong. Using my brain to carefully analyze, compare, contrast, and hold these things to my core values dissipated in the mist – because belonging was all that mattered.

    This particular manifestation of unmanageable life dances in time with hyper-overachieving and is difficult to discern from healthy ethnography and contextual reflection when I really relate to the situation. In 2002, I determined to live WYSIWYG in an effort to leave my chameleon life behind – my MDiv and CPE gave me even more training on how to keep working toward honest and life-giving discernment in this area.


These three are certainly not the only ways my life becomes unmanageable – especially in relation to the Church. Stay tuned …

Disclaimer: The links to Al-anon resources anywhere on this site are just that … resources. There is no affiliate program for Al-Anon. You can find Al-Anon meetings here.

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