Interview with David Zailer

The Healing Soul Hope Herald – March ’11 – Featured Article

Shelly Warren, HFTS Admin. Assist.

We’re excited to share our recent interview with David Zailer, author, speaker, and executive director of Operation Integrity. David assists others in their healing and recovery with compassion. We are glad to share his insights with you this month and hope you’ll browse the OI website and pray about supporting them as well.

Interviewed by Shelly Warren, July 22, 2011

SW: I think most folks who’ve been intentionally walking out their recovery for a good amount of time know that God is the one who empowers all growth and every victory and gain as we overcome addiction, and it’s obvious that He’s growing the service you guys provide to your brothers in recovery. Tell us about how OI is expanding; what has that looked like in terms of where things started and some of the latest developments?

DZ: I think it’s most accurate for me to admit up front that I never envisioned where we would be today or where I believe we’re heading now. In the beginning I was just meeting with a few other men informally as a way to encourage each other and ourselves to grow and recover from addictions related to pornography or sex or lust. Because of the mutual benefit we gained from meeting each other, we developed a growth mentality. We knew we had a good thing and we wanted to share it with others. That in turn brought us to a point where we incorporated and became Operation Integrity. We began to chronicle our own experiences individually and as a fellowship, and these chronicles became the book When Lost Men Come Home. It also brought other people to us that had other addictions. So we became expansive & inclusive. Expansive in that we were willing to look at every area of our lives. We made the decision we were not going to be afraid to address any area of our lives. We became inclusive in that we had a broader invitation to those who would come be a part of our group. So we became more committed to address addiction in general. Yes, there are those categories of addictions (chemical dependencies, food, sex, relational, religious) but we began to address the reality that human beings tend to become addicted to things. We tend to have destructive habits and relationships that we dependent on. So we try to address this several ways: through education, through the fellowship groups/communities; we encourage people to be involved in their own individual program, to endeavor in their own 12-step community; the counseling/psychotherapy piece is important, and not to ever be minimized, the spiritual formation piece. This is a real platform for people to swim deeper in their relationship with God; that is a very close kindred connection with the recovery. For people to have true recovery of their addiction that spreads through the entire panorama of their life, their spiritual formation is the rain that nourishes the soil.

SW: Right, that Spiritual Aspect of Addiction is pivotal, and I remember reading statements about it in your book and seeing the mention of it on your website this statement: Great care must be taken when an addict seeks to reconnect him/herself spiritually to not confuse religious activity with authentic spiritual relationship. Religion will never cure addiction, it only reinforces it. An authentic spiritual relationship is the foundation of a transforming kind of recovery. That really grabbed my attention.

SW: Earlier you referred to others who walked alongside you and together formed what would become OI. Who are you referring to when you say ‘we’?

DZ: ‘We’ is all the original people (originally just me and 2 other guys) who are still connected with OI, and though they don’t live close to where I live any longer we’ve stayed connected relationally, we keep our communication open. We’re still a part of each others recovery lives.

When I speak of ‘we’, it’s layers of connected relationships; at the core we have a board of directors, all men who are recovering people who have worked much of their recovery in and around the OI program. However there’s a larger broader voice in that including everyone who attends the groups as we communicate with one another. We speak truth and love and acceptance into one another’s lives, and it develops a chorus if you will. And so our literature is developed, (I do the general writing of it; I’m the one who puts my backside in the chair does the typing out) but the content and the voice really does come from a broad community. We’ve had over 1000 people participate in the OI program, both here in southern California and in other areas of the country, but not everyone is involved to same degree. It is a chorus, it is a community that’s continuing to develop a voice, and that comes out through the literature and communications at OI.

SW: So the board is always getting feedback and paying attention to what others in recovery are saying.

DZ: Right; the board of directors is very strong in keeping a pulse on the OI community; and as I interact with them as we develop literature in our communications, the board is constantly pushing and pulling, kneading the dough, so that we best communicate our experiences.

SW: We talk about what it takes to be committed to recovery. When people call in, one of the questions I hear a lot is ‘how long does it usually take to for someone to recover?’ or ‘how many months generally does someone meet with Jayson before they’re successful’. I normally talk with them about how recovery actually becomes a lifestyle and is dependent on the individual, their goals, and how intentional they are about doing the ‘work’. Tell me about some of the markers you look for that make you excited for someone in their recovery journey, things that indicate they are making gains in their healing process.

DZ: I think, first off, it’s fair to say that when people come into a recovery program whether it’s something like Healing for the Soul or Operation Integrity or one of the mainstream programs like AA or Al-anon…the day they walk in the door and admit their need, they’re already moving toward success. I want to encourage people that they can begin to be successful on day one. When people ask “how long is it going to take?” it’s almost like when a child asks “when am I going to be a grown up?” That’s a very subjective thing. I mean what is a grown up? I’m 52 years old and I still haven’t figured that out. The one thing that I see as really encouraging sign post is when their focus, especially in their conversation when they’re sharing, is about how they’re dealing with their own issues. They’re focused on their work but not minimizing. When I see someone who is sidetracking, they’re minimizing their issues, or they’re diverting the attention away from their issues, complaining about their spouse, or their problems or what this person is doing, or what they’re boss is doing, the “other person’s” problem, etc. That’s not recovery. I look for people who are not diverting; they are keeping their attention on their own issues. Another thing I look for are people who are willing to change. People can talk great talk, but the people I look those who are willing to change the way they choose to spend their time, change their activities, or schedule, their friends, or the way they eat. Especially for people with a sex addiction, I look for those people who are willing to change their relationships, the places where they go or don’t go. Just recently a guy that I was working with made changes to his tv cable service so that he no longer had free and convenient access to pornography. That was a simple practical move, but for him it made a profound difference for him. It speaks volumes about what a person’s future success is going to be like.

SW: And you know that’s what it took, that’s what it takes on an ongoing basis, really. That’s the walk of transformation with God is that He’s able to show us ‘ok here’s another something I want you to change’, and it may not be as dark and terrible as some of the things we’ve turned away from before, but I believe that transformation is possible when He shows us things that are dangerous for our heart. And so the decision becomes, are we willing to change?

DZ: Exactly, and especially in the addiction recovery world, we’re labeling, compartmentalizing, identifying the problem as a particular “ism”, and along with that we may have the perception or the belief that as long as the “ism” isn’t a problem any more, then I’m in good shape. When in reality the addictive mechanism in the heart of soul of that human being is just going to morph, it’s just going to change and either re-attack, waiting for a boomerang effect and the next eruption, or it morphs into a different kind of destructive behavior. One of the things I remember reading from The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous by Bill Wilson during my early experience as a recovering alcoholic essentially says, wherever we decide that we will deviate from God’s will, that is the place where we begin to make ourselves vulnerable, and we’re likely to drink again. So it is that ongoing diligence to be attentive and alert and willing to stay true to the path of recovery.

SW: So as a mentor and counselor what types of red flags have you learned to be aware of as you walk with others in their recovery? When do you share or point out an area of concern for them?

DZ: Well there are the behaviors we mentioned before: diverting from their own recovery; focusing on others’ problems; minimizing problems. Some other red flags too, are when people begin to become exhausted. It can be very fragile time. Recovery is hard work, and people who are addressing addictions usually put themselves in situations where they are experiencing a great deal of chaos in their lives (marital stress, financial stress, stress at work or with children, etc.) I don’t know of anyone who walks into recovery program and decides to recover out of convenience or virtue, its usually out of catastrophe, they’ve got a serious problem. One of the things I look for and they may not see it, is when they’re just exhausted. They’re not getting enough rest at night, maybe they’re just relationally depleted & feeling very lonely, and maybe it’s because they’re working so much, they’re physically tired, not eating well, not taking care of themselves. I look for this and try to encourage people: yes, hard work is essential, and there need to be changes in your life, these are challenging times for you, but please, take good care. I try to help them and interfere with their schedule, try to encourage them to eat well, to go on that walk. I know one of the things I have to do is though I enjoy running and racket ball, sometimes I can do that in excess and I need to just go on a walk. I find that I have to moderate myself. Self care is a must for recovery.

SW: How crucial has the group support been in your own recovery journey?

DZ: Well, I , from the vantage point I have today, I do not believe I’d Don’t think I’d have the recovery experience I have today w/out the long-term and ongoing recovery and support group experience…I hated it in the beginning, I hated it. I did not like going to a place and being told that I’m supposed to identify with these people that were alcoholics and drug addicts and sex addicts. It was a long journey for me to make peace w/ those kind of monikers. And I think part of the healing process for me is to understand that by going to the meetings I’m not labeling myself just as those monikers, but I am accepting the reality of those things in my life so that I will not make the mistake of ignoring or denying them. I’m making peace with reality. And it really is the process of being in those groups and interacting w/ those people that gave me the experience of their acceptance. They treated one another with respect and kindness and appreciation, and treating themselves the same way. They weren’t beating themselves up or abusing themselves. They would walk in and give and receive a hug or slap on the back and say “hello, my name’s…and I’m a sex addict.” They made peace with those vulnerable and fragile places with themselves. That’s been teaching me and helping me develop into someone who can do this for others by showing them respect and kindness, helping them recognize and accept those frail and vulnerable parts of themselves.

SW: That’s outstanding. I can’t even put that into words how that felt the first few times I went to a wives’ group and just sat there and listened. I couldn’t even talk. But just to hear these other women and realize that others understood, and we could take care of ourselves and our families, we didn’t have to beat ourselves up, and we could still love each other was healing for me. There’s so much power in community, and for me I was able to recapture some dignity with myself. I’ve found that those of us who deal with addictions lose our dignity; the degree of shame or loathing yourself or someone else really robs us of our true image. In your book you mention returning to the image that God made us in. What a life-long journey to discover this new “Made-in-his image” idea.

DZ: I don’t know exactly what that means, “made in God’s image”, but I know I’m going in that direction. I so appreciate God’s genius and care in this: the highest definition & vision we have of God is Jesus, and I just know that in the process of God in his leading and me in my following, there’s a partnership there, and it’s leading me into living out more of that image of God. There’s nothing better for me. I used to think in terms of a religious performance litmus test, and I was going to look, walk or talk a certain way. In following God, does that affect the way I walk, yes! Does it affect the way I talk? You bet! But it so transcends the spiritual litmus test.

SW: What would you say to someone who is resistant to finding and becoming active in a 12-step type group?

DZ: I do encounter people who for whatever reason are resistant to a recovery or support group, so first of all I’d wish them well, of course. I know that God is not limited to helping through support and recovery groups. He’s able to work in many ways. I would wish them well but I would also encourage them to keep an open mind and not to shut the door on it. I can’t talk anyone into recovery. I’d just wish them the best, give them a card, and say if you ever reconsider please let us know.

SW: In an excellent and transparent interview you did with David Kyle Foster on his program, you shared something that really caught my attention about how you deal with temptation. (You can watch the Pure Passion Interview here.) We read some encouragement regarding temptation in 1 Corinthians 10:13 where Paul has written to those of faith in Christ that “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” We’d like to share with our readers again the help you’ve found God provides in those moments of decision. About temptation you said:

DZ: When temptation hits me now, I do two things:

1. Remember what the inevitable results have always been, the pain, the misery, the sadness; and not just for me, but those around me as well.

2. Remember and think about what God has laid before me. If I move in obedience, I have an opportunity to swim deeply into the mystery of God’s goodness as He lays it before me. I have the opportunity to become a part of eternal love and experience it play out in my life, even that day at that moment.

BUT, if I sin, which I so often to, I have the opportunity of confessions. As I confess my faults, and all my foibles and all my sinfulness, God has moved me and redirected me back into that opportunity of goodness and love.”

That interview excerpt took place 1-1/2 to 2 years ago, and it’s still relevant today, just as it was then. God has never relieved me of all the pain of my addictions. It’s very close to me. I can recall it very, very easily. That’s important for me because recovery has taught me to link my addictive behavior and the temptations that seek to take me there. It connects me with inevitable pain. And that’s become a very profound reminder for me. You know, sure I could go out and be involved in those old behaviors very easily, but the end result is so difficult and so painful. Not only do I not want to go out and do that anymore, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t survive. So my recovery is not just about whether I’m going to be a good boy or recover or not, it’s about whether I’m going to live or die.

SW: That seems like such an important mentality to get to. I think that’s where we want all our brothers and sisters to get to. Who knows how long it takes people to get there, but that door of realization has just opened for me: the severity of my addictive thinking and my utter need for God’s healing.

You also say something toward the end of that broadcast that resounds and applies to all our lives, especially those of us who’ve realized our desperate need for healing. You talk about how your life is expanding and growing; then you explain what your experience was before knowing God’s deep love was yours.
You said, “My life was always this desperate struggle to survive. Because it wasn’t a life, it was just a death where my heart hadn’t stopped beating yet.”

We thank David for his time and all the courageous ways he’s pursued his recovery and helped others as well. That’s the kind of healing, vision, and excellence we hope for in each of our lives. We want to end here with encouragement: take your healing process as seriously as you would any regimen for survival. David and his OI brothers look at this process as “radical life transformation”. We hope you’ll schedule time every day to read recovery material or recommended books, a 12-step workbook, and even a daily devotional like Operation Integrity Daily. May we all experience more integrity in our hearts and lives day by day. Thanks for reading. It was an honor to work up this month’s letter.

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