Religion, Spirituality And Recovery


 § Part of the Recovery Is NOT For Quitters series §

Most recovery programs, especially Twelve-Step programs, place a heavy dependence on spirituality. Time after time this has proven to be troublesome for many people in the early stages of recovery, including me.

Writing about religion and spirituality in an open format such as this is fraught with dangers. Keep in mind that a good portion of this entry in the series is my own opinion and perspective. It is not my intention to offend anyone, but it nearly goes without saying that someone reading this will be. To be frank, I will not apologize. If you are offended, that is your issue and not mine.

Perhaps I will go into more detail about my spiritual adventures at a later time, but definitely outside of this series. For now, here is my general perspective on religion and spirituality. In the proverbial nutshell, I am not a Christian, a Buddhist, or any other –ian or –ist. When it comes right down to complete and unabashed honesty – I(we) do not know anything to be an undeniable fact on the subject of religion and spirituality. As one great philosopher said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” If anything, Truth is subjective. When people ask me my religious or spiritual beliefs, I often quote Robert Anton Wilson. “I do not believe anything. I wonder about everything and I have suspicions.”

If I were not an open minded person, my first experience at an AA meeting would have sent me right back to the bar! This meeting was held at the treatment center I was in. As seems to be standard at most AA meetings, it was opened with a portion of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. Why they use only the first portion of this prayer I do not know and have never asked. Maybe they think it’s just too long. Addicts tend to be an impatient lot.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

The meeting was progressing, as most do, with introductions, readings from the “Big Book,” and announcements. I do not recall what the topic of the meeting was, at the time I had been sober for less than a month! It came to be my turn to speak and when I finished the man running the meeting said quite loudly, “Brother you need to find Jesus and get healed. My reaction was instant and furious. I stood up, said “and you, sir, need to go fuck yourself” and walked out of the meeting.

One of our group sessions required us to watch a video of a comedian who is in recovery. At first I thought this would be fun – then I heard the guy say “I’m broken, perfectly broken. This is how god made me, perfectly broken.” At which point I looked at the counselor and said “Really? ‘god’ made me this way? Well fuck him! Is it any wonder I don’t believe in your god?”

The more I learned about AA, the more I thought it appeared not to be just a spiritual program but a religious program! After all, seven of AA’s Twelve Steps either allude to or directly mention communication with God! How was I supposed to communicate with a being I didn’t believe in?

It was difficult for me to get past the whole “God Thing.” I wasn’t there for church or for some god, I was there to get help for a very real problem. How in the hell was I going to get that help from something that, in my mind, is very unreal?

The next day, I was to meet a man who changed my view of the AA program and helped me to adapt that program in such a way that it worked for me.

Before I continue let me clear up a couple things. I have not become anti-alcohol or anti-drugs. I am anti-letting anything take control of your life in a negative way. There are many people who, for whatever reason, do not have problems with addiction. That is a great thing – party on! So please do not think that I have “taken up arms” against drinking or even drugs for that matter.

If there is one thing I do believe, it’s that everyone should have a good sense of humor. So if you think I’m mocking anyone’s spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof, I’m really not. I look for humor in all things and if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that I poke more fun at myself than anyone else. Life is too short to spend it being too serious.

I respect other people’s beliefs. How could I not? As I said, I don’t know anything as fact when it comes to this subject. Others can only express what they believe to be true based on their perception of events going on around and within themselves. I can not prove or disprove the existence of any god, goddess, faery or elf and neither can anyone else. That being so, it would be disingenuous of me to tell someone else that they were wrong. I hear someone out there saying, “Well, we can’t all be right.” Really? Prove it..  Enough! Onward…

In the treatment program each individual was assigned to a counselor. How lucky I was to discover that my assigned counselor and I were like-minded in many ways, especially spiritual matters. After many one on one discussions I was able to adapt the 12 Steps in a manner that worked for me and literally saved my life.

It’s true that in many ways the history of AA is steeped in religious principles. However, this does not mean that a person can not benefit from the program’s sense of community and desire to end the addictive behavior. In recovery it doesn’t matter who or what your God or “Higher Power” is, or indeed, whether you even have one other than yourself. There are those who disagree with me, and that’s absolutely fine. If it works, work it, but I will say that if you have been struggling for a long time and have yet to make any positive progress toward changes, perhaps you should take a look at your spiritual life. If it’s not working for you, maybe, just maybe, you need a change.

Personally, I am convinced that sobriety is a choice and no one other than ourselves can make that choice for us. There are things that I want in life; a job, a home, health, and many other things. If I drink, I can not fulfill those desires. I choose not to drink. This is what works for me and it has worked without fail for several years now.

What is your choice?

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