Sunday, September 18, 2016

Talking of the G Word

There are many things that people not in recovery programs do not understand about aspects of them, but one of the most common misconceptions out there is that 12 Step programs are somehow religious because a few of the steps use the word "God." Many people in recovery programs don't understand that particular aspect, either. So many people want to focus on the program as something that stops substance abuse for a long time, one day at a time, but they don't seem to understand that what the program offers is a new way of life, one free from substance abuse.
And the new way of life centers around developing a belief in a loving and caring Higher Power, which for convenience's sake is usually referred to as "God," using that belief to find the courage and strength to examine our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, and learn to change those and live a life based on the application of spiritual principles in our daily routines. That doesn't sound particularly religious, and it has been my experience that although there are certainly a good number of people in the fellowship that attend church and that will tell you that their concept of God is the one promulgated in the church they attend, people that are religious for the most part--there are exceptions, so don't anybody get all bent out of shape because they believe I'm referring to them--tend to be less obviously spiritually-minded, often lead lives marked by unmanageability and chaos, and are somewhat hypocritical in their practice of their avowed faith. The biggest and most obvious example in the circles that I move in is sexual activity. I don't know of a single Christian or Muslim sect that does not disapprove of sex outside marriage, but almost everyone in any 12-Step fellowship is sexually active, and the number of married people is a hell of lot less than the number of people that are sexually active. And those that are openly part of religious groups are just as sexually active as everyone else in the fellowships. I remember discussing this with a sponsee of mine several years ago who had been "born again;" I took him to task regularly because he was randier than a goat, and I knew that his ostensible faith was strongly against extramarital sex. He responded by pointing out that I was sexually active, too, but I had a rather easy rebuttal--I didn't profess to believe in any organized religion, and so I was not guilty of any hypocrisy. And I further pointed out that his particular sect claimed that (and I'm paraphrasing, but only a little) being "born again" was not only a ticket into the heavenly afterlife that was going to be denied to heathens like me, but that he was marked as one of the 'select' on earth, those who were to serve as an example to the rest of this world to follow in his footsteps. I really found it hard to believe that the average person was supposed to have sex with fifteen partners, if not more, a year, and told him so, repeatedly. I think that my point won the day; I stopped sponsoring him when it became clear he had no intention of either finishing Step Four or changing his behavior, and his life eventually became so unmanageable that he moved clear across the country, to California, where he has no doubt continued to act on the belief that his born-again faith is at least partially sexually transmitted.
The subject has come up in the last couple of days because of substantial exposure to my former sponsor, who quite consciously aspires to live by the spiritual principles of his Higher Power (he alternates between "God" and "HP" in his everyday talk). Aldo sponsored me for thirteen years, and of course he had a huge impact on the way my own development of a relationship with a Higher Power developed. And we got into a  long discussion after the meeting was over on the way our God works in our lives, mainly because today's daily meditation was about the last two-thirds of the step process, and the working of those steps is predicated on having a functional and working belief in a Higher Power. One cannot do a thorough moral inventory of ourselves without a true belief in a God that loves us and cares about us no matter what that inventory reveals. One cannot ask for the willingness to have God remove our shortcomings without a functional belief in God. One cannot make amends to people we have wronged without believing that God forgave us, and also that God will be all right with us even if the people we make amends to are not. We can't take a daily inventory of ourselves without knowing when we are wrong, and knowledge of right and wrong is largely a function of a deep belief in God. We cannot seek the will of something we don't believe in, and we certainly aren't going to help anymore else if our example does not reveal someone that has made a great deal of progress past active addiction and who is living by principles.
I am not religious, and yet my belief in God is the single most important part of my life. And it took a lot--a lot--of work and effort to come to that belief, and even more effort to put the belief into consistent practice. When Aldo and I talked tonight, we ended up reminiscing about just how much of a struggle it really was for me--and how imperative and necessary it has turned out to be. I have come so far and covered so much ground, changed so much, that it seems difficult to credit now that I was stuck for a long time about whether God even existed. I'm not going to write about that process and what my beliefs are now in any detail, but suffice it to say that my understanding of God today is my own understanding, fought for doggedly.
And without trying to sound smug or self-righteous, I fell that my understanding of God is much deeper and more meaningful than almost every religious person I've ever met. Why? Because with very few exceptions, they are taking someone else's word for it about who and what God is, what He wants from us, what is right and wrong, and what the application of God's will really means in our everyday life. And as a result, their relationship with God is rather shallow--and tends to be found wanting when they are faced with situations where relying on God's love for us is necessary or helpful in getting us through them. Because they don't really believe in it, or they 've been told how it ought to be and are finding that for them, it isn't working that way.
And for people in recovery, the consequences of that shortcut, of that lack of work, can be extremely damaging and even fatal. And the benefits of actually having a strong relationship and knowledge of our own God cannot be overstated. There is no way that I would have gotten through the various relationship roller-coasters I have been on over the last year without my belief in God. I would not be of use to those I have been helpful to this year--my daughter, my friends, my exes. I would not be able to have the perspectives I do, and I certainly would not be able to forgive perceived wrongs and to give credit when it is due to people that I have had differences with.
It is this relationship with God which has allowed me to make some sense of the world and to function within it. And once I learned to function within, I really lost my interest in what happens in the afterlife. I simply am not concerned about it. I do not believe in an afterlife, but I'm not worried in case I am wrong, because I have done a good job in living this life in the manner outlined by Jesus of Nazareth--better, in fact, than most people that believe he was God incarnate. And most of all, it has allowed me to be able to live a manageable life, one where the pain, when it comes, is bearable, and where solutions to every seemingly intractable problems have presented themselves when I was ready to deal with them.
There are no shortcuts. Those that go to meetings that do not gain an actual relationship with a Higher Power they understand and believe in do not make their lives manageable, and as a result they often relapse. Even when they do not, they tend to be isolated and relatively miserable.
That is not my fate today.

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