Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Debate Reignites

I wasn't looking to start any problems, honest.
I don't look at Mobile Patrol constantly like I once did. But I still check it out at least every couple of days. And this week, I saw some interesting faces and names on it. Three, as a matter of fact, people who have been a part of the recovery community around here recently who had fallen away from regular attendance at meetings. What got my attention was that all of them had posted on social media recently about their religiosity, that God was so good in their life that they really didn't need to be part of their fellowships anymore, and in two cases, there were rather snide and ugly comments about people in the fellowships.
My first thought when I saw them was that karma is a bitch. But I also quickly realized that the posts were probably a part of the relapse process, that they found it necessary to convince themselves that they didn't need to attend meetings anymore to justify not attending them. And this is hardly the first time that I've seen this over the time I've been around; I would wager that fifty people, if not more, that I have known have stopped going to meetings because they became involved with a church. And most of those 50 have eventually relapsed.
I posted a comment on Facebook about what I saw, and several people got real passionate in expressing their views. A couple of people posted that they have stayed clean while withdrawing from the fellowships, and a couple of others pointed out that virtually everyone with clean time that relapses and comes back to the rooms says that the process started when they stopped going to meetings. I have no doubt that both are right, and I said as much on the thread.
But it brought up some stuff for me, nonetheless, about recovery--what it means, how it is accomplished, how it moves forward. And common misconceptions and misinformation, too. A good place to start would be the most common misconception--that the 12 Steps are focused on abstinence. They are, to a small degree. But the Step process, in both fellowships is very clear about finding a new way of life as the process unfolds, not narrowly based on merely staying abstinent. And the 12 Steps are structured in such a way that they can be used as a way to find relief from any number of problems, not just a substance or substances. The point of the First Step is not what substance is causing unmanageability, but rather the simple admission that the addict's (I'm most familiar with NA, so I am going to use NA terminology) life is unmanageable. The remaining eleven steps are a way to find and incorporate a solution that will make our lives more manageable. Abstinence is necessary in the beginning, but the point of the entire process is not to allow the addict to white-knuckle abstinence for the remainder of their lives, but to change their spiritual condition so that using substances is no longer necessary, that the pain and problems that substance abuse was an attempted solution regarding are resolved and coped with in a such a fashion that they no longer compel us to use.
And I want to reiterate that the key component here is the unmanageability.  It is what brings us into recovery. I can remember hearing a speaker one time talking about how 12-Step fellowships weren't all that prevalent in Peru and Bolivia, simply because getting high there didn't involve the unmanageability that it does everywhere else. And honestly, if I could grow a coca bush in my backyard and pick a leaf every day, without all the hassle that came with getting and finding ways and means to get more, I'd still be getting high on cocaine. I can't, and so it's not an issue. But I didn't have a drug problem; almost all of the problems came when the drugs ran out. That's when the unmanageability was obvious and manifest.
And the remainder of the 12-Step process is finding a new way of life, guided by and dominated by a working relationship with a God or Higher Power of our understanding. Many people claim to find God as a result of the step process, and end up departing the fellowship because of it. And that was really the underlying point I was trying to make today. The key words there are "of our understanding." Nearly without exception, those that relapse after "finding God" have not developed a relationship with a God of their understanding. They have taken the shortcut of buying into an-already established belief system of an existing denomination. And because they have not put any real work into it, that concept of God has no real meaning for them. When troubles and crises arrive, as they inevitably do, the belief in God that they so confidently assert in good times crumbles--because they have little or nothing invested in it. Their belief was conditional, and the ideas about God are someone else's.
Both fellowships are quite clear that the Higher Power called God does not need to be religious. Mine certainly is not. I lost the faith I was born into, and I spent many years actively disparaging religion and militantly advocating that God did not exist. It was a major issue for me in early recovery, too. It took nearly three years and a major Eureka moment for me to come to believe in the loving, caring God that the NA literature talks about. I'm not saying anyone else has to believe what I believe--but my belief came when I realized that the seeming contradiction between a loving and caring God and an all-powerful, all-knowing deity that allows so much evil to flourish in the world had a resolution--one of the underlying assumptions was wrong. That there was a loving, caring God capable of helping me to recover seemed undeniable; there were thousands of other people in the fellowships worldwide who had recovered using this framework. That there is a great deal of evil in the world is also undeniable.
And I realized with a real jolt one day that the world makes a lot more sense if one removes the supposition that God is all-powerful. Sabrina was a toddler then, and the period of time between when an infant/toddler achieves mobility and the time when they are fully conversant with and understand spoken language is the hardest parenting period. The words "God the father" popped into my head for some reason, and I realized something: that I loved my own daughter unconditionally and without limit, but I could not make her do much of anything. It was possible to have limitless love and yet not be all-powerful. And once this wall was breached, I started to do some research, and I realized that in the Bible, there is actually very little to recommend the idea that God is all-powerful, and a whole lot that suggests He is not. I quickly became rather satisfied that I was onto something, and I began to feel like I could depend on this God--not to fix or alter problems and issues, but to provide me with the support I needed to cope with them. And I realized that Step Four, the biggie, the one everyone said was so hard, was Step Four for a reason--that you needed to have that unshakable belief in a God that loves you and that is going to accept you no matter what,. before you are able to undertake and complete a thorough moral inventory, and then to confront the exact nature of our wrongs.
That's how it worked for me. It doesn't really work the same for any two people, but it is imperative that some sort of breakthrough comes so that the rest of the recovery process can take place. Even those that have stopped working in a 12-Step fellowship often have come to the point where they believe in a God of their understanding, and thus the past doesn't have the same power over them as it once did.
They're not simply going back to the church they grew up in, sitting in the pews for an hour a week, and getting on their life. It doesn't work that way. And this is why I am suspicious of these "church-based recovery" groups. All of them seem to be heavy on the "Jesus died for us" bit. Well, that's debatable at best, but more to the point, saying Jesus redeemed us by his blood being shed is 1) inconsistent with a loving, caring God; it's rather barbaric, actually, and 2) whether or not it's the intention, it allows many to dodge taking responsibility for what they have done in their lives. I had a sponsee that was a born-again, and he was a behavioral nightmare--because he was totally convinced that his ticket for heaven was punched, and therefore he could do what he wanted with impunity. That's extreme, but there are a lot of people out there that won't even consider making amends, to take one part of the process, because "God already knows and has forgiven me." Well... sorry, I'm not buying that.
And the idea that someone died on a cross two thousand years ago doesn't provide any real practical help when we face the same demons that have made us use for years or decades. You don't see a whole lot of them, but there are some real Bible-thumpers in the rooms, and almost without exception, multiple relapses are part of their stories. And I always have the same question for them: if your faith is so strong and your God so powerful, then why didn't it and he stop you from using again? I have yet to hear a coherent or sensible response.
Again, I want to emphasize that people do find meaning in religion, sometimes, that allow them to put their drug of choice behind more or less permanently. But even if it hasn't been within the framework of the !2 Steps, they have done some work. And that's the point I was making today. There are no shortcuts. There are many rooms in the Father's mansion, as Jesus said--but you have to walk up the stairs and enter through the doorway yourself. No one is going to carry you.

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