Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
Based on my [Mr. SP edit: childhood], I have a hard time with any talk about God. I'm new and I'm afraid this will blow me back out the door.
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
I refuse to believe in God, and while I know I have a problem with drinking, I can't stomach all the "god stuff" I hear in meetings and read in the book(s).
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
Don't you think a problem as serious and pervasive as addiciton should be addressed with something a little more reliable than "a spiritual experience"?
Dear Agnostic, Atheist and Antagonist,
Woo! A Doubt Trifecta in my Inbox! Thanks for writing, (even you, Mr. CrankyPants) since these are all things I've struggled with -- just this morning!
I think it was Thomas Merton who said, "All men of faith doubt." (Leaving you ladies on your own I guess. Chalk it up to a religious patriarchy and the era he lived in, as we so often must.) I find comfort in that statment though. Doubt is part of the package.
But what you're describing is a lot more than just doubt -- you're struggling with anything from disbelief to outright disgust (you'll forgive me if I cut your colorful emails down to the hearts of the matters, I hope). When it gets between you and your medicine, it's not just a prickly metaphysical issue, it's life-or-death. And that's not hyperbole.
I watched a video recently, a "talking head" type; informational, not entertaitional. (I know there's no such form of the word "entertainment" -- there's no such word like that at all -- but my need for parallel sentence structure would not be denied! Work with me, people.)
I liked what he said -- but I hated how he said it.
While the spiritual discussion was of great interest, there was a particular vocabulary the speaker used, terms which, for me, are heavily loaded and associated with organizations and people that have long troubled me.
But again, I want to stress, what the head said was great -- I saw value in the message.
It struck me that for a lot of people, that's how they respond when they encounter Alcoholics Anonymous.
All our "God talk" -- even though we offer a broad, inclusive, non-judgmental and completely self-defining idea about it -- is still, for some, simply unacceptable. (I wonder even if our very openness -- sort of a too-good-to-be-true thing -- isn't suspect in such cases.)
If you're a regular Mr. SponsorPants reader you know I'm certainly not suggesting we change anything about the way AA addresses this subject -- for me the language is moving and healing. The writing is both inspired and inspirational.
And you can certainly make a (strong) case for the idea that, if you want what we've got, do what we did... surrender and an "admission of powerlessness" are key components along AA's path -- if you're not willing to let go of stiff-necked, reactionary antipathy toward spiritual concepts you'll have a hard time with most of AA's Program of recovery. (All we ask in this arena, after all, is you simply attempt to have an open mind -- and here are some thoughts I've put down about how to do that -- I hope particularly helpful to you, Mr. Atheist.)
But if you flipped it, I would choke on even that reasonable request if my life depended on believing in the same way that the talking head in the vid I watched believed. So I get it, what you wrote me about. I get it.
There was a time in my life when I thought anyone who depended on God was weak of will, narrow of mind or slight of intellect. And if you'd told me that a course of treatment for a chronic illness I suffered from would have to include a "spiritual awakening" I would have been cynically amused (or pretty frightened).
All of which is to say, upon reflection (pomposity alert! "upon reflection" is one of the top five most pompous things you can say in the 21st Century!) I have a new compassion for those who come to AA, know they're in trouble, know they need help, but for whatever reason choke on any discussion at all of spirituality. Balanced against my heartfelt commitment to AA's suggested plan, today I don't feel very hardcore. Today I feel that if you're a desperate alcoholic searching for a solution, the "there's the Steps or there's the door" Marine Drill Sergeant 'tude is less than helpful.
You're catching me in Old Softy mode. So allow me to offer a different way of looking at some of AA's spiritual concepts -- without some of the language which might make you feel like you're hacking up a psychic hairball. (gak!)
Please (please!) let these be the air bags which deploy when you crash into AA's "God talk" -- at least until you feel like you can make it through a meeting or the literature without a complete derailment.
- "Surrender" at the very beginning of sobriety, is simply connecting some dots -- in most cases it is an alcoholic's initial realization about the cause and effect of drinking upon the state of their life (be it external, i.e. lost homes and broken relationships, or internal, as in a profound loneliness, misery, depression, etc.). Further, it's an admission to oneself that there is something fundamentally not right about the way one drinks -- either there never was (as in my case) or what control used to exist has eroded or is gone.
- An "admission of powerlessness" is less about submitting to an organization's particular philosophy than it is about looking down the road and seeing an inevitable, logical outcome to how things are progressing. It is a gut level acknowledgement that there is an inescapable trajectory for the worse, again related to the way you drink and/or use. And as has been said many times in many places, not just this blog (repeatedly) but meetings and AA lit too, the "Higher Power which can restore you to sanity" can be the collected sober experience and practical, real world suggestions of people in Alcoholics Anonymous who drank like you drink and have found ways to stop and stay stopped.
- Relying on prayer and meditation need not include any spiritual concepts at all. Prayer can be the conscious self-direction to stop a particular avalanche of thought or tidal wave of negative emotion (fear, for example). Functionally speaking, there is not a lot of difference between an alcoholic who is freaking out going into the bathroom at work, sitting down in a stall and saying "God, please remove these thoughts and help me turn my attention to what you would have me do and be" versus sitting there and saying to yourself "I recognize this thinking -- it leads me to freak out and self destruct. I reject this. I will not be victimized by my anxiety. I will focus on the positive." (Sure, the latter is a sort of affirmation, but if you are so jaded as to look down your nose and sneer at that concept too, then... fine. Think your shitty negative thoughts and freak out all you like No skin off my nose.) I'm not trying to reinvent AA nor am I trying to remove what is an essential component (certainly for my Program) -- I'm offering, for an alcoholic starting out and still trying to put days together, tools or ideas which line up with AA's strategy, if not AA's philosophy. The practice of meditation can be completely divorced from the spiritual if one does only a little reading on the topic. More simply put, if you choke on "god stuff" consider prayer as a concerted effort, rooted in particular phrases, to think different thoughts when in crisis, and meditation as a brain chemistry reboot.
- Finally, the "spiritual awakening" as a result of the Steps (which Jung himself called a "psychic upheaval") can simply be a Profound and Ongoing Shift in Perception.
(And if you have a problem with Jung, too... well then, I guess you're never satisfied -- and... and... I guess we can't have nice things! **sob**)
Me personally, I'm good with God (today). I understand though, how a strict religious upbringing, or so many fractious factions claiming to speak for Him/Her/It, or a desire for a solution to addiction which does not lean so heavily on what is ultimately a metaphysical foundation, might condition one to recoil from anything remotely related to the God concept as "medicine." Try to look past that to the practical assistance, the body of sober experience, which AA can offer you. AA doesn't require you to believe anything -- it makes suggestions which you might consider, it offers its own ideas and explanations for things -- rooted more in people's experience than anything else -- but you can do the whole darn deal and be as non-spiritual as you like. You'll definitely have to suffer through the well-intentioned condescension of a few AA's (maybe more than a few, depending on your zip code) but the point is to get and stay sober, right?
Let this humble offering help you get started, should you be at a loss as to how to do so, amidst what might at first feel like a sea of spiritual terminology and concept.
Eventually you may consider things differently, but you don't have to. Just don't pick up the first drink -- that's the only thing to focus on in the beginning.