I keep getting asked about the “spiritual” part of 12-step programs, and how that relates to the “God as we understood him” part of the steps. (Those of you who are interested in neither recovery nor philosophy can tune out now.)
Many folks in recovery have a problem with God. Let’s face it: if you were inculcated with the concept of a fire and brimstone, punishing, parental kind of God, and you’ve got the background of the majority of alcoholics and addicts, you can’t really afford–emotionally speaking–to believe in god at all. It’s much easier to deny the possibility than to contemplate the fate that–you’ve been told—has to be awaiting someone who’s carried on the way many of us did.
In my case, I determined (to my satisfaction) many years ago that if a God or Goddess exists, in the sense of a transcendent being, there’s no way that I or any other human will ever begin to be able to comprehend their ideas, motivations, desires and/or needs (if any). The idea of a supreme being who is so insecure as to require my obeisance has always struck me as ludicrous. Instead, I operate on the assumption that any supernatural power (who’s interested) can surely divine my intentions. That being the case, I figure He/She/They/It will figure out pretty quickly that I’m trying to do the right thing as I genuinely see it, and take appropriate action if so inclined.
I’m an a-gnostic, in the genuine, original sense. A-gnosis means “unknowing.” I freely admit that I don’t know, and therefore feel constrained to carry on in the best way I know how. But that’s not the only reason I try to do “the next right thing.” At some point it occurred to me that when I did so, my interpersonal relationships benefited, as well. That’s where the spirituality part comes in.
Human beings are social creatures. We have names, all more-or-less pejorative, for folks who aren’t sociable: hermit, cat lady, recluse, witch, and so on. Only if the person has good interpersonal skills when s/he does come in contact with others do we modify that opinion and allow them to be “eccentric” or a “wise woman” or whatever. We all instinctively know, without referring to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, that people who think they don’t need people are not the luckiest people in the world.
But when we alcoholics and addicts immerse in the morass of our diseases, one of the first things to go is relationships. We drive away/withdraw from people, and focus more and more on the chaos of our lives. Often we mistreat those closest to us and do what seems to be irreparable damage to their love for us, although “irreparable” is in fact rarely the case. Nonetheless, the years of placing chemicals first and foremost in our lives renders us unable to relate to others in many meaningful ways. Our human spirit becomes stifled, is forced to take a back seat, because we would otherwise have to confront the crushing loneliness that is the other specter haunting our lives.
It is that human spirit to which the program’s “spirituality” refers: the ability to open our spirits to the spirits of others, and begin to embrace the humanity that we have for so long rejected. Often this does involve religious practice, but it need not. What is important is that we admit that we can’t recover without other people; that we do need approval, affection, companionship–and that we need it in a way far more real than the superficial “relationships” we thought could fulfill us: alcohol, drugs, our drinking and using buddies, and those others who supported our addictions in various ways. We need to establish new ties with new friends…people who will support our decision to remain drug free, and who have the understanding to help us in that direction. Then we need to work at correcting the estrangement from families, employers, and the others who filled our lives before we replaced them with addiction. This isn’t easy, nor quick, in many cases. But it is essential. As the poet said, “No man is an island….”
It’s that determination to open our human spirits to those of others, to once again embrace our humanity and become a “part of” instead of a “missing piece” that defines the spirituality that we talk about in the various “anonymous” programs…the essence, if you will, of the Third Step: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him….
No Higher Power has ever written on a wall with a fiery finger for me, nor spoken to me from the shrubbery, (at least not when it was lit.) But something speaks to me–when I meditate, and through the other people in my life. If we need to give it a name, God will do just fine.