Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Believe? Not Sure I Can Go There

"But what if I don't believe in God?"
Long pause.
I don't know what to say to this but, "What?"

This is what someone asked me the other day-- someone in pain, someone desperately seeking recovery from addictions, someone just like me, you, and the rest of humanity. Who among us has never had, if not years, then moments of doubt about God? If it's never gotten miserable enough for you that your doubting self had to cry out in anger, "If there is a God in heaven, this would be a GREAT time to show up!!!"-- well, I guess I'd think you were lying.

I have my God, and I also have no desire to force my God on anyone else. The Higher Power is always The Higher Power regardless of whether or not I'm preaching it on every street corner or loudly protesting that MY God is the only one true God!!! The Higher Power is still The Higher Power and he will find you wherever you are just like he found me in some of my most unsavory places. I'm not worried about it. The 12 Step programs are spiritual programs. They hinge upon the hope and faith that there is a Higher Power and that this Higher Power can restore us to sanity (Step 2). We are encouraged to seek out and try to build a connection with a Higher Power (Step 11), and to trust there is a Higher Power that can care for us in a way that we cannot care for ourselves (Step 3).

Well, actually, I guess the best response to a recovering addict who says "but I don't believe in God," would be, "Great! You're on your way to recovery!" One of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous defined addiction as a spiritual deficiency. Thus, all addicts have some level of disbelief in a Higher Power, at least in the acting out phases of their lives, when addiction is the God of their lives. Addicts are hurting people who just want to feel better. I sat with a beautiful teen-aged girl the other day, tears streaming from her sad brown eyes, while she gently stroked the fresh self-inflicted cuts from wrist to shoulder. She just wanted to feel better, and this time it took more cuts than ever before to finally get there. Because there is no secure thing or person to provide some outer evidence that she is loved and safe, these fresh cuts work for her to bring relief. For some it's a heavy dose of heroin, drinking until the pain stops, finding a man who brings love, or working into the wee hours every night so you don't have to think or feel anything. All these people just want to feel better and have found whatever outlet they can grasp onto to bring relief. There is no belief that some Higher Power could or even wants to do the job.

If you want to be free from addictions and you don't believe there is a force somewhere in this universe that is stronger, wiser, and has more resources than you, then how do you believe you will get better? Do you believe your addicted mind can heal your addicted mind? I really love how this is described in the "Big Book" for Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, "We came to realize that this disease of sex and love addiction so subtly and thoroughly permeated our best-intentioned and most fervid plans to reform ourselves, that even our ability to think clearly was undermined. There could be no such thing as a self-powered cure. Too many of us had tried this and had failed repeatedly. It was not that our logic, motives or intents were wrong. Rather, our very ability to see the problem clearly, and our wishes to change ourselves, were themselves systematically distorted by the addiction. That part of our mind which at least intermittently recognized our sickness was itself not immune, and could not be solely relied upon to guide us to health." (The Basic Text for the Augustine Fellowship, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, p. 74).

There comes a time for addicts, if you're lucky, when life and the consequences of addiction have become torturous to the point of death without actually dying. It is at this point when we place our first toe on the path of recovery and a tiny flicker emerges within us. Within this tiny flicker is the realization I am totally powerless over this thing. For many of us, there were a few expletives before and after this revelation, but I'll spare you that here. When you really GET it, I am powerless, there might be a moment of intense panic or maybe relief. This is the beauty of recovery. It's like a computer program that, once it starts running, it has its own course that doesn't require my wisdom to keep it going. That tiny flicker of self-preservation within me that admits powerlessness is the same healthy flicker that naturally says, Well, if I have no control over this behavior, dear God, I have to believe there is something or someone in this universe that is willing to help me!

Hold on to whatever vague notion of a Higher Power you can conjure. It may feel ridiculous and assaulting against your reasoning, but believe it anyway. Just fake it, if you have to. Step 2 says, "We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." We came there over time. We muddled it over, tinkered with it, or fantasized about it. We began to hope it with all our hearts, for our own sake and that of our loved ones. There has got to be some force out there stronger than me that can restore me. Day One of living out of this new belief looks like this-- turn your life and your will over to the care of this God, as you understand this God to be (Step 3). Whereas we would typically rise out of bed and begin living from our own sick will, Day One-- turn your will and your life over to the care of a Higher Power. If you make it through that sober, then congratulations, it's a good start! If you did not make it through Day One sober, yet you're still alive, congratulations, it's a good start! Day Two looks like this-- turn your will and your life over to the care of God as you understand God. Day Three-- turn your will and your life over to the care of God as you understand God. You will watch in wonder as this Higher Power does for you the work of healing that you could not do for yourself, and through this process, you are coming to believe.

There are many people struggling with addictions who also struggle with turning their lives over to a Higher Power. Too many of us have been abandoned, neglected, or abused by those in power over us and have vowed to never lose ourselves to another's power again. Isn't it ironic that the venoms of abuse, neglect, and abandonment created a fear of surrender? And that surrender itself is the cure to these venoms? If you don't believe there is a Higher Power, your Higher Power already knows why you don't and doesn't judge you for it. If you can surrender your precious life to life-altering dramas and chaos, drunks, drugs that kill, the needle, the bottle, or abusive relationships, then why not give a loving Higher Power a shot at it?

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  1. Just because you are a recovering addict and found the strength to help your self does not mean a god exists. Your comments are atrociously illogical. Wanting a god to exist to appease your fears and insecurities doesn't mean one does exist.

    Asking someone to give a "loving higher power a shot" is asking to believe without evidence. You are expect me (as a first criteria for the existence of god) to accept his existence without proof. This is a contradiction---How can this be done? Why should anyone surrender their mind? I cannot think of anything more irrational and dangerous.

  2. I agree! It is very dangerous to surrender your mind and yet addicts do it all the time-- surrender to the substance, person, drug, etc. and they place their lives in great peril every time. Surrendering your life to a Higher Power is no more dangerous or irrational than the drug, and the wisdom of the steps encourages this surrender. Many recovering addicts have found peace and healing in this surrender, and the wisdom of the steps does not require that your Higher Power be God. I say God-- he's my HP. :-)