Atheist or Believer, Bringing Religion Into The Rooms Just Ain’t Right

Believers (theists, deists, etc.) seek faith in the existence of a power that they cannot prove. That’s what faith is: belief without proof. Atheists espouse the opposite: that something that can’t be proven to exist therefore doesn’t exist, which is not only intellectually sloppy, but illogical.  Agnosis, in its purest sense and shorn of knee-jerk reactions, refers to people who admit that they don’t know. 

Personally, I am agnostic. I would like to believe in a God, but no anecdotal or other testament has yet convinced me that there is such a being. Nonetheless, I accept the fact that those things could change, however unlikely.  In the meantime, I’ll stand behind my efforts to live a good life. If God fails to notice and take that into account, it won’t matter anyway.  That said, I’ve no problem with you and whatever you believe, as long as you don’t use it as an excuse to mess with other folks.

But I DO have a problem with the way misunderstandings about religious issues affect my 12-Step fellowships.  That’s why I have a problem with those who feel the need to testify their personal beliefs at meetings, as well as those who huff and puff about all the “God” stuff in AA or other 12-Step “cults.”

Remember this well:

Recovery is about suggestion and example, not doctrine. Nowhere in approved AA literature does it say that anyone has to believe in God in order to get sober.

Those who believe their faith in a metaphysical higher power is what keeps them sober are perfectly at liberty to do so. As far as AA is concerned, they’re sober, and that’s what matters. Likewise, those who accept, as I do, that we can’t do it alone and get their guidance from the group, Steps, sponsors and outside support can and will get sober — as long as we remain open-minded.

images (1)Rigid attitudes and their expression always create barriers. Testimony tempered by humility is one thing, but proselytizing and fanaticism are something else.  Fanatics miss out on a lot of life’s lessons by focusing on the blacks and whites (most of which are really shades of gray) and ignoring the rest of the spectrum. Not only that, they risk alienating those who might have become their friends.  Those people may be so put off by perceived intolerance that they miss out on myriad other thoughts and counsel that the believers could provide.

In short, rigid ideas of any kind are divisive, and life is — or should be — about tolerance, understanding, lovingkindness and the other aspects of the human spirit. Spouting our beliefs at other people and making them uncomfortable is just plain rude, whether door-to-door or at a meeting. It drives away some people who need our fellowships.

Our job is “to stay sober and help others to achieve sobriety”, not create artificial walls that keep alcoholics and other addicts from learning what we have to offer.

Self-delusion, and other fatal habits

Addiction and self-delusion are inevitable partners. We adjust our thinking and beliefs as required to justify and protect our drugs of choice, whether they’re chemicals, sex or other addictions such as gambling, shopping and so forth. We rationalize our behavior, and become defensive whenever anyone “calls us on our shit.” We avoid confrontation any way we can, by lies, deception, sneaking around, minimizing our involvement, comparing (He drinks a lot more than I do!) (Everyone my age does it!) (It’s a normal part of life!), and otherwise trying to confuse the issue and stop folks from getting too close to the truth.

These things may fool people temporarily, but we get tangled up in our lies eventually, so that even we don’t know the truth from falsehood. Or perhaps our behavior reaches a stage outrageous enough that even a codependent’s “believer” is overcome, and they have to look the truth in its bloodshot eye. When this happens, our partners become the problem — to our way of thinking — and “if you were married to that s.o.b, you’d use drugs too!” Continue reading

If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong,

Having fun is the first condition of creativity.

Alice Miller (1923-2010*

In order to teach effectively, a teacher needs to create a curriculum that stimulates student’s minds. The best ones think up exciting, fun projects that keep students interested, engaged and — yes — entertained. (Unfortunately, most of us know what the others do.)

Recovery requires work and sometimes pain, and can become drudgery. There has to be effort, and often we don’t want to deal with the things that come up, or want to minimize them. However, it does not have to be — and should not be — boring or tedious. If it is, someone is doing something wrong, and we need to take a good look at how we’re handling our program. Continue reading

Thinking It Through

aa_think_think_thinkWhen we first get into a program of recovery, whether it is for substances or behavioral problems, we are still pretty-much controlled by our cravings. Think of addictive cravings as sort of like hunger: we may not be conscious of them every second of every minute, but if we have access to food we are going to eat — unless we have a very good reason not to.

 Impulsive thoughts are closely related to compulsion. They just spring into our heads, seeming fully formed, because we’ve been used to acting on impulse. And because impulsive acting out has been our habit for so long, we may find that if our addictive thinking isn’t straightened out quickly, we’re in trouble. A friend of mine describes it like being in a bubble — it’s familiar, and easy to slide into. Once we’re in there, we’re effectively isolated from clear thinking and common sense.

 “Think, Think, Think” is one of the most common slogans on display in meeting halls (sometimes turned upside-down to remind us of our jumbled thought processes). It’s to remind us to think things through before giving in to our impulses.

As addicts, we have to realize that we’re victims of “auto-thinking”.  Our thoughts normally run first to the familiar ways of dealing with issues. Happy: act out. Sad: act out. Dog ran away: act out. Dog came back: act out. Pissed off: act out. Acting out may not mean getting high or going on a shopping spree. It may show up as anger — nearly always based on fear — or withdrawal (ditto), or in many other ways.

Then too, just because we have an idea doesn’t mean it’s a good idea! We need to check them out carefully, in our own heads, and with others. If we’re angry, we need to back away long enough to think about the matter, then try to approach it in a constructive way instead of impulsively blowing up. Going out with the gang to a bar probably needs some thought.  Going on that date because we so miss interacting with people who might fill that empty place.  Buying that expensive (whatever), likewise.

 We also need to learn not to settle for the first good idea. There may be a better way to handle things. Our addict inside tells us that stuff needs to be resolved now — or it tells us we don’t have to deal with it at all. Neither is usually the case. We have time to reflect, but we have to deal with problems eventually, before they get bigger.  Usually, though, we have time to back off and think about it: go to a meeting and share, call a sponsor or other recovering person, journal about it, or just reflect on the facts instead of what we think about it.

 We don’t want to get locked into a rash decision, and until we learn the skills of contemplation, it comes naturally.  First of all, Think, Think, Think!




Big Change or small change?

Recovery is about change, but there’s big change and small change. Sometimes we get them confused. For example, we may realize that our program isn’t quite going the way we’d like. So we look for a new book to read, find a meeting that “suits” us better, look at a new fellowship, find a new sponsor — maybe even get a new job or move into a different halfway house, a mini-geographical cure.

This is small change, and it may even help for a while, but it’s not Big Change. Our small change may give us knowledge and temporary satisfaction, along with the excitement of something new, but it’s more like running in circles than progress in recovery. Continue reading