Readers of these pages may have noticed that I have a “thing” about the God Controversy in our fellowships. In fact, I’m pretty sure I mentioned it at some length recently. :-) The subject interests me because I remember well the philosophical contortions I went through for my first ten years or so in recovery. I came to need to believe, or thought I did, but I just couldn’t. Having rejected, for what still seem excellent reasons, the religious beliefs of my youth (which never made much sense to me anyway once I reached the age of reason), I looked around desperately for a different path because I found pseudo-Atheism unsatisfying to my need for a spiritual practice – which I firmly believe has been hard-wired into Homo sap in some fashion. (Good opening there, Theists.) The biggest problem was with prayer.
Everyone kept telling me that I had to “talk to God and listen for answers.” In the years that followed I’ve found that meditation works for that purpose, but at the time I was hung up on the idea of talking to what I considered an imaginary friend. Couldn’t get past it, so I searched and I searched. Without creating a litany of missteps, let’s just say that I explored a lot of paths, looking for an answer. I finally discovered one right under my nose, but that’s not really a discussion for these pages.
I’ve been re-reading Laura S’s excellent 12 Steps on Buddha’s Path again, and I ran across her description of what she calls focused invocation, a sort of prayer without belief. It really resonated with me – again. She turns the concept of prayer into a game, a sort of variation on the “make your higher power a tree” idea. In fact, that’s one solution.
The point is to decide on something concrete — a statue, a picture, a rock, a tree, whatever — that will be your trusted friend that you can tell anything you need to say and know it will keep your secrets. Then you just talk to it regularly, every day. You don’t have to believe in it – it’s a game, remember – but you play it to the hilt, sharing all those things that you would share with a trusted counselor or friend if you had one.
Now before you protest that you have lots of friends, let’s get real. Do you have someone to whom you can tell every single thought that crosses your mind, no matter how sinful, unworthy, embarrassing or flat-out awful it might be? I didn’t think so. If you’re reading this you’re an addict. Almost by definition, we addicts have trust issues. Be honest with yourself and your new best friend. If you hate your father tell all, including why. Your friend won’t judge, but you’ll get it out without destroying family harmony. If you have “forbidden” thoughts get them out, making sure that you cover all the bases: not only what you want, but the reasons you shouldn’t have it. And so on.
Secrets are one of the main reasons we have difficulty with recovery. Practicing rigorous honesty for what may well be the first time in our lives develops habits of thinking that we addicts desperately need. At some point, if we’re serious about our sobriety, we will have to find that sponsor we trust, make that inventory, discuss it, accept those past behaviors, and work on not repeating them. Then finally we’ll make amends to those we have harmed (or at least become “willing to make amends to them all.”)
This stuff may seem nuts to you, but it will work if you deep doing it. A secret shared is no longer a secret, and even if you only share it with a friendly rock or tree it’s out there, finally!
We need to practice, and what better way than with a friend who will never, ever tell? Practice doesn’t really make perfect, but those who don’t practice don’t make much progress, either.