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Life As We Know It AND God As We Understand Him/Her/It/Them/Us?

Life as we know it these days includes almost nothing that is not, in some way, related to the business of recovery from alcohol -- and make no mistake, it is a serious and enormously profitable business.  It is also, from everything we can discern, entirely a matter of "the only game in town."  Here in our fair city, which is not a tiny hamlet, there are numerous providers of alcohol treatment (both inpatient and outpatient), but each and all of them base their "treatment" programs on the ubiquitous 12-step, pseudo-religious model of Alcoholics Anonymous.  We all have misgivings about this particular mode of "recovery," but we so need the fact of recovery, that we are taking what we can get -- hoping it can work the magic it promises.

He is in treatment three days a week.  Additionally, He is required to attend a minimum of two AA meetings each week, and must have found an AA sponsor by the end of this first six weeks as a condition of being able to receive what is euphemistically called "continuing care."  T and I are attending required "family" sessions on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.  Nominally, these are supposed to help the two of us to recover from the effects of living with alcohol use.  The ongoing admonition is that we ought to be going to Al Anon meetings and getting our own sponsors and working the steps toward our own recoveries.

And here's the thing...  I am all tangled up in a wash of emotional reactions and feelings and intellectual arguments and moral outrage.  Try as I might, I cannot make any sense of it all.  It all rattles around in my brain, refusing to stay put, fall into some sort of orderly pattern, or rest quietly.  It makes my head hurt...

  • I know this whole AA thing is anachronistically handed down, almost entirely unchanged from what was envisioned by a couple of former alcoholics from Akron, Ohio in the early 1930's.
  • I believe that those men stumbled upon a formula that touched on elements that, together, can work to help pull an alcoholic out of the mental and physical quicksand that booze creates, and there is a part of me that doesn't care about the patently superstitious basis of the whole business.  At this point, I am more than happy to take what works.  I am.
  • But, the whole thing is so clumsily and unashamedly religious, in the worst possible,  mainline Christian and cliched "white-bearded God in the sky" way, that it makes me cringe every time I encounter it.  I cannot pretend to believe all that mumbo-jumbo.
  • And, all the AA'ers, when confronted about that, will insist to me that it is a program that is "not religious, but rather spiritual."  To which I want to respond -- "You are kidding, right?"  Because there is that whole business from the Big Book, and the 12-steps that exhort us to:   ...believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity... turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
    understood Him ... Admit ... to God ... the exact nature of our wrongs ... have God remove all these defects of character ... asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  • And, if you've never been to an AA meeting (or an Al Anon meeting) then you will perhaps be as surprised as I was to find that they all leap to their feet when the meeting ends, hold hands, and recite The Lord's Prayer.  Feels like church to this poor heathen.
  • It also feels dishonest.  I go to church.  Every week.  With my students as part of my employment.  I teach in a Catholic school, and attendance at mass is just part of the routine. It doesn't give me pause.  I don't have an issue with it.  It isn't consistent with my spiritual practice or beliefs, but I go and sing the hymns and say the prayers with my students.  I make choices about the level of my participation, but I do participate.  I don't buy into all of their beliefs, but I can be a guest in their worship services precisely because they do not dissemble about what they are about.  I know they'd try to convert me if they could -- and they know I know.   
  • And that isn't the end of it either.  There is no end to it.  This will become the way of life.  Always and forever.  AA and meetings and forever in "recovery --"  a lifetime of making amends and carrying "the message" to other poor suffering alcoholics.  
  • That makes me long for "the way life used to be;" for the us that was and is now forever lost.  
  • But I don't want that either.  The way life used to be was scary and unpredictable and just crazy.  Thre is no going back.  
  • I want Him to be well and strong and healthy and maybe someday happy again.  I do think this is the way for that to happen.  I hope.  
  • I want us to all be able to live our lives and enjoy and trust and love.  But now we are in the hands of the powers of the dominant culture who cannot comprehend our lives and who insist that we give lip service to their way of doing it...  to God as "we understand him." 
  • But my spirituality demands that I try to live in integrity.  How can I reconcile what I believe is the nature of the universe and my own understanding of the divine with this childlike, chauvinistic, Christian thing that we are now required to buy into? 

And round and round and round I go.  Making no sense -- even to myself.  So.  I go to the meetings.  Go to the therapy sessions.  Try to be polite.  Try to make some sense out of it all.



  1. Anonymous9:32 AM

    You have answered your own question:
    But my spirituality demands that I try to live in integrity. How can I reconcile what I believe is the nature of the universe and my own understanding of the divine with this childlike, chauvinistic, Christian thing that we are now required to buy into?

    With this:
    I go to church. Every week. With my students as part of my employment. I teach in a Catholic school, and attendance at mass is just part of the routine. It doesn't give me pause. I don't have an issue with it. It isn't consistent with my spiritual practice or beliefs, but I go and sing the hymns and say the prayers with my students. I make choices about the level of my participation, but I do participate. I don't buy into all of their beliefs, but I can be a guest in their worship services precisely because they do not dissemble about what they are about.

    The key is to take away what is right for you (what rings true) as an individual/pair/triad and ignore the rest especially when in a position where there are no alternatives. At least that is what works for me when confronted with the same types of issues.


  2. OK, so this is speculative and a bit different from most of the comments you'll get but, change it then. I don't mean this glibly. If it's not the way you want it to be, the treatment I mean, then change it. Change the world.

    Change the world of recovery from this to something that will work better for people like you who don't believe in the higher power old white beard god. Make it something that doesn't make you cringe and feel dishonest. You three are smart and strong and untraditional and see a need. It seems to me that any recovery program of this nature would need to see right and wrong (and the drink as "wrong") but that it wouldn't need to attach god to it. Does the god thing work better for most partly because attaching family to right and wrong doesn't work because there has probably already been so much guilt and anger and resentment and judging by the time the admission of alcoholism is made?

    Sorry, I'm rambling a bit, but take the parts that work (they don't own the ideas), use those, and make your own group. You'll find other people who don't like the mainstream way.

    Don' jeopardize his recovery or your own, but it seems to me that maybe you all need a cause outside yourself. You are all in helping professions and maybe looking outside yourselves helps you too?

    Or maybe I'm just talking out of ignorance and should shut up? Good luck to you all. Sin

  3. Oh Swan...big hugs and sympathy. I have tried a few 12 steps for overeating and one for codependency. I had belonged to a humanist group out east, and felt very comfortable. I moved to Ohio and tried a few groups, and quickly dropped out. I can deal with the francis of assisi prayer b/c I just dropped Lord off the first part...but I chafed in circles with the lord's prayer...and I just couldn't handle it. To my way of thinking, the religious groups should be a subset "AA people who like to smoke in meetings". They should be available for those who find a religious group helpful, but certainly not the norm. I am sure you have done searches for alternatives...but here is a nice site.

    But my experience, christians in these groups will nod and tell you that it's up to you to make God whatever you believe HIM to be. And I know they don't get it, because they are so sure they are right. These statements felt well meaning but condescending to me.

    I have no answers here...but I have HUGE amounts of empathy for you all.


  4. It might just be a matter of shopping around meetings, which I know is super annoying. The Christian influence is often still there, but at least at my meeting, there is NO Lord's Prayer (although there is the serenity prayer, which I find somewhat less objectionable). My meeting is held at a Quaker church. I have a good friend in CA who attends at a Buddhist temple, and they don't do any praying at all, but have meditation before hand. You can also search for Atheist meetings!
    That said, you're right when you say that there is a certain amount of Christianity that permeates the AA methodology.

  5. Anonymous3:01 PM

    As an atheist/agnostic (I go back and forth, currently I'm rather hardcore atheist) who went to daily Al-Anon meetings for a year I had to distance myself from the "God" part but it wasn't that difficult to do.

    Don't they use the phrase, "Take what you like and leave the rest"? Isn't that what you do when you go to church with your students?
    Treat the meetings the same way. When someone starts yakking about god or they get up to do the Lord's Prayer, just distance yourself at that point.

    Although the religious stuff seemed slightly ridiculous to me when it cropped up, the hurt and pain surrounding addiction made plenty of sense.

    I would stand up and hold hands but not say the Lord's Prayer. I'd lower my head in respect for others but I held their hands.

    Something that helped me a lot back then was practicing mentally holding my arms out in welcome to everyone in those rooms. Whether I shared everything they were saying or not, we all had feelings, we were all trying to heal.

    I did find a sponsor who was awesome. She was more pragmatic than spiritual, which is what I needed. We did the steps together as one would do an assignment more than a spiritual "journey", etc.

    That approach worked for me whereas a religious or spiritual approach would have fallen flat.

    You most definitely can make this work for you but you yourselves have to find the path that makes sense to *you*. There is no set blueprint, we are all far too different.

    I would also respectfully suggest that you talk about your concerns in the meetings. Have you spoken yet at all? Maybe it's time to. Just say your truth, "I don't like the Lord's Prayer, I don't believe in God, I am uncomfortable with Christianity," etc. Say it; it's true and the meetings are all about the truth. You might be surprised to find you are not the only one who feels exactly the same way, not by a long shot. You might have others come up to you after the meeting to tell you so. Or someone may talk about their own concerns on the same issue during the meeting.

    Be honest. Speak your fears. That's what the meetings are for.

    Great good luck, I hope you all find your way.

  6. Anonymous5:44 PM

    I had a comment typed out. Second guessed myself. Deleted it. Second guessed myself again. Picked up a book for some insight. First page said what I had wanted to say and yet deleted. Stopped second guessing myself but allowed better written words to speak for me.

    "Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they might mean to you" - Bill W.

    Honesty. Genuine honesty with self and others. It's important.


  7. Impish15:45 PM

    Ugh. I'm a Christian, and I can't imagine that being the only template out there. How is that possible? How can it be that all the professionals use the exact same approach, and one that is spiritually dependent? It boggles the mind. How do they expect to reach people who are atheist, agnostic, or just half-heartedly spiritual? God helps those who help themselves so even those who believe should understand that there is faith and there is treatment so the fact that there is no treatment that stands alone is troubling.

  8. No wonder your head is spinning.
    I think that the advice that has been given is very wise..take from it what you can, reconcile yourself to the bits you can cope with and walk your own path, supported by and supporting those you love and care about. Beliefs run deep. Hoping that you are all staying well and thast your love will keep you fighting this together.

  9. Anonymous8:37 AM

    Why not try making your meeting group your Higher Power? It's guiding the three of you at the moment..I've been in Al-Anon before. I think Al-Anon is great because everyone is in the same boat and there really is power in the group itself. My group used to say that we shared our "courage, strength and wisdom" and I liked that idea. My group used the "Courage to Change:One Day at a Time in Al-Anon II" book; gives you a daily thought for the day based on the steps but it's not religious at all, purely steps-based.

    This book is good (A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps: The Classic Guide for All People in the Progress of Recovery by Patrick Carnes Ph.D). It's like a book and workbook combined, suitable for all types of addiction. It just focuses on the steps, psychological issues etc.

    View the Big Book in context. It was written in 1939 when Christianity was the main belief, there were more male alcoholics than female hence male pronouns all throughout the book etc. I bought this book "A Woman's Way Through the 12 Steps" by Stephanie S. Convington. This book removes all the dogma from the steps and looks at the steps from a different angle whilst still remaining faithful to the original steps.

    Didn't mean to overload you with book references there! They are all non-religious books just focusing on the steps. I've found those three books extremely helpful when I've had problems understanding what certain steps mean etc. Like you, I had problems with the Higher Power concept so I can understand your frustration right now but you three *will* get there. Just take it in stages, take it one day at a time.

  10. Anonymous3:31 PM

    Your comments have the same tone that Tom's did before he admitted he was an alcoholic. It's so very rage against the machine-like.

    Lots of people work the AA program and do not subscribe to the white bearded man in the sky.

    I'm not sure you can see that right now. Tom has a disease and as his family of enablers, you are as well. Or perhaps you think that it is only him engaged in this dance?

    The plan works if you work the plan. Lots of people recover and stay recovered and all of them subscribe to a higher power. Not all of them call it God.


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