I apologize for the length of this post, but I had a lot to say on this topic.
In addition to the over stimulation, overwhelm, and triggered emotions I experienced throughout treatment at New Leaf, my issues regarding the “faith-based” aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous caused me a lot of frustration. Yes, these types of 12 Step programs adamantly state no religious affiliation and stress spirituality over religious intent; yet all of the 12 Step literature heavily rely on religious language. Each and every meeting opened and closed with a prayer. Often the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13, obviously a Christian prayer, was recited during these meetings. Even the New York Court of Appeals stated in the 1996 case of Griffin v. Coughlin:
“Terms such as ‘God’ and ‘prayer’ are so imbued with religious meaning that they undeniably favor a religious interpretation regardless of the fact that the ASAT Program allows for a secular interpretation of its doctrines and practices.”
I spent a great amount of time writing in my journal throughout rehab about my internal struggle to accept the fact that no one was listening to me as I expressed my sincere concerns over the God/Higher Power concept which has no meaning in my life, a concept I discarded years ago after deep contemplation and inner searching. It was never my intent to be intolerant or closed-minded in the application of AA/NA principles myself, despite feeling a certain amount of intolerance and closed mindedness directed at me due to my non-belief; but the fact was I could neither get past the religiosity nor the Christian bias of an organization that professes non-discrimination against the non-theist. This is a matter of moral integrity and personal conviction that I cannot compromise. I felt like I was expected to change my beliefs or be labelled as “resistant” to treatment, like I had no chance at recovery without a belief in God or some other Higher Power because I was told as much.
“There is one thing more than anything else that will defeat us in our recovery; this is an attitude of indifference or intolerance toward spiritual principles. Three of these that are indispensable are honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness.” (Source: NA Literature, How It Works)
I’ve given the philosophy of God an incredible amount of thought over the entirety of my life. My views have changed considerably from those I had as a child and teen. I’ve studied and researched a great many religious practices, belief structures, and spiritual paths and will continue to do so because I think religion, spirituality, philosophy, psychology, and human nature are all interconnected in understanding WHY we are all here, not to mention these are simply fascinating topics. However, I do have a problem with any religion forcing itself on either me or anyone else, whether it be through legislation, proselytizing, or any other means.
Let me reiterate a few of my own personal beliefs — to be very clear here — before moving on:
- First and foremost, I am an atheist to a belief in God. I adamantly refuse to believe in any God man has created up to this point in time because I sincerely believe the idea of God has been hugely vulgarized by religious institutions. I do not, however, think a belief in a Higher Power or God is necessary for me to reach the highest possible level of self-awareness/realization in this lifetime or necessary for me to be a moral, upstanding citizen of planet earth. Just the other day, I read the perfect definition of “Self Realization:”
“Finding out that we are not our thinking mind, we are not our body, we are not our emotions, feelings, desires or aversions; that we are aware of all these things, not intrinsically them.”
- I am agnostic as to whether or not knowledge of God is truly attainable. Knowledge and belief are two separate states of mind, just for the record. My knowledge about spirituality, as well as my beliefs, are very personal and ever-changing, as I feel they should be. I can only say what I know or believe to be true at any given moment in time. As my knowledge of spiritual matters grows, my beliefs evolve with greater complexity, again — as knowledge and belief are meant to evolve and grow throughout our lives.
- I am most in line with Taoist and Buddhist principles. I believe in reincarnation because I do believe in the concept of a soul. I believe the soul is made up of pure energy and that every living thing in the Universe therefore possesses a soul, human or otherwise. I believe this pure energy of the soul, all living entities, all matter and space, everything in existence and not (things yet to be thought of or placed into action as well as extinct matter — past, present, and future; don’t even get me started on the nature of “reality”), are part of a collective consciousness. The key to evolving into the highest version of oneself is conscious awareness. I believe it is possible to tap into this collective consciousness to gain wisdom and guidance; but I do not believe that this collective consciousness or anything else is God, a Higher Power, Supreme Being, or Creator.
- I have a reverent respect for Nature and find awe and beauty in our natural Universe; therefore, I also gain much wisdom from Pagan and Native American beliefs. I find comfort in ritualizing the changing of the seasons and acknowledge with great passion the awe-inspiring power and force of natural phenomena. Out of reverence for Nature, I have learned balance through chaos is not only acceptable, but necessary. Chaos is everything and nothing at the same time; yin and yang; both good and evil. Contradiction is at its core; change and evolution are its very nature; and ALL things living, great and small, in this entire Universe are a piece of ONE conscious awareness, each every bit as important and necessary as another. But still, not God.
- As a Secular Humanist, I embrace a nonreligious life stance incorporating a naturalistic philosophy, a cosmic outlook rooted in science, and a consequentialist ethical system.
- I value kindness, compassion, and understanding. I still believe with all my heart in the truth of the following statement I made from an earlier post this year, titled Belief:
I try to never hold onto a belief so rigidly that I lose sight of love, compassion, and understanding of the natural Universe and all it entails, including humanity.
I value acceptance (acceptance is not approval; this was all I needed to hear to “grasp” this concept), striving to accept others without judgement or criticism (not always an easy task, but one I take seriously despite my human nature to be as irrational and quick to judge or criticize as any other). I value Universalism: again, understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people as well as our planet, our environment, and other living creatures. I value individuality, freedom, independent thought and action in choosing, creating, and exploring. I value creativity in all its expressions. I value honesty, striving to be genuine in all I say or do.
- What do I want from life? Peace and quiet calm; clarity of thought; time to do all the things I enjoy (creativity in all its expressions); relationships offering acceptance — flaws and all — of who I am through understanding and compassion; safety and security — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually; while at the same time I also want excitement; curiosity and wonder through exploration; wisdom through education, learning, and experience; and balance. In short, I want from life those things I value most; yet I understand that without conflict and chaos in my life, life’s values lose meaning, hence the necessity for balance.
I am a spiritual individual. My beliefs are complex, yet none require a God or Higher Power in order to fulfill my spiritual needs. I choose to define my spirituality as the deepest level from which I, as a human being, operate and the philosophical context of my life through the values, rules, attitudes, and views within which I choose to live my life.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.” — Mahatma Gandhi
With all of that being said… the point of my misgivings with AA/NA is that I felt overwhelmed by the overly religious language used in the literature as well as the meetings. I felt alone as the only atheist in rehab. This was confirmed my last night in rehab when at an AA meeting, one of the speakers asked if there was anyone who did not believe in God. I was the only person to (courageously) raise my hand. The other speaker singled me out in front of the entire group, lecturing me about my disbelief. I’ve become accustomed to such misguided tactics that are all too familiar and recognizable as Christian shaming. It’s the Bible belt. Everybody’s trying to save everybody. I’ve had to learn more tolerance as an atheist living in the state of Tennessee during these most recent years than at any other time in my life.
The God/Higher Power concept of AA/NA triggered a lot of deep hurt within me, that same suffocating feeling I struggle with in my community due to the overwhelming Christian presence, not to mention the Christian shaming I experienced for so much of my life for being nothing more than who I am — a woman. Throw in the life experiences of rape and trauma while being re-victimized by so-called “good” Christians as they blamed and shamed me rather than my rapists, and yeah, I have a bone to pick with Christianity as a religion as well as a lot of pent-up rage to boot!
Feeling defensive to protect my belief system from the brainwashing of another, worrying that recovery is impossible without adhering to a belief in God or a Higher Power, and feeling ostracized as an outcast for not adopting the suffocating beliefs of my childhood — is it really any wonder that I am exercising a great amount of caution before committing to something that feels like a religious cult (AA/NA) to me or that concepts like trust and faith in other people, let alone an unfathomable concept like God, cause me to feel leery?
My counselor called me “fickle” last night at IOP. Fickle, as defined by Google: “changing frequently, especially as regards one’s loyalties, interests, or affection;” or Merriam Webster: “changing opinions often.” Yes, I suppose I am fickle to some extent; but at my core, when I really think about it, I know who I am, what I believe, and where my loyalty lies. I only struggle to communicate these things when I feel pressured to do so, unable to grasp the thoughts and words to describe something so complex, or my mind is racing with what feels like a thousand voices trying to fill in the gaps in moments of pressure. I don’t do well under pressure. Period. Every part of my conscious awareness has a truth of belief to its portion of my story. Perhaps, this is where a lot of my fickleness comes from; but each part combined as a whole can form a consensus where commonality overlaps. This is where I find my truth, my beliefs, my values, and “me” as a whole.
Why can society not do this as well? I digress….
Another issue with AA/NA I’m trying to “work through/accept” in relation to the God concept is that this program takes away personal responsibility for one’s actions and behaviors and gives it to a Higher Power or God, much in the same way as Christianity (or my experience of it). If that works for you, then, by all means, continue to do so; but for me, I feel the conviction of my conscience telling me to delve more deeply into my psyche and figure out exactly why I need to use substances to avoid life’s problems and escape my thoughts and emotions. By giving away my personal responsibility to a Higher Power or God, I would be diminishing my self-worth even further by choosing to believe I’m not in control of my own thoughts and behavior, rather God is.
Belief in oneself is a powerful tool. My ability to be mindfully aware of my thoughts is the first step for me in recovering my mental “health.” Building faith in myself to create a healthy self-esteem and self-confidence is the foundation of my mental health and recovery, not a belief in God. As I stated in my last post, I may not agree with the religiosity of AA/NA. I doubt I’ll work through the 12 Steps anytime soon due to personal issues of control and what others might call religious intolerance; but I have to admit, I can see the benefit of having social support for feedback. I do intend to use these meetings for that reason alone to the best of my ability. Maybe, eventually, I’ll get more out of them than that; but for now, this clever slogan on a poster I saw recently is reason enough:
When “I” is replaced by “We” even illness becomes Wellness.
For anyone struggling with the God/Higher Power aspect of AA/NA’s 12 Steps as I am, I found this Humanist alternative by B.F. Skinner online (Source: The Humanist, July/August, 1987) which may help in toning it down a notch for your benefit:
THE HUMANIST ALTERNATIVE
1. We accept the fact that all our efforts to stop drinking have failed.
2. We believe that we must turn elsewhere for help.
3. We turn to our fellow men and women, particularly those who have struggled with the same problem.
4. We have made a list of the situations in which we are most likely to drink.
5. We ask our friends to help us avoid these situations.
6. We are ready to accept the help they give us.
7. We earnestly hope that they will help.
8. We have made a list of the persons we have harmed and to whom we hope to make amends.
9. We shall do all we can to make amends, in any way that will not cause further harm.
10. We will continue to make such lists and revise them as needed.
11. We appreciate what our friends have done and are doing to help us.
12. We, in turn, are ready to help others who may come to us in the same way.
B.F. Skinner, 1972 Humanist of the Year, continues his research and writing at Harvard University.