A recovery without God

sunriseWhen you go through a suicide attempt, face depression and anxiety and struggle to maintain sobriety you receive the good thoughts and well-wishes of loved ones, friends and relatives. Many (if not most) of these invoke the power of prayer on your behalf. Some beseech you (in very positive and encouraging tones) to seek out Jesus or God for comfort and strength. Let me say here that while I appreciate the intent behind these prayers and looking out for my own spiritual well-being, I do not find my strength or comfort there (it might be noted that studies of intercessory prayer have shown that it largely has no effect one way or another on those who were not prayed for and those prayed for anonymously, but those who knew they were being prayed for fared slightly worse in their recovery. Apparently it creates an additional burden for fear of disappointing those praying for the patient). 

Now, I’m not here to discount the experience others have had by embracing religion as part of their recovery and treatment, but as I’ve written before, for my own recovery I have very carefully avoided a reliance on the supernatural. You may recall an earlier post on my reluctance to attend Alcoholics Anonymous on the basis of their use of “God” and “higher power”. AA does not, it seems, set itself up to be welcoming to non-believers. They use the phrase “God, as we understood him,” in the twelve steps or “For our group purpose, there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience” from the twelve traditions of AA. Whether it’s the God of the bible or a vague spiritual notion of a higher power, it leaves the community of unbelievers outside of the church basement, if you will. 

I’ll also note that elements that seem at the core of the 12 step method there is a demand for an admission of being powerless, an admission of having a defect of character and the submission to God, again, whether in the biblical or watered down sense. But I’m not powerless and there’s nothing wrong with my morality or my character. I’ve abstained from drinking for 137 days. That’s not powerless- it’s wresting control and power back. It’s recognizing how strong I am. Of course I have the love and support of family and friends to draw on, but I have been brought low by my desire to drink and I have fought back. Admit I’m powerless? Never. Do I have a defect of character? Does my depression, anxiety or alcoholism betray a dark side? Is there a hidden evil inside me? I scoff at the very idea.

On the other hand, an empowering recovery program, one that is self-directed and relies on evidence instead of submission to a supernatural or spiritual being is one I can get behind. For example, the four steps of SMART Recovery are particularly appealing to me (alas, there are no local meetings near me). 

Let me be very clear- my recovery and my well-being is based and depends on support and love from fellow human beings; it’s supported by utilizing tested methodologies of medicine and psychiatry and it’s assisted by advancements rooted in biology and chemistry. It is dependent on taking responsibility for my treatment and my sobriety. It is about recognizing and appropriately dealing with how I process information, make decisions and react to the world as I encounter it.

I appreciate the good and thoughtful intentions behind them, but please, save your prayers, they are not needed here.


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