Posted by: innerpilgrimage | October 17, 2010

I, Agnostic (Part One)

      This time last year, I faced off with a terrible truth: How am I going to work the steps if I can’t get past step two?

      Since that post on October 11, 2009, and the subsequent post on October 12, 2009, I have clocked a lot of time in OA meeting seats. Oh, boy, just even looking at what I wrote on October 12 of last year is so different than my thoughts today:
      “One can easily infer that the Big Book states in We Agnostics (Chapter 4): ‘If you don’t accept the Judeo-Christian God as your Creator, you will never reach recovery.’ ”
      This brings me to the subject of today’s post, Chapter Four in the Big Book, entitled “We Agnostics.” The first thing I want to state outright is that I was wrong on October 12, 2009. Why do I think that? Because I read the use of He or Him on page 45, 46, 47, 53, 55, 56, and 57. I shut down because the God of my religious indoctrination, the one who rejected me because I was even slightly tempted and could not maintain the purity of thought demanded by fellowships I had joined–first in childhood, then in my college days. That God was precisely like the people I had known; I am imperfect, and I become unworthy and sometimes even a target of shame and ridicule.
      It took a year for me to get this far with the Hims and Hes used in the 12 Steps. Some days, I am more resentful than others. If I am responsible to read the steps at meeting, I will (on those rebellious days) change He or Him to God or Higher Power or It. That sex pronoun makes me think of a white-bearded man in long white robes with a temper like my own father had when I was a child. Surrendering to a paternal deity as if I were a child is too reminiscent of growing up. The God of the people I took fellowship with was my father–and both relied on shaming and punishment (one used a belt; the other, a lake of fire) to keep the imperfect little girl I still am inside subservient. I groveled to both, and I still was promised punishment. My father delivered punishment of this world; God, in my childlike mind, abandoned me when I begged to be lifted to freedom and a loving family–my long lost fantasy family, who waited for me to come through the door and had hugs and tears for their missing child. The real Jess, of course, would have been doomed to that family (I had a switched-at-birth fantasy that my sisters offered me as a cruelty which ended up becoming a dream I hoped would some day be fulfilled). Though I am phenotypically my parents’ child (I look nearly exactly like a relative on my mother’s side who had her photograph taken in the early 20th century, and I have my father’s chin and cheekbones) and therefore not a Changeling (nor a switched-at-birth accident), I think perhaps that was where God lived–in that little house with a fenced yard with roses all about the front walk, an oak-panel door with an inset window, and a nine-pane window where a sad dark-haired woman with a bun would sit and look out at night by candlelight, praying for my return. This was a very powerful and vivid fantasy, the foundation of my writing career today I believe.
      So, back to “We Agnostics”, the next chapter in my Big Book study with my OA sponsor. I have a hard time getting past the first few paragraphs, still. I even put off reading it for a few days. Finally (yesterday) I started reading it carefully, despite not wanting to. After all, getting through Chapter Four is progress–even if I had to call on my Higher Power for the willingness to read with an open mind. And boy, has it been hard to read that chapter with an open mind, even in the Big Book study my home group is currently doing. One of the big things I learned in the room is that sometimes we simply have to ask to be willing to be willing. So I spent two days asking to be willing to be willing. And when I got to the point that I wanted recovery more than I loathed the discomfort, I started doing it.
      It was a pleasant surprise.
      From the OA group’s Big Book study, I had something written at the top of the first page of Chapter Four:
      “Am I asking for my Higher Power’s help, or am I asking for its opinion?” I continued the thought when I rewrote it, “Help requires me to work with my Higher Power to solve my problem.”
      As I read, I came to an important truth about my historic relationship with God: I was taught to rely on me, alone, because God had been proved to me to be a punitive son of a bitch.
      However, I also know that, as an agnostic, I am not alone. A.A.’s original fellowship was made up of about half agnostics and atheists. They were able to get past Step Two. Therefore, something had to have happened to them to make them get past that tricky “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Even more amazing was that they were able to take on Step Three: “Made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” How were they able to do that at all?
      Well, it looks like it was a process. First, they recognized they were going to die. Even doctors gave up on them. No one had hope for them, not even themselves. Despair can be a great motivator to try that one last-ditch potential cure–even if it means the medicine is unbearable at first.
      Over and over again in the first three chapters, we learn that self-knowledge, reason, ethical beliefs, and moral beliefs cannot save us from our addictions. Personal willpower is not enough; an ethical mindset is not enough. If they were enough, the person would not have been given such a grim prognosis from a doctor wanting more than anything to save the life of that addict.
      The addict needs to muster enough willingness to try. To me, it felt like the last of my reserves. I was so sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I had a moment of pure sanity as I faced my own rock bottom–I am completely powerless over my addiction to my eating disorder. Whether it’s not eating, or stressing myself out so much I vomit, or bingeing despite knowing the emotional despair I felt while obese and the physical threat of a horrible and early death looming in heart failure, respiratory failure, and diabetes. My future was my own death, and the love of a family who wanted me around for more decades was not enough to get me to stop eating.
      So, like any good agnostic or atheist, I had hope for a solution yet despaired when I learned it was God. My preconceptions of God and spirituality got (and still can get) in my way. That, of course, made it hard to even get to the point of asking where and how do I even find a Higher Power. I argued just like any religious skeptic. I considered religious people to either have something I could not or I considered them zealous, proselytizing screwballs. Yet within that, there was some spirituality. The moments of awe-striking beauty, of coincidences with no rational explanation–just a chain of events leading to it. I had profound moments, but I did not have a spiritual life.
      Well, this chapter goes on to talk about just planting the seed of faith. As I read, I realized it wasn’t asking for me to plant a seed of religion–just faith. God, as I understood Him, is not a Him. My Higher Power is the energy of creation, of life, of love. My Higher Power is infinite (as defined by the Universe, which my Higher Power encompasses). And since I believe anything can happen in an infinite Universe, the small coincidences (or miracles) which happen when I let go control of my life allow me to progress on my journey of wonderment.
      In the chapter, though Bill W. isn’t direct about it, I think he was trying to say that in the Big Book, God is an easy shorthand for Higher Power. The use of the capitalized Him and He allow those people who have the Judeo-Christian foundation to use it. Bill W. was a product of his culture, not someone trying to recruit for a cult. He goes on to recommend, to those of us just starting to reconcile with a spiritual concept, that we do not let others’ conceptions of spirituality get in the way of our own, honest search for it. We have to look into ourselves to understand what the spiritual terms in the book mean to us, and if they need to be replaced by terms which are conducive to having faith.
      In this chapter, the reader is asked a question, one which separates those who can recover with those who cannot: “Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself?” When one can say yes, then Step Two follows suit, as long as that Power is given the ability to relieve an addict from the insanity of addiction. Just that tiny leap of faith–the willingness to consider a Higher Power could exits–is spiritual progress. We who don’t use a religion have to start somewhere, anywhere . . . as long as we don’t use someone else’s concept of HP. Our personal relationship with a Higher Power of our own understanding is the foundation of a real and lasting recovery.

More on Monday.

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