Posted by: innerpilgrimage | February 25, 2014

Goodbye Rozanne S. and Thanks for The Fellowship

      I found out this morning that Rozanne S., OA’s founder, died on Thursday, January 16, 2014. In a way, it goes to show how far out of the loop I’ve kept myself, that it’s been over a month since it happened. I find it amazing that people can hear a message in another 12-Step and be bold enough to take that leap to found a group to address addiction.

      I certainly appreciate that we eating-disordered have a twelve-step. I remember when I was younger that I was told too often that I needed willpower to address my compulsive eating behaviors. Nothing but a sweet tooth could be causing it, right? Not the generational chain of dysfunction and my hunger to self-soothe being translated into consumption of life’s comforts and sweetness through food-based proxies. No. So, to the courageous among our fellowship, who push the boundaries and say, “Program and recovery isn’t just for God-fearing alcoholics”?

      Thank you.

*****

Rozanne’s Prayer (I Put My Hand in Yours)

I put my hand in yours and together we can do what we could never do alone.
No longer is there a sense of hopelessness; no longer must we each depend on our own unsteady willpower.
We are all together now, reaching out our hands for power and strength greater than ours,
And as we join hands, we find love and understanding beyond our wildest dreams.

*****
      So, uh, no I am not leaving the fellowship. I missed another meeting, ate to the very edge of my food plan yesterday, and my inner anorexic beat me up mentally for eating at all. It was a day like those I’ve recently had. Near-binges? Yeah. Not respecting my hunger? More than I did two years ago. Relapsed? No. Barrelling towards one? Probably. Still an atheist in program looking for why I was awakened to atheism in program? Definitely.
      As an atheist, I really like Rozanne’s Prayer. There’s no surrendering to something I can neither prove or disprove, and I’m not going to pick up God because Blaise Pascal tells me it’s a safer bet to go through the motions. No. I’m not going to bet the margins. In fact, I’m going to bet smack down that I don’t believe God exists and that if God does? It’s the indifferent kind, the one who’s too busy driving the Universe bus to really care about one evolved primate trying to recover from compulsive eating. Honestly, I would be livid at a deity which would care more about me eating sugar/salt/flour than the starving children all around the world, who would be more interested in my character defects than stopping mass genocide. In other words, I wouldn’t want a God which only managed First World problems because they’re easier. Program declares itself simple, not easy. Who among us would, with a deity’s purported infinite power, change the world from the bottom up, from the most needy to the least needy? I think everyone with compassion would help the starving kids and stop the mass murders first.
      So, my bet stands: God can exist all it wants. That’s fine. I don’t believe in God as the great-and-powerful recovery wizard upon which/whom I toss my will and life to get the recovery prize. Now, do I think I can recover without program? Nope. The Twelve-Step Program works for me, even without God. How and why? I don’t know. Please don’t work the program for me by telling me it’s God or HP or Higher Power. That is your recovery, and your recovery with God/HP is a perfect fit for you. Just because I don’t believe doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe. However, I’ve been told in happy tones that it was my HP giving me a message (I honestly walked into that one by saying someone else’s HP was doing it– recovery lesson learned). It’s not my program; it’s not your program; it’s the program. And, as we hear in the meeting reading of OA’s Invitation to You, it is a spiritual program.
      I think it’s time I go beyond the steps-as-gospel and explore the spirit of the steps behind the cultural veneer which set the language so many decades ago. Yes, atheists have spiritual journeys, too. The source of esprit is just different.

      I appreciate the “Group of Drunks” and “Good Orderly Direction” acronyms in part, but I’m also offended by them in part. What am I supposed to do with those acronyms when the steps-as-written tell me to turn my will and life over to the AA fellowship or give my fifth step to progress, itself? What I receive from most program language is that I will “come to Jesus” in program by acting as if I believe in God . . . or I will relapse and die of my addiction. I find that oddly ironic, because I came to atheism in recovery. The irony departs like smoke in a breeze when I realize I’m not the only one. So, if the particular group I am in is predominantly Christian, then the group’s will is a transcendent and transubstantive religion. Would they have empathy for my anxiety in the rooms if they went to a 12-Step where the primary membership is Hindu? If I, as an atheist or agnostic, am supposed to declare, “WHO AM I TO SAY?”, then who is any of us to say that it’s not the will of Vishnu. Or Shiva. Or the supreme Goddess, Devi. (The steps are pretty clear we’re talking about the Abrahamic Him of 1930s America. There’s no room for Devi in the steps-as-written, no room for a pantheon, not even room for a genderless doorknob.)
      But . . . who am I to say, as a “We Agnostic”? Sometimes I question that Big Book chapter title. It feels more like “You Agnostics, who need to get with our decidely male God of our program, not THE program.” And I’m not speaking from nowhere about this. More than one atheist AA group has been booted from their World Services. If we’re sick as our secrets, how are we supposed to recover if we are afraid to share the atheist spiritual journey in the rooms because atheist journey doesn’t appear “conference-approved”? Are we supposed to assume that there’s an unwritten part to Tradition Three, that we have a secret requirement to follow the Abrahamic God as well? How is exclusion not working someone else’s program–when among the original members were atheists and agnostics, who were so much a part of the beginning that a whole chapter of the Big Book was devoted to addressing agnosticism (though clearly not written by agnostics for agnostics)?
      We are all atheists at heart, it is said, firmly disbelieving the dearly-held beliefs of others while avowing the truthiness of our own. Why must I “act as if” there is a dually meddling and indifferent transcendent and willed invisible being with a special purpose for each and every person despite having an ever-expanding universe to manage? Why can’t it be “miraculous” enough that a few billion years of really amazing leaps in evolution despite the baffling odds against our very human existence? That amino acid chains evolved into a multicellular primate with a mind which allows it to explore reality outside of its own lifetime is amazing enough for me to humble me into surrendering a life of recovery. Why would I turn toward something which promise a special tomorrow somewhere else when I have a humbling and awe-striking reality today and right here? Why can’t Carl Sagan’s belief that we are made of star stuff be enough of a miracle to me without having an imaginary super-friend deciding to pull me out of addiction just as I reached midlife? Why would this peace-and-love deity even allow me to suffer almost four decades of addiction in the first place? Questions like this made “acting-as-if” until I was ready to go to church and program for dual salvation a meaningless and codependent act. A Pascal’s Wager on the Abrahamic God of the Big Book. Now, I know people who have deeply profound and rich recoveries within a religious framework; their shares inspire me. I know people who’ve come to God in program, and their shares inspire me. I just didn’t, and I worry that no one wants to hear the share of someone who has no HP to hear my prayers or to drive my recovery bus instead of me. I’m locked in at Step Two. I believe both. It’s the sticky language of Step Three that gives me pause as an atheist in program.
      It’s hard to feel safe to say, “I don’t know; I just don’t believe,” when meetings close with Step Prayers instead of “I Put My Hand in Yours”. But I do accept that in reality, those Step Prayers comfort people just as the non-theist recovery fellowship affirmation “I Put My Hand in Yours” does for me. I believe program works and recovery works. Maybe not for everyone, but it has so far for me–even though I don’t believe in God. I want to be among those willing to stand up and say that recovery is an option for everyone wanting to stop dying when there is a sane solution. I want to offer my own ESH as a reasoning and reasonable atheist in recovery who can appreciate the recovery and program wisdom sourced from the collected wisdom of many recovered and recovering addicts. Ugh, isn’t it hard enough with people accusing program of being a religious cult? Matters are not helped with the court system tossing people into 12-Step programs as a lighter punishment than jail, driving people who could have found help if it had been their personal choice from their rock-bottom . . . not the court’s decision that they hit rock-bottom.
      Program, though not for everyone, can be a life-affirming choice to leave behind suicide-by-substance. Recovery, for me, is about living in reality today, one day at a time. To limit recovery based on the culture of 1930s America is as sad to me as limiting the definition of a spiritual journey as one only available to those with an established and recognized religion. Program embodies personal evolution through recovery to me; I see the parallels between life and the evolution of life. Decades of people have chosen to live fully instead of die pointlessly. Decades of people have been so deeply affected by program’s “simple but not easy” path that a multitude of addictions are being addressed today. The spiritual journey is so compelling and uniting that I can talk to an alcoholic or a recovering drug addict or a recovering sex addict or a recovering gambler . . . and we can empathize. I can put my hand in theirs and know I’m not alone. That there is hope. That even as I falter, the spirit of program does not change when the wording of the steps does.
      There is something more to program than its Big Book. Something which even transcends the steps as written. Something that still allows SLAA members to recover despite changing the steps’ wording so that God’s not a Him and that we “practice these principles in all areas of our lives” instead of “in all our affairs” (which, in SLAA, makes a whole lot of sense to remove “affairs” from the steps).
      So, here comes the synopsis of this soap-box rant: I think program is a spiritual journey that can be taken by anyone. Gleaning the spirit of the steps and traditions from the wording of the Big Book’s steps-and-traditions-as-written is part of my current recovery journey, one that even Bill W. challenged us to seek out in AA’s own program literature. The spirit of the steps is why I can say “Twelve-step works for me,” even if I can’t explain why it is still working for someone who’s become an atheist in program.

      So, there’s a website I’ve mentioned before called aaagnostica.org. It’s a fantastic resource filled with experience, strength, and hope for the non-theist in program and recovery. It also has links to other resources, including books for the atheist and agnostic who wants to find the spirit of the steps behind the wording. Among the books available is a little book entitled The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps. Now, as a caveat, the e-books don’t have the templates for writing your own steps (translating them into the e-format didn’t quite work), but it’s a great little resource if you’re not worrying about the workbook aspect. It’s still a great little book with the links, the collection of alternate twelve steps which acknowledge alternate spiritual journeys and atheism/agnosticism, and a section on step interpretation by four authors of non-conference program literature (all four are experts on the power of twelve-step as a therapeutic solution to addiction). If you’re looking for the workbook-style templates, however? Definitely buy the paperback copy.
      Despite the e-book snag, Roger C. (who is also the administrator for aaagnostica.org) has done a great job putting together this little book. He’s also a really decent gentleman, which I learned by communicating with him over the last couple of days. And yes, I feel bad because he got smacked with the trailing end of my recent existential crisis as it relates to program, but he reminded me of Rozanne’s secular prayer (and a late mentor who I still miss so much). Fellowship, that “together we can do what we could never do alone” aspect of recovery, is necessary if I want to avoid relapse. I have been hopeless because I’ve been trying to recover using my “own unsteady willpower”, afraid that I will be abandoned to relapse because I don’t believe in any deity.
      Among other books reviewed by aagnostica.org, I want to recommend Waiting by Marya Harnbacher (the review on the website guided me to it) and The Alternative Twelve Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery by Arlys G. and Martha Cleveland (again, website) and A Woman’s Way Through the Twelve Steps by Stephanie Covington. As a woman and an atheist, all three really touched on parts of my own story. Each helped me see that the things I worried others didn’t understand were experienced by others in program as a whole. Even as Rozanne S. knew the recovering gamblers of Gamblers Anonymous were speaking her recovery language (even if she had to mentally replace “gambling” with “food”), I know that the substance and behaviors of my addictions don’t exclude me from gaining program wisdom from people who have different addictions than me. Doubly so people who have different spiritual journeys despite having the same addictions.

      That’s an even bigger lesson I want to both personally learn and share: Excluding the wisdom of another in program because of our spiritual beliefs degrades the fellowship. If I am to really recover, I need to live the principle of Tradition Three. The fellowship is inclusive, not exclusive. The only, only requirement for membership is a desire to stop acting out my addictions. It may not be the solution for everyone who walks in the doors, but it is an option. I don’t need to believe in God to be part of the fellowship, and it’s my responsibility to practice principles before personality and not demand others give up God because I have unresolved resentments about organized religion. Yes, I’ve addressed those resentments in two Step Four Inventories, and I accept I will need to return to for a very long time. Religious language in program does make me uncomfortable. Returning to church won’t fix it, because I have had the most interesting luck with organized religion whenever I was in crisis. I’ve spent a lot of time in tears due to the words of people in an organized religious authority situation (and not just the actual Christian cult I joined in college or being told by a rabbi that I could be a Noahite but conversion wasn’t a direction he would help me travel). I’ve met a judgmental and vindictive and cruel God too often through organized religion–luring me in with promises of acceptance and love before I get threatened with burning lakes and eternal suffering. I think I’ve only really known a consistently loving and gentle God through the deeply-spiritual-who-happen-to-be-religious-too individuals in twelve-step programs, which is why I have work to do to accept I have the character defect of fear-sourced attacks on religion. While I have gotten heavy-handed Big Book lecturing, I see how being yanked from death makes one passionate about the life preserver. Yes, I see that when I get afraid of that passion, I will jump straight to the blame game and wave pointing index fingers all about in order to duck then cover my backside. Well, though I’m definitely not proud of it? At least I see it. Seeing it means I can work on it in recovery.
      I also confess that I’m not nearly perfect in recovery (pssh, like no one figured THAT out, Jess!), and I am scared that I will find twelve-step ends up being a church with a judgmental and vindictive and cruel God. I am scared that people will decide they’re program authorities despite speaking on humility and HOW and principles before personalities. I am scared that it’s not enough to Third-Tradition desire to stop compulsively overeating, codependently controlling and enmeshing with and manipulating people, and compulsively punitively isolating because I’m “bad” for compulsively thinking about it when life gets hard. I think . . . I think it’s worth working the recovery over it all. And as much as I hate to be honest that I am definitely being a personality-before-principles program person right now . . . I will trust that this just-for-today will be a milestone along a lifelong journey. Yes, it may be crumbled and covered in bird poop, an example of that unsteady willpower when I try to go it alone–but I think it also marks some real honesty I haven’t given to anyone (not even myself) in a while.
      Maybe this manic share is a way to finally understand Rozanne’s Prayer on a deeper level than I ever considered it before. And it is a beautiful secular prayer that reminds me of how fortunate I was to be born after Rozanne decided it was time for compulsive eating behaviors to have their own twelve steps. That I have Tradition Three opening meeting room doors . . . even if I am an atheist who’s on a spiritual journey to find the spirit of the twelve steps in the silence between their words.

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