Posted by: innerpilgrimage | March 2, 2014

Step Two: The Path to Relief and Recovery

      Yesterday, fredt left a comment about Step One which I believe touches on why Step Two is so powerful to me. I chose maladaptive behaviors to relieve myself from the pain of losing my childhood innocence to the reality of growing up, and reality showed me clearly that those maladaptive behaviors have had very real consequences–primarily that I have spent since I can remember being overweight as a result of uncontrollably bingeing to feel a sense of control. When I believed in the God-as-father mentioned hundreds of times in the Big Book, I prayed to wake up physically relieved of the mental and emotional anguish of the weight. It didn’t stop me from living, but I hated myself for not being the airbrushed and willowy figure I believed I was supposed to be. God-as-Father didn’t come through, and I felt like I was a sinner and being punished. I understood, even then, that asking for some prayers to be answered wasn’t appropriate to ask of God-as-Father; I felt like I was being punished more, that I had sinned in some way unknown to me. It wasn’t about sin (though some could judge me as a wretched and undeserving sinner, as I was a glutton and the cost was the natural result of having added weight on my body). However, it was a painful feeling of betrayal, that I could not will myself to stop bingeing because the bingeing was what I used to keep away the pain of being as sick as my secrets–even if I saw my secrets in the mirror as the extra weight on my body and felt shame for them and myself.

      (Before I go on, there’s a huge rant before Step Two is revealed. It’s not kind. It’s sourced from fear and resentment and anger. I chose to leave it in because there is strength and hope to be taken from it. I trust the process of recovery. Bad days happen in program and recovery. This is one of those hard-won lessons of program, and I appreciate it for what it is–the seemingly bad.)

      I still hold my resentment that I got no answer from a deity I once believed in so deeply. I am slowly learning how not to be a nihilist neo-atheist, using recovery to understand that I do not want to go into the world and vocally insist those who are religious have serious psychological disorders which require immediate intervention. For those who embrace the faith of the Christian religion within program, I expect this following web page may offer comfort and inspiration: Dick B.’s essay, “The Name of the Creator”. It saddened me, if only because I feel again on the outside looking in. I appreciate those on a religious-faith journey, despite being equally frustrated at others on religious exclusionist and sectarian journeys. I feel bad enough already. Being told that one’s own God is my only path to recovery today and salvation tomorrow (in a place unprovable where an unprovable willed being exists) brings up a thick and bitter resentment. I followed religious leaders; I moved sect to sect to cult to sect. I tried to find God, and I even submitted to those religions because I was seeking recovery. Instead of help and hope, I found judgment and shaming. Let those who haven’t found themselves brought to near-suicidal tears by the righteous leadership enjoy the inspiration of their religious faiths. I wish only to stop resenting religion for the evils I see done in the name of religion, in the name of empowering generally horrible people who abuse the people seeking community and spiritual guidance. And yes, evils are done to groups and individuals by groups and individuals claiming to have the one, true answer. Everyone is a false prophet of the spiritual journey to me. Everyone, including me.
      I have found my answer, the answer which gives me true peace: God does not exist to me. God is not part of the rational and reasonable ordered world to me. It is purported to trancend being yet is still being. To trancend being is to be nothing. If God is nothing, God cannot be part of being. Therefore, to believe God wills this or wants that makes me question individuals who have “personal” relationships with a creator-being. Well, that’s how I see it. The truth is that no one knows the truth. I’d rather be honest and be wrong than dishonest and pretend I believe. There is nothing to bring me to believe in something like a trancendent and omnipotent and omniscient self-willed being. So much has come before, so many religions have risen and fallen, and all of them have had true believers and dissenters. All of them.

      So, on to the Second Step, the beginning of that anxiety of feeling like the fellowship has no room for me. It’s interesting that Twelve Step has found itself with a severe problem. If Twelve Step Organizations are going to chase down religious exclusivity, twelve-step recovery will atrophy and end in our lifetimes. Tradition Three and Concept XII, Warranty 6, and so much of the Big Book supporting that I don’t have to have a Higher Power “who I choose to call God”, I am still in a position to, well, shut the fluffybunnies up already and act as if the Big Book is the second most important text in my life–behind the Holy Bible. I have no fellowship I can be brutally honest toward without fear that I will be proselytized to. That fear has not gone unfounded. That fear has been realized–even in the mother-fluffybunnying “safe” rooms that were my home when I played the “act as if” game. Some rooms were okay with my pain at learning atheism in program, but my lack-of-trust which I am trying to recover from leads me to believe that I was going to be gently tugged toward “act as if”. Of course, it doesn’t help that an AA member known as “Richard the Atheist” was physically assaulted in the rooms in 1992. By a self-proclaimed Christian, no less. Brutalized by a “man of God” in the rooms that are supposed to be safe rooms for honest, open, and willing sharing. Brutalized by someone who once was a newcomer. Who once reached a rock-bottom because “Booze Was God” once upon a time. That makes me angry, because the rooms are supposed to be a place where all of us can come together to share our experience, strength, and hope. A physical attack in the rooms by someone who supposedly found a forgiving God . . . my mind can’t grasp it. However, it is part of reality, and it is a part of reality that the Big Book As Canon people have to accept is part of our history as much as they have to accept that atheists and agnostics have recovered. And that there are lies in the Big Book . . . particularly that Jim B. found God in program after he probably felt the intense lack of fellowship from people protecting God over group and individual recovery. Jim B. was an atheist the whole time, and that fiction in the Big Book is there with the truth out there in Jim B.’s own words.
      I am a mother-fluffybunny atheist. Period. And like Jim B. and Ray W., I know this program works both with and despite all of the God stuff. And, yes, I see my current maladaptive behavior. I fear so much mental and emotional violation by anyone that I go on the offensive. I get angry to give myself the energy to set a wall between me and those who would attempt to force their will and their life on me. People want to be my Higher Power yet pretend they aren’t. And I am scared of them all–which is why I need to be in recovery. Yes. I admit it. Anyone who is an obvious Christian in program terrifies me, because experience even in the rooms has shown that religion too often becomes more important that your recovery. As the atheist-in-the-room, I feel like a prize to be won for a particular church’s pastor. And I think about the many Christian sects out there, splitting and splitting and splitting because the mother church offended. To be “Christian” is to have centuries of blood and fire, torture and God-willed murder for land and wealth trailing behind every claimant of that religion. It is a delicate lace-and-silk train of a white wedding dress having been dragged through a sty before sweeping it into the pristine walls of “God’s House.”
      Yes, I resent religion, even as I am inspired by the parables and stories and wisdom that is imparted in the religious myths of the dead and living religions of the world. I resent the hypocrisy of the insitutions even as I see the least powerful among them have mystic and inspiring journeys despite the power-hungry leaders and “inspirational speakers for hire” who ride to giant church complexes in black limousines paid for by those who give their hard-earned money thinking they’re helping the poor or the needy among the congregation. The mercenarial spirit is more present than the holy one, and I am angry that people want to earn someone’s approval with my presence and money to feed the Bank-of-God Machine for these charlatans and scam artists who live like Medici popes while people in their own congregation are left to suffer alone when they lose jobs or homes.
      Yes. I know I sound like an angry neo-atheist. Right now? I am an angry neo-atheist nihilist who’s hoping that maybe bringing my fears to light will allow me to finally let go. Yes, there’s a lot of debate about the Penn Jillette quote about atheism being as much of a religion as not collecting stamps is a hobby. Right now? I’m so angry I want to stomp on people’s stamp collections. Why? Because my religious experience was like paying for stamps for my stamp collection and getting nothing. I was promised a damned stamp collection again and again, and I was told it would come soon. No refunds. Just being gullible again and again and again. The problem is that I really don’t want to stomp on anyone’s collection, though I sort-of do. When I don’t feel resentful, I think it’s pretty nice. I just don’t want people pushing it on me because I have some really ugly memories because of the church. Really, really, really ugly memories with very real pain attached to them. I’d rather be angry than filled with despair again. So . . . I’m angry because I’m anxious that someone will see me coming from a mile away and try to abuse my longing to have someone I can trust in my life. Well, someone beyond my core family. I trust them.
      Which I hope explains the social anorexia. Being this angry . . . I don’t want to be angry like this toward anyone. I’m not angry around my family because I trust they care about my well-being; I also trust that others are out there who care about my well-being, as well. I’ve met them, and I’ve even grieved the loss of one of them. That’s really the #1 reason I am wanting acceptance of my atheist recovery and guidance from atheists who live the program. I cannot live life either angry or afraid of people who don’t care about the well-being of the community. It’s exhausting, and I simply refuse to go out into the world anxious that I’m going to get someone to think they can abuse my trust through manipulation then get my verbal rage at that last-straw violation of my budding honesty, openness, and willingness. No, I’m not a full-on shut-in. I grocery shop, pay bills, talk to people. Oddly enough, people tend to like me. I just live as an acquaintance in the world, being nice when there’s honestly no risk. I take that risk where I feel safe . . . with my family. I want again to feel safe taking that risk in program, but I have little non-theist guidance. Of course, I also know that avoiding the rooms keeps me from some great recovered thought and practice from recovering program members. Quite a dilemma, which really isn’t one. I don’t have to shout out that I’m an atheist in the rooms. I can follow the safe room rules of CoDA at any meeting I attend. I just want to feel safe speaking my truth in the rooms, too. I don’t want to be on the outside looking in one more time. But . . . I can practice the principles of program instead of demand my personality be acknowledged. Recovery is about the principles, not the personalities. It’s about program working for theists and deists and agnostics and atheists, not the God bits in the Conference-approved literature. Program works. It works.
      I am afraid of venting this as I am, but I know that I need to see this today on another today and remember it. This is part of the recovery journey. Spiritual journeys are hard. They test us to our cores, and we rise and fall because we’re imperfect. I am imperfect. I am deeply flawed, but I know that accepting my flaws means that I am at least not pretending ignorance and lamenting, “Why is everyone so mean when I’m just trying to be nice?”
      I suppose the best part of putting this down is that I know, some day, I will be grateful for this seemingly bad moment. I exposed a really ugly secret about what I think and why I think it. I don’t want to think that way. I don’t think these addict-fueled thoughts engender community feeling or loving-kindness or even patience. I think it is very sad that anyone could be so afraid that this maladaptive anger seems to be the only answer. I think it’s really, really sad that I’m who feels this way. I have hope, however. This isn’t a secret any more (not like it really was before). I suppose that I see it’s not a secret any more is the important part, that I see I want to change that fear and anger, that I want to work that resentment, that I want to mourn the multiple victimizations I experienced because of individuals given authority in organized religion. And I want to finally admit that I consciously chose to submit my will and my life to human beings, hoping they could do what I couldn’t. I gave imperfect people power over me. In program . . . I don’t submit. I surrender to reality. I am humbled by the beauty of the world as it is, not humiliated. I find serenity in nature and my small part in it, not shame.
      Okay, so let’s get on to the many steps that apply to me then get on with the business of what it means to me as an atheist in program:

      Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (OA, SLAA, CoDA, ACA)
     
      What does that exactly mean, then?
      To me, this is where that Higher Power comes in. Even the Big Book says that it doesn’t matter what this “power greater than” myself is, as long as I simply am willing to believe in it. To get a better sense of Step Two, I would like to turn toward The Alternative Twelve Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery by Arlys G. and Martha Cleveland. They address the point of the loss of innocence and the power of the twelve steps to bring about a healing of spirit. I’m not talking religious spirit, nor are they. They approach the spiritual from the Latin source, that anything spiritual is life-affirming and represents the energy of life, itself. Their first non-theist offer, then, is to “have faith in the energy that gives us life.”
      The energy that gives life, or even life itself, is a suitable non-theist Higher Power. But how? Well, they offer this:
     
      “Spiritual power comes from whatever gives us peace, hope or strength and enhances our humanity.”
     
      Whatever gives us peace, hope, strength . . . and enhances our humanity. In other words, atheist spirituality. It works well with Andre Comte-Sponville’s Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. These very human mystical and mysterious experiences sourced the power of the religions of the world due to their impressive and inexplicable natures. Experiences which have no truth except that they do exist in the human experience. Experiences which have been given paranormal explanations because they appear to bring an individual into a transcendent state outside of nature. It’s the enlightenment factor, the quiet of the mind, heart, body and esprit which opens us to mysteries of human being and sometimes serendipitous answers from seemingly nowhere.
      The soul, whether it’s a separate transcendent energy or simply part of the mind, is one of those “greater than the sum of our parts” things. One of those little truths that somehow make me a wholly different being than the one born (because my cells today are not the original cells I was born with) yet the same being held together by the experiences that have come before–remembered and forgotten by people who’ve crossed my path and not-even-known by people who haven’t. I don’t exist to most people as an individual. I am part of a massive multitude, one of the vast number that makes up the population of the human world today. Humbling to consider that I am inconsequential despite my belief that my problems are troubling and numerous. That people in the world would be baffled by an individual having so much food available to me that I could be a compulsive eater, that I have so much choice in who I interact with that I can be a love addict or codependent, that I could lament growing up dysfunctional. So removed from getting my basic needs met that I can worry about functioning properly in this first-world society at all.
      From that little book, The Alternative Twelve Steps, I was able to ascertain what I think is the source of my troubles: I resent the loss of the innocence of childhood and have tried to manage my way back to that innocence. It’s gone, though I can heal. That which I lost from the beginning–honesty, openness, willingness, and trust–can be restored. I need those four to function sanely in society. Without honesty, openness, and willingness in others, I learned to mistrust people’s intentions. I learned walls and lines drawn in the sand. I learned to erect barriers to keep people out which could be battered into rubble or could be too-easily crossed. I learned that I am permeable to those who have ill intent, and I learned maladaptive behaviors which I used to keep them away. It’s a lonely and painful existence. It is waiting for death instead of embracing life.
      It is an insane existence, and I want to live a fulfilled existence where I am of service as a human being. I want to leave the world better where I traveled. It doesn’t matter if someone behind me tears it apart; it matters that I made the world better on the day I passed through. That, to me, requires the sanity of being a humanist, of not lamenting existence with nihilistic-apocalyptic visions of humanity.
      This is the last place I feel fine with the steps. A power greater than myself is easy to imagine. Life, itself is greater. Being is greater. The Universe unknown to even the greatest of astrophysicists is greater. I have what feels like a near-infinite list of powers greater than myself. Reality-consciousness (as opposed to God-consciousness) is as sane as one could get. I believe in the power of reality, because it’s proved every moment of every day to me . . . and everyone who does exist. Being is deeply humbling even as it is frightening. With the massive odds against even existing . . . powers greater than me abound.
      So, Step Two works for me as written. I can agree that reality, itself, has a means to restore me to sanity. Unfortunately, it breaks down in the next step for me. It’s even possible that accepting the first two steps as written is harmful, as others have understood it to be. After all, it does seem to mirror a path of conversion. Accept I’m a sinner, believe I can cease my sinful ways, and follow the teachings of human beings (!!!) who insist that God has shown them the path for me and everyone else in the world.
      I’m a codependent. Religion is easy for me, despite the inevitable rebellion against someone telling me what to do and it not working whatsoever. Inevitable rebellion because of inevitable betrayal. Always the promise of a loving deity. Always the follow-up of eternal punishment if I don’t do what I’m told.
      I am not a child; that innocence is decades gone. I am an adult who wants to live and who wants to recover. I am okay with humility. I am okay with learning from others who have decades of experience in program and I am okay with learning from newcomers and I am okay with learning from individuals who were raised in a sane-enough household. I prefer to say, “I don’t know,” than have an answer that gnaws at my heart and mind until I have to say, “This answer is too easy and doesn’t address this complexity or that complexity.”
      I want to live a simple but not easy life.
      I want to live a sane life in recovery, and I have come to believe that is as much a part of reality as losing weight was when I chose food abstinence over compulsive bingeing.

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