Posted by: innerpilgrimage | March 3, 2014

Step Three: Which I Choose to Not Call God

      It’s curious that there would be such an uproar in certain places over changing the steps to get to the spiritual meaning of program behind the steps-as-written. Yesterday, I spoke from fear of facing Step Three. That fear is addict-sourced, something that I believe can be changed through program and recovery. However, I’d like to start with the first large change that happened. Bill W. changed the original word-of-mouth steps, and I’d like to introduce the Six Steps of Recovery as they were before the Twelve Steps were written.

      The history of AA tells us it evolved from the Oxford Group, a distinctly and deeply Christian fundamentalist group which actually was more interested in a new world order founded in Christianity than alcoholics finding recovery. The post-Billy Graham style of Christianity in America may not be from the Oxford Group, but the parallels of non-denominational Christianity today and the Oxford Group principles cannot be ignored. In other words, the Oxford Group principles and our modern Christian megachurch fellowships make 12-Stepping for megachurch Christianity an easy connection to make. Twelve-step as written and non-denominational megachurches work well together and support each other.
      Before the Oxford Group was founded in 1908, recovery from alcoholism had already been practiced. That practice led to the 18th Amendment, sourced from the belief that alcohol was the cause of every social ill and that prohibition was the path to an American Utopia. The moral argument of the nation’s need for legislated temperance was used to achieve often unrelated (but advantageous) societal reform. Ken Burns’s documentary on Prohibition does cover some of these other recovery groups–including the secular Washingtonian Society of the 19th Century, who were the first to propose recovery from alcoholism through temperance and abstinence. A six-man “Group of Drunks” pledged to one another to stay sober in April 1840. Yup. Eighteen-hundred and forty. They had meetings and shared their experience and strength and hope. A lot of the core AA principles were Washingtonian Temperance Society principles almost a hundred years before the Big Book was published, and a half-million men signed the Washingtonian pledge at its height. The Washingtonian Society was deeply concerned with social issues and the individual, enough that they opened treatment centers to help people recover and established a group for wives very similar to Al-Anon: The Ladies’ Washingtonian Society. In response to this secular group forming, Protestant alcohol abstinence groups sprang up and began attacking the Washingtonian Society for its secular humanist approach, claiming that recovery from alcoholism was something only God could grant. The Washingtonian Society fell to the wayside because of the same problems AA faces today (losing the purpose to help any individual seeking recovery from alcoholism because of infighting over social controversies). It’s believed Bill W. and Dr. Bob never even heard of the Washingtonian Society by the time they founded AA, despite the parallels one can make between the two recovery programs.
      So, AA split from the Oxford Group. In 1953, Bill W. wrote an article for the Grapevine, about where the twelve steps came from. The six steps of pre-Big Book AA were as follows:

“1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol.
2. We got honest with ourselves.
3. We got honest with another person, in confidence.
4. We made amends for harms done.
5. We worked with other alcoholics without demand for prestige or money.
6. We prayed to God to help us do these things as best we could.”

      One step about God became seven, though what I consider most important is that Bill W. did precisely what is considered a big no-no for the canon-bound 12-Step program today: He rewrote the steps. In fact, he not only rewrote them, he added six more to the original six. That’s not a small change. Doubling the number of Steps, adding God where it honestly did not need to be, caused controversy even then. The word-of-mouth, six original steps of the AA program worked perfectly well for the first hundred. Those six steps could work for the millions in program today, too. So it is part of AA to rewrite the steps, if we’re going to canonize Bill W. for his part in founding the AA program as it is today.
      I want to move forward and show that the steps have been adjusted in programs which sprouted from AA. It’s not a big change, but one can see the steps have been rewritten and the groups have not been censured or “booted” for it:

      Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. (OA)
      Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood God. (CoDA)
      Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. (SLAA)
      Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand God. (ACA)

      Of these four groups, only OA refers to that sacred AA 12-Step “Him.” And I want to add that even the Big Book has referenced the steps as suggestions, not canon. I accept God is part of AA, saturates it as written. That doesn’t need to change, because the Big Book inspires a lot of recovery. However, there is also a place for secular recovery in AA, something that people have shown the courage to change at “autonomous group” level. Tradition Three is inclusive; Concept XII, Warranty 6, promises no punitive action from the service boards which we are told are meant to serve, not govern. Unfortunately, exclusion and punitive action has brought dissent among the secular humanists in recovery and those who believe the spirit of the steps are less important than the wording. The Big Book is being treated like a Bible for Alcoholics, the word of God translated through the recovered-drunk prophets, Bill W. and Dr. Bob.
      So, there it is. Changes to the steps are okay unless it involves removing God from the twelve steps. It’s also standard practice that people can say aloud in meetings and act upon their beliefs that recovery for secularists is impossible while secularists must remain quiet and accept people turning THE program into THEIR program. This dissention breaks Tradition Twelve by putting personalities over principles. It breaks Tradition Three by excluding secularist humanists by creating an unspoken and unwritten “extra-long form” of Tradition Three, that a desire to stop acting out addiction AND a belief in God are the two requirements for membership. This cultish behavior of some and the silence of those who don’t want to rock the boat (despite believing recovering is for everyone) draws people to point out that God-conscience uber alles attitude guides AA instead of what truly guides AA: Recovery from addiction can be reached by anyone through program fellowship–with or without God as others want us to “understand Him”. (And yes, I am frustrated that the first atheists didn’t fight harder, but I empathize with the difficulties they faced trying to even get “as we understood Him” into the steps and the kneeling to God part out of the steps).
      Okay, so change is acceptable as long as God as I understand God is still God. Despite the bone thrown to atheists in the G.O.D. acronyms, it is still worded in a way that implies one must believe in a transcendent and interfering deity to draw the “addict sinner” out of the rocky-bottomed pits of addict Hell and up onto the clean-and-illuminated Steps of Recovery. Steps Five, Seven, and Eleven are clear that I’m supposed to have a personal relationship with an intelligent and greater-willed male father-figure deity who can guide me when I pray then listen then obey like a small child. “Group Of Drunks”, “Gift Of Desperation”, “Get Out Devil”, “Good Orderly Direction”, “Go On Dreaming”, “Group of Drug (Addicts)”, and even “Getting off Drugs”, doesn’t cut it as a program God. Praying to the Gift of Desperation for the ability to carry out its will for me? That’s utter madness. Those Old Timers who advised all to avoid the debating society chose to be blind to the contradictory nature of program literature as written. We are told we can recover without God in a few select places then are told everywhere else that we cannot recover without God-the-Creator-Father. And the history! Groups PRAYED for atheists and agnostics to slip. Individuals with God-conscience praying for the non-theistic to fail in recovery, so they could have the smug satisfaction of converting them when they stumbled back into the fold. It wasn’t the prayers that sent people back to the addiction. The blatant exclusionist tactics and lack of fellowship as others worked their own program on the non-theistic instead of working their own program . . . people who do that make themselves the governing body of 12-Step by force. People who do that are why 12-Step is seen as a religious cult. And I will say it without reservation: People who do that need to really look at their hypocrisy and how it will affect twelve-step as a recovery option in the future. I’ve said it before–twelve-step is just one option for recovery from addiction. It works for me, though I don’t understand how it can with my resentment toward the promise of loving inclusivity leading to exclusivity and punitive threats of eternal punishment that accompanies every organized religion I tried to join. I have no idea how program atheists like me are sober or clean or food abstinent or in withdrawal. I want to hear their stories so much, but I feel like we’re not allowed to speak about our atheist spirituality without getting, well, the stink-eye.
      Personally, I do not think that the steps-as-written should be revised; they work for the majority of people who stick with program. I just would like to see Conference-Approved literature be more inclusive. I would like to see conference-approved literature which supports the idea that the spirit of program heals us more than a chapter-verse adherence to the Big Book (and God-conscienced conference-approved literature). I would like to have experience, strength, and hope that doesn’t require me to become an Oxford Group Neo-Christian to work the 12-Step program. I want the spiritual recovery of working the steps. The steps I worked did start the promises being fulfilled in my own life, and they did it while I wasn’t a Christian. I just am discouraged from sharing my atheist spiritual journey in the rooms, though I have been fortunate enough to have a couple of rooms where blurting it out was met by some understanding as I struggled with the atheism. The problem is that when I ask for advice, it always come down to “Pray.” I have nothing to pray to. Does this mean I meditate? Contemplate? It’s hard to find atheist guidance at all. It’s nearly non-existent in conference-approved literature.
      In OA, we have a conference-approved book called Seeking the Spiritual Path. In it, agnostics and atheists are addressed. The difficulty is that of the almost eighty shares, only four address it. Of those four, two found God in program. That’s conversion, not an atheist message. So, two are left. Of those two, one entered program with God and became an atheist in program (like me). And like me, the person wanted more guidance as an atheist in program. The other was an atheist who has remained an atheist throughout. While I appreciate the nods toward that inclusiveness, a 40:1 ratio in one book and the “Act as If” policy makes me feel like I am forging a new path through the addict wilderness.
      That is just not true! I am not the only atheist to have recovery in program . . . but I am so frustrated that I must be silent or face possible condemnation and censure!
      Well, I definitely see at least a few of the issues I face in program as an atheist. I have a lot of Step 4 work ahead of me to untangle the resentments against the religion of my youth. I have to process the betrayals, and I have character defects which are easily triggered when God-as-Father-Creator is brought up. And I realize that this journey isn’t about giving the middle finger to the steps as written because I want an easy route through program. I know it works. I know it works for me, just like the author of “A Nonbeliever” in that OA book wrote it worked for her. We want to know why, but maybe that’s too easy. Program is simple. I see in part how it works. Secularists get sober, get clean, get abstinent, withdraw. I suppose the problem I am having is that I don’t want to break down the twelve steps as much as have the spirit behind the steps-as-written reach to me. I want not to be told to “act as if” until I become an Oxford Group New-World-Order Christian. Program led me out of agnosticism into atheism. Program is the reason I don’t believe in God.
      We talk about paradoxes in program. That’s quite a paradox, that I found no God in a program which tells me to either find God or pretend I found God. I acted as if and felt sicker for it. I had a belief in some kind of transcendence when I entered program and it fell away. I felt freer and saner and had more clarity when I finally admitted that I don’t believe in any transcendent being.
      And in doing so, I opened myself up to a myriad of Higher Power choices . . . none of which I can pray to. Can I surrender? Sure. I can surrender to reality. It’s honestly the most sane thing I believe a person can do, to surrender to reality and start the work to return to a very real life instead of submit to the fantasies which drove or encouraged me to act out in my addictions. I just can’t talk to reality and not feel insane. God-as-Creator is like having an imaginary friend to me.
      This doesn’t mean that I think I can do it through personal willpower alone. I definitely agree with Step One–in addiction, I am a control freak who thinks my actions shouldn’t have natural or logical consequences. In addiction, I want to get my due payment for having a First World dysfunctional life. That payment, of course, is a perfect First World life. That kind of logic pathing sounds crazy to me today. It’s actually not even what I want, now that I am in recovery. I actually like the life I’ve got today, despite the fears that being an atheist means I’m going to be excluded from fellowship. I’m learning that without recovery, I would not appreciate the life I have today. So, when I work from my addict-fueled ego, I feel crazy. When I work from my realistic place in reality–as one person among billions who can positively affect someone’s today with a smile or a bit of kindness? I feel sane. I feel a part of humanity instead of apart from it.
      Step Two is really easy to accept, as well. I believe in many powers greater than myself because I see and experience them all around me every day. I believe the principles and spirit of the 12-step program can restore me to sanity. I believe that reality is a power greater than myself which shows me clearly that I can be restored to mental health through recovered behavior practiced mindfully and living in the present (instead of obsessing over yesterday and tomorrow).
      I can even turn over that grandiose egotistical willfulness and my life over to reality. My will . . . well, I need that as a freethinker. I need that will to weigh sane recovered behaviors (many from the ESH of those with a God-as-Creator Him-God) against insane addict-fueled behaviors and decide which I want to embrace as part of my life. It’s not easy, though. Because abandonment and exclusion are huge triggers for me to want to act out my addictions, I’m sometimes paralyzed with fear that I’ll trust a group of people and end a “booted-out atheist bastard”. One of my maladaptive behaviors I get to work in Steps Six and Seven is to pre-reject in order to feel like I was the one with the power in the relationship. Walking away from a 12-Step group which isn’t following principles over personalities is healthy; walking away from every 12-Step group because I don’t trust even one to practice the Twelfth Tradition is NOT healthy.
      It’s not so bad, though. I’m starting to realize that I am using my atheism to bar my own way and to choose grandiosity over recovery. I used food, I used romantic obsession, I used social anorexia, and I definitely use my dysfunctional childhood to bar my own way from living well. I want perfect, but that’s not realistic. It’s not surrendering to the reality that nothing in the world is perfect–even if much of it is wondrous and mystical and awe-striking. Recovery isn’t about God or not-God for me. It’s about that higher power of the fellowship, itself, the higher power of the wisdom of those who are in the rooms and who practice recovery on a daily basis.
      Do I want my hand held by someone who can lead me straight through the steps? Yes.
      Will I get that? No.
      I suppose this is where Step Zero really applies in my life. Am I willing to do whatever it takes for recovery? Yes. Whatever it takes, for me, is working an atheist program despite the challenges of working an atheist program. I acted as if I believed in God, and I really tried to work the Oxford-Group-influenced program. Because of program, after almost four decades of trying? I came to believe God-as-Transcendent-Creator does not exist. Atheism was a gift of program for me. Nothing else was powerful enough to break that enchantment. I grieved the atheism, because I want an easier program. I tried to act as if, and I felt delusional when I realized my truth in program is that my recovery requires a Godless-conscience. So, I now must find serenity to accept that atheism is one of my gifts of program clarity (which I hope will some day make its purpose known to me) as a thing I cannot change. I am tasked with accessing the courage to change how I approach the program, with an eye toward the spirit of the steps and the power greater than myself that recovery is for everyone. I wish, lastly, for the wisdom to differentiate between the canon of program and the spirit of program. I am not here to rewrite the Big Book. I am here to take the inspiration of it and take the spiritually atheistic 12-step journey as others have done before me.
      I regret that I currently wonder what some people will think when they read that I consider rejecting God and the steps-as-written to be a Step Zero action. I feel annoyed when I imagine someone out there is ready to tell me that I am wrong, that Step Zero is about finding God instead of releasing God. Step Zero is a God-free step, which asks the addict if he or she wants what others have (recovery) and if he or she is willing to do whatever it takes to make recovery a reality. It’s about the willingness to surrender not to God but to the experience, strength, and hope present in the fellowship-filled rooms and in the program literature . . . even the literature which is not conference-approved.
      I also wonder: Do people really think I wanted to be an atheist in program? That I would choose to be afraid of rejection by the God-fearing members of the fellowship, to worry about being cast out, to fret over potentially being assaulted by a fellow member because I don’t choose to call my Higher Power by the name: God? Listen, I’m a codependent. If I could have a savior deity to enmesh with, so I could be saved from being fat or being sexually promiscuous or saved from the pain of my childhood? I would pick that. I tried to pick that, and I never found peace in program. The “God” I talked to made me anxious, because it had no structure to make it appear truthy. It felt more like talking to myself, which I appreciate. If I’d heard back from this trascendent Higher Power, that’s a potential psychiatric disorder diagnosis right there.
      So, I tried to follow a culturally acceptable God, the one I found in childhood. I couldn’t stay with that belief system because I don’t see recovered behavior in what God has purportedly done out of love for me. In recovery (or even in addiction!) I would never want anyone or anything to do for me what God has purportedly done in the name of loving me. None of that is love to me, though I do find inspiration in the parables of the New Testament Gospel of Luke. As an addict, I can stomach a whole lot of fantasy just to feed the idea of a perfect someday–even a some day unprovable reward beyond death. There’s just nothing in reality that allows for any of that, save for the reality of psychiatric disorders. I came to believe that just because there’s a book published somewhere doesn’t make its contents true. The Wizard of Oz isn’t true, and current culture accepts it as fictional work. If a person took the Wizard of Oz and began proselytizing out of it, then they would likely be treated inpatient for a psychiatric disorder. Any God but the ones to which the Lord’s Prayer can apply is not part of the Alcoholic’s Bible, and it feels too often that people are merely waiting for “acting as if” to bring me around to God-as-Father-Creator.
      I still sometimes mourn my eyes opening in program, only to find no God. I also, however, find intense comfort in atheism, because life makes more sense to me as an atheist. I don’t have to question death in terms of “just” and “unjust”, nor do I have to question why I am an addict, nor do I have to ask why God refused to relieve me of my childhood pain when I was a true believer back then. Atheism makes my life so far make sense, and it makes recovery make sense. I just need to understand what it means to make that decision to, well, choose to thrive in an atheist recovery instead of die in relentless addiction.

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