Do You Believe in Magic?
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Do You Believe in Magic?

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This post was originally published on March 5, 2014.

I believe in God. I think that is important to say right upfront so if anyone reading this feels that somehow ruins my credibility as a writer or a human, they can move on to the next article.

As I was saying, I believe in God. And when I say God, what I really mean is a higher power, a power greater than myself that I chose to call God, not some old white man with a beard who cares if I go to temple or not. I identify as spiritual rather than religious, because even though I was raised Conservative Jewish, that is not the dogma I use to connect with the higher power of my understanding.

Prior to entering recovery, I believed there was a God but really didn’t have much business with Him. I felt God implied religion and religion was for the weak-minded or the politically calculated. Being active in a religion seemed like a holy waste of time and money. Plus, who needs God if you have money? And while I still kind of feel like most religions require you to expend a lot of personal resources, I also now understand that everyone needs to do what works for them.

And by the way, to work the 12 steps you don’t need to believe in “God” per se; all that the steps ask of you is to open your mind to the idea that there may be a universal force greater than your own brain.

So a couple of weeks ago, I was in my therapist’s office complaining, as I often do, about how I am perpetually doomed to fail at life. I told her that while I believe that there are no coincidences and that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, sometimes it feels like I am being singled out and the world is against me.

Her response was, “Well, it certainly seems like it is.”

This was a new one. In all my years of psychoanalysis and 12-step work, I had never had anyone co-sign my victim mentality. I kind of liked where this was going.

“Yeah, it does, doesn’t it?” I asked, relieved that someone finally got me. “I mean, it feels like no matter how hard I work, I am never going to be awarded the things that seem to be so freely given to others.”

“Right,” she said. “Because you have done the footwork and put your trust in God so you are entitled to certain things.”

Whoa. Pump the brakes there, Sigmund Freud. Now she sounded like she wasn’t so much agreeing with me as she was trying to get me to understand how crazy I was.

She then said, “It sounds like you subscribe to some sort of magical thinking.”

Other than a collection of short stories by Augusten Burroughs, “magical thinking” wasn’t a term I was familiar with. I asked her to clarify.

“You seem to feel that if you do or think a certain thing, it will yield a result that isn’t actually related. It’s like the way a person with Compulsive Disorder may not be able to face the day without turning their doorknob three to five times. They somehow feel that the number of times they turn the knob is directly related to how good of a day they will have.”

Oh. Okay. So my therapist, a woman I respect and trust with the inner workings of my psyche, seemed to be implying that my belief in God—one that has a plan for me and my best interests at heart—is similar to the fantastical logic of a person struggling with a mental illness. I kind of didn’t like where this was going.

As I tried to digest her perspective, I realized that we had inadvertently crossed into a danger zone. Because no matter what good might come out of not putting any expectations on God, I can’t afford to think that way. For me, it is imperative that I have total faith—in other words, an expectation—that if I turn my will and my life over to the care of a Higher Power, shit will be handled. I need to believe this because if I don’t, the weight of the world is on my shoulders and before I know it I am drunk.

But I don’t blame her for her efforts. People outside of 12-step recovery can’t seem to understand how hard yet crucial it is to take a thorough Third Step. Hell, it took me five-and-a-half years to get it so I can’t really expect a non-alcoholic to. But it scares me to sit across from a woman I seek guidance from, with three times the education I have, and with a straight face try and explain to her that I don’t have the luxury of questioning what God can and cannot do. I need to believe that if I stay sober, do what the 12 steps suggest and work with a therapist on outside issues, I will be granted a life beyond my wildest dreams.

So, I tell her, call it what you want. Maybe it is magical thinking and maybe it’s unrealistic; it can certainly be disappointing at times. But the belief that a power greater than myself can and will handle all of my problems is necessary for me to stay sober and sane today. It’s a blind faith that has worked for me and the best part is (atheists, hold on to your seat), it doesn’t matter in the slightest if I am right or wrong. I don’t need tangible evidence or scientific proof that the God of my understanding exists. All I need to know is that it works for me.

I finally stopped to catch my breath and open myself up for questions. Surely, as a professional in the mental health field, she would want to know more. She looked at me with a mixture of pity and wonderment and said, “Well, it looks like our time is up.”

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.