My Spiritual Life Has Expanded Since I Bailed on AA
Need help? Call our 24/7 helpline. 855-933-3480

My Spiritual Life Has Expanded Since I Bailed on AA


morespiritualleavingAAThe second and third and 11th steps in Alcoholics Anonymous completely threw me during my entire eight-year stint in AA. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around them. Feeling commanded to believe in a Higher Power of some form, I found it impossible to develop any kind of authentic and unforced spiritual path.

Whether I was kindly instructed or rudely preached to by folks in AA, all said in one way or another that I had to “come to believe” in something or go I’d go back to guzzling booze again. Regardless, I simply couldn’t believe. I couldn’t hear any sort of message. I tried and tried and tried. I tried praying to something, but it always felt fraudulent.

The truth is I don’t believe God has a will for us (oh, how I hate the term “God Shot”); I think it’s a totally ludicrous concept. We, in our privileged little first world lives, think some benevolent cosmic being can be called upon for a parking spot? To help us get a job? To send us the love of our life?

Too bad that benevolent being wasn’t looking out for the Syrians who got hit with Assad or the West Africans who got hit with Ebola. And I will say, all the people waiting on God to bring them their perfect mate are still single, most of them depressed and really confused.

This is precisely the reason I refuse to believe Someone up there or out there, even if it is just the Oversoul or Force, is tinkering with the tiniest details of my life. Also, believing every single thing that occurs in life has some sort of message or meaning will make you teeter toward psychosis.

Believe me, I’ve been there, years ago as an adolescent in a hyper Pentecostal church. The wind might blow too hard, and you think Satan’s out to snatch you.

After I left AA, I believed strongly that I did need some sort of spiritual path or set of guiding principles or an ethical compass or a measure of virtue, not really to stay sober but to simply do the right thing. But I don’t believe only alcoholics need this. Most of the well-adjusted people I know, like my roommate of six years, my boyfriend of five years, and my father of…err…37 years, have in fact devoted much time to spiritual development.

Hell, even my grandmother, a Christian, but a quiet one who doesn’t believe in fanaticism and is pro-choice and fine with gay marriage, has shown strength during turbulent times in her life by having some measure of faith.

But the do-or-die spiritual language in AA I can’t handle. Once I left, my mind and heart opened far easier, and in a far more natural way, to spiritual ideas.

What really sealed the deal was travel.

That’s right. It took a trip across the Atlantic and over to the South of Spain, or Andalucía, which has a rich Islamic and Catholic roots, to hear any kind of spiritual message or get a sense of what’s important in life.

The noise of Los Angeles was just too loud. I couldn’t hear shit there. But I could hear Mina.

Mina, the woman I rented my Airbnb apartment from in the barrio Albayzín of Granada, Spain, lived above me in our 600-year-old building. Of Moroccan descent and originally raised in Sufism, a mystical offshoot of Islam that some argue isn’t technically apart of Islam, she speaks six languages, including Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, and English. She’s also a highly regarded world musician who’s been written about in the New York Times and has the voice of an angel, Arabic songstress and Flamenco singer.

I found her grounded, balanced and genuinely in love with music. She created albums not to bring fame or fortune, but to tell honest stories and move people and connect with the collective creative consciousness. That insane American ego/drive just wasn’t there. Sure, she wanted to earn a living and keeping putting out songs, but it wasn’t the end-all be-all of her life. And our long-winded conversations inspired me to get back to my fiction writing, because what prevented me from writing more fiction was a complete artistic block and self-induced pressure to write the right way.

Show don’t tell, describe every detail of every setting with much detail, use active verbs only, don’t reveal plot through dialogue, beginning, middle, end, no cliché metaphors or similes, and don’t overdo it with the rhythm and rhyme. You’re not Dr. Seuss. And we should always know the color of the characters’ eyes.

(Oh the joys of getting an MFA in writing and having your stories workshopped to death. It sucks the spontaneity, humor and vitality out of the words completely. And then writing becomes a miserable chore.)

Mina and I had a terrace with a beautiful view of the Alhambra—an eighth century Islamic palace that’s nothing short of awe-inspiring to look at. At night, all the stars would emerge in the sky—you could make out all the constellations in the blackness—and lights would illuminate the Alhambra.

It was, and I’m not being hyperbolic, magical.

We sat out there on the terrace one night, and I told her I was so grateful to be in Europe, that I never thought I’d actually get there, let alone settle down in Granada for a few months.

To that she replied, “There’s a Moroccan proverb that says ‘When you wish for something hard enough the stars align to make it happen.’” Then she gave me some pointers on the importance of cultivating centeredness and moderation, and told me that, as a writer, my only task is to move people through simplicity, rather than try to impress or be clever.

“Would you rather read The Little Prince or Harry Potter? she asked me. “What touches you more?”

Of course, The Little Prince. If you haven’t read it, you should.

Gazing up at the interiors of other Islamic structures with intricate geometric carvings the same day that I stared at baroque basilicas decorated with gold statues of Jesus and Mary—all of this moved me. What moved me most, however, was watching the older Spaniards sit in reverence on wooden pews at the back of the church.

The hustle, the drive for money and success—if it’s all you live for, you’ve been completely scammed. The same thing goes for beauty and romance.

Life is short, and because I don’t believe in an afterlife, I think we need to really contemplate what’s most important. As a writer, it’s so easy to define myself by my ‘success’ with the craft, but that’s complete horseshit.

What really matters is treating others well, giving back, and developing higher principles and a spiritual way of life. I believe this is the only road to contentment and sanity. Mina reminded me of this in our long conversations over coffee in the darling Spanish cafes.

The peace and quiet of the small that medieval neighborhood, along with the view of nature from the terrace, gave me the space to think and to really grasp that a higher purpose is necessary in this life. Not to gain anything, including sobriety, but just because.

Thank God I finally woke up.

Any Questions? Call Now To Speak to a Rehab Specialist
(855) 933-3480

About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.