This post was originally published on December 1, 2015.
I avoided recovery for years, like many do, because of the God thing.
It’s not that I didn’t believe in God. I believed in the existence of some benign being that wanted the best for me. My thoughts on this weren’t, however, developed. My religious education was negligible and had nothing to do with spirituality. I spent Sunday school classes writing my name in bubble letters in my notebooks rather than paying attention and High Holy services sneaking outside to hang out with friends while my nearly narcoleptic dad slept through the sermons. God was never a religious idea to me, nor was it something I thought about often. I just accepted the idea of God and put it out of my head. Cars need gas. Eggs need to be cooked or you’ll get salmonella. God exists.
So I didn’t avoid recovery because I didn’t believe in God; I avoided recovery because those who talked a lot about God were creepy. People told me to go to meetings anyway and I did. And oh yes, the folks there were indeed creepy. They said Higher Power instead of God but they weren’t fooling me. And so I bought a couple books about why AA was for religious freaks and went on with my weekly routine of alcohol, coke, cigarettes and Ambien.
Then I got to the point where I was willing to try anything—even something I knew would be creepy—to find another way.
Fuck it. I would talk about God if I had to.
By the time I got into recovery and realized that believing in (let alone talking about) God wasn’t actually a requirement for 12-step or necessary in order to stay sober, I had the most profound spiritual experience of my life. It was pretty simple, really: for years, I couldn’t stop doing coke or drinking. Then I came into recovery and started following the suggestions I heard in 12-step rooms and from my rehab counselor and sponsor. Shortly after that, for reasons I’ll never be able to explain, the desire to do drugs and drink disappeared. It was gone, like my tonsils had been after I’d had a tonsillectomy in my twenties. But there had been no surgery; the part of my brain that was convinced it couldn’t survive without chemicals somehow switched off. Now I am a very logical person and since this didn’t make any logical sense, all I could (and can) conclude is that it was (and please understand how difficult it is for a person who abhors earnestness to write the following two words together) a spiritual miracle.
From that moment on, I was a believer.
I became one of those people who didn’t even replace the word “God” with “Higher Power” in order to not alienate those in meetings who had an aversion to the G word. I wasn’t even embarrassed to share that my concept of God was pretty much the bearded dude in the sky. I’d hear other people talk about how sexist and ridiculous that was; I’d even heard some (okay, one girl) recite the Serenity Prayer with the word Goddess instead of God. I listened to all sorts of people talk about how they used doorknobs or the fellowship (“Group of Drunks”) or their dog (God spelled backwards) as their Higher Power. I have a sponsee who used Cher. But mine was the guy in the sky and no one argued with it, the same way no one argued with the idea of Cher. God of your understanding it was.
I realize that, to some people, believing in God makes me sound like a simpleton and that there are many who think there’s no way that the sort of tragedies that occur could possibly happen if there was any sort of higher being out there. I don’t have justifications or explanations for what I think; I can’t answer any specific questions about it and ultimately I see it as a choice; if it makes me feel better when I choose to believe in God, what’s the harm? It’s the way I think about horoscopes or vitamins or anything else that divides people into devotees and cynics: if you believe it, it becomes true for you.
For a while, this spiritual connection really worked. I felt safe and protected, consistently convinced that everything was unfolding exactly the way it was meant to. At about six months of sobriety, I lost my job—my dream job. I decided this was meant to happen, never spent a second sad about it, and within months had a much better situation worked out. I felt grateful for what I had and unconcerned with what I didn’t. Then that gratitude only seemed to beget more and more to feel grateful for. The program worked! Recovery was wonderful! I related to those ridiculous people who claimed that they were grateful to be alcoholics!
Oh boy, did it change. And then, eventually, mercifully, it changed back. You could say my recovery has basically been a vacillation between those two states. When I get into the place where I’m not connected, when I can’t seem to have any spiritual connection now matter how much I meditate or how hard I pray, when I feel like I haven’t gotten anything I deserve and never will, I can barely remember what that connected, protected place feels like. And then when I veer back into gratitude and a spiritual connection, it seems impossible to believe I won’t be able to stay there.
The challenge is trusting that the next wave of belief will come when I’m not feeling it. It’s knowing that even if praying and writing and meditating and talking to my sponsor and sharing about wanting to feel some spiritual connection isn’t working the way cocaine used to—with that inhalation up the nose and instant mood change—that’s only because it just hasn’t happened yet. All I have to do is be patient and not make up stories about how I’m never going to feel better (easier, um, said than done). But here’s the ironic or unfair or just plain fucked up part: in the beginning of my sobriety, this was easy because I’d just experienced the miracle of having my desire to use removed. Every day that passes, I move further away from that and therefore have to work harder to feel it—or just accept that I don’t.
Over the years, my concept of God has changed. I don’t really envision a guy with what is now considered a hipster beard chilling on some clouds but I don’t picture a doorknob or a dog or Cher either. I think of it now more as being aligned with an energy out there or the universe as a whole. I imagine, as time passes, it will continue to change. And who knows? Maybe I’ll get another miracle.