With the 12 steps… it all fits!
by Ned Wicker
Whenever we have discussions about the 12 Step recovery process, we always have a debate about the second and third steps and the spiritual/religious implications connected to them. Step 2 talks of a “Power greater than ourselves,” while Step 3 mentions “God, however we understood him.”
People are always free to draw their own conclusions, and regardless of any particular religious background they come from, or if they have no religious background at all, there is no shortage of opinions concerning the value and effectiveness of including such spiritual/religious factors in recovery.
This is an interesting topic for me, because there are many who steadfastly claim that the spiritual aspect of the 12 Steps is vitally important to their success in navigating the process and coming through the tunnel with hope. Others see no value at all in the spiritual focus, and therefore lean toward medical and behavioral issues to explain or define their disease.
One angry person in every group
There is always one person in the group who sits there, arms folded, just daring me to ask him a question, or challenge his right to have no spiritual beliefs, no religion and no belief in God. I don’t challenge his rights at all, but he will eventually make those an issue. Whatever brings meaning and purpose to a person’s life is more the concern for me, rather than some religious belief. How do people look at the world and their place in it?
In the aftermath of the dreadful shooting in Tucson, there was reporting on the alleged shooter and his nihilistic beliefs. Nihilists believe that there is no objective or moral truth, that traditional values have no basis, and that there is no meaning to life. Its doctrines conclude that it’s better to destroy social organizations because they are beyond repair, so rather than try to bring about better conditions, it’s better to destroy them. I can’t help but see a direct connection between nihilistic thought, atheism and addiction.
Hope is the key!
It centers on hope and the feeling deep down that we can get better and will get better in time. The nihilist and atheist will naturally stumble on Steps 2 and 3, because there is no power greater than them and there is no God. Other than drawing on their own inner strength and resolve, there is no outside force that will help them through the process, or care for them during the difficult times.
They deny their own spirituality and so often do this because they equate spirituality with having a religion. Or they say they are not religious, but they are spiritual and they present a smattering of spiritual beliefs based more on feeling and emotion than on anything else.
The guy with the arms folded and the defiant look, however, sometimes warms up. If he is allowed to make his own definitions, the process begins to make more sense. What is the “power greater than ourselves?” People need to begin by defining this themselves. One of my group members said the relationship she had with one of her children was the driving force behind her recovery. That’s a very nice start.
Love often melts resistance
So often the really defiant group members would warm up as a result of the love they receive from the group itself. The resistance melts away as they accept affirmation and unconditional support from those who suffer just as they do. One of the members of a group several years ago was Jewish.
Interestingly, he was culturally Jewish, but not necessarily spiritually Jewish. He was raised in the tradition, but had no particular Jewish beliefs. He was like so many others, who say they are something, but in practice they are not as they say. Actually, most of our society is in that category. He said he was Jewish, so I approached him as a Jew.
He welcomed the spiritual conversation and I made no attempt to steer him to any particular conclusion, wanting him to discover for himself. He had no religious training, so we were starting from a blank piece of paper. He was interested, so he asked the questions. We searched together for answers. No pressure. Take your time and discover. Over time, he formed a picture of a living and forgiving God, a “power greater than himself,” who would be there to guide and support his recovery. It was his perception.
What should God be like
Sometimes I would ask people to write down what they think God should be like on a 3×5 card and just put that in their pocket. I’d say, “There you go, that’s what God is.” As we walked down the path, I’d ask them to tell me why they believed what they believed. I wanted to know and understand.
I cannot prove the existence of God, nor can I prove the viability of one religion over another. Besides that’s another conversation, but what delights me is that I see evidence of God through the changed lives of recovering addicts. They have walked down the path, they have asked the questions and they have discovered answers that turn them inside out.
I love the guy who folds his arms and dares me to talk to him. I love the person who just doesn’t know, but is open to finding out what is going on. I love the person who earnestly is seeking the truth and looks to God to find it. I love the severely wounded, who bite as I extend my hand to help them, because they need so much.
The 12 Step recovery process offers a wonderfully challenging tour of the human soul, leading to wholeness and self-understanding. It’s when we discover on our own that we are not alone that the process becomes exciting and life-changing. Steps 2 and 3 are the gateway to a new life.