David B. Bohl is a relinquishee and adoptee, a professional independent addiction and recovery consultant, and a former consumer of substance use disorder and mental health services. He’s also the author of Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth, a memoir that chronicles the intersection of adoption and addiction in his life.
One of the most powerful tools of healing is the ability to be able to relate to others. But how do you do it if everyone around you is asking you to do things you don’t believe in? Consider this practical advice on carving out your own social and support circle that will take you all the way to THE BANK OF RECOVERY.
I don’t believe in a Higher Power. I don’t think that there’s a being that is in charge of my sobriety and who is also responsible for me getting sober in the first place. When I was still struggling with the concept in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I could never get past the idea that the sober ones of us were somehow chosen by God and that others were more spiritual than others, therefore deserving – of what exactly? Because I know of people who were very religious, believed in God, prayed regularly, and still relapsed, a couple of them passed from their addiction. What was it that they didn’t know that another member who’d stay for the rest of his life did? Was their recovery worse than others? None of that made sense. And, incidentally, it didn’t make sense that I, with my doubts about God – and others like me – would somehow manage to stay sober. I mean, wasn’t sobriety contingent on having Higher Power?
For those and a few hundred other reasons, the 12-step’s solution of spirituality is complicated. But right off the bat, the creed of AA states: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” followed by step-3: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” This is not a solution, and it sounds as absurd as if someone told me that only balancing a Cheerio on my nose would be what would make me sober.
People who don’t believe in God and want to stay and remain sober are just as worthy of recovery as anybody else. Our beliefs, or lack thereof, shouldn’t disqualify us from the fundamental right to lead a decent, healthy life. For many of us, it isn’t even the question of wanting or not wanting to believe in a Higher Power – because we simply cannot. As a child, I believed in Santa Claus, but at some point, I learned the truth, and, for many, it’s a similar thing. There’s nothing anyone can say to me to convince me Santa exists. Imagine having to be told over and over that you’re wrong about your lack of conviction? It’s exhausting.
So how do we deal with the problem of spirituality in the context of sobriety? We find connections, just like everyone else. For me, that means becoming a member of what I sometimes refer to as “COINS:” Communities Of Individuals In Need of Support (I like acronyms and find that they often work when it comes to simplifying and remembering things about my recovery). COINS is a great way to remember that those people are valuable to you and that connecting with them is like putting a coin toward your sobriety. My trusted confidants who support me in my on-going recovery and well-being also hold me accountable. Their presence allows me to better understand myself and the universe around me. I can relate to people intentionally and healthily and without pressure to subscribe to a system that doesn’t sustain and nourish my recovery. If you find yourself in a similar situation – unable to relate or feeling less-than – don’t despair. Look around you. I’m sure some people feel similarly to you – you probably don’t have to look much further than this very page. Talk to people. Work hard to build a small group of allies. If you have the means, use professional therapists and/or therapy groups to talk about your recovery and find connections within it. Your people are out there. You will find each other. And you’ll get better without having to compromise what you do or do not believe in.
Read Essay 4 of 7 Is Secular Spirituality Even Possible? Essay 4 of 7 Unstuck Yourself here.
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