The Hunt for a Higher Power (February 18, 2014)

Just like the Alcoholics Anonymous program that led to the formation of its sister groups, Al-Anon and Alateen involve the working of 12 steps that will guide participants along the path of recovery.

I’m all over Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol [and other addictions]—that our lives had become unmanageable.” I am more than ready to seek help, look for new tools and develop solutions for the codependent mess that my personal life has become over the decades. No more enabling, covering, fixing, lying and trying to control the broken dynamics that have existed between myself and those who struggle with addictions and impulse control problems. I can retain a fondness for these people and their good qualities without driving myself insane, or depriving them of an opportunity to experience personal growth and responsibility…or not.

Let go of resentment, detach with love, accept the things that I cannot change. All challenging concepts but fundamental to breaking with unhealthy patterns of the past and opening up vistas of possibility. I came to terms with Step 1 before I ever set foot into a meeting room. An understanding of the limitations of my historical coping strategies is what brought me to Al-Anon in the first place.

I’m only a couple months into the early stages of recovery. Like any program that depends upon consistency, commitment and human struggle, there’s no prescription for how long the process could and should take. Accepting the unknowable is part of learning to relinquish control. But I am really stuck on a concept that I need to work through if I am to continue to grow and change in the program. Take a look at Steps 2 and 3:

“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

Here’s the rub. I am a resolute atheist. Though I have folks I love and respect within my circle who ascribe to a variety of faiths and practices, the idea of God is not for me. I am not militant about it, nor am I lacking in experience, having been confirmed as a Lutheran in eighth grade before studying and converting to Hinduism for the expedience of marriage in my late 20s. It’s more that a combination of soul searching, critical thinking and experience led me away from the teachings of all organized religions. Some might offer that this renders me an agnostic more than anything, but I refuse to indulge my own temptation to hedge bets. There are definitely forces of nature and the universe at work that I don’t understand, but I can’t get behind the idea of an omniscient/omnipresent being without some scientific evidence. It’s not the way I’m built.

I don’t begrudge the faithful anything. In fact, I’m often envious of the security and peace of mind that comes with the conviction that you are part of a grand design, a purpose. The storyteller in me also finds something attractive about the idea of humanity as part of a larger narrative over which we’ve no jurisdiction.

Perhaps I’d struggle less with these philosophical ideas if I’d been afforded the luxury of trusting the adults who were supposed to be raise me. But I never regarded my father as a superhero or my mother as a selfless caretaker. I understood at an early age that the road up and out ran through me – the very opposite of turning my life and will over to a Higher Power. It had to be “I.” The cavalry was not coming.

I’m decidedly lacking in answers and that’s ok. I’m more comfortable with my innate cluelessness than at any previous stage of life. If I knew it all, I wouldn’t be reading this lopsided version of my story to date: achievement-focused with empowering friendships and collegial give and take on one end, competing with a heavy load of self-inflicted martyrdom on the other. As one group member said a couple of weeks ago, those of us working the Al-Anon program have been guilty of “trying to buy bread at the hardware store” – a metaphor for demanding and expecting the impossible from loved ones battling illness.

But in order to retain a sponsor, work through the coming steps and really, truly foment a revolution, something fundamental has to break. I can recite the Serenity Prayer without the word “God” at the beginning. No one in group is judging me for a lack of religious faith, but I have to come up with my own definition of a “Higher Power,” that idea that allows me to turn over my will and my life, something I admire and respect as bigger than me. My therapist has offered that perhaps the very idea of community is the answer, as compared with the fruitless commitment of years past to go it alone. It’s a thought – one amongst so many competitors.


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