by JD Moon
When I first saw the Twelve Steps, on the wall at a treatment centre, I was horrified. It seemed that sobriety was conditional on a belief in God. Not for me. Period. End of story.
I’d been forced down the God road before, by my parents, at church and at school, and had rejected its hypocrisy. I had been a happy and energetic child but often when I was having the most fun I was told I was bad and wrong. Those who preached love and tolerance at me were often punishing and controlling. Their God was angry and vindictive unless I toed their line, which often made no sense to me at all. I did not feel safe with their God.
I was in a dilemma. I felt safe at the treatment centre and was getting some much-needed R&R. But I wasn’t going to become religious. So I decided I could fake compliance (a skill learned early on in life), at least until I was done treatment and could return home.
About 10 days before I was to leave, my counsellor recommended I stay for an extended period. I refused, but was told that I had to do a 4th and 5th Step before I went home. To prepare, I met with a nun who asked what my biggest resentment was. Well, I was still in litigation around my second divorce, so she told me to pray, twice a day, that my ex get all the health, happiness and prosperity that I wanted for myself. What nonsense. But I did it.
When I met with her a week later to do my 5th, she asked how I felt about my ex-wife. Surprisingly, I found that some of my anger had subsided. Hmmm.
On my last morning at the treatment centre, I had a big jolt. Some personal items confiscated on arrival were returned to me, including a small silver box that had contained my travelling cocaine stash. Although it had been cleaned out, it triggered a tremendous urge to use.
That scared the heck out of me. Here I was, defiantly going home, and already I had the urge to relapse! To make matters worse, within an hour of getting home that afternoon, my dealer called. Yikes! How did he know I was back? Luckily, I had the fortitude to say “no thanks.” But I was really anxious and said a silent prayer for help to remain clean and sober.
I had arranged to attend a meeting near my home and that evening I gladly went. It had been recommended that I find a home group and get a sponsor, so I signed up and asked a fellow there to sponsor me. He had been around the rooms for a while so he showed me the ropes. As it turned out, he didn’t have much of a program, but he made me feel welcome, we went to some meetings and had some laughs together.
In fact, I went to over 130 meetings in the next three months, and I had coffee or lunch with other members after the noon meetings. I felt much safer when I was at meetings or in the company of my new friends.
But around the three month mark I was starting to feel pretty sketchy. I was starting to get fed up with some of my sponsor’s attitudes and behaviour.
One day I happened to be having lunch with an old-timer and I confided my fears to him, including my worry about not being able to believe in God. He asked how long I’d been clean and sober and how that compared to before. I told him I hadn’t been able to stay clean for even a day in the past few years.
He thought for a moment, then suggested that maybe something was working to keep me clean and sober. What was I doing differently than before? I said I was going to meetings, talking with other suffering addicts, even praying a bit.
“Well,” said the old-timer, “then I would suggest you keep doing that – it seems to work.” But, I asked, what about my feeling sketchy? He told me that’s what the steps are for, particularly the ones after Step Three. He said that I simply had to make a decision to get better, then do what was suggested.
But, I asked, what about having to believe in God as a prerequisite for recovery? He said that we all have our own beliefs and that those seem to change over time based on our experience. “So, I suggest you have the experience and then see what you come to believe.”
I had learned a valuable lesson, which I retain to this day – many years of sobriety later. It doesn’t matter what I believe, it’s what I do that counts. That’s what a program of action is.