When my brother decided to get professional help last November it felt like he really wanted it. I base this mostly on the fact that he was so bloody afraid. Booze had become his friend and his enemy. His crutch and his agony. His relief and his disease. If you’ve lived with a habit for so long it’s hard to remember who you are without it. Or so I imagine.
To get some insights into the process he would be going through, I started reading up on the Alcoholics Anonymous’ twelve steps. For some stupidly naive reason I thought that for me, as a non-addict, it would be easy to relate to the steps. After all, me being so sane, sober and smart, the steps shouldn’t need to be much more than a summary of what I am already doing. Right?
I guess I’m not so smart after all.
So, fellow ‘sane person’, how about we walk through the first couple of steps together?
Step 1: We admit we are powerless over alcohol—that our lives have become unmanageable.
Admitting you have a problem is obviously imperative if you ever mean to find a solution for it. Makes total sense. So I got through this first one just fine. How about you?
In regards to my brother I guess you could say he lives in this step. Booze is something he runs to to escape a feeling of despair, only to wake up the next morning with even bigger problems than he already had. He calls alcohol his ‘mistress’ ; one that keeps coming back (or rather, that he keeps going back to) and always leaves him behind with a feeling of regret and an even bigger hole in his soul.
Step 2: We believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
With this second step the spiritual element enters the scene, in somewhat vague terms.
My brother has a complicated relationship with the spiritual realm. I mean, he has complicated relationships with just about anything in life. But I guess I could sum up his stance towards all things godly by explaining that he rebelled against the teachings of his parents on the one side and his school’s on the other. I don’t think that he ever really constructed a world view of his own to replace the one he rejected. He is AGAINST a lot of things, but I’m not quite sure if he knows what he is FOR.
With a bit of effort I can conceive how accepting a higher power could be wholesome for him. For people in general. The feeling that we are a part of something greater than us, can help put things into perspective. The idea that there is more to life than our suffering. There is a whole realm of possibilities that we can tap into. Something like that?
In my opinion that ‘power’ can be nature or the cosmos as much as a deity. Having faith in a traditional god may be easier though, because it might help you believe that there is some point to all of this. Realizing you are but a speck in the immensity of the universe can be unsettling. It takes more effort to be OK with the apparent pointlessness of it all.
Personally, I find it very relaxing to accept that the world is nothing more than what my senses tell me it is. But then again, I realize that is also my privilege talking.
Step 3: We make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.
As we stroll into this third step my mental machinery is starting to screech and grind with objection. I usually make a point of not spelling this word with a capital G, as I don’t consider it to be a given name. Just a noun. In that same spirit I would also really want it to say “a god”.
But OK… I really want to give it an honest try here.
So, let’s just pretend for a minute that I do accept there is an Almighty Father, and that his name is God with a capital G. If I were to turn my will and my life over to his loving care, what would that look like? How would that change my decision making?
… dot dot dot … I pretty much just stared at my screen for ten minutes straight.
As my boyfriend walked by I asked him to close his eyes and pretend he believed in God for a minute. I asked him what he would do if he “turned his will and life over to His care”. Luckily, my boyfriend is used to me asking him weird hypothetical questions out of the blue, so he got into his role right away.
What he said is that he could imagine it would give him a sense of confidence in the face of life’s challenges. When I told him it was one of the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous he added that it might also make it less scary to stop seeking out ways to numb life’s pain. If you know there is a benevolent force there to catch you, you may be more likely to take that leap (of faith).
The AA website explains their take on step 3 quite well, so I recommend people struggling with this one to browse through that one.
All though I realize a lot depends on the councilor, coach or therapist guiding you through the steps, I must say I’m not entirely sure I would have made it through this one. And I’m not even really that much of a rebel. So how was my dear obstinate brother ever going to work his way through these?
Conclusion: He didn’t
All though I haven’t gotten around to asking him to which step he actually got during his 2 months in rehab, it is clear that he didn’t manage to stay sober for very long after his release. One of the first things he said was “it felt like a convent”.
I guess there is always next time.
2 thoughts on “Sober spirituality”
Thank you for that honest take on the AA steps, Epi. I’ve never attended meetings but have read the steps. Step 1 makes sense and looks easy but I don’t think it’s easy in practice. Steps 2 and 3 rather stick in my craw, too, and do the same for others dear to me. There is the argument that this organization offers free support and therefore one should just “take what you want” from it “and leave the rest”; but this religious approach can be something that one can’t get past, as your brother found. AA looms large, but there are other models, one called Sober Recovery for instance, that is entirely secular.
I’ve tried to find a secular clinic or group for him, but in Ireland that seems to be quite rare. I am also reading ‘the twelve step buddhist’ now (and I will definitely give it to my brother in the future). That book makes a lot of sense and also helped me understand why the twelve steps work, even for non-Christians.