Welcome To My Recovery Blog
This blog is a space for sharing ideas, experiences, links to books, articles, and websites in relation to recovery from alcohol & drug addiction. It also hopes to generate healthy discussion on the topic and welcomes diversity of opinion.
The focus will primarily be on Twelve Step recovery from a non-dogmatic and spiritually open position, as that is the approach that I follow in relating to AA’s program of recovery. My name is Steve K and the following essay is my recovery journey.
12stepphilosophy has been selected as one of the best recovery blogs of 2016:
“Steve K provides a refreshing and much-needed resource to the world of online recovery. In a realm dominated by the female voice, 12-Step Philosophy not only speaks from the male perspective but from the POV of an agnostic who is sober through 12-step recovery. With so much misunderstanding about the spiritual aspect of 12-step groups, the importance of this blog for those struggling to stay sober and/or with the concept of a Higher Power is paramount.”
My Recovery Journey – By A Twelve Step Agnostic.
As a child I had the common experience of growing up in a home with an alcoholic parent.
My step-father was a daily drinker who was incapable of forming a loving relationship with me or my younger brother. When my stepfather had been drinking, he seemed to resent us and was emotionally abusive.
Things became worse as I grew older. My family moved into a ‘public house’ (bar) when I was almost 13 years old. My parents often argued, and at times there was physical violence. My growing unhappiness and insecurity at home, a deep sense of rejection and the easy availability of alcohol, set the scene for my own alcoholism and drug abuse.
I began drinking regularly around age 15 and would get drunk at every opportunity. I left school at 16 and spent the next 10 years in and out of employment, hospitals, courts, police cells and prison. By age 25, I wanted to stop drinking and using drugs, but I seemed unable to do so for any significant time. Around this time, I found the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and began my journey into some sort of recovery.
At my first AA meeting, I understood the goal was complete abstinence.
Although I knew this was the only option for me, I did not fully believe I was an alcoholic. The room was full of people much older than I who’d been drinking for a lot longer and were clearly “proper” alcoholics. Nevertheless, I wanted abstinence, so I kept attending meetings.
I also started reading the AA Big Book, and realised that belief in God was a vital part of the solution. I was open to this suggestion, although it felt awkward to me as I wasn’t brought up in a religious home. I don’t remember religious or spiritual issues ever being mentioned by my parents; I only came across Christianity in morning assembly at primary school. Despite this, I had clearly been conditioned with basic Christian ideas about God.
After several months of attending AA and while still occasionally drinking, I began to pray regularly. Since I didn’t feel any spiritual connection, this felt embarrassing and not completely genuine. I continued praying in the hope that it would free me of the desire to drink, which was becoming a very conscious struggle the harder I attempted to remain abstinent. I was beginning to think I was “constitutionally incapable of being honest with myself,” and even more sure I suffered “from grave emotional and mental disorders.” (This was, in fact, true!)
The torture of my obsession with alcohol continued into my early 30’s.
By then, I had formally been through the AA Twelve Steps more than once with different sponsors, but still hadn’t connected with God or the spirituality of the Steps. Despite this, I managed to attend regular meetings and stay sober for five years. I was suffering with ongoing depression and other physical problems, and was far from being a content, sober man. In retrospect, I can now see that the relationship I was in at the time was enabling me to remain sober; but when it ended, so did my period of sobriety.
Although I mostly remained sober, I struggled with the mental obsession to drink for another two or three years. My last drink was on July 2, 2005.
During the twelve months that followed, the obsession with alcohol left me. I started feeling secure in my sobriety. As my confidence grew, so did my questioning of the Twelve Steps and what I perceived as religious dogma. I became increasingly disillusioned and hostile toward the literal meaning and language of the program, and I began pushing AA friends away with my negativity.
I then had to undergo a course of significant medical treatment for Hepatitis C, which I had contracted in my early 20s through intravenous drug use. (About Hepatitis C)
This treatment affected my energy level, motivation and emotional wellbeing. My attendance at meetings was reduced to the odd occasion. My belief in the Twelve Steps continued to deteriorate; and I became very isolated and depressed. I considered no longer attending meetings, as I felt disingenuous at them. When I did attend, I would attempt to undermine others’ beliefs. I realised that unless I could find a genuine relationship with the Twelve Steps, I would need to leave the Fellowship.
Suddenly one day, I had an inspiration to look online for some literature that might help me. I came across Ernest Kurtz’s Not-God, A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. This book is a detailed history and study of AA. While confirming the Christian influence upon the Twelve Steps, it provides a good understanding of the liberal principles of AA philosophy. I started to develop a new appreciation of the Steps and the Fellowship.
So began a twelve-month study of the program through the eyes of various authors.
I attended many meetings during this period and revised some of my Step Four inventory. I began to relate to the Steps in a spiritual, but non-theistic way, and to clearly see the underlying moral and spiritual principles inherent within the Steps. I came to genuinely believe in them, and saw both their importance and their transformative power.
My new relationship with the Twelve Steps slowly brought a more positive commitment to the Fellowship and to helping others. I started to sponsor others and became the secretary of a new meeting. My service to others, despite still suffering from a chronic illness, continued to develop my commitment and appreciation of the Steps. It also helped to improve my mental and emotional wellbeing.
As the years have gone by, I’ve become increasingly secure in my sobriety – thoughts of drink rarely enter my mind. One of the Step Ten Promises has truly come about for me:
I now comfortably relate to the Twelve Steps from a primarily humanistic, though spiritual, point of view.
I don’t believe in the traditional concept of God and apply my own concepts to the idea. This legitimate approach to recovery is based upon the program’s liberal and pragmatic, as well as spiritual, principles.
“When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you.”
The Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions ( p.26) further illustrates:
If you don’t believe in God, use your imagination to relate to the AA program in a way that is meaningful to you. I relate to spirituality in terms of moral virtues such as honesty, compassion, kindness and love. My emphasis is on a “way of being” or “way of life” and developing a right attitude toward my recovery.
I practice self-reflection, prayer and meditation in order grow in virtue and to develop my consciousness in relation to the mystery of life. I like the saying, “God is Love,” because it expresses the idea that the program works through people. Spiritual principles are practiced as we help one another.
Synchronicity and Spiritual Experience
As an agnostic member of Alcoholics Anonymous I have a tendency to question or rationalize so called “spiritual experiences.”
However, this year (2016) I have experienced three “synchronicities” that I find difficult to relate to in any other way. The most recent being a very powerful experience, which moved me greatly, and relates to Steps Eight and Nine of AA’s Twelve Step Program.
All three experiences were preceded by internal emotional struggle with particular issues in my life, a surrender of my ego, and a humility and willingness to follow advice or guidance from others.
I inwardly admitted my powerlessness in relation to the difficulties I was experiencing, and I asked for help. I felt a complete willingness to do whatever was necessary and to do it with hope and faith.
At this point, in all three instances, events happened that resolved the difficulty, were an answer to my emotional struggle, or have led to significant movement within me. All three experiences seemed striking synchronicities – to me, at least. The last event was simply awe inspiring and difficult for me (and, I would suggest, for anyone else) to rationalize. It filled me with a sense of joy and gratitude, and in retrospect I can now understand that what I experienced was a feeling of forgiveness.
When talking about synchronicity, I mean the occurrence of an inner or psychic experience and the seemingly meaningful coincidence of an outward physical event. The coincidence tends to engender feelings of awe and amazement, and often a sense of the transcendent or ‘numinous’ (Divine or greater reality/power).
It feels as if something beyond the self is trying to communicate with us and one feels humble in its presence. A true synchronicity has these qualities and can have a dramatic effect upon the person experiencing it. The hymn “Amazing Grace” comes to mind, with its expression of spiritual conversion.
The experience can inspire a change in outlook and feeling – sounds familiar to me – not unlike the descriptions within the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous; when defining the effects of a “spiritual experience”. For me, a true synchronicity is a spiritual experience and the two are synonymous.
Sceptical people will suggest that these so called meaningful coincidences are explainable in terms of probability and confirmation bias. I have often concluded these explanations myself in response to my own, and others’, experiences of synchronicity.
However, some of these experiences are very difficult or impossible to explain rationally and are well beyond the realm of probability (even mathematicians will accept this statement). They are a mysterious phenomenon which is beyond our comprehension.
When people try to explain their spiritual experiences they often struggle to communicate them effectively; and the ineffable quality of such experiences seems very common to them. I think feelings of awe, wonder and greater meaning are very difficult to convey to others.
My experiences this year have had a significant effect upon me in terms of my openness to spirituality; and I do feel changed in outlook and feeling in this respect. Have I undergone a spiritual conversion experience? I’m not sure, maybe to a degree and I’m still in the process of having one. Am I still agnostic? I think so, as I still don’t know if God exists or not, but I now feel more willing to trust and believe in a power greater than myself; whatever that maybe.
This reminds me of the “promises” in the “Big Book”….. “Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”
p.84, 3rd edition.
In my case, it’s been very slowly; but hey, “it’s progress, not perfection,” as we say in the Fellowship. I think my spiritual awakening has mainly been of the “educational variety” (1) and is ongoing at this time. If I look back to just a few years ago, I can now see great changes in relation to my attitudes and reactions, particularly in terms of recovery and spirituality.
I have transformed from a belligerent member of the AA fellowship with very little time or appreciation for the Twelve Step program, to someone who now embraces it and is willing to help others with its practice. In doing so, I continue to grow and develop as a human being and in my spiritual awareness and practice. Maybe it’s never too late to “know a new freedom and a new happiness.” (2) I really hope so.
Definition of Synchronicity:
the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung.
“Synchronicity.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
1. Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd edition, p.569.
2. Ibid, p.83.