Leaning In to “The God Talk”

On Twitter, I’ve been fairly open about the fact that I’ve had some concerns with “the program” as of late.


In meetings, I’ve said things like, “I’m not sure this program is right for me,” or “I don’t have a problem with a Higher Power, but I do have a problem with what the author wrote,” in reaction to readings from Daily Reflections.Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 5.26.28 PM

Over the past few days, I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think I’ve come to terms with what’s been niggling me.  It’s true that I don’t have a problem believing in a higher power, or a God if that’s what you call it.  I actually attend church on a relatively regular basis, though I will confess that there are things about it that get under my skin.

What I have been struggling with is that I feel that there is an under current of fundamentalist evangelicalism in some of the AA literature that I’ve been reading.  There seems to be a notion of “being saved” by a power greater than me — a notion of redemption.  And that is exactly what doesn’t sit well with me.  I posted this to StopDrinking on Reddit last night and got some good feedback.  A few people suggested that perhaps I was reading too much into things.  And maybe I am.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that I have never bought in to the idea of being saved.  I believe too strongly in the idea of freedom of will and in personal responsibility to accept the notion that a higher power can “save” me.  

Last week, I had a long discussion with one of my best friends in the world about this and he gave me the sound advice that I needed to make peace with whatever program I was using to help me in my recovery.  He told me that I wouldn’t make progress if I wasn’t comfortable and at peace with my chosen method.  And I agree with him.

I have been thinking about investigating alternatives to AA, including SMART Recovery and Refuge Recovery.  The problem is that these aren’t as well established.  There is exactly one SMART Recovery meeting a week in my local area and there aren’t any Refuge Recovery meetings in my state at all.  Whereas, with AA there are literally over 200 meetings a week in my county.

So, I’ve been wrestling with this and have put myself through some pretty spectacular mental hurdles.  Should I abandon this program?  If so, what would I replace it with?  How can I abandon something that has been so positive over the past 5 months?

I think I’ve come to an answer.

One of the folks I follow on Twitter mentioned a book by Pema ChödrönTaking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears.  I started reading it over the weekend.  In the book, Chödrön talks about shepna – which roughly translates to “attachment” or “being hooked.”  She suggests that this sense of being hooked or “stuck” creates anxiety.  And that a course of action to deal with shepna includes the following:

  1. Acknowledge that you’re hooked.
  2. Pause, take three conscious breaths, and lean in.  Lean in to the energy.  Abide with it.  Experience it fully.
  3. Then relax and move on.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 5.50.18 PMThis morning, the reading at my meeting brought up feelings of angst again, because it was focused on God performing a miracle.  Again, the idea of “being saved” jumped up in my brain and again, I found myself caught.  But instead of focusing on that feeling, I used the strategy above.

And do you know what happened?

That’s right, the feeling of being caught faded.  I found myself able to look past the negative feelings I had and to simply be present in the meeting.  The conversation quickly turned to a topic that I was able to relate to and I had a great sense of calm come over me.  It was wonderful.  It was like being back in the early meetings.

I felt that I was in the right place.




11 thoughts on “Leaning In to “The God Talk”

  1. I really appreciate your point of view on this. I think the Higher Power references can be the hardest for new people in AA to adjust to. Do you feel that you have to choose the concept of free will OR the concept of God? Or do you believe you can choose both? Just curious. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Personally, I believe it is possible to have free will and still believe in a God. That is consistent with the teachings I’ve encountered in my experiences with the Roman Catholic Church as well as in the Presbyterian Church ( U.S.A.). My sense is that my belief is at odds with much of what I find in the AA sanctioned literature including the big book and the 12 and 12.


      1. Thanks for your response, Damien. I see what you mean. In AA, we’re told to let go and let God, and I see where that would imply not exercising our free will. The way I look at it, what I was doing when relying too much free will wasn’t working for me. Or better said, I never considered how a higher power might guide me in my free will and decision making.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. you are spot on. i feel the exact same way. from my very first meeting, as the only 21-year-old asian in a room full of middle-aged white men (the demographic at my college town), and many of the meetings thereafter in which i struggled to find people my own age/race, i struggled with comparing out A LOT. i knew i had a drinking problem, and i knew i didn’t want to spend the rest of my life playing detective on all the hours/days lost in blackout.

    when i finally got over that hump – comparing out in meetings – i started doing step work w/ my sponsor but then found myself getting super TO-ed with the archaic, sexist language. the higher power thing was easy enough to hurdle, as my sponsor said i could choose whatever (my ‘higher power’ today is super abstract – the universe. the wind. whatever makes the flowers grow, and the sun rise and set.) but as someone who grew up in a borderline abusive, radical conservative household, i too felt disturbed with the language that i could be ‘saved’.

    i like your strategy because it essentially brings me back to the 3rd step… accept that which i cannot control. would i really forfeit a program that’s saved my life, that’s kept me sober for over 2 years, because i don’t like the word choice of a few pieces of literature? i take and leave what i want. (like a buffet. and i love buffets.) if something makes me uncomfortable at a meeting, i say the serenity prayer. and, like you, someone always eventually says something that reminds me why i got sober to begin with, why i chose to sit in a room full of other alcoholics, and listen. and my fear/anxiety/anger quickly slips away.

    Liked by 2 people

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