It’s Okay to Question…and Even to Challenge

dogma |ˈdôɡmə|
noun
a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true


I have a long standing distrust of organized religion. I grew up going to Catholic school. The Catholic’s had all the answers, and they were entirely sure that they were the only ones who had the answers. In my daily religion classes, I learned that Protestants were not true Christians, that Jews had missed the message, and we didn’t talk about Islam. I learned that there was “one catholic and apostolic” church. I learned that all other religions were “less than” Catholicism. And while I wasn’t in a practicing Catholic family, I eventually received the Sacraments and was confirmed when I was in 10th grade, even though I am confident now that I really didn’t believe.

Now, in 1986, a new house was built on the vacant lot next door and Norman moved in. Norman was a born again, fundamentalist preacher who had two kids and a wife. He drove a Mercedes (which was really odd for anyone in Taneytown, MD at the time). His wife was an attractive lady and I always had the sense they should be on PTL.

He had an amazing story of conversion that he and his wife would tell us at seemingly every opportunity. He’d gotten high, gone in to the bathroom, spent a long time in there, and come out a new man. Personally, I always wondered just what the hell happened in there — as a 13 year old boy, I knew very well what went on when I spent more than a few minutes in the bathroom.

Norman was also exceptionally strong in his beliefs. He was firmly convinced that he had been told “the Way” and that he knew better than a 2000 year old institution called the Catholic Church. This man in his 30s took it upon himself on more than one occasion to let me know that his church was the real church and that I was going to hell.

Interestingly, just like Jim and Tammy Baker, Norman was run out of his church at some point. We never got the full story, but suffice it to say, he didn’t exactly have “the Way” and he wasn’t divinely ordained by God as the head of his flock.


As you might imagine, hearing two radically different interpretations of Christianity, both claiming to be divinely inspired and the single source of truth was disturbing to my young mind.

When I got to college, I drifted away from the Church. I found that there were different ways of seeing the world. I found that, in point of fact, many of these divergent world views stemmed from individual experiences and that none of them were empirically “right” or empirically “wrong.” I learned that sometimes, people who claim to have “the Way” don’t actually know what they’re talking about. Sometimes, they just think they have the way. I learned that it was probably best for me to listen with an open mind, but to sort things out on my own and with trusted advisors before I decided what was right and what was wrong.

In short, I learned that dogma and I don’t get along very well.


When I came into recovery in 2015, I knew full well that there would be things that rubbed me the wrong way. I knew this because I’d spent a long time resisting facets of the recovery culture that I perceived as overtly religious. The references to God in the steps were off-putting. I struggled with them and they were a huge part of why I didn’t stay in the recovery community in 2013.

But, I was defeated. I was ready to set aside my fears and try anything. I was “willing to go to any lengths” to get better. And so, I tried to get the god talk. I struggled to get through the 3rd step for months. It just wasn’t working.

I was really starting to wonder if I was going to make it. I knew in my heart of hearts that I did not believe in the idea of “being saved” in the way that Norman had described it. And yet, I kept hearing stories at meetings about just that. I began looking for various alternatives on line. Two that caught my eye were SMART and Refuge Recovery. SMART looked interesting because it didn’t have any emphasis on a higher power. Refuge Recovery looked interesting because it was a Buddhist approach to recovery. The problem was that the closest Refuge Recovery meeting was 90 miles away and there was only one SMART meeting a week in my are.

I didn’t know much a that point, but I knew enough to know that this wasn’t going to cut it. I knew I needed more support and so I kept going to meetings and I ordered some books from Amazon. I read Dharma Punx, and was pissed off to learn that the dude who founded Refuge Recovery went through the 12 steps. I read Refuge Recovery, and got irritated because it looked like the 12 steps, but written on the Eight Fold Path. But I kept searching and found two books that really changed my thinking. First was Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears in which Pema Chödrön discusses shenpa or being stuck. That was it, I was in fact stuck with my feelings of frustration with the dogmatic things I was hearing in meetings.

The second was One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps in which Kevin Griffin discusses his journey through the twelve steps and relates it to Buddhism. I began to find that there might be a middle way.

One of the fundamentals of the teachings of the Buddha is that one must discern truth for oneself. I’m not a Buddhist, nor am I a Buddhist scholar, but from what I’ve found there is very little dogma in Buddhist teachings. This resonates with me in ways that other “spiritual practices,” never have.


There are times when I rail against the 12 Step culture. There are times when I write in haste and tickle the nerves of people who see the world differently than I do. When I do this, I sometimes get comments or reprimands that feel like dogma to me. Comments that suggest that I don’t might be angry with a particular facet of the culture because I don’t yet understand it, or because I haven’t quite “gotten” it and figured out that the drinking was just a symptom of a bigger problem.

I won’t claim to have “gotten” it, not now, not tomorrow, and not on the day that I die. Because the truth is, I don’t have all the answers. I know this in the core of my being. But I’m trying. I’m trying to find answers to these big questions. And if I express anger, or frustration, that’s okay. That’s part of it. That’s me working through things.

Yesterday, I was thinking about my most recent post and how I maybe posted it too quickly. It’s true that I wrote it hastily and that it was full of anger. I tweeted about my thoughts on this.  I received a lot of feedback on this tweet. One in particular though, bears mentioning:

And that’s right, it’s okay to question.  It’s okay to challenge.  It’s okay to not have the answers.  As long as I’m exploring, growing, and staying sober, I’m on the right path.

9 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Question…and Even to Challenge

  1. It is more than okay.
    I do believe with all my heart that there is no one way to get sober.
    Everyone I know creates a way that supports them.
    Some people need more or less of something.
    I didn’t get sober with AA, but they are one of my wonderful support systems.
    Along with a bunch of other people.
    And blogging.
    Writing is healing, and learning at the same time.
    xo
    Wendy

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In life and in recovery it is important to ask these questions and to really think critically. I’m afraid that this type of thinking is a dying skill these days. I really appreciate your thoughtful, insightful, and honest views.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe that critical thinking is a skill that many have. As with all skills, it takes exercise to keep it honed. Our current culture does not encourage the exercise of this skill as often as it should.

      Thanks for your kind words, as always.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad you got out for a bike ride. I too used to be very, very active with running and weight lifting and my healthy routines fell apart in my last year of drinking. I have since gained 20 lbs and I am finding it harder than I think it should be to shake it. I have started and stopped physical routines multiple times in the last few years. You know, I had to work at the sobriety thing and fail a few times before it stuck…perhaps there’s success around the corner for physical healthy & eating balance too?
    I find that my whole day goes better if I start it off with a walk or a jog. It has a way of helping all my whirling thoughts settle in places that make sense.
    Jenn

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this was meant for this post but I appreciate your words nonetheless. Yes, making the sobriety thing stick before doing other important life changes was huge. I have trouble getting myself out in the morning, but when I do, my day goes better too.

      Like

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