Accepting the Language of Others

I thought I’d laid my angst with the God talk to rest when I had my breakthrough last winter and came to understand that my challenge was with the God of my childhood rather than with the God of my understanding. I thought I’d finally gotten to the point that I could hear others talk about how God was doing things in their lives that they couldn’t do for themselves without having a visceral reaction. I thought that I’d made progress. And then I went to a Step meeting on a Friday.

I heard people sharing their truths in that meeting. I heard them talking about the God of their understanding. Intellectually, I knew that their understanding was theirs and not mine. Intellectually, I knew that they weren’t preaching to me — that their God talk was not aimed at me. But emotionally, I was not prepared to hear those things for what they were. Emotionally, I heard these people talking about the God of my childhood — God that I don’t believe in and even if I did we wouldn’t be in speaking terms. And I found myself in a foul mood questioning the one thing that had made a difference when other things couldn’t. Questioning the validity of 12-Step as a mode of recovery.

That’s the insanity of being affected by an addiction. If there is one thing for certain about my addiction to booze it’s that I was not able to stop drinking without help. And for me that help came in the form of 12-Step meetings, the fellowship, and the program.

I’ve spent some time wrestling with this. What is it about hearing other people talk about the God of their understanding that triggers me? Why do I automatically assume that they are talking about the God of my childhood when they use Christian terms and names for God?

After some soul searching I think that it comes down to this: I went to Catholic school in a rural area. While Vatican II occurred between 1963 and 1965 and, in part, attempted to reconcile modern life with Catholic orthodoxy, you wouldn’t have known that nearly 30 years had passed in the churches of the area. We had very conservative priests. One of the key messages that I received was this: “Roman Catholicism is the only true religion with a direct lineage between the Pope and God starting with Peter.”

While I rejected many things about the Catholic Church, this particular nugget stuck with me. So powerful were these words that I viewed all Protestant faiths as being somehow unworthy, not quite real if not outright false. This sense that there was no true religion outside the Catholic Church tainted my view of the world, so much so that I secretly struggled with getting married in the Presbyterian Church even though I consistently found the message of our pastor to be beautiful and in lock step with my understanding of the universe.

And so, I struggle when I hear the people talk about God because I haven’t let go of the idea that the only true interpretation of God sources from the Roman Catholic Church — a notion that I rejected long ago but one in which I still feel entrapped. I struggle with accepting that when people speak of the God of their understanding, they are not necessarily speaking of the God of my childhood — a God that repeatedly failed me.

And so, I have some work to do. The work of letting go of old ideas and sitting with the discomfort. And I have to work on accepting what I know to be true — that there are other faiths which are true and pure, that language gets in the way of spiritual connections, that we are all really speaking about the same mystery, regardless of the name we put on it.

On Vertigo and God

Friday,6:58 AM

I woke with a start. The alarm had been snoozed twice, maybe three times, and I had fallen back to sleep. It was one of those times when you wake up and you aren’t sure if you’ve missed your alarm or not. I flipped over quickly.

The room started spinning.

I was instantly transported back to college, to times when I’d had the spins in bed after a heavy night of drinking and kind of giggled myself to sleep. Except this time there was no booze involved. And no giggles.

I got up to go to the bathroom and the spinning got worse. Faster. I stumbled to the bathroom and knew that it was only a matter of time before I’d start to throw up, or heave. And I got the latter.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure.”

More heaves.

“Do I need to call 911?”

“Something’s not right”

I couldn’t open my eyes. Every time I did, the room was spinning like whirling dervish. I heard the ambulance siren as they approached.

I couldn’t walk. They had to take me out of the house on a wheel chair contraption that had rails to go down the stairs.

I was scared, but not panicked. We were going to the right hospital — my wife has strict instructions not to ever let them take any of us to the hospital where my father died.

As they gave me an IV in the ambulance, I practiced breathing, noticing the cool air at my nostrils on the inhale and the warmer air on the exhale. The thought that this could be serious, even life threatening was present in my mind, but I was at peace.

I’ve been meaning to write about a transformative conversation I had with my wife a few weeks back for a while, but life has gotten in the way. One morning, while getting my son ready for school, he’d been uncooperative and I flipped out. My wife suggested that I call a friend in the program and I got angry, telling her not to 12 Step me. I told her that the Steps were bullshit, that I hadn’t gotten sober because God saved me. It didn’t go well. I felt bad about it all day.

She took my son to school that day, if I recall correctly, and I sat on the couch feeling like I felt many times when I’d still been drinking. My sponsor was in Hawaii getting married and it was the middle of the night in his timezone. Reluctantly, I called a friend in the program. My friend talked me through things and suggested that I should get to a meeting. He suggested that we go to a meeting together and we made tentative plans to go to a 7:30 meeting that night.

When my wife got home, she told me that she was busy that night and so I found a meeting at 5:30 to go to, texted my friend that I wouldn’t make the 7:30, and went. The meeting was not exceptional, but it was good to be there. I came home, made amends to my son and took care of him for the rest of the evening.

When my wife returned, I started talking about all the things that I don’t like about 12 Step. All the things that I hate about the God talk. And she said, “I think you need to look at that. I think you need to figure out why you get so angry about the God talk.”

“I get angry because religion is something that early humans created to explain things that are unexplainable. I get angry because all religions espouse that their way is the only way. This leads to wars. Do you know how many wars have been fought in the name of this supposedly merciful, loving, and benevolent God?” I was on the verge of going into a rant on this. She stopped me.

“I don’t think that’s why you don’t like the God talk,” she said.

“No? What do you think it is then?”

Calmly, she looked at me and said, “I think you’re angry at God. I think there were some very traumatic things that happened early in your life. I think that you were taught about God in a way that didn’t match your experience.”

In a few sentences Mrs. TKD had nailed it. I have been angry with God since I was five years old. God took away my father. And even though the church taught me that God loves me, I didn’t see it that way. What I saw was a God who hated me — a God who was cruel — a God who took away my father.

The church tried to tell me that God was a loving God. They tried to tell me that God protected me. They tried to tell me that God was essentially good. And when I asked why He’d taken my father, the best they could come up was hollow and plastic, “sometimes we don’t understand why God does things, but he always does them for the right reasons.”


I called bullshit on that at the age of five and I call bullshit on that today. The God that I know isn’t always benevolent. The God that I know doesn’t always have a rhyme or reason. The God I know is at times, chaotic.

And yet, the God that I know distinguishes between right and wrong and provides balance in times of need. The God I know is infused in this thing called life. This divinity is within all things, the ocean, the mountain, the fox, the eagle, the earth and everything that lives on the earth, and the universe. This divinity is not a deity, but is formless. It is a divine presence.

The God that I know — have always known — is not the God of my childhood.

I quickly realized that all of my resistance has been rooted in resistance to the God of my childhood. I’ve resisted a God not of my understanding but of someone else understanding. And I’ve resisted because I am angry with that God.

Now, I was throughly indoctrinated in my schooling that the God of my childhood is the one true God. That there will be no other gods before Him. That all other understandings of God are false gods. This set up a prison that has been hard to escape.

Once I understood that I was angry with this God, that I don’t ever need to make peace with this God, and that the Church insisting that their understanding of God is the one true way doesn’t make it so, I felt a new sense of freedom.

There is no evidence outside any system of belief proving the assumptions on which that belief system is based.1

I felt a sense that I could cast away the God of my childhood, without wholesale abandoning God. I felt that I could, in fact, choose a God of my understanding, and that this would not doom me to suffer the hellfire of eternal damnation.

I had finally, fully, taken Step 2 after nearly two and a half years of being sober and thinking that I’d already taken this step because I had my understanding of God. And I had, partially, but I was still clinging to feelings of guilt that I my understanding of God did not match the doctrine that I’d been taught as a child.

Coincidentally, my sponsor had come across the book which I’ve quoted above and without knowing that these events had transpired he’d decided to suggest that this book might be valuable to me. And, it sure has been.

God is what you imagine God is; God is what you need God to be so that you can recover from the disease that is ruining your life and the lives of those you love. 2

Friday was a terrible day. I was sick from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. Every time I opened my eyes, I either heaved or vomited. The nursing staff and doctors did everything that they could for me, but I was slow to respond. Over the course of the day I was given at least six different medications maybe closer to nine. I was given exceptional care in the ER and was kept one night for observation and was released the following afternoon. The most likely cause was a viral infection in my inner ear, and I’ll be following up with an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

Back to that thought in the ambulance. It was not just a thought that this vertigo was serious, it was truly that I might actually die and that it might actually happen before I got to the hospital. In retrospect, it sounds kind of silly, but that was the thought at the time. And I was at peace. The immediate thought after “you might die here” was “that will be okay.”

Certainly, I did not want to die. I have far too much to do in life to die at the young age of 45. I didn’t get sober at 43 so that I could die sober at 45. I got sober so that I’d have a shot at 20, 30, maybe 40 more years on this earth. But I was at peace with the idea that I could die — for the first time in my life the thought was not absolutely terrifying.

And I believe that is largely because I’ve made peace, not with the God of my childhood, but with the anger I have with the God of my childhood. I may, someday, make peace with that God, and I may not. But for now, I have made peace with myself — peace with how I feel about myself because I’m angry with the God that I was taught was the only true God as a child.

And that is growth.

  1. Shapiro, Rabbi Rami. Recovery—The Sacred Art: The Twelve Steps as Spiritual Practice (The Art of Spiritual Living) (Kindle Locations 726-727). Turner Publishing Company. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
  2. Shapiro, Rabbi Rami. Recovery—The Sacred Art: The Twelve Steps as Spiritual Practice (The Art of Spiritual Living) (Kindle Locations 925-927). Turner Publishing Company. Kindle Edition. ↩︎

Dry Drunk: A Hot Coal to be Dropped

“As rain falls equally on the just and the unjust do not burden your heart with judgment but rain your kindness equally on all.”

When I first came into the rooms, I was emotionally shattered, unsure of myself, unsure if I was in the right place, and frankly scared out of my wits. Like many people, I found that I was warmly welcomed by a group of strangers who had been exactly where I was each in their own way. After asking for help, I was given a list of names and numbers on the back of a piece of paper printed with the prayer of Saint Francis. “Welcome Home” was written at the top and I was told, “we’ll love you until you love yourself, keep coming back.” I felt absolutely no judgement from the group and for that I was thankful.

I’d read much of the Big Book prior to coming into the rooms and understood a lot about the program. I was uncomfortable with what I saw as overtly evangelical religious language in the steps but chose to ignore this and to “take what I like and leave the rest.” There were other things that I was uncomfortable with in the rooms, mostly the trite little sayings…

one day at a time

keep coming back

you’re only as sick as your secrets

let go and let god

just for today

I know it’s the first drink that gets me drunk

Over time, I became more comfortable with these little catch phrases, and I’ve been adopted some of them myself, because I now have a better understanding of just what they mean, even if I may think that they are overly simplistic in nature. I mean, lets face it, telling myself that I’m not going to drink just for today when I know damn well that I need to make sure I don’t drink for the rest of my life is a little mind game that I play with myself. And I’m okay with that. But there’s one turn of phrase that I hear in the rooms that really sticks in my crawl.

He’s a Dry Drunk! Continue reading

How looking for the similarities rather than the differences changed my life

We all do it. We all compare ourselves to other people.

We compare ourselves to our friends, our enemies, our neighbors, strangers on the street, and celebrities that we will never know personally. In some cases we feel “superior to” and in other cases we feel “less than” — neither view is particularly healthy.

Our subjective understanding of ourselves is deeply rooted in our understanding of how we fit in (or don’t) to this world. We come to this understanding by comparing ourselves to others. In early years, this is how we learn to become social animals. It’s how we learn to make friends.

I am constantly amazed that my son so easily makes friends when he meets other children his age. I am sure he compares himself to them, but it doesn’t seem to matter. He quickly finds the commonalities and joins in in the fun. Those commonalities may be as specific as the love of Legos or as simple as the mere fact that they are kids and not adults.

I have vague recollections of being able to do this myself when I was young. But somewhere along the line I lost the ability to quickly identify similarities and began to focus on the differences. Continue reading

Depression is NOT a “defect of character”

It’s June. The 6th month of the year. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will be celebrating the start of summer with the summer solstice. Those in the Southern Hemisphere are headed into winter.

Of course, in the 12 step world, we often focus on a step and a tradition each month. Naturally, meetings are focused on the sixth step in June, where we humbly ask the good of our understanding to remove our defects of character.

I’m still fuming. Continue reading

Surrendering to saying, “I’m an alcoholic”

After going to that AA meeting on the 23rd of September, I decided that I needed to commit myself to sobriety.   I knew that this meant getting past my angst with the first step.

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

See, I truly didn’t believe that I was powerless over alcohol.  And I was positive that my life was not unmanageable. As I mentioned in my last post, I had not lost anything.  I wasn’t “at the bottom.” I still had my wife, my house, my car, my job, my son.  I had everything.

Continue reading

“It’s taken a long time for me to get here”

I haven’t written about this yet for a couple of reasons.  First, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t put any artificial time limits on myself — I didn’t want to declare that I was taking a 30/60/90 day break from booze.  Secondly, I wanted to see how this worked out.  Finally, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame.  I’ve learned that I don’t have to be ashamed because I’m taking positive action to make my life better.

I’d been suffering for a long, long time and I secretly knew it was time for a change, but I couldn’t bring myself to make the change.  On September 21 of this year, I woke up full of regret.  The night before, I’d had several glasses of bourbon, several beers and half a bottle of wine.  I didn’t count my drinks anymore, but I knew it was a lot.  The recycling told the story.  I was fuzzy on the details of the night before, but I knew we’d had some family over for dinner that I’d cooked and I was reasonably sure that we’d had a good time, that I hadn’t been an overt ass or hurt anyone, and I didn’t burn dinner.  I may have served steak that was so rare it was blue in the middle though.

Continue reading