Hola mi Gente,
Yeah, yeah, yeah… the weather here in the Land of the Snow at The Center of the Known Universe, is frightful. And Yeah (yeah, yeah)… it’s really nice where you live. But riddle me this: who the hell wants to live in that armpit you call a city? LOL!
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Faith and our Deepest Experience
We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
— The Second Step, Narcotics Anonymous
As most who read these pages know, I am an addict in recovery. I’ve been clean, one day at a time (sometimes one breath at a time), for going on 26 years. What follows is a narrative of my journey toward wholeness. I don’t know if this will work for you, but if you were to ask me, this is how I recovered my life. My story is extreme and you might find it hard to identify with some of its elements. All I ask is that you try to identify with rather than compare my story. As they say in the rooms, listen to the message and not the mess.
I believe all people, regardless of whether they are addicts or not, can benefit from a rigorous application of the 12 Steps.
So take a thorough First Step and what happens? We’re stuck in a bad place. I mean, c’mon now, coming to the full and painful realization that my way of doing things was fundamentally fucked up wasn’t a nice space. Furthermore, my bottom had me staring at some very harsh consequences. The last time I took a drug or drink, I was in detention and looking at a possible 15-year prison sentence. Talk about despair.
But years before I got to that mess, the first time I read this step, I literally walked away from Narcotics Anonymous. My understanding of the core principle of this step, faith, at that time caused me a lot of discomfort. I am not a religious person, nor do I believe in a patriarchal God-in-the-sky. To make matters worse, as I continued reading down the steps, I kept seeing the “God” word and the phrase “Higher Power” and I decided then that it was bullshit.
Consequently, I went through the five worst years of my life. The second issue I had with this step was the implication that I was insane — restore us to sanity. When I came back to NA, I did so with a more open mind. But I still had major issues with this step…
My sponsor at the time suggested that I simply commit to keeping an open mind and to make this process a personal search. The beauty of Narcotics Anonymous is that the fellowship doesn’t demand you do anything. There are no “thou shalts,” no “shoulds.” As part of taking this step, my sponsor suggested I do a close reading and learn the terms. One of the first things I liked about the step the second time around was how it starts, “came… ” and then, “came to… ,” then, “came to believe… ” In a very real way I was finally coming to my senses — I was awakening. The opposite of despair is hope and I came to understand that hope is what the Second Step offered me.
Faith was a hard score to settle, but there are enough agnostics and even atheists who are recovering addicts because the Twelve Steps allow for a kind of spiritual democracy. You do not have to believe in anything, or join any religion. You do not even have to apply the steps. They are simply suggestions and since whenever I followed my own suggestions, I usually experienced tremendous suffering, I figured it was time for me to listen to some alternative suggestions.
There are many different meanings of faith. At one extreme, there is the more common understanding of faith as blind faith, but that’s just one way of looking at faith. There are degrees of faith. In fact, we all have daily moments of faith and belief. We have faith, for example, that when we turn on the faucet, water will flow. We have faith that our car will start, or that a toaster will work. We also have many beliefs. We believe, for example, that we have a personality. Actually, many of us believe we are our personality, but there’s no brain center that organizes personality. Your personality is a set of beliefs and quirks that you constructed in order to operate in the everyday world. Scientists have faith in reason and logic to solve problems.
Shit, some of us believe that if we shove money inside of hole in the wall (as many of us did in the 1980s when we copped reefer or heroin), a bag of dope will materialize. LOL! I’m not kidding. Back in the day, the way you copped drugs was that you’d stick your hand with your money in a hole and a hand with bag would come out. I had complete faith in that transaction.
So early on in my recovery process, faith for me had to mean a temporary suspension of disbelief. What that meant was that I made an agreement with myself to keep an open mind. Sometimes faith can mean trust. I came to believe that the spiritual principles of hope, freedom and willingness would restore me to sanity. And believe me, by the second time around, I knew I was insane.
I have been studying human behavior for over a two decades now, and the best definition of insanity I have come across is doing the same actions and expecting different results. Even an infant knows better not to stick his hand in the socket after the first go-round. But yet we as adults oftentimes commit the same behaviors — especially in the area of relationships — expecting different results.
Sometimes faith can mean trust in a teaching, or self-confidence. As a Buddhist, my Higher Power is the Dharma (The Law), a clearly defined set of ethical and cognitive principles. In sports, a group can develop faith in their ability as a team to overcome extreme odds. In that same way, I came to believe that the fellowship and principles of Narcotics Anonymous could restore me to sanity. Why? Because I was seeing people in the fellowship taking back their lives. People all around me were helping heal themselves and one another. I have been to NA meetings where a particular individual cried in despair because she couldn’t pay her rent, then see her cry once again in joy several months later because she was able to pay her rent.
Initially, my Higher Power was the group — that what I couldn’t do alone we could do together. Like a team. Eventually, my spirituality would evolve and I would come to embrace Buddhism as my path. The historical Buddha didn’t make any claims to divinity and his last words, as he lay dying (of all things, food poisoning) were, “… be a lamp unto yourself.” What that means to me is that ultimately, you must walk your path. It means that sayings, scriptures, or instructions alone will not save you. Ultimately, if you want to awaken, to come to your full realization as a human being, you must walk your path — whatever that path entails.
And that’s what the second step helped me begin. It helped begin to walk the walk, trusting in my experience that I could be restored to sanity by a power greater than myself. The Second Step helped me come to a different understanding of faith, one that wasn’t associated with dogma or religion. I wanted a faith that encouraged and emphasized love and respect for ourselves as a foundation. A faith that uncovers our connection to others, rather than designating anyone as separate and apart. The faith I came to know as part of my recovery process and that I describe in this post does not require a blind faith or even a belief system; it is not necessarily connected to a God, though it doesn’t deny one. This faith I speak of is not a commodity we either have or don’t have — it is an inner quality that unfolds as we learn to trust our own deepest experience.
My name is Eddie and I’m recovery from civilization…
Addiction is one of the most pressing problems in our society — a society that actually encourages consumption at the expense of substance. If you think you have a problem, give yourself a break and try something new, it just might save your life…
Alcoholics Anonymous: Official website
Narcotics Anonymous: Official website
Books I have found useful:
Allione, Tsultrim (2008) Feeding your demons: Ancient wisdom for resolving inner conflict. (click here)
Ash, Mel (1993) The Zen of recovery (click here)
Chodron, Pema (2005) When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times (click here)
Griffin, Kevin (2004) One breath at a time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps (click here)
Z., Philip (1990) A skeptic’s guide to the 12 Steps (click here)
Note: The featured artwork is by Ben’h Usry.