The 12 Steps for Everyone [Step One]

Hola mi Gente,
I realize there are many people who see the 12-step movement as a cult, as misguided, or as a failure. That’s fine. I have no interest in debating the merits of NA/ AA or in trying to convince anyone to join. What follows is my experience as someone who’s been free from active addiction for 26+ years. I do, however, believe anyone can benefit from practicing the principles that form the foundation of the 12 Steps…

Every first Sunday, I will post my attempt to translate these principles for the general public. Also, if you’re suffering, please know that there is hope after dope… There are links to resources at the end of this post.

Stopping the War

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We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
— The First Step of Narcotics Anonymous

 

I was once told that these spiritual principles were as a bridge back to life. What I didn’t know then was that this bridge is built on the very bones of those who came before me. This series of posts is an attempt to honor that lineage.

The First Step confronted me with two problematic words: powerless and unmanageable. I also didn’t notice at first that every NA step begins with the word “We.” I was a loner; “we” wasn’t a word I used much. Everything was about me. They say an addict is an egomaniac with low self-esteem, and that contradiction in terms perfectly described my state of mind.

Let me just say that 12-step recovery is about action — it is an experiential approach. Every step involves growth, exploration, and some measure of action. I think people who have never attended a meeting have misconceptions about 12-Step Fellowships.

People in recovery like to say that the first step is the only step you have to get perfectly. I disagree, recovery is an ongoing process, and my understanding of the first step expands and deepens as I grow. However, there is a level of acceptance necessary for the integration of this step. But I get ahead of myself…

There are several powerful psycho-spiritual factors at work in the First Step. Primarily, there is an admission. Admitting to a problem has become a popular notion in our culture that first came to prominence in twelve-step fellowships. The act of admitting touches on the first spiritual principle of the first step: honesty. However, admitting means nothing without acceptance. For example, at one point in my life I had no problem admitting I was an addict; I could be honest about that. But that admission and $2.75 got me on the train, which is another way of saying that admitting by itself it is worthless. It wasn’t until I embraced another core spiritual principle of the first step, acceptance, that I was then able to make changes in my life.

The more NA meetings I attended, the more I heard my own story being told by others who were honest about themselves. I began to see that I had a lot in common with these people when it came to my addictive behaviors. On the other hand, it took me a long time to come to grips with powerlessness. I was raised to think of myself as powerful. I was taught that if I exerted my will on any issue, that I could overcome anything in the world. If I had enough cojones and worked hard enough, I could have power over anything.

Besides, it wasn’t my addiction that was the problem, it was everyone else. At least that was what I told myself. If only other people got their shit together and external situations in my life corrected themselves, I wouldn’t be in such a fix. The problem with my thinking was that it involved exerting willpower. The problem with my willpower was that it was warped. The more willpower I exerted, the more I fucked up. I tried everything: using only on the weekends, snorting instead of using intravenously, drinking instead of using other drugs, using only certain drugs in certain combinations, etc. The irrefutable truth was that no matter what I tried, I always ended up in the same place: all fucked up.

Imagine a machinery part that was made to perform only one action, or to move in only one direction, or in one specific way. No matter how much you oil that part, no matter how much you try to make it more efficient or move faster, it will still perform how it was meant to function. If a part was meant to move back and forth, for example, no amount of lubrication will make it move sideways. Similarly, if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail. My will was fucked up, meant to move in a specific direction and no exertion of that will could bring about lasting change. In fact, my will often brought more destruction.

Simply put, I came to the realization that if I wanted to change, I needed to develop new tools, to come to terms that will alone wasn’t getting it done. And what that really meant for me was that in order to begin my journey, I first had to surrender. In fact, as I look back now, the whole process of recovery is one long, beautiful, liberating process of surrendering.

The First Step is like the beginning of a hero’s journey. In the archetype of the hero (or errant knight), most heroes begin reluctantly, clumsily, and then forces beyond their control propel them past their ordinary lives into a journey of personal change and renewal. Like most addicts, I was unaware of aspects of myself — my feelings, for example, and the wreckage I was creating. The first step freed me to begin my quest for self-knowledge and transformation.

Admitting to powerlessness was a long and slow process; accepting that admission brought me to the gateway of healing and sanity. That was also about another core spiritual principle: willingness. Instead of willfulness, what I needed was willingness. It’s part of what is often called the HOW (honesty, openness, and willingness) of recovery.

The common misconception about the first step for those who have never tried to apply it is that it is defeatist. The first step is not about defeat. It says powerlessness, not hopelessness. Powerlessness is not uncommon, in fact, and if we open our eyes, we realize that we have no power over many things. Take the weather, for example. As we Northerners brace ourselves for a cold winter as I write this, I understand completely that I can’t stop the snow, but if you take the time to stop, look, and listen, you may come to realize that preparation is a lot better than trying to control the elements. Another thing we have no power over is how others act or think, yet we spend enormous amounts of time and energy trying to exert control over other people. Oftentimes, we don’t even have power over our own emotions, but we can learn to relate to them differently.

The first step is really about admitting powerlessness over living in the extremes. Try fighting the rain, or better yet, a hurricane, and you’ll get a sense of what it is to fight addiction. You have to surrender. You have to take refuge.

As part of taking the first step, you take an inventory of the consequences of your addiction. For me this meant documenting the jobs I lost, the people I hurt, and most of all, the harm I did to myself. In reflecting in this way, I could no longer deny the unmanageability of my life as an active addict. This was a hard nut to crack because I never wanted to admit my life was unmanageable. I had it together, I liked to think, I just went a little overboard sometimes.

I was also confronted with the insanity of an obsession that led to compulsion and how my fight would be futile until I surrendered. If you’re fighting an inner war, then someone has to lose. If you’re fighting an inner war, it follows, you, or an aspect of yourself, will always lose.

Taking the first step clearly showed me that my thinking had little relationship to reality. There were countless times during my active addiction, for example, that I would experience a blackout. A blackout doesn’t entail being unconscious or comatose. In a blackout, you can sit down one minute and the next thing you know you missed an entire episode of your life — while conscious.

A blackout is similar to what I imagine a time jumper would feel. One minute you’re in one time-space continuum and the next, you’re somewhere else and what’s horrifying is that you don’t know what the fuck is going on. One time coming out of a blackout, I had a whole house-full of people wanting to kick my ass, and I had no clue why. It seems I propositioned the bride-to-be (I was at an engagement party) and that kind of pissed a few people off. I once emerged out of a blackout in a different state and different year having lost track of several days. It happened during an extended New Year’s Eve celebration. Several days later, I woke up in a strange house, sleeping next to a strange woman and I had no inkling where I was or what day.

I used to laugh and brag about that (it’s still funny on one level) but it was a horrifying experience. Still I couldn’t admit my powerlessness. It wasn’t that something was wrong with me, I rationalized, it was that other people were too stuck up or rigid, and besides, I know that bitch at the engagement party wanted me. Perhaps you may have never experienced this extreme form of powerlessness, but have you ever had a situation spiral out of control to the point that you were at a loss?

Most of all, the first step is the beginning of the undoing of the karmic consequences of denial. I had to be brought my knees — from hopelessly addicted, being confined in institutions, and even close to death — and still I wouldn’t admit my powerlessness. There was definitely a lot of evidence of unmanageability in my life. Shit, I attempted suicide at least once. What “normal” person can say that?

More than anything, I realized as I became clean did the inner work, that I was addicted to insanity. If my life was going too smoothly, or things were going my way, or I had too many successes going on, I would find a way to sabotage that. I would pick a fight at a bar, or destroy an intimate relationship, or simply disappear. I didn’t know what it meant to have a measure of serenity or consistency in my life. I didn’t know how to cope with that.

Oh, and yes, I’ve kicked more habits than I can remember. The problem was that I just could never stay stopped. It was never hard kicking a habit. But addiction, I soon learned, was not merely about substance abuse. I would get “clean” and chill for six-seven months, but when I started again, it was as if I never stopped. My last day as an active addict, I had spent $300 after having been released from a Rikers Island jail for exactly fourteen days. I went from clean to a $300-a-day habit at the drop of a hat.

I would say that’s unmanageable…

However, there are other ways our powerlessness and unmanageability manifests in our lives. Whether it’s food or cigarettes, or relationships, I think we can all look where we’re being a little self-destructive or even slowly killing ourselves (cigarettes anyone?), suffering needlessly, or causing ourselves or our loved ones harm. I believe we all can identify with the compulsive need to exert control and the denial of powerlessness. I use my life as an example because the extreme manner in which I lived it makes it easier to illustrate my points, but we all have the dark places, the places that scare us.

Today, I apply the first step to many things in my life, especially in relationships and to certain behaviors. For example, in my job search one of the things that help keeps me sane is that I realize I have no power over outcomes. I cannot control how other people behave, or the decisions they make. My power is in the effort that I put in to my job search. Anything else, I have no power over that.

Addictions like to migrate. One might be able to kick the heroin or the alcohol, but then you see people acting out sexually or financially. If you don’t do the inner work, applying these principles in all your affairs, then you’ll continue to be in the grips of addictive behavior. The first step stipulated that I was powerless over my addiction. Addiction is not about a substance, but a way of thinking.

Eventually, I began to conceptualize the first step as something similar to the concepts of Aikido or Wing Chun, two martial arts that stress the importance of never meeting force with force. In a sense, the first step is about learning to flow with the forces of life instead of fighting all the time. It’s learning to transform difficult emotions into opportunities for healing. It’s knowing that while you can’t stop the waves, you can learn to surf.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

Resources

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

Allione, T (2008) Feeding your demons: Ancient wisdom for resolving inner conflict. (click here)

Chodron, P. (2005) When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times (click here)

Note: The featured artwork is from Ben’h Usry.

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The 12 Steps for Everybody [Step Five]

Hola, mi gente,
Every month, I dedicate a post to one of the steps of Narcotics Anonymous. These posts are by no means intended as extensive exploration of recovery. They are merely brief expression of my strengths, hopes, and experiences culled from my ongoing journey toward recovery.

Step Five: The Heart of Kindness

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Step Five: We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

 

Recap time!

First, we explored what I call the “Recovery Cha Cha Cha” — the first three steps that serve as the foundation to recovery and freedom from addiction. Step 1 (here) confronted me with the major contradiction in my life: how I managed to feel powerful when, in fact, I was powerless and needed help.

Step 2 (here) challenged my grandiosity. I have heard it said that addicts are egomaniacs with low self-esteem and I couldn’t put it any better than that. My low self-esteem pushed me to inflate my ego, but all I ever felt inside was emptiness and feelings of worthlessness.

Step 3 (here) helped me see that my efforts at control were in actuality ways of sabotaging myself. Ultimately, I can only take responsibility for myself leaving the rest to my Higher Power however I defined it.

Lastly, the Fourth Step (here) gave me the gift of self-knowledge. By reviewing in detail my fears, desires, thoughts, motives, and actions, seeing how they created wreckage, I was better able to uncover the patterns of behavior that sabotaged my efforts at living with a measure of sanity.

I was raised as a Roman Catholic and I can still remember the ritual Saturday confessionals. We would tease our friends and cousins if they took too long in the confessional because we all knew that meant there was a lot of sinning goin’ on. LOL Still, the feeling of catharsis that always accompanied a confession was always refreshing. Always, the priest listened quietly and no matter what you said or admitted to, it was taken in stride, with no judgment. The message, at least for me anyway, was that no one was ever truly beyond redemption.

As much as I dreaded the Fourth Step, the Fifth Step was the scariest for me. Shame was acting as an obstacle against my journey to freedom. In Step five, we are asked to bare our soul to our Higher Power (as we understood it), ourselves, and another human being. Reveal all, put it all out there, and take the risk of coming face to face with our shadow and dragging it out into the open.

Secrets and shame are two of the hallmarks of the cycle of addiction. Many of us come from families in which addiction was a way of life. Throughout our developmental years and beyond, many of us feared outsiders would see us and our “horrible” families truthfully, so we developed coping skills that developed into strategies of denial. Step Five, people, was my first taste of true freedom. And recovery isn’t about putting down a drug or a drink — recovery is about freedom from active addiction.

Period.

Still, I can’t possibly share my most shameful secrets with another human being, I thought to myself. Surely, no one has ever done the despicable things I had done. I was stuck at Step Five for sure. Eventually I came to learn an important truth, and I feel this applies to anyone, not just addicts. When we try to carry the load alone, we suffer needlessly. And in an unconscious manner, in seeking relief from that load, sometimes we will accuse even our loved ones and friends of the very character defects we are desperately attempting to conceal. Psychological relief never comes from confessing the “sins” of other people. Everybody has to come to terms with their own.

The practice of confessing, admitting the exact nature of our wrongs to another person is not new; it’s an ancient spiritual practice, in fact. And religion is by no means the sole advocate for this principle, contemporary Western psychology has long ago acknowledged the value the profound need every human being has for practical insight and knowledge of their personality flaws.

After much thought, I decided to share my Fifth Step with a Jesuit priest who was a recovering addict himself. This priest, who I will call Eddie, was one of the kindest persons I have ever met. And he was far from the stereotypical clergyman. He sometimes cussed, for example, and he smoked cigarettes. Most of all, like many truly spiritual people I have met, he had a great, evolved sense of humor.

As I began sharing my Fifth Step with Father Eddie, he just listened. He was present, listening to everything and I felt there was no judgment. In fact, he kept nodding as I read off my list and sometimes sharing that he had committed some of the same acts himself. At other times, we would laugh together at some of the things on my list. Eventually, I was able to share fully, without holding back, and all the fear and shame seemed as if it were being washed away. I felt accepted and unburdened. Most of all, I felt relieved of the “burden of self.”

The first great insight during the sharing of my Fifth Step was that I wasn’t as unique or terrible or horrible as I thought. Yes, I had committed many wrongs, but I wasn’t the only human being to commit those acts, and being held in the cradle of kindness — in the heart of the heart of kindness — I came to know my first taste of true freedom. The 12 Steps aren’t about formulating ideas about freedom, they compel us to act on the practice of freedom. The 12 Steps are experiential exercises, action steps, taken toward personal and communal liberation.

Taking Step Five freed me from the chains of my shame and secrecy. I realized that I was a good person at heart and being freed from a repressive morality, I was able to become a moral agent in my life. Most of all, you have to understand, the Steps are about compassion, not punishment. The Steps can be the start of cultivating loving compassion toward ourselves. Personally, it was liberating to discover that my very vulnerability, that uncomfortable sensation of being exposed, is actually the bridge to deeper connections to myself and others. It’s called emotional safety, and what that means is dropping the shame and the sham and committing to being as translucent as possible. And now, all these years after my first Fifth Step, emotional safety and genuine intimacy is the norm among the circle of my dearest friends.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

The 12 Steps for Everyone [Step Three]

Hola mi Gente,

Right off the bat: I am not interested in debating people who consider 12-step fellowships cults, or who think they are ineffective or whatever. The 12 step fellowships aren’t for everybody. If you were to attend a meeting, you would here this repeated in the prefatory readings at every meeting. However, if you were to ask me how I got clean, I would have to tell you that the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous saved my life. My experience also tells me that internalizing and applying the principles found in the 12 Steps could be beneficial for everyone, regardless of whether they identify as an addict.

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Turning it Over

Step Three: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

 

The first time I came to the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous, by the time I reached this step, I had decided to quit. This is bullshit! I told myself. Fuck that God shit.

At that time I wasn’t ready for recovery and I spent the next five years, the worst of my life, chasing my addiction so that I could get outside of myself. In a very real way, my addiction was my Higher Power, and at some level I knew this, but I would not kneel before a God I didn’t believe, or religious principles that I saw as intolerant and juvenile.

I didn’t sit still long enough to read the part of the step that says: … as we understood Him. The second time around, I was more willing to learn to listen and listen to learn because I had a burning desire to stop the suffering. Yet, while I was more open, but I also knew that I couldn’t pretend to submit to religious dogma because my efforts had to be genuine or I would risk going back.

My First Step work forced me confront the contradiction of my addictive process: that I felt powerful when in fact, I was powerless over my addiction and needed help. The First Step gave me hope… However, having internalized and accepted my powerlessness (not to be confused with hopelessness), I was left open and vulnerable, and while I understood my powerlessness, I needed something to latch onto, some form of support.

My Second Step work helped me come to terms with trust, at least a little, and it challenged my feelings of grandiosity, bringing me to the realization that I am a human being, and as such, I am not all-powerful — the “Great I Am.” It taught me the value of surrendering my small self in favor of my Higher Self. The Second Step helped me take a fresh look at faith and it helped me begin my spiritual search anew with a new perspective. In fact, I see my entire history of active addiction as a spiritual search gone wrong. Recovery was a matter of turning that mad search into something sane and good.

In the beginning, I was able to accept the collective consciousness of the fellowship of NA as my Higher Power, but as I continued to work the steps in my life, I revisited the teachings of Buddhism (The Dharma) and I accepted them as my Higher Power. In Buddhism, I found a Higher Power that could restore me to sanity.

In Narcotics Anonmyous I was taught that there are no “shalts.”In other words, nothing is forced down our throats and everyone works the steps to the best of their abilities and at their own pace. In fact, working  the steps is not a requirement, simply a suggestion. The first three steps serve as a foundation — a bridge — back to life. It’s not about belief, but about practice. Believing is not enough; it is through living and applying the steps that we recover our Original Self. I think what’s most important for anyone, is maintaining a frame of mind described by Zen masters as “beginner’s mind.” In the mind of an expert, it is said, there are few possibilities. But in the mind of a beginner, everything is possible.

Let me add that I as I have progressed spiritually, I have come to realize that bridge back to life was made from the bones of those who came before me, many of whom never got clean, never tasted spiritual freedom.

Truly, change and recovery are about coming back to a state where we’re open to suggestions and looking at life with fresh eyes. It’s about dropping the mess and listening to the message. If you’re like me and many others, there are issues that have tested you sorely. Whether it is drugs, sex, relationships, your emotions, food, or other people, we all have found ourselves at our wit’s end at one time or another. The Third Step is about letting be, as the Taoists put it.

One thing I was painfully aware of was that whenever I imposed my will, things became messed up quick. If I was in a relationship, my will meant lots of insanity. Imposing my will on my addiction meant that it made it worse because my will was warped. So recovery (and specifically the Third Step) is a lot about letting go of the impulsive need to control. It’s about allowing a Higher Principle, set of moral and ethical guidelines, Higher Power, or God — or whatever you choose to call it — guide your actions.

For me, that Higher Power as I understand it is The Dharma. In other words, instead of exerting my will on my addictive behaviors, I was letting go in favor of a set of spiritual principles that emphasized ethical behavior, contemplation, and cognitive restructuring. Rather than chasing a bag, or the delusional grasp for happiness through destructive behavior, I was instead flowing into a spiritual practice that guided me toward a saner way of life. For my purposes, I do not believe in an Abrahamic God, but I am an addict in recovery.

My experience with the 12 Steps is that they have taught me that when I’m less reactive and defensive, life becomes less stressful and simpler. The truth of the matter is that I’m constantly taking my will back. I become a backseat driver to my life and demand to make a left turn, when my Higher Power (as understood by me) is telling me to make a right. There are times I’m downright nasty about it and I take the wheel and “all of sudden” there I am, ass out on Broadway. In my early recovery I would take my will back on an hourly basis. I had the good fortune to have someone explain to me that recovery (and life) is really about practice not perfection. The point is if we’re to evolve, then letting go becomes a way of life. These principles are guidelines to progress. The issue isn’t spiritual perfection, but spiritual practice. No one, my guide told me, gets this perfectly.

Whatever your understanding of your Higher Power, it is suggested that it be a loving and understanding. For me this means living a life of non-harming, of skillful speech and action. If I can turn my life over to that Higher Power, then I’m released from the bondage of my smaller, ego-driven self. For some this can mean throwing away the concept of an angry and jealous God for one that is loving, accepting, and compassionate. It could mean an understanding of God that resides within, instead of the concept of a patriarchal God-in-the-sky. Perhaps the Universal Principle is a stream flowing through all of us. Maybe my Higher Power, rather than being an old white guy with a beard can look like Halle Berry, instead. Who’s to say? What’s important, in this spirituality, is that your Higher Power be loving and trustworthy.

Most importantly, this step is all about coming to terms with trust. It is really about learning acceptance, of letting go of the compulsive need for control. In my active addiction, I was more concerned with control than about relationships. Lack of trust, my friends, is really about control. If you don’t trust someone, then you’re trying to control that person. In other words, lack of trust is the impulse to control because if you can’t trust another, you want to do everything yourself. And how has that worked so far?

Let go…

This is for you, whoever you are. Take what is useful. Ultimately, however, this is mostly for the still sick and suffering addict out there all alone thinking there’s no way out, or defending a madness slowly killing him or her.

My name is Eddie and I am an addict in recovery…

 

 

The Twelve Steps for Everyone [Step Two]

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…

Resources

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.