Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

Is there a god? What is the meaning of life?
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fluffy
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Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

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I had a post come across my FB page this morning speaking of a newish "Secular Recovery Program" in Kelowna offering a "non-religious" alternative to the traditonal 12-step programs such as AA and NA. This is a good thing at heart, dealing with an addiction is a confusing enough situation without adding yet another potential stumbling block to the mix, but it came at me a little sideways that in the press release (Here:http://www.kelownacapnews.com/community/187481231.html) AA was repeatedly described as a "religious" program. This might seem like an argument in semantics to some but in my twenty years experience with AA it has always been presented as a spiritual program rather than a religious one. The program's original designers were the first to realize that with so many diverse approaches to the "higher power" concept great care would have to taken to construct a framework what would allow everyone, atheists and agnostics included, to reap the benefits of the 12-step approach to recovery.

This issue goes well beyond the rooms of AA, as soon as someone mentions the "G" word many just close their minds, writing off anything that follows as "religious" ramblings of a brainwashed simpleton. We see it here often enough, with self-proclaimed atheists holding a narrow, stereotypical view of what it is they are choosing not to believe in. I've never been a religious person, a couple of brief flirtations with organized religion in my youth left me with a sour taste that still lingers today, but upon entering AA it was plain to me that some grasp of spirituality was needed in order to make sense of the framework the program was presented in. Thankfully, messed up minds like mine are not uncommon among alcoholics and the program's founders had the foresight to give me the option of getting on board the spiritual train without having to envision some grey-bearded cosmic superstar with his hand on the throttle up front in the engine.

Today I have a God in my life. It's not a God that shouts down from the pulpit every Sunday, nor is it a God who thunders out the latest set of rules from the mountain top, promising fire and misery if I don't stay the course. Truth is I don't have any idea what form it takes, it's just some ethereal half-thought out there on the fringes of consciousness, a focal point for all the other stuff I don't understand but cannot deny. The sun came up this morning. I didn't do it but it did happen. That in itself is a form of higher power. Twenty years sober spending an hour or two a week in a meeting in a church basement somewhere has shown me that many can do what one could not. Isn't that a higher power?

It might not seem like an important distinction to some, but religion and spirituality are not one in the same. I would suggest that those who cannot see that distinction will find stumbling blocks in the 12-step approach, and for them the secular approach will be a boon. But I have to say up front that AA brought something into my life that plays a big part these days, or maybe it just opened my eyes to something that was already there, who knows? I just know it's better than it was before.
I just want some credible articles to back up my conspiracy theory but I can't find any. Must be censorship.
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steven lloyd
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

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I have had the privilege of spending some time in my professional career working with recovering addicts and to become familiar with the concepts and “practice in action” of the 12-step program. There are gems of wisdom and philosophies for living that any person, addicted or not, could benefit from and I have very much enjoyed the exposure I had. One thing that was very clear was that despite discussion of the God concept, the 12-step program is anything but religious. The article notes that this new group in Kelowna “... subscribes to the notion that since everyone is different, each person benefits from having choice in recovery —provided the choices made (with positive, active support from peers) result in abstinence”. From my exposure to 12-step I really don’t see much difference between this and a “God of your understanding (or not understanding), "take what you want and leave the rest", etc. It’s funny/sad how much that God word comes to scare so many people.
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fluffy
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

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steven lloyd wrote: It’s funny/sad how much that God word comes to scare so many people.


That's it, isn't it? If one can dispense with all the negative connotations that word has come to represent, if it becomes just a word, then one can assign pretty much any meaning to it. That's what impressed me about the way the 12-step program was built, it left those decisions totally up to the member.
I just want some credible articles to back up my conspiracy theory but I can't find any. Must be censorship.
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Captain Awesome
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

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I'm actually reading Alcoholic Anonymous book right now - fascinating stuff.
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fluffy
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

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Bill W. could turn a phrase, that's for sure. That book is coming up on it's 75th anniversary in the next year or two, and came from a time when religion played a larger part in the day-to-day lives of most, so it's impressive that they appear to have had some foresight into potential problems regarding the religion issue, and made efforts to keep an unspecified face on "God". A major contributor in the final editing of the manuscript was in fact, an atheist and pretty much responsible for the "God of our understanding" approach which effectively de-mystified the God concept to the point where members could assign their own meaning to it and not be running into walls every time the word appeared in the book. This makes some sense to me, because as a concept firmly rooted in the unknown God can take any shape I wish to assign to it without being in conflict with what I know to be real and true. But on the same token, it does take some cognitive acrobatics to arrive at such a view, and since the whole 12-step program is built around self-honesty it would present a significant problem if one is asked to believe in something he can't feel in his heart as true.
I just want some credible articles to back up my conspiracy theory but I can't find any. Must be censorship.
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Nom_de_Plume
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

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steven lloyd wrote: It’s funny/sad how much that God word comes to scare so many people.

-fluffy- wrote:That's it, isn't it? If one can dispense with all the negative connotations that word has come to represent, if it becomes just a word, then one can assign pretty much any meaning to it. That's what impressed me about the way the 12-step program was built, it left those decisions totally up to the member.

I'm not sure if that's it at all.
It's not that "God" scares people it's just that for people who don't believe there is one it just doesn't resonate.
If you have any sort of faith in a deity or higher power you can insert the "god" word and you can still make that work for you.
But if you don't, it just rings sour everytime it's mentioned.
copied from the 12 step program:
2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

If you don't believe in a HE, HIM, GOD or higher power then over half the 12 steps hold no meaning and won't really do much to help anyone. All these steps want you to ask, admit or acknowledge to someone/something greater than yourself (something ethereal or God-esque) for help and expect you to have a spiritual awakening to make this all come down.
If you don't believe there is anything/anyone out there to ask.... how do you adapt these steps to suit your situation?
That's why the secular sobriety started up.
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

Post by iworkforme »

SMART recovery is about choice. We don't make anyone dispense with any god. We ask that god be left at the door. We discuss real things like thoughts, feelings and behaviors and how the connection between them may have become destructive. We have tools, not steps. We also discuss many possibilities for behavior change like diet, exercise and meditation etc. There still exists a chapter in the big book "to the wives". Smart changes as science understands more. Everyone is invited. If it works for you; fine. If not find a way that does. We don't ever expect other programs reciprocate that same offer. That is a bit narrow minded in my opinion.
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

Post by iworkforme »

[quote="steven lloyd" It’s funny/sad how much that God word comes to scare so many people.[/quote]

Personally I don't think it's funny or sad. It's the natural progression of evolution of our species. I am surprised that it's taken so long, but the concept of a god or creator has gotten old for many people. The evidence for evolution is impossible to deny. (for those who take the time to hear it). Atheism and skepticism is well on the rise.
SMART recovery is not an atheist group. It's not about god, although they don't care if someone has a spiritual quest in their recovery. Some in SMART feel that is important for some, not so much for others. At the end of the day SMART is about understanding human behavior from the knowledge gained through scientific understanding of how our thoughts, feelings and behaviors get muddled. Simple and real for many people. That is why "choice" is important.
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

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iworkforme wrote:
It's the natural progression of evolution of our species. I am surprised that it's taken so long, but the concept of a god or creator has gotten old for many people. The evidence for evolution is impossible to deny. (for those who take the time to hear it). Atheism and skepticism is well on the rise.

Um okay, I actually don't think inferring that people who believe in a deity are less evolved is a good way to promote this.
Just sayin.
Some people have a belief in something greater than themselves and that's just fine, whatever works for them.
Other people don't, and can't wrap their heads around trying to use a belief in a deity type thing to help them have the power to overcome an addiction.
I'm glad there is an option for those people who can't make an AA (12step spiritual program) work for them.
I know it wouldn't work for me.
The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.
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steven lloyd
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

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iworkforme wrote: The evidence for evolution is impossible to deny.

What's that got to do with anything ?
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fluffy
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

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iworkforme wrote:...the concept of a god or creator has gotten old for many people. The evidence for evolution is impossible to deny.


Nom_de_Plume wrote:Some people have a belief in something greater than themselves and that's just fine, whatever works for them. Other people don't, and can't wrap their heads around trying to use a belief in a deity type thing to help them have the power to overcome an addiction.


Well for me, the key to the 12 step program was "a God of my understanding". I've never been comfortable with the traditional "supreme intelligence" concept, or even the whole "deity" thing itself. The way I read the 12 step program is that the whole "God" thing is nothing more than a word, a focal point for concepts like honesty and intuition. My personal concept of God is something more obiwan-kenobi-ish, the idea that life and existence itself has a unifying force that puts everything in place, lets the sun come up, the seeds sprout, the rivers run downhill. It's not really important that I understand why, the important part is that it does happen and will happen with or without me. That's a higher power. The idea that evolution "just happened" is a brilliant concept in itself, something I couldn't do but happened anyways. Obviously something greater than me is at work. The fact that I happened without any effort on my part qualifies for higher power. I just had to get away from the the idea that there was some deliberate intent or controlling entity behind it. It's just a way for me to read words like "God" without getting sidetracked by "I don't believe". It lets me see things like "God spoke to me and said..." and "my heart tells me that..." as different wording for the same idea. The bottom line for me was that I didn't want to drink any more and there was an avenue of escape open to me, all I had to do was assign a meaning to that God word that I was comfortable with. (Well, that and change my whole life.) Maybe it was an end run of sorts, but it's working for me. I'm coming up on twenty years sober, I can say "God" without discomfort, and still scoff at religious fanatics when I choose to. (I don't care what your name is, get off the water, you're scaring the fish away.) In looking back It really wasn't the hurdle I thought it was going to be, I just had to re-invent God.
I just want some credible articles to back up my conspiracy theory but I can't find any. Must be censorship.
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

Post by Nom_de_Plume »

Congrats -fluffy-. I'm certainly not dismissing the AA program, as far as I'm concerned its a very good thing.
I've known several people for whom it's worked very well.
I've only ever had personal experience with the Al anon program which used the exact same 12 steps as AA.
I suppose the issue I had with it was being 4th generation atheist I don't have any belief in a "higher power" or the "force" that I can replace the "god" word with, but moreso, although one can insert another word, these meetings are usually groups of people and all the meetings I attended those other people had a strong faith in god/jesus so they set the tone for how the meeting progressed.
I see nothing wrong with having other options for people, as not all programs work for everyone and everyone learns in different ways.
The end goal is the same, to be free from the addiction and live a happy, functional life.
I wish the secular society all the best in offering an alternative for those who can't fit themselves into mainstream AA programs.
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

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Nom_de_Plume wrote:I suppose the issue I had with it was being 4th generation atheist I don't have any belief in a "higher power" or the "force" that I can replace the "god" word with, but moreso, although one can insert another word, these meetings are usually groups of people and all the meetings I attended those other people had a strong faith in god/jesus so they set the tone for how the meeting progressed.


I respect that, it's not like this discussion doesn't ever come up even at meetings. I suppose I'm fortunate in that the home group I've been attending since I came into the program doesn't take the "God" thing very seriously. I'd be surprised if there are more than a very few who would actually describe themselves as "religious". If a newcomer expresses disdain for the preponderance of the God word in our literature, and most do at some point or another, the other members are quick to point out the alternatives available. It comes down to personal perception really, and being able to "get around" the religious implications without actually having to cop to religious beliefs of your own that you're not comfortable with.

I see parallels out in the real world too. Many organized religions have, at their heart, some pretty decent moral lessons to share when it comes to how we live our lives and treat those around us. At the same time many of these same religions have become a blight on society as the moral lessons at their heart get lost in amongst the less-than-moral agendas of those doing the preaching. It's an all-or-nothing thing, they teach that you can have the blossoms our god offers but your have to eat the stems and seeds too, even some of the dirt that clings to the roots. AA teaches "take what you need and leave the rest", a concept that wouldn't hurt some of the stricter congregations that coincidentally are suffering from declining membership.

I think from my point of view, since spiritual beliefs or absence thereof are a deeply personal and unique thing to each of us, why not have programs designed to allow for those differences? AA tries that but I can certainly understand the predicament of those faced with the way our literature describes those concepts, language that has gone largely unchanged since it was first published in the late thirties. I would have to agree that the emerging non-secular recovery groups like the SMART program offer a viable alternative, after all it's not about God, it's about staying clean and sober and whatever works for anyone cannot be a bad thing. I think that if one were to look deep enough there would be some striking parallels between AA and SMART recovery programs, not the least among them would be the goal to "fix" a somewhat tainted world view that is at the root of many substance abuse problems.
I just want some credible articles to back up my conspiracy theory but I can't find any. Must be censorship.
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Re: Religion vs. Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

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A "higher power" doesn't necessarily mean that there's some force or entity out there in control of this whole mess as much as it means that I'm not the one in control of many aspects of life. The sun will come up, the trees will grow, and things will not always go the way I want. There are things that I should do and things that I shouldn't, and much of that beyond my control. How we look at that is a huge part of how we cope from day to day. "God" isn't a big deal for me. It's a hypothetical name on a metaphorical box on an imaginary shelf in what's left of my mind. It's full of stuff I don't understand and don't really need to. Some of it's useful, some of it isn't, some of it comes out now and then , most of it just sits there. It's not in the way unless I make it so. If I say "God speaks to me" it's pretty much the same as saying "Santa brought me a nice present" or "Mother Nature paints a colourful picture in the fall", it's a metaphor.
I just want some credible articles to back up my conspiracy theory but I can't find any. Must be censorship.

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