Acceptance, Spirituality

God and Understanding

I have been thinking a lot lately about the God of my understanding.  I’ve also been thinking a lot about whether there is a God (with or without an upper case G) at all.  As an addict, I need to believe in something greater than myself because my self has never been stronger than my addiction.  My self has been stronger than a number of things, but in order to battle the monster on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis, I need to believe in a super hero of some kind.

One event that triggered these thoughts was an essay I read online by a woman who was having a lot of difficulty with her AA and NA meetings.  She is an atheist among a lot of people who espouse a Christian God.  She identifies as transgender among a lot of cishets* who, for lack of greater understanding, often advise her to “pray away the gay.”  I feel pain and anger and sadness for her because it’s hard enough to be among people who believe in a God that is not of your understanding; even worse to be among people who keep suggesting that who and what you are is somehow a disease of your own making.

Let’s pause a moment for a brief digression into background.  AA was founded (more or less) by two white, heterosexual men in the 1930s.  These men were not particularly religious, but they had been in contact with the Oxford Group (headed by an Episcopal clergyman), which emphasized what they called “universal spiritual values.”  As these sobriety groups grew and multiplied, the members eventually established the 12 Steps and wrote “the Big Book” — often a kind of bible for 12-step groups — which was a description of their beginnings and the rationale for their tenets.

The need for a higher power is, as I perceive it, two-fold:  (1) we have already proven that we cannot overcome the addiction of our own power, and (2) most of our problems stem from the egocentric belief that we have power over all kinds of things that are truly out of our control.  From my experience, I can say that this is language I have heard over and over in the various Christian churches I have attended:  Only God (and usually, only the Christian God) is all-powerful, and our “original” sin is the self-serving belief that we are more powerful than God when it comes to making things happen.

So, it’s no wonder to me that there are people who find AA (and other 12-step groups) to be unwelcoming to atheists and anyone else who doesn’t subscribe to the language of a Christian God.  It’s not just because the founders were white-privileged males from a predominantly Christian ethos, and it’s not because western Christianity is always making a lot of noise in this country about how great it is.  It’s because 12-step members are addicts, and what addicts do best is try to control things when they should keep their hands off and their mouths shut.  It is likely true that they are not drinking or using or otherwise engaging in their primary addiction, but they are still susceptible to various expressions of a pervasive and lifelong disease.  And, for better or for worse, 12-step groups are necessarily non-professional.  On one hand, that means the cost is always low and therefore affordable to people with no means for professional recovery programs; but, on the other hand, that means that there is no “quality control” among the groups.  If the only group you can attend is one that isn’t friendly toward atheists, you’re pretty much stuck until you can form your own group or make new arrangements.

I’ve been to meetings where some members share in a way that reminds me of the testimonies I would hear at the Protestant Evangelical church I attended in my 20s.  I understood what these people were saying and why it was important to them, but I felt uncomfortable for my own reasons, not the least of which is that I felt I’d been damaged by my relationship with that particular branch of Christianity.

I used to believe in God in that way.  I used to read my Bible and make notes about the weekly homilies and take notes in Sunday School and journal every day.  I understood that God was powerful and forgave my sins, that I was weak and in need of saving.  I believed God knew my name and everything about me.  I was certain I would go to heaven when I died.  But people who I’d thought of as friends were starting to be controlling, challenging me (with all love) about the “witness” I was to the world and second-guessing my beliefs.  I was such a people-pleaser then, that I let it happen.  The end began when I read a book called GodDependency.  It opened my eyes to the codependency in my own little church.  With that and some other tragedies in my life, I was never able to go back to that way of thinking and believing.

It was a decade or more later that I went to a 12-step meeting for my addiction.  The first book I picked up from the literature table was about spirituality, and I’m glad I did because I needed assurance that my higher power would, indeed, be a God of my own understanding and not the God of someone else’s definition.  My prior belief in God had been helpful to me, but it had been tainted by the people in the church and by the constant yammering of ugly Christians always in the news (e.g, the ones who claim to follow Jesus but think Hurricane Katrina was God’s wrath toward homosexuality).  I needed, as the Big Book states, “a new way of thinking” where spirituality was concerned.

It took me a while to sort out my beliefs.  It took me a long while to be comfortable with even needing to sort out my beliefs.  In the time since leaving the church of my 20s, I have made friends who are Jewish, Atheist, Buddhist, and just plain free spirits.  I have also made friends with people who are vegan, gluten-free, whole-foods-only, paleo dieters, Weight Watchers adherents, . . . the list is long, and it’s long because I’ve discovered that people actually make a “higher power” out of any number of people and practices, whether or not it’s an organized religion.

Here’s what I found for myself:

  1. I will always describe the God of my understanding in the terms of my Judeo-Christian upbringing.  It’s the system and iconography that I understand best, so that’s what I use to frame my understanding.
  2. Just because I use those traditional terms, it does not mean that my beliefs are traditional.  I am a registered member of a socially progressive Christian congregation (United Church of Christ) that promotes an open and welcoming environment to all.  (Seriously — you could be an atheist in this congregation and no one would try to convert you or say, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.”)
  3. I learn from other the spiritual practices of others, and it’s OK for me to use those lessons in my own spiritual journey.
  4. On my best days, I can feel the unconditional love of the God of my understanding, and it’s an indescribable feeling of freedom from years of emotional baggage.
  5. On the days when I am having a hard time believing that there is any God at all, I imagine that my Higher Power is a group on neurons in my brain that is forming new and better connections so that my addicted and diseased brain can heal.  It’s completely atheistic and perhaps somewhat scientific, but it gives me a Higher Power I can cling to in the dark days.

To 12-Step groups, I would say that some of you need to do a 12th-Step-Within look at how your group operates.  I’m concerned that some members start using the God of their understanding and upbringing as their new drug of choice, and that just as hurtful as using alcohol or drugs or anything else.

To everyone who is feeling like your 12 Step group isn’t welcoming to your spiritual beliefs or your identity, I hope you will speak up about that at a meeting.  If you cannot, I hope you can find a better group.  Whatever happens, keep coming back.  You are loved, you are valued, and there are people who will be your friends and advocates.  Seek the Higher Power of your understanding because this is YOUR RECOVERY, so you need to find the super power that is going to help you kick addiction to the curb for at least one day at a time.

(*cishets = plural of “cishet,” the description of a cis-gendered person who is also heterosexual.)

Acceptance, Steps


For the sake of expedience, I usually identify myself as a food addict.  In some circles I will go so far as to say that I am a compulsive overeater.

We have a lot of words to describe ourselves:  anorexic, bulimic, emotional-eaters, stress-eaters, carb-addicts, yo-yo dieters, compulsive exercisers, body dysmorphic, gluten-sensitive, OCD, anxious, depressed, disordered, dysfunctional, and more.  Some of those words refer to recognized diagnoses, but even a multiple-word diagnosis doesn’t explain the cascade of emotional (and sometimes physical) pain we live with on a daily basis.

No matter what we call ourselves or how we define our often unreasonable relationship with food and eating, the bottom line is that we have a scary disease.  It is fueled by self-hatred and expressed in actions that, in any sane human being, would be described as a compulsion to self-annihilate.  For us, food is not a source of nutrition.  For us, food is the Great Satan and an Angel of Mercy, punishment and reward, poison to be avoided and the elixir of life, an occasion of sin and the salvation of hurt feelings.  Whether we overeat or starve ourselves, we view food as the enemy:  something never to be enjoyed, because enjoying it means we are doomed.  And then some of us throw caution to the wind, drowning ourselves in “the evil one” because even though we hate it, we love how it feels.

We are broken, and we hate our brokenness. If Dante had known of this, he’d have described it as one of the circles of hell, worse than any of the 7 deadly sins.

Recovery begins with accepting that we are broken, and that being broken is OK.  Recovery begins with accepting that we have no control over the disease.  Recovery begins with the hope that we will soon learn that, despite being broken and out-of-control, we are still worthy.

We do not discard a limb because it is broken.  We have it treated.  We care for it.  We recognize that it is not as strong as it once was, and that it will take time to mend.


Acceptance, Steps

Full Boil

Life has been crazy since I last posted, and I’m not sure it has really settled down.  There has been office drama, political upset in the nation, and then I received an email yesterday from a friend to say she has early-onset dementia which will likely be diagnosed as Alzheimer’s.

Can I scream now?

This is the part of recovery that I have a hard time with:  How do I maintain serenity when everything in my world — and even inside my — is at a full boil?  It is an uphill climb to a place of acceptance of the myriad events that are out of my control.  I cannot make our president a sane and reasonable person.  I cannot fix everything that is wrong with the work culture at my office.  I cannot cure diseases.

My faith informs me that my Higher Power is with me at these times, but I find no comfort there.  I would try to cry, but I am at the office and we all know there is no crying in Marketing.

I know that I must take care of myself in order to have the strength to be an activist of any stripe, and I must take care of myself in order to be a friend to those who need me.  I know I must be gentle with myself as I curse that I’ve not been to the gym and my clothing is tight and . . . coming to the realization that when I feel powerless I also think I am ugly, useless, and impotent.

That is the difficulty of a program that emphasizes powerlessness.  The concept is valid:  It is only ego that makes me believe that worrying about something will change the outcomes, or that fixing what’s wrong in the world is something I can do on my own.  The Serenity Prayer has me asking for the serenity to accept what I cannot change, but courage to change the things I can (i.e, myself), and to have wisdom to know the difference.

So, the water is boiling, and I cannot stop it.  But I want to remember that when water boils it is in the midst of transformation, and transformation comes at a price.  In my case, the price is my ego, my lingering belief that I can change anything, the nagging feeling that it is my responsibility to make it all better for everyone, and the inability to accept the heat of the moment.

Here’s another proverb, one for which I cannot find an original reference, but one that was told to me by a Jewish friend:  “The same fire that turns metal into gold will burn clay into ashes.”  Whether I am metal or clay, I will find out in time.  To my thinking, either outcome teaches me something I need to know.


Acceptance, My Head

Up from the Gravy

nature-794126_1280One of my favorite mondegreens is “Up from the gravy, a rose!” which is originally from a Protestant hymn, “Up from the Grave, He Arose!”  It’s not the song itself that I care for, but I like the idea that from the yucky brown gravy of my days, I can rise, so I will admit that the metaphor is apt.

I’ve been having some gravy days, for certain.  Part of it is due to some kind of illness I’ve been fighting, and part of it is that I carry around a lot of emotional baggage that spills out when certain of my buttons are pushed.  For example, on Wednesday at the office I had taken a goodly size swig of soda pop, then I turned in my chair and out came this enormous belch.  I exclaimed and excused myself (because I’m sure that people in the next county heard that belch!), but a couple guys in the office kept giggling and making remarks.  I felt deeply embarrassed.  I also started feeling worse about myself as the giggling and remarks continued.  I sent an email to both guys to ask that they refrain from teasing me for things that are out of my control.  One apologized; the other replied asking why I thought they were amused. (For him, I believe it was derision.)

It was near the end of the day, so I went home.  I called my sponsor on the way, crying so miserably that I could barely see the road.  My sponsor told me that s/he has been in similar situations and had similar feelings, and that the most difficult thing is to hold two ideas in my head and heart at the same time:  (1) I feel crappy / unloved / worthless, but (2) I’m OK because I’m doing the best I can, so fuck anyone who wants to make fun of me or the situation.

Yes, that’s hard.  The feelings I have are valid.  The feelings are real.  But, even being valid and real feelings doesn’t make them true.  Just because I feel badly about myself doesn’t mean that I am a bad person.  Just because I feel embarrassed, doesn’t make me an embarrassment of a human being.  Just because it’s true that I’m obese doesn’t mean I am less worthy of respect, love, and encouragement.

It still took me more than a day to get over it. I’m glad to report that sleep is a great healer.  But, in the midst of feeling grief for the loss of dignity that was visited upon me, I was tempted to severely restrict my diet as a kind of punishment for the event.  My thinking was, “If I weren’t fat, I wouldn’t be so disgusting.”  I was tempted to become smaller, to take up less space in the world, to shrink from being in order to no longer upset anyone around me (something that comes from growing up with critical parents, and worse).

It took me more than a day to get over it, but I’m glad I have a program and a sponsor and a Higher Power to set me up again after I fall.  Everything about this program says, “Don’t harm yourself because someone else is a shit-head.”  (My paraphrase.)  Severe dieting, rigid exercise programs, struggling to be small:  All of these things are diseased responses to a world rich with ugly, muddy gravy.

So, I took some time for myself to relax, pet the dogs, work on a project.  I talked to another friend on the phone. I grieved.  I slept.  And then I got up in the morning, took a shower, put on clean clothes, and headed to the office.  Renewed.  A rose among the crud.  It hasn’t been the easiest day.  I’m still feeling a little fragile.  But the recovering part of me is strong, like the stem that holds up the rosebud.  I have broken through the crud today, and that’s worth singing about.

Acceptance, Steps

One Resolution, and I Kept It


My one resolution in 2016 was to learn to like myself.  It took nearly the whole year, and I’m still not good at doing it every day, but I finally learned at least how to go about it.

I learned that the only path to liking myself was to accept myself at this moment, to accept that I am where I need to be, and that I have value as I am now.

This insight came after a phone call with my sponsor, a good friend in the program, who reminded me that, even though I might not like my current situation or circumstances, accepting that my Higher Power (HP) loves me and accepts me exactly where I am at this moment is the key to loving myself.  If I can accept that I am where I need to be, that my HP knows this and loves me as I am, then I can love myself.  If I love myself, then I can learn to be kind to myself, and being kind to myself is the root of positive changes.

I admit that it was emotionally overwhelming to come to that realization.  I admit that I wanted to live in that moment of pure bliss and acceptance forever.

But acceptance is a process, not a static state.  It is the daily practice of releasing the illusion of control; of developing a habit of turning to my HP for assurance rather than relying on food to give me emotional strength.

Paradoxically (or, perhaps not), it is in turning inward for strength that I feel most weakened.  I want the easy crutch of my addiction.  I want the easy excuse of hating myself and my situation so that I an eat until I self destruct.

This year’s goal is to continue to good work I began last year.  This year’s goal is to make choices (in food as well as in managing stress) that honor the goodness that my HP sees in me.  This year’s goal is transformation of mind and spirit; whether it shows up in my body is completely incidental.