A friend and reader is unconvinced when it comes to my posts about surrendering to a higher power as part of recovery from addiction. Here’s what she said:
“Bill while I agree with a lot of what you say in this article. I fail to see the “surrender to a higher power model.” In fact, that is one of the many flaws I find in AA styled groups. I have no addictions (well maybe caffeine), but have read a modicum of information about them. My perception is that yielding resolve to a “higher power” seems to be an excuse for not taking responsibility. I say this after spending a good deal of my early 20s looking for some spiritual certainty. At various points I think I’ve found it, but then I realize it was just my own inner-needs presenting a false image.”
She makes a fair observation. On the surface, it’s easy to see addicts turning to Faith as just another crutch. And I’ve known people who use it to justify bad, selfish decisions. One guy would prattle on about the Lord providing whenever he borrowed money he never repaid. Others seem to have a level of Faith that grows when things are good and dwindles when things don’t go well.
So let me try to answer the question. First, I’ll point out that this is how I see it. Any number of religious people might explain things differently.
For me, when I try to control everything and handle everything by myself, I overwhelm myself and everyone around me. Part of my problem is that I can’t control a lot of things. If I crash and burn, I blame it on how hard life is and how I’m working so hard to handle all the challenges. When I do that, I’m avoiding personal responsibility.
It’s a common problem with addicts. We need help because we are too mentally damaged to make good decisions when we’re under the spell of our substances. We see things as us against the world. There’s nobody to help us. We’re on our own. And it’s hard to face your fears when you’re alone.
You can lean hard on other people, but when you do that you eventually burn them out. When someone is constantly calling you or showing up at the front door because they can’t handle life, it becomes disruptive to everyone in the immediate vicinity.
Enter the Higher Power.
A person’s higher power isn’t necessarily the conventional concept of God. It’s simply the realization that something bigger than yourself is at play and ready to help if you simply accept it. Your Faith can be rooted in Buddhism. You could be a Wiccan or Jewish. Or, like me, Catholic. You don’t necessarily have to be a regular church or temple goer, though I choose to go to church at least once a week.
It’s about the higher power of YOUR understanding.
While this is a central part of the 12 Steps and AA, I don’t believe that this is the only way to kick an addiction. Some people just decide to stop drinking, eating or drugging and manage to quit cold turkey. I envy them. Others do it with a strong support system of family and friends. Others, like me, need more.
Personally, I think surrendering the idea that I could control my demons alone was the first step in taking responsibility for my actions. The surrendering isn’t an act of giving up and becoming dependent on Faith like a cultist robot. Specifically, I surrendered an idea and a behavior that wasn’t working. I surrendered the image I had of myself. That’s when I was able to move forward.
It doesn’t mean I’m cured. I still struggle. But if I fall on my face, the responsibility is all mine. I think people who expect God to keep them from failure and bad fortune are delusional. Our mission is to learn to stay upright when things aren’t going so well, so we can come out of it better than before.
I hope that helps.Art by Bill Fennell