I have heard many a discussion about God-shaped holes in the lives of people over the years. I would like to take a moment and share my experience, strength and hope.
In 1989 I had a little problem with a bunch of substances which lead to my seeking help. Upon further examination, the problem turned out not to be about those substances per se, but about my inability to surrender control of my life. It was like sitting in the middle of a 200 car pile up on the freeway – having caused the accident. Surrounded by bleeding bodies and twisted metal and hearing sirens and yelling and screaming and crying… all while planning my next road trip. That’s the world view I suffered from. I was a complete disaster looking for a way to make something work. Then I got clean.
The problem after getting clean is facing the realization of the above – and trying to fix it. After some time, I began to realize I couldn’t fix it and I couldn’t fix me. I had to stop creating wreckage, and it was vital I do so. It took a while for all the damage to finally stop swirling around me – because unbeknownst to me – I was creating the problems. After several years, enough of a recovery program sank in to allow me to make healthier choices while investigating various methods for living. After a long inventory process of my life, I became agnostic, which allowed for open-mindedness. I threw out the religion and traditions of my past and began looking for truth. Lies had kept me sick, so truth, I reckoned, would set me free.
I made a list of things I was willing to investigate in my search for truth. I looked into my list by meeting people and reading various spiritual and meta physical literature. I went to gatherings of people, spiritual retreats, book studies etc. I met practitioners, doctors, pastors, fathers, brothers & sisters, and even a mystic Jewish rabbi. I read many books because the internet was something I didn’t have access to between 1990 – 1992. I had a deep felt longing inside which was never quenched. A yearning which drove me on and on looking for the truth. I studied the literature which had opened my eyes. I was what many then termed a “traditionalist”. I believed in the ability of the program I had been introduced to to change a life. I also believed we as members in that group didn’t need to change it all that much… after all – it had worked for us so why mess with it? I spent much of my time in that program working to keep things the same, and reminding people that what we had worked when we followed the instructions.
What is truth?
In late 1991 through a ‘coincidental’ (tongue in cheek) series of events, I was exposed to the truth. I didn’t accept it at first, but I was exposed to it. A cute girl invited me to a book study, and I went because she was cute, and because the book was on my list in last place and I still hadn’t found truth. When I arrived at that study, I informed the host/s I would not like being invited to their place of worship, and was only there to read the book. They agreed to not pressure me into going where they went, and I agreed to show up and let the book speak for itself. The book spoke volumes to the preconceived ideas I had about it and the people who believed in it. I was very biased by my own experiences and the ideas of my family and friends, teachers, movies and music about the book and what it represented. I had been raised to believe I lived in a certain culture which was derived directly from the book. What I discovered is my thinking in this area had been tainted and in most cases was completely wrong. I began to be open-minded about the book, and also to check my biases at the door. I wasn’t on board with anything at this point, but I was in a position of willingness to believe.
In 1992 I had a radical experience in my truck while driving from Klamath California to Crescent City on the 101. I was listening to a tape about the book of Acts and I accepted an altar call in my truck. I was overcome with emotions in that moment… crying, laughing, singing, screaming etc. Somehow, I made it to town without dying (the road can be perilous and unforgiving), and I got out of my truck at a beach and told the God I was just beginning to understand that I was His. I made a conscious decision to accept Him and what he said he did for me. I felt a change happen on that road, and in that time. I did not stop going to the fellowship of people I had been hanging with for several years. I attended meetings almost every day, and continued to be a traditionalist. I did not share about the entity which set me free specifically, but instead honored the traditions of people in the groups. In late 1994 I moved back to San Diego to go to college. I was involved in group and area service, went to a meeting nearly every day, and also attended regularly at several places of worship. My biggest problem with still living to please myself and doing what was right in my own eyes. There is a line of thinking in the rooms which I spent a great deal of time in: it’s all good as long as you don’t get loaded. Today I find that thought appalling and untrue.
I left San Diego in 1998 after getting married and graduating college. In late 2000 I arrived in Northern Nevada. In late 2001 I moved into the house I presently live in. In 2007 I stopped going to the fellowship I spent so much of my life living and breathing. Some have asked why, but few have listened to the answer. I believe that all people have the right to choose to believe in a higher power of their own understanding (or not choose), but I do not for a second believe that we have a right to make one up. I realize the damage most people have as it pertains to religion. Religion is a funny thing: it is the institution and rituals which support an institution but religion is not god. Most people I have met were introduced to religion at an early age, and based on their experiences, they want nothing to do with it. Religion, religious practices and religious people have offended and wounded them, but they tend to take out their past hurts on a God who loves them and would never do that to them. I think it’s interesting to note that in the fellowship where I used to go we would tell people to hang out with the winners, and we defined winners as people whose lives were changing, and staying clean and not letting their old thinking take them out, who shared the program not their garbage… and yet, when it comes to religious/spiritual institutions, we believe any person who approaches us claiming to be a member. Seriously? I met a lot of whack-o’s in recovery who I would never consider as “working a program”, they claimed to be members – and hey, let’s face it… according to the rules “you are a member when you say you are”, however does membership equal recovery? Does membership equal maturity or wisdom or relationship with anyone or anything? Does clean time equal those things, or how about time spent ‘saved’ or ‘in church’? And what good is clean time or church time if we continue to live like were high on drugs and don’t care at all for anything but ourselves, seeking to ease our pain and ease our consciences at the expense of other people while putting unrealistic expectations on them?
Too many times we believe people based on their claiming allegiance with something/someone and we are not diligent in “checking the fruit” of their lives. A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. The fruit of the recovery program I was exposed to in 1989 is the fact I am still here, still clean and not dependent on any human power/place/thing or person to fix me. I am no longer a burden to society in any way (that I am aware of). I make no excuses for my decisions, and my decisions are based largely on guidance from my God. I am self supporting and not frequently self-consumed. I am a husband, a father and a son and son-in-law. I have opinions, but try not to inflict them on others. I share my experience because it is my testimony of what happened to me. I have no regrets and have dealt with all the inner pain and turmoil of my past. I can not be accused of having anything in my past I have not already tried to make right. I have been forgiven by God and have a relationship with my maker today. I am not dead, holed up, withdrawn, unresponsive, bitter, angry, resentful, terrified, in shock, panicked, indecisive, or in denial. I am a new creation. The old has passed away and the new has come.
So why don’t I share it with others via the primary purpose? For starters, my testimony becomes controversial with my God. And yet, my God is my testimony. I was a pagan & wiccan when I arrived at the doors of the hospital in 1989. The God I know today was not the God I wanted. I looked for other ways. I didn’t want to accept Jesus. I ran screaming from rooms which closed with the Lord’s prayer. I wanted no part of some Judeo-Christian feel-good bait and switch club. How do I share what happened to me without something so materially significant? I understand the traditions… and so out of respect for the group I would have to leave out the key to my long-term success. And then there is the requirement for sharing in a meeting. As I read it, in order to share, I must announce myself as an addict or a recovering addict. I’m an ex-addict. I am recovered. I am not my past any longer. I will never forget where I came from and yet I am not that person anymore.
What drove me away
There are several things which drove me out the doors of recovery programs. For starters: quite a few of the ‘old-timers’ and fellow people I had served with for years told me they were atheists. They believed in the power of the group. In and of itself, this was disturbing, but not a deal breaker. The question I had after they shared with me is Could I learn spiritual principals and accept spiritual guidance from people who did not serve the same god as me? I had to go to a higher authority than the basic text so I went to the Bible. I am capable of taking what I want and leaving the rest, but if I do, am I working THE program or MY program? Isn’t working my program the reason I needed recovery in the first place? Do I need to remind you all about the time (of which several of you can attest), when an entire group of young people made a conscious decision to get high after a meeting in La Mesa – and they followed through with it. I seem to remember a part of the book where we say that not one of us was capable of consistently making good decisions, a group of addicts may not be the greatest choice for a higher power, for me it could have been a start, but I have a hard time accepting it as a destination after 20+ years of spiritual growth.
On the god topic – nearly everyone I met after years in recovery (who still had a god) created their own god from a little of this and a little of that. I have a question? If you are the expert on your god, and also the creator of said god aren’t you more powerful and more in control then your god? How can you turn your will and life over to a construct of your own wishful thinking? How can you truly turn your life over to a doorknob? Perhaps you have more faith than I do.
The cussing is hard on the ears. Again, not a deal breaker, but a contributing factor. I am not contributing to the well being of others when I swear and cuss.
13th steppers, con artists, liars and thieves posing as recovering addicts and sharing the most encouraging nonsense for an hour and a half a day while literally raping newcomers, stealing from them and using them, all to the tune of ‘At least I stayed clean’. It is very hard to listen to and really toxic to my soul.
Mix in a double serving of gossip and add a side of ‘no one wanting to work the steps or read the literature’ and I became done. I still didn’t give up after getting done. I kept looking for ways for things to work. I kept sharing what I was freely given. Finally, I decided to go deeper in my faith, and walk away for my sanity’s sake, and I don’t look back.
…and the God-shaped hole?
God recently showed me in scripture how He allows us to be controlled by what we choose to put in the god-spot of our lives. Some people put things or people or places in that spot. Others put drugs in that spot. Some place security, or careers, or money, or weapons, or recreation in that spot. While many people we know have put meetings and the program into that spot. But do those things truly save? Are they gods at all? The Bible has a word for putting things into the god spot that don’t belong there: idolatry. Will your idol truly save you? Can it save you once for all time… or just for today?