A Truth Seeker in Recovery
An inconvenient truth
For many alcoholics who come to AA, a sometimes tricky truth awaits them at their first meeting. A relationship with God or a higher power is considered a central requirement to get over drinking. Moreover, newcomers soon learn that AA views alcoholism as an illness; progressive, incurable, and fatal.
“Continue to speak of alcoholism as an illness, a fatal malady.”
(BB p. 92)
The plain truth is that since AA’s inception in 1935, countless atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers have been unable to benefit from the therapeutic value of AA. The heavy emphasis on God was too much for them. They come to AA with a desire to stop drinking, but upon reading the twelve steps, many walk right back out again.
The AA literature suggests that alcoholics won’t recover without the intervention of God or a higher power. One has to wonder how many end up dying because they feel unable to use the “God” word as an effective recovery tool. Are these members to be denied sobriety because they don’t believe in God?
A truth seeker
Pertinent idea C in Chapter 5 of the Big Book states:
“God could and would if he were SOUGHT.” (BB p. 60)
Here, we need to be precise. Pertinent idea C says SOUGHT, not FOUND.
Once I had established what the Big Book was saying, I felt more comfortable ‘seeking’ a spirituality that had meaning for an agnostic. Moreover, using the verb SOUGHT in its past tense gave me all the necessary time. It would need to be a spiritual awakening that would do what I could not do for myself.
The plain truth was that I had been a seeker since early adolescence. I picked up my first drink because I ‘sought’ to connect with myself. The only difference was that I would now seek a connection with myself within and not through many instant external fixes. Show me any alcoholic who isn’t seeking a feeling of wholeness through alcohol.
New Age spirituality and the holy men of India
Even before I came to AA, I had always been interested in New Age spirituality. It offered a concept of spirituality that I found attractive: the idea of ‘universal consciousness,’ which connects all sentient life. This spiritual idea resonated with me much more than any idea of a biblical Father God.
Gradually, I discovered that a belief in a monotheistic God is not a requirement to recover from alcoholism. I had always been fascinated by the mystics of India. I heard tales of holy men with supernatural powers. Truth seekers from the West reported having consciousness-expanding experiences.
A spiritual tourist
Before embarking on the journey, I read two books that blew my mind. One was “The spiritual tourist” by Mick Brown. The other was “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda. While reading these books, I discovered two new words I had never heard. These were expressions that described the very highest states of spiritual development.
The first was the word “enlightenment.” The second was “self-realization.” The idea of becoming ‘enlightened’ was most intriguing. It was the polar opposite of how I was since childhood and as a practicing drunk. Historically, my mind had always been dark and negative.
The second expression, ‘self-realization,’ was also attractive. When I first got sober, I had a very fragile sense of identity. My true self had always been buried under thick layers of fear and denial. So much so that I didn’t have any sense of self. I had no idea who or what I was.
A step closer to a non-God-centered spiritual awakening.
Did I find God in India? No, but I did learn something else. It was a very valuable learning curve for someone who was chronically self-centered. It was the spiritual practice of service to others. In the ashrams of India, service is regarded as a tangible path to spiritual growth. I learned that service to others helped to reduce chronic self-obsession. It was the constant preoccupation with self that made life so unmanageable.
“Our very lives as ex-problem drinkers depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.”
(BB p. 20)
Despite remaining an unbeliever, service to others is central to finding a spiritual awakening that doesn’t require a belief in God. When I returned from India, I tried to continue the practice of service in the fellowship. As a result, I began to feel much happier and felt a real sense of fulfillment from my service commitments in AA.
The twelve steps and the support of agnostic-friendly sponsors gave me the greatest gift I could have hoped for. The gift of myself! The spiritual principles of service to others helped me to find happiness that years of therapy failed to achieve.
As a spiritual tourist, I learned what spirituality could mean to an agnostic alcoholic. What I discovered was a total paradox. To find myself, I had to lose myself in service to others.
Spiritual gems from India
I hope you like these little spiritual gems I bought back from the ashrams of India.
“Hands that serve are holier than lips that pray.”
“Service is the highest spiritual discipline. Prayer and meditation, or knowledge of scripture and Vedanta (Holy Scriptures of India), cannot help you to reach your goal as quickly as service can. Service has a double effect. It extinguishes the ego and gives bliss.”
Isn’t that what the central message of AA is all about? To stay happily sober, aren’t we encouraged to offer “love and service” to the alcoholic who still suffers?