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Spiritual but Not Religious: How to Figure out the Higher Power Stuff

“I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing. Just prayed to a God that I don’t believe in.” The Script "Breakeven"

Spirituality is a liberating and essential part of recovery; it’s also one of the most difficult to wrap our heads around and accept. The nature of spirituality is broad and inclusive. It allows us a freedom to choose what we believe in and to practice what works for us individually. Many of us find this uncomfortable because deep down we’re afraid that if we get it wrong we’ll go to hell.

Of the many expressions I find helpful in AA, this one tops them all: “Religion is for people who are afraid to go to hell and spirituality is for those of us who have already been there.” The best people I know have been through hell. Most of us did multiple, long tours.

I’ve learned that hell is a place I can only go alone. Today I have a long line of people standing between me and my self-destruct button. They hold me accountable for how I treat myself. I’d like to tell you that I went out and found those folks myself, but I didn’t. My Higher Power put them there.

I’m never going to lose my self-destruct button. It will always be there. I will never forget my past and I will forever be a work in progress. This is why I need spirituality. It connects me to myself, to good people - to all the good stuff: love, passion, beauty, joy, happiness and more.

I like spirituality because unlike religion, no one can tell me I’m doing it wrong. There are no rules, no dogma, no sitting piously on a hard bench once a week and no rhetoric. I like eclecticism – I take what I like and leave the rest.

Stop Trying to Label It

“The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” The Indigo Girls "Closer to Fine"

I have developed the simplest belief system I’ve ever heard of:

  1. I believe there is something. I refer to it generically and inclusively as “My Higher Power” (HP). I make no effort whatsoever to understand my HP. I have a full time job understanding myself.
  2. I talk to my HP by praying (anytime, anywhere, silently or aloud). I ask it for guidance, help, support in not screwing things up and in getting out of my own way. It connects me to cool people. We do cool things (encourage, support, challenge each other, share fellowship, friendship and lots more). Life is good and keeps getting better.

How to Pray

I talk to my Higher Power the way I talk to people I love: honestly, humbly, directly and lovingly. I choose to believe that my HP is already trying to give me everything I need and that by asking for it, I am simply more likely to recognize it when it's puts in my path.

I have learned repeatedly that my HP’s plans are far better than my own. There’s an adage in AA that “prayer is asking and meditation is listening for the answer.” The most common answers I receive are, “Yes”, "No” and most often, “Not yet.” My timing is not my HP’s timing and just for laughs, sometimes I explain that I’m in a hurry.

I don’t experience any burning bush moments, rather, I get a gut feeling about things. I experience my HP working through other people. This is yet another reason for me to invest and maintain connections with good people. Finally, I take note of the many coincidences in my life and when they start adding up, I talk them over and allow my supports to help me see what my HP is trying to show me.

The Gift of Desperation

I love simplicity. I’ve come to accept that I can go to my knees voluntarily or I can wait until life knocks me there. I share stories of the gift of desperation because it highlights that there are two ways in which we come to grow and heal, God and suffering.

Kathy went into a spiritual awakening kicking and screaming more than anyone I’ve ever served in recovery. The mere mention of “God” or a “Higher Power” would enrage her. She had lots of questions that she posed scornfully. I pointed out that people have been asking the same questions for thousands of years, which proves to me that nobody knows for sure.

That’s why it’s called Faith: believing in things that can’t be seen.

The thing about organizations like AA and NA is that if you hang around long enough, you can’t help but see miracles. You can only talk to so many people who should be dead a hundred times over and not develop a seed of doubt that maybe there is something that’s trying to help (hint: there is; and 'It' loves drunks and junkies).

Kathy had the seed of doubt and despite maintaining her sobriety, a lot of things in her life went to hell anyway (wreckage usually catches up to all of us).

When she was overwhelmed, Kathy would seek respite in a bubble bath. One night, out of pure desperation she screamed at her bathroom ceiling, “I feel like an idiot but F it. If you are listening and if you do happen to give a damn enough to save my ass, I guess I’ll let you.” Her life improved dramatically in a very short time following this declaration.

Expression in AA of Steps 1-3

  1. I can’t
  2. He can
  3. I guess I’ll let him.

“God loves a drunkard’s cry, better than a lullaby.” Amy Grant "Better Than a Hallelujah"

Clinical Social Worker/Therapist
My story is I'm forever a work in progress and I love connecting with REAL people who are doing great things. I'm blessed to be making a living doing something I love. I'm a proud dad and the luckiest husband ever. I'm an aspiring author - check out my recovery blog at: Thanks! Jim

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