• The Underestimated Importance of Faith Preferences in Successful Recovery
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    The Underestimated Importance of Faith Preferences in Successful Recovery

    One of the universally least appreciated aspects of the AA program is faith preference. Generally speaking, most members with short-term quickly learn all the platitudes, sayings, and aphorisms of the Rooms regarding faith preferences, religion, and spirituality. A newcomer can generally get along fine with these rather temporary suggestions, but closer inspection of the faith preferences issue, especially when viewed over the course of long-term sobriety, needs reconciliation with the precepts of the program to ensure long-term sobriety. An unfortunate reality is that despite claims from the programs otherwise, the initial observation of any program meeting will immediately reveal a strong Judeo-Christian faith orientation, which has outright alienated or proven highly foreign to many newcomers. If you are like many others before you who have carried faith preferences that are not congruent with those espoused by the program, yet still desired sobriety, some practices can improve your chances of gaining long-term sobriety, while also keeping your faith preferences intact, if not developing this faith and spirituality further.

    Start the Conversation with the Right Support System

    Knowing with whom and when to discuss incorporation of specific faith preferences, religious, or spiritual beliefs is advisable on a number of levels. First, while many meetings are open, these are rarely an opportune forum for exploring questions regarding spirituality, faith preferences, and quite possibly, openly challenging the dogma of the program. At the very least, impartial answers to your questions will surface in the meeting, which does not permit the asking of questions by other members. In certain cases, depending on your faith preference and position on the matter, outright hostility may surface as well. Instead, by listening to the sharing of others, while also making a conscious effort to connect with people outside of meetings that share in a manner that appeals to you, you can quickly build a support system and tap into a sponsorship network that either reflects your faith preferences, or at the very least, is respectful, understanding, and tries to incorporate them into development in sobriety.

    Be Patient with Questions of Faith

    In many cases, questions of faith delve much deeper than merely questions of religious practices, the spiritual/religious aspects of the program, or the faith preferences of your past. Instead, questions of faith reflect broader questions about the human experience, trending almost into an arena of metaphysical and existential philosophy. Clearly, these are not your average meeting topics, but for many in sobriety, their view of themselves, their future, their efforts in sobriety, and their entire existence is plagued by lingering questions that sobriety itself fails to adequately resolve. For many, patience and the understanding that ending your sobriety will not bring one any closer to resolving these questions of faith is sufficient to at least maintain and enable some growth in the sobriety.

    Look Outside the Program

    An unspoken truth about the program is this: While the program may have significant experience and relative success on promoting sobriety in members, a reaching effect occurs shortly after this point. While good advice and information about staying sober is plentiful in the Rooms, advice on matters outside the Rooms proliferates, but suffers from an alarming lack of consistency, quality, or credibility. What this means, and anyone with significant experience in the Rooms will concur, is that the meetings, the conversations, and the advice of other program members and literature frequently contrasts with advice proffered by persons with actual expertise or knowledge in a given area.

    For example, a strong and vocal minority of program members will reject the use of prescribed medication for mental health issues as “nearly a relapse” with the caveat that these individuals have no standing, training, or expertise to make medical decisions being left unspoken. Likewise, in even more abstract matters concerning faith, spirituality, and questions of an afterlife, program members are woefully uneducated and underserved by the program and other program members alone. If seriously seeking to explore or incorporate questions of religion, spirituality, or other ethereal matters into the framework of your sobriety, looking outside the program is advisable to fulfill the religious, spiritual, or philosophical gaps found in sobriety.

    Be Fearless in Incorporating Everything into Your Recovery

    A careful analytical reading of the Big Book, which is the seminal text for all recovery programs, reveals a startling pastiche of sources. In short, the Big Book is a patchwork quilt of the incorporated life experiences, knowledge, and practical practice early AA members gained and later put down onto paper. In short, it reflects the knowledge and understandings of the earliest AA members, and most likely, the bulk of it reflects the inner workings of the mind of Bill Wilson. For the program member today, crafting your own sobriety will consciously and unconsciously include this same process of taking bits and pieces of information and knowledge taken in over your entire lifetime, whether gathered from inside and outside the rooms, to form a working framework for your sobriety. In this sense, the Rooms, meetings, and staying sober are only part of the equation. For those taking long-term sobriety seriously, any outstanding issues regarding faith and spirituality cannot be ignored for long without jeopardizing one’s sobriety in the long-term, yet at the same time, it is unwise and naïve to think that faith issues can be quickly resolved exclusively through the suggestions of the program. For the newly sober or those at a crossroads in their sobriety, taking the time to explore their faith preferences and reconcile them with their sobriety is a highly advisable process in establishing a strong cornerstone for future sobriety.

    Liemann Valdimar is a writer residing in Florida with over nine years of recovery. He has experienced the heavy hand of both alcohol and substance abuse and is grateful to be where he is today. As a sponsor in AA, he retains his anonymity by writing under a pen name.

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