Recovery is an active endeavor

Today’s post is by our newest member of Pagan Activist: Deidre Hebert. Please welcome her by sharing this post far and wide.

logo(1)There are lots of diseases that affect us as human beings; some of them are easier to understand than others. There are diseases that are caused by viruses and bacteria – diseases that we catch from microbes that infect us. These diseases can be treated with antivirals and antibiotics, and once so treated, we find ourselves healthy once again. For some conditions, simply taking a medication leads us back to health.

But there are other conditions, chronic conditions, for which recovery involves something more than the simple taking of a pill. Some conditions such as cancer, require extended treatment – and even with such treatment, recovery may not be forthcoming. Still other conditions such as diabetes may dictate changes in the way an individual lives their lives; changes in diet, lifestyle, continuous monitoring and daily medications are required to maintain health.

Some diseases are caused by an invading virus or bacteria, others are systemic – involving the organs of our bodies. And still others, such as addiction, eating disorders and mental illness, may involve a spiritual component as well. These conditions are not resolved by medication, surgery or simple counseling. Such conditions respond best to treatments that involve a spiritual component, and that is what the Twelve Steps are all about.

In The Jaguar That Roams the Mind, Robert Tindall speaks of Takiwasi, a center for drug addiction treatment, and research on Traditional Medicines. One of the foundational principles at Takiwasi is that addiction is, at its core, a thwarted spiritual quest. Treatment at Takiwasi involves addressing the multiple dimensions of addiction.

In the mid 1930s, one man by the name of Bill Wilson was struggling with his own addiction to alcohol. He met up with Dr. Bob Smith, and using some techniques they discovered from earlier groups that had had some successes, and learning from what those groups had done wrong, they came upon a recipe of twelve steps that seemed to work. Indeed, such was the success of this program of recovery, that it has been adapted and found successful for many conditions that afflict us. It’s been found to be effective to help those suffering from alcoholism, narcotic addiction, compulsive behaviors, gambling, chronic debt and even mental illness.

The Twelve Steps work for many people seeking recovery, because, like Takiwasi, they engage the multiple aspects of the lives of those living with addiction. Twelve Step programs recognize that addiction is a physical, spiritual and emotional disease. And unless the three aspects of the condition are addressed, true healing cannot be found.

It seems that every program that is effective in helping an individual find recovery begins at the same place – whether it’s Takiwasi or any of the multitude of Twelve Step programs, the starting point is to ask for help. It is an act of humility that says “I can’t handle this alone”. To get to that point, one must first recognize they have a problem. In the Twelve Steps, that is step 1. At Takiwasi, this is the Preliminary State, where they state “The first requisite for treatment to take place is at the patient’s request”.

Nobody can recover until they first recognize that they have a problem. But once that admission is made, that is when action can begin.

So what sort of action is necessary for recovery?

I think the first place we need to look at is what it is that we were using our substances and behaviors for. Almost all of us have some sort of reasons that kept us drinking or eating, or not eating, or using drugs or sex or whatever other behavior we may have used.

We used these things to avoid feeling, to cover up those things that trouble us deeply. And in covering up our feelings, in continuously relying on something external, either chemical or behavioral, we give up something even more important – our wills.

When we are controlled by our addictions, we don’t have the ability to choose not to use. Some of us give up the basic choices of whether or not to eat, or sleep or work. Some of us engage in things that most people in the world cannot understand – we become self-destructive; some of us engage in self-injury, some of us become suicidal. All of this is a loss of our own wills.

To regain that will implies that we need to consciously act. And that is one of the hidden keys of the Twelve Steps. Each one of these steps is a specific action. They systematically allow us to take back those parts of our selves that we had given up to our addictions.

This begins right at step 1, where we make the admission that our lives are unmanageable. In this step, we recognize that our actions are not under our own control. In the second step, we come to the realization that there is a way to change. And in step 3, we make a decision to change.

For those of us who aren’t Pagan – in traditional 12 step programs, Step 3 reads “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him”. For Pagans, things are a bit different – we don’t typically believe that our deities are involved in our lives in the same way that Christians do.

Pagans tend to view our relationship with deity as a cooperative endeavor. Our Gods and Goddesses don’t take our problems away from us; they don’t carry our burdens for us. They are models, they will challenge us, they will guide us. Our Gods and Goddesses will show us the way, but they won’t ever do for us those things we won’t do for ourselves. And that is why step 3, is so different for the Pagan. It is for this reason that in The Pagan in Recovery, I chose a different wording: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the Divine and our own highest self.” It is in our highest self where our will should naturally originate.

And after step 3 is where we really begin to take action. In step 4, we begin, often for the first time in our lives, to look deeply, honestly, at our selves – to do an honest self-appraisal.

In step 5, we consciously perform an act of humility – admitting our shortcomings to our selves, to our deities, and to another human being. This is often a stumbling block for those in recovery. The idea of admitting our faults to our Gods or Goddesses seems rather easy – especially if we consider them omniscient – we aren’t revealing new information. And we can fall into the trap that we truly have admitted who we are to ourselves. But the action of making such an admission to another human being is especially humbling; but incredibly important. It is only in performing that one act that we can be absolutely certain that we have been completely honest with ourselves.

In step 6, we become ready to experience transformation. In The Pagan in Recovery, the step reads “Were entirely ready to have the divine transform all these defects of character.” Honestly, I’m considering modifying the text of this step because, again, I consider this a cooperative effort, and I honestly don’t believe that the Gods do something “to us”, without our action and cooperation.

In steps 7, 8 and 9, we look at how our actions have impacted others, and we begin to hold our selves accountable for those actions. Here there is a temptation to blame our past behaviors on our illness or addiction. But a healthy recovery recognizes that every action that we have taken has involved, at some point, a choice that we have made. Even if I did something in the midst of my addiction, it was still ME who did that thing. I can’t say “Oh, I understand that I hurt you, but that was Jack Daniels’ fault, or it was the fault of Zanax(tm) or Bipolar disorder.”

Few of us who have experienced an addiction have made it through without impacting some other life. And like ripples in a pond, each of those ripples have reached out, and touched others. Our illness has, most likely, had repercussions that reached far and wide. Taking responsibility for what we have done, and making amends to those whom we have harmed is an essential part, not only of our recovery, but of becoming people of character, able to walk with pride, and an honest understanding of who we are.

In step 10, we recognize the value in the appraisals we have made of our selves, and in the amends we have made to those we had harmed, and we commit to practice continual self-appraisal and to admit promptly when we do wrong, and to take responsibility and to make it right.

In step 11, we recognize the power of spirituality in our lives, and we seek to improve our spiritual connections with the divine and our own highest wills.

Lastly, in step 12, we recognize how these steps have helped us, and we carry this message to others.

In its entirety, this is a program of action. Our wills have an inertia, and just like any other body, we need to overcome inertia to set something in motion, or to change its direction. These steps are designed to set us in motion if we have stalled, or to redirect that motion if it is leading us to some place we don’t wish to be. If we’re stuck in a rut, they help to get us up and out. And they teach us that no matter how far down the wrong road we have trod, that we can turn around and begin to walk rightly before our Gods and Goddesses.

In the end, recovery is all about humility, and humility, as RuneWolf put it is: Being “right sized.” Humility is very much misunderstood in the West, and has been warped into a kind of neurotic and obligatory self-abasement by the misapplication of Abrahamic philosophy. Toxic or false humility – “Oh, it’s really nothing. I have no real talent for art!” – is a slap in the face of the God and Goddess who gave us our gifts! True humility is recognizing both our strengths and our weaknesses, and working to cultivate the former and transform the latter. True humility, I have often been told, is looking someone in the eye when they give you a compliment and simply saying, “Thank you.”

This passage is part of an article that RuneWolf posted this on WitchVox in 2006, and I’ve not seen a better description of humility anywhere – but it is only a portion of an article on The Eight Virtues of the Craft. And truly, it is the eight virtues that he speaks of, that the Twelve Steps hope to lead us to, so I recommend highly reading RuneWolfs article. You can find it here:

There is a chant from the Reclaiming Tradition, and the words are:
She changes everything she touches and
Everything she touches changes
There is also a saying that one often hears in the halls of recovery that goes “If nothing changes, nothing changes”.

Thsese sayings seem so trite and trivial, but they make a very important point – without action, nothing happens, nothing changes.
The Goddess is active, and we can work with her, or we can stand apart. Standing with her, we are complicit in an active endeavor; standing apart, we remain untouched, unmoved, and unchanged. And until we take that first step, until we reach out, until we ask for help, until we take action,

2 thoughts on “Recovery is an active endeavor

  1. Jo Jenson

    Thank you for the thoughtful article. Over the years I have come to see pride and humility as the same thing, each asks us to do the very best we can, not in a boastful manner but in a way that does not hide our talents. In both one must be “right-sized” neither over-extending ourselves or not working to our fullest potential. Good look at the 12 steps from a pagan perspective.

  2. Deirdre Hebert

    Thanks Jo.
    Early in my recovery, I ran across RuneWolf’s article, and it really helped to change my life. And having attended a number of 12-step groups, and experiencing some that were overtly Christian in orientation made me feel quite uncomfortable – that’s why I first became interested in looking at the 12 steps in this fashion.

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