Let’s Talk Religion in Recovery

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” 
— Dalai Lama

The discussion of religion tends to be a taboo subject; religions are beliefs and practices of a very personal matter. People avoid the topic at all costs unless surrounded by like-minded individuals. Figuratively, people start to bring out their pitchforks and stakes at even the hint of such a discussion. For those in recovery, it is the pink elephant in the room rearing its ugly head. Can you imagine my thoughts, in early sobriety, when the topic of Christianity was discussed when I knew I was gay and a practicing pagan?

Recovery programs were founded with the principles of Christian beliefs in mind. However, the founding members recognized the diversity of those seeking recovery, insisting recovery should be a spiritual program. And yet, people tend to forget those of us who are just beginning our journeys in recovery either: lost faith in our religion (whatever that may be); tried a religion as a solution finding that we drank again; didn’t have a set of religious beliefs to begin with; or, like myself, having a strong belief system and/or a strong self-identity, were shunned because those beliefs don’t conform to those who set down the guiding principles of the program.

When I began my journey in recovery I was a broken human being: physically, mentally and spiritually. I didn’t know who I was, where I was going nor a sense of purpose in life. My addiction took all that away. The concept of spirituality was foreign to me. Like most, when the topic of religion was thrown into the mix, I was more confused on how a program of recovery was going to help me.

Spirituality is the cornerstone of a recovery program. A recovery program is not simply going through the 12 Steps with a Sponsor and “applying those principles in all our affairs”. Recovery is a process of finding yourself and your purpose in life, no matter what your religious beliefs, if any.

“The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.” – Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 60.

I am NOT saying a religion should not be part of a person’s recovery program. (Nor am I suggesting that “God” be removed or renamed for any reason.) For some, a religion provides more inclusion and strength. However, in early sobriety, it is suggested, “[We] Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This understanding doesn’t happen overnight. Spirituality, a belief system of a religion, and continuous sobriety are life-long practices.

We should remind the newcomer to build their foundation of spirituality (not an understanding of a religion) in Steps 1, Step 2 and Step 3. The first three Steps are essential to continuous sobriety. Even after, we cross the bridge to much harder work within ourselves with the help of their Higher Power and their Sponsor. Lastly, we start to resolve issues within ourselves. Perhaps, only after all Steps are completed and they have begun “practicing these principles in all our affairs” it would be appropriate to breach the subject of religion.

What are your thoughts about discussing religion with newcomers to the program? Should the discussion of religion take place in early sobriety?

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