Writing about the first four Elements makes several things clear to me: I can’t do without any of them, each one is precious in specific ways, and each one is dangerous when it gets out of proportion or is used wrongly. I have this image of myself as a chef adding tiny bits of ingredients to a sauce; tasting and titrating until the mix suits my sensitive palate.
The problem with this visual is that for most of my life, my idea of cooking has been finding the can opener and the plastic spoon for the Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee ravioli. How the hell can I navigate my recovery, manage my mental and physical health, raise my child, and attempt to have relationships while constantly performing this delicate task on a mix that is always changing?
I have to have help for that, and that’s where Spirit comes in. Something that knows more than my conscious mind knows, something that has power I don’t understand. There are so many ways to conceptualize Spirit, and a real exploration of them is beyond the scope of today’s work. I certainly haven’t figured out one right way to think about it. Spirit is by its nature mysterious; I know I’m on the right track when I realize that my words are totally inadequate. But since I’ve been talking about the Elements in relation to recovery, let me focus on the role Spirit and spirituality play in recovery-focused groups.
When we seek help for addictive behavior that we’ve lost the power to control, we’d probably find it pretty odd if someone responded by saying “Congratulations! You’ve just become a spiritual seeker! How does it feel?” We didn’t come here for enlightenment, we just want to stop hurting. We begin as the least likely of pilgrims, yet we often end up seeking a source of Spirit to help us. Seeking it again and again; seeking it in other ways if the first ones stopped working.
People who consider working a twelve-step program of recovery are often turned off by the references to a power greater than ourselves, or the outright references to God, in the twelve steps and in some literature. It’s a large source of controversy and misunderstanding, and for many people seeking recovery it starts out as–and sometimes remains–a deal-breaker. “Aha, here’s the catch,” we say. “These people offer hope, they tell me I can be free of this obsession, that I don’t have to die…IF I do this religious stuff. Sure, they say my higher power can be whatever I want it to, but I’m no fool…it says G-O-D right there on those posters.”
It’s unfortunate that the historical circumstances of the steps’ evolution resulted in this bias. I feel certain that if the program had been invented today, the ideas would have been expressed in much more general and inclusive language. I choose to overlook the terms that feel awkward to me and remain centered in the spiritual concepts of the steps. It’s not a perfect path, but I believe it shares basic elements with most spiritual paths. For me, it’s working well now to share the language of such a path with people whose need for it comes from a place similar to my own.
Why? Why this need for humility, for self-examination, for change? Why can’t I just do what makes sense? Why can’t education and group support give me all I need to keep from destructive behavior? I don’t know, but when it comes to my own survival I’m tired of beating my head against the wall. If Spirit is what it’s going to take, bring it on. My obsession is illogical; perhaps an illogical solution is what I need.
The work I do on myself in the program is designed to lower the barriers between myself and whatever Spirit is. When I let Spirit in, it can help me balance the other Elements intuitively. It creates a matrix within which they can float, bobbing into and out of view. I can take care of responsibilities with the right provision for rest and fun, or make transitions between anger and sadness quickly yet with respectful attention to both. If I feel connected to Spirit, I’m not afraid of anything else I feel. I don’t have that fear that the scattered parts of me will fly in all directions and never come together again.