Where Does God Fit into My Recovery from Alcoholism?

Climbing a 14er Looking for GodLet go and let God is the cornerstone of Alcoholics Anonymous. My rejection of this mantra is one of the main reasons AA never worked for me.

 

Let me be clear: I reject the slogan. I do not reject God. Quite to the contrary, actually. I have been a believer and practiced my faith to varying degrees my entire life. God is everything to me. I just don’t believe He wants us to hand Him the steering wheel of our life. I think He wants us to listen to His call and point ourselves in His chosen direction.

 

I drank alcohol for twenty-five years, and suffered from alcoholism for the last ten. During the period when I knew I was in trouble, I prayed to God a lot. I prayed for the strength to control my drinking. I prayed asking God if I could moderate or if I needed to stop drinking altogether. I was aware on a conscious and constant level of God’s commandment that we not worship false idols, and I asked God frequently for forgiveness for the massively important role alcohol played in my life. I prayed for peace and serenity for my wife as she tried to navigate the turbulence of marriage to an alcoholic. I prayed for the wisdom and discretion to keep my antics and alcohol-induced mood swings away from my innocent and impressionable children.

 

God and I were tight. Perhaps never more so than when I was deep in the pit of debilitating depression resulting from heavy alcohol consumption. I talked to God incessantly, and I know He listened and laid all the answers out for me to discover. Most of all, I know God loved me when I hated myself and He showed a patience only God could muster.

 

I drove drunk and never received a DUI nor killed anyone. I survived nights in college when I took risks and drank so much that my blood alcohol level surely reached lethal heights. I did not destroy my finances nor lose jobs due to my alcoholism, and my marriage and family stayed together in a truly loving way in the worst hours of my addiction. And even when I lost all hope and sincerely did not want to live any longer, I held on and endured.

 

There is no question in my mind that every single bit of that was the work of God. He protected me. He guided me. He did it because He loves me. But He also did it because He has a plan for me.

 

Part of that plan is for me to be an example that devout Christians can be alcoholics, too. I have always interpreted letting go and letting God as a coming to Jesus kind of moment. After years of rejecting God while drinking, the alcoholic suddenly finds religion as part of the recovery process. If you don’t have God in your life, I think welcoming Him in for any reason is a wonderful thing. But if God is already with you daily, the idea of letting Him in is redundant and meaningless.

 

I have a great deal of respect for Alcoholics Anonymous. I know it doesn’t sound much like it, but I am very much in favor of any method that saves the lives of my fellow humans who battle alcoholism. Some of my best friends would not be alive today if not for the connections made through the fellowship of AA. My point is, however, that AA is not the only way, and it is not a good fit for everyone. AA has a very low overall success rate, and I have serious issues with some of its foundational teachings. But for the millions of people for whom Alcoholics Anonymous has been a lifesaver, I am overjoyed.

 

I believe God is proud of the founders of AA and all the people that make the organization thrive today. I believe He is proud of me, too, for pointing out the dangers of anonymity if we ever hope to cure this dastardly disease. I believe God loves us all, and He wants us to work together to figure it out.

 

I don’t often write about God because I want my writing to resonate with all people who suffer from alcoholism regardless of their spiritual beliefs. Atheists and agnostics deserve to recover, too, because God loves them whether they know it or not. I often leave God out of my writing because God wants me to do so. I’m sure of it.

 

Here’s where I’m going to lose most of you – even my Christian readers. I’m often not actually the one doing the writing when I write about addiction and recovery. I regularly sit down to write with no idea what my topic will be nor what point I intend to make. A thought will pop into my head and my fingers will be off to the races. I have to read the words back every few paragraphs because I’m not even sure what my computer has recorded. It is an out-of-body experience, and it feels magnificent.

 

I’m not the only writer who reports feeling like their words come from somewhere beyond their conscious mind. It’s actually a pretty common phenomenon among writers. It is the opposite of writer’s block, and it happens to me almost weekly. I can put down two thousand words in under an hour from a starting point of zilch. Writers who experience it believe their words come from their subconscious or from painfully suppressed traumas in their past.

 

That’s not where my words come from. My words come from God.

 

If you don’t believe in God, I must sound like a lunatic. If you do believe, I probably sound arrogant like I think I’m some kind of chosen one. I don’t blame you for having either of those thoughts. It scares the hell out of me sometimes, too.

 

I believe we all have a purpose. Most people believe this. My purpose is to end the stigma associated with alcoholism through openness, faith and compassion for the afflicted. My purpose is neither lucrative nor will it bring me power or fame. But I thank God everyday for making me an alcoholic and trusting me to make a positive impact on His experiment we call Earth.

 

So, where does God fit into my recovery? If recovery is my job, God is my boss. I look to Him for guidance and support, and He encourages me to be productive and successful. God is important. God and I are in constant contact. But God doesn’t want me to relinquish control of my life and wait for Him to take the wheel.

 

As a Christian, I believe that accepting God and Jesus in my life and praying for Them to forgive my sins is all I have to do to get into Heaven. However, I still look at life as a bit of a tryout for whatever awaits us in eternity. If we suffer from addiction and never break free while here on Earth, God will have a huge, pain-relieving hug waiting for us when we get to Heaven. However, if we quiet our minds enough to listen to the Spirit and decipher the plan God has for us in life, our time here will be infinitely more blessed and God will greet us at the pearly gates with a high-five and a pat on the back.

 

Spiritual people who have a strong connection to God can fall victim to alcoholism. And spiritual people who have a strong connection to God can fight their way back and recover. And when we do, if we listen very quietly – if we silence the chaos in our minds and dismiss our carnal desires for wealth and fame – we might just hear what God has in store for us.

 

I never wanted to be a writer, and I certainly never imagined I would end up as an alcoholic. But it doesn’t matter what I wanted or dreamed. My mission was up to God right from the very beginning. Understanding that – embracing and welcoming that – that’s where God fits into my recovery.

 

And He loves you and has a plan for you, too. Can you hear Him calling?

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7 Comments
  • Reply
    Jay
    February 6, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Hey Matt!

    Just a few thoughts. Take out just a few sentences and your writing sounds like you’re an A.A. member. Also, do you realize the anonymity principle is there to protect fellow members and doesn’t apply to yourself? It most certainly does not mean I have to be anonymous about my experience, my disease, my thoughts or my attendance in aa. And I’m not. The religious philosophy in aa teachings only requires one put aside their ‘debate society’ tendencies and be open to a higher power and be open minded, in general.

    Btw in 20 meetings I’ve never read or heard ‘let go and let God,’ though reliance on a higher power is important to hand over the character defects we discover about ourselves. But that higher power can be Mother Nature, the group itself, or even satan, I guess (if that’s your bag). No one in the room cares what’s going on in your head in terms of how your open-mindedness to the concepts manifests itself.

    In my opinion formed in 5 months sober 2017 ‘white knuckling it’ and 35 days currently, now embracing AA, I am much happier now than I was in my first 30 days last time. Content and peaceful, even. My wife sure as hell is happier with my attitude.

    I have come to believe that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but actually connection. And what better people to be connected to, in addition to family and close friends, than fellow sobernauts that are achieving some semblance of serenity and peace in abstinence. AA is more than a group of people that don’t drink. It’s a program for a way of living, a set of tools to live by, if you will. If embraced, it reduces stress and calms & quiets the mind. High stress and a racing mind, for me, is a recipe for relapse.

    The word ‘God’ is used a lot, because the texts and concepts are old and there is no political correctness in the program. It is not a ‘safe space’ for anyone to avoid getting their feelings hurt no matter their individual proclivities. One just has to replace the word God with whatever tickles the fancy. The writings are also geared to ‘men, man, he, him’ and I’ve never once seen a woman get all butt-hurt over it. If they wish, they just change the word to the feminine form while reading and no one cares.

    Couple of questions:

    Where do you get that aa has a low success rate (don’t be lazy and paste a link – explain)? In my short experience, I see the same people there over and over with sobriety ranging from a month to 40+ years. I’ve not known of anyone relapsing yet, but there obviously have been some. I’ve seen several newbies, including myself, come in and no one has relapsed that I’ve seen. If there is a ‘low success rate’ wouldn’t I have seen some turn over after a month or so? I know I’m new. Of my 4 close friends that I know that have achieved long-term sobriety 2 used AA and two didn’t.

    I’d love to hear from you on the above, in general, bullet point, if you will…but I have a couple of specific questions below.

    How many meetings have you been to and how many different groups did you try over what period of time? If just a few, or none, or a short period, I suggest you pick two groups (separate locations as group personality can vary WILDLY) and hit 30 meetings in 30 days with an open mind. Then I’d love to see your thoughts on THAT!

    I love your stuff keep it coming!

    Your brother from another Mother.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      February 6, 2019 at 8:24 pm

      Wow, Jay. Thanks for the well thought out and challenging comment. I love the time and passion in your response.

      I have never been to an AA meeting, and that is, at least in part, my point. The image that society ingrained in me about Alcoholics Anonymous was sad failures sitting around a damp church basement on metal folding chairs drinking bad coffee from styrofoam cups and chain-smoking while whining to each other about their weakness. You could not have dragged me to one of those meetings – even when I most needed the fellowship. I now know that image is the furthest thing from the truth and AA meetings are filled with warm and hopeful people miraculously changing their lives while helping others change theirs. The point is, the anonymity and slogans turned me off to such a degree that I thought AA wasn’t for me. And I promise you that I am not alone in that misguided opinion. AA has an image problem, and the anonymity is a big part of it. I understand that meeting attendees are free to share their stories with the world. And some do to their great benefit, in my opinion. But many do not.

      When I came out about my alcoholism, I was shocked by the number of friends who pulled me aside and whispered that they were, “in the program.” I remember distinctly thinking, “Huh, had I know that when I was drinking, maybe I would have had the balls to quit sooner.” Why the whispers? Why the shame? If we are loud and proud about our recovery, I bet we can help even more people than if we promise to protect them with anonymity.

      The success rate of AA is estimated to be between 5% and 12% in the various articles I have read that site studies on the matter. I won’t be lazy and paste a link. I’ll be an over-achiever and paste three:

      https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/284616/

      https://www.salon.com/2014/03/23/the_pseudo_science_of_alcoholics_anonymous_theres_a_better_way_to_treat_addiction/

      https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/12-step/whats-the-success-rate-of-aa

      The very most important part of your comment, Jay, is that you and your wife are both happier and more at peace this time around, and that AA is a big, wonderful part of that. As I said in my blog post, I am trying hard not to come across as an AA basher. I have concerns based on my experience and the overall disaster our society has made of completely failing to cure this very curable disease. Everyday I hear stories of shame and secrets, and, well, anonymity that make recovery monumentally more difficult than it needs to be. I’m just trying to shine a light on that. The fellowship of AA is not my enemy. The public perception that AA meetings are comprised of weak cretins of the underworld is my enemy.

      I love that you have come to believe that connection is the opposite of addiction. I could not possibly agree with you more. And I am excited for you and your family that you have found that connection. I want to help others find their connection free from shame and secrecy. Alcoholism is a huge bitch. For me, it’s personal.

      Thanks again for your honest and provocative feedback. I LOVE it. And thanks for being an increasingly important part of my connection network, Jay!

  • Reply
    Jay
    February 6, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    I screwed up the last couple of paragraphs, but you get the picture.

  • Reply
    Nancy
    February 6, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    And the mission He has called you to is being heard! Thanks for the comment about God having a huge pain relieving hug when you get to heaven – I pray that’s what my brother received.

    • Reply
      Matt Salis
      February 6, 2019 at 8:37 pm

      I’m sure of it, Nancy. And thanks for being a huge part of what keeps me going!

  • Reply
    Pam
    February 7, 2019 at 9:10 pm

    Your being guided by Holy Spirit. I wish my son could met you He’s struggling.

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