How can you define your own higher power in recovery?

How can you move past negative feelings about religion?

Why is believing in a higher power essential to recovery?

Find out this and more in this episode of Recovery Talk. 

Today, we’re going to be talking about the God thing. By far, this is one of the most touchy subjects that there is in early recovery. Discussing God and the idea of a higher power carries with it almost as much stigma as being an addict does. Why is that? Why is it so difficult to embrace the idea of a higher power? Most recently, I got an email from Ian, and on a few of my episodes I have mentioned that I was a Jehovah’s Witness and the disdain I had for that religion and for God, for a certain period of time in my life. It inspired him to send me this email, which states: “Hey O., thanks for the podcast. You mentioned occasionally about your past and the Witnesses,” and he’s referring to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“I’m curious to know how you settle with having faith in a higher power. This is a huge problem for me. I wasn’t raised a Witness, thank God, but did have a spell of a couple of years studying the Bible and attending meetings before I came to my senses. While I wish them well, I view the religion now as highly negative, controlling, family-dividing, arrogant, etc., etc. So the talk of higher power always brings a bit of sick into the back of my throat. How do I handle this?”

Well, to be perfectly honest, that’s exactly how I felt in early recovery, and it’s specifically because of the dogmatic nature of religion, the stigma behind religion, the idea behind the controlling, guilting, and fear-based teachings revolving around certain religions. Now, I certainly don’t want to get into any religious bashing on this episode, or ever. I’ve made my peace with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you guys heard the episode on forgiveness, that was one of the last resentments that I had, where I had not completely forgiven the institution. I realized that I had basically forgiven everyone in my life, but I hadn’t added in the fact that the religious institution also needed to be forgiven for me to be free from that resentment, for me to let go of the anger, the bitterness, the disdain. And so, even today, if I try to connect with those emotions revolving around religion or that religion in particular, I can’t get there.

We can talk about being a Jehovah’s Witness all day long, and it doesn’t bring up that rage that it used to, in my life or in my mind. Because that’s really all it is, it’s just thoughts. Nevertheless, that’s me now, 14 years later. That wasn’t me 72 days in, 60, six months in, one year in, six months ago. So maybe this will help you. Maybe this will shorten the time frame that you hold on to this, because the reality is, is that that religion, like any other religion, is man-made. Some guys got together, put a book together, said it was inspired by God, created some rules, started building a following, and voilà. We have a religion. But it’s not God’s fault. It’s not my higher power’s fault. All kinds of weird shit happens in this world, but today I’m certainly not going to blame a higher power for that.

We’re all human beings, doing the best we can with the tools we’ve been given. Based on that, and based on this fear and self-centeredness that we all have at the core of our being, which, when we are connected spiritually, that gets replaced with love and faith. In the beginning I had a resentment towards my mother. I had a resentment towards the religion. I had a resentment towards God. What I managed to do was resolve my issues with God, resolve my issues with my mom, and still had those underlying feelings and resentments about the religion. What did I do or what happened for me to move past the punishing God that I was introduced to at an early age, and how did I adopt my relationship with my higher power today?

Well, first of all, I had to separate God from the religion. Once I was able to separate those two, then I could start to construct the God of my understanding. The first thing my sponsor asked me when I asked him to sponsor me was, “Are you willing to go to any length?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you know what that means?” and I said, “No.” He said, “Are you willing to let God into your life?” I was so desperate and I was in so much pain at that moment — I had just come back from a two-month relapse cycle of utter hell and I was willing to do anything. I was delivered the gift of desperation; and I said, “Yes, I’m willing to let God into my life.”

Now, even though I agreed to that, it wasn’t a wholehearted, “Yes.” I still had my reservations. I remember when we got to step two and we started to discuss the idea of coming to believe in a power greater than ourselves; and he looked at me from across the table and said to me, “Look, I know that you’re having a tough time with this idea of a higher power and of God. So if you could design, create, give characteristics, to the God of your understanding, what would they be?” I said, “Well, for me, if I could choose my God, He would be loving, caring, understanding, forgiving, nurturing, all-powerful, and always have my back.” My sponsor looked across the table from me and he said, “Well, then that’s your higher power. That’s the God of your understanding.”

I looked at him, and I’m like, “That’s my higher power. HP, baby.” Then he looked at me from across the table and he was like, “Yeah. HP, baby. You can call him whatever you want. God does not have a sex, or a race, or a name. He is a powerful being, greater than any of us can ever understand, and as we go along in this journey you are going to have moments that are undescribable except only to acknowledge that some way, somehow, a miracle has happened in your life.” This conversation just sat with me so well. It just felt so good. Just having this conversation put me at ease and connected me. I remember like it was yesterday, just sitting across the table and just having that nice warm feeling, and him explaining it to me.

He goes, “Look, there’s nothing that I’m saying here that’s original. I’m regurgitating to the best of my ability. When we sit here, I asked the God of my understanding to guide you, to help me guide you. I’m just giving you the information that was given to me from my sponsor, and he was giving me the information that he got from his sponsor. And that’s all we do.” It was something that I could get behind. It was not only something I could get behind, it was something I wanted to get behind. It felt good. Here I was, sitting with a man who didn’t have an agenda, who didn’t want anything from me, who met with me every Monday to go over my step work, for the sole purpose of helping me, because by helping me he helped himself. And the only thing he asks is that I allow God into my life, and that’s it. That’s the only thing that I’ve been asked to do since I came into this program, is allow God into my life, to come to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.

I love the idea of saying, “HP, baby,” because I didn’t like the idea of, “Thank God,” or, “God bless you,” or “It’s all because of God.” I didn’t want to be that guy, when I was with my cronies, especially the guys in early recovery that I was hanging around with, and trying to be cool — so I didn’t want to sound like some Jesus guy. But the funny thing is, is that it just started to come out. The more time I spent with my friends, the more times I spent with my family, I connected more and more with that idea of a higher power, my life continued to get better on a regular basis.

Six months into my journey of recovery, when I started working with that sponsor after my relapse cycle, I lost the urge to use, and it happened because I got on my knees every morning and I asked the God of my understanding to help me stay clean one more day. Then when I came home at night, I would say, “Thank you for another day clean.” It was that daily practice that I knew every morning I was going to have to do that and every night I was going to have to do that and held me accountable. Even though I had these terrible urges to use, I just kept doing it. I remember that at my six-month mark, three days had gone by and I knew something was wrong. Something was different, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Then I realized, “Oh, my God, I haven’t prayed in three days. I haven’t gotten on my knees and prayed, in three days.” That exact moment I realized, “Oh, my God. I lost the urge to use. I have no desire to get high.” I was like, “HP, baby.” What would happen was, everywhere I went, every meeting I went to, any time I was talking with somebody and I wanted to say something that was related to the miracles that I was experiencing my life … I would just say, “HP, baby,” and then my friends started saying, “HP, baby,” and then it just caught on.

Today I have no problem saying, “God bless you,” “May God be with you.” I have no problems acknowledging that there is a God in my life. But I also recognize the importance of gently carrying those of us that are still holding on to that resentment, because of religion, holding on to that old ideology behind what God means to them. “HP, baby,” is an easy way of bridging that gap, of bringing them over. Who is to say what characteristics God has? I don’t know one person who has met God. I don’t know one person who has seen God, and all I have is the same thing that everybody else has: Just faith. That’s it. I have a faith in a power that’s greater than me.

For those of you that know my story and remember that moment in my life where I prayed for death, where I asked something in the universe to either help me get clean or take me out of this world — and I meant that with every fiber of my being — the very next morning I woke up and the first thought in my head was, “Remember that therapist that suggested you go to those 12-step meetings? Let’s go see him.” That was the first thought in my mind, and then without thinking any further I just got dressed and drove over to his office. Something was pushing me. Something was carrying me. The reality of my life and that moment was that every single day I would snort cocaine, I would drink alcohol, I would smoke weed, I would pop pills.

Every waking moment of my life I was under the influence of something, and no matter how much I tried to substitute one drug for another; no matter how many times I went on the quote-unquote “marijuana maintenance program,” I would eventually go back to my drug of choice, which was cocaine. Years and years of denial and abuse, and of lying, why all of a sudden did I just miraculously get up, take action, and go to the therapist to ask for directions to a meeting? Then when I got to the therapist, he gave me directions to a meeting that started in an hour and which I had plenty of time to get to. I don’t consider those things coincidences.

I consider that when I prayed for death, when I said, “God, please take me out of this world, or help me stay clean,” or, “Help me get clean,” to me today, there’s no question that He answered my prayer. This disease of addiction is a power greater than I am. It’s a power greater than I will ever be. When I was out there using and cursing God and living life on my terms, I put my trust and faith in all kinds of garbage. I would go to different cities for business, and go to the most seedy parts of town — to go and get drugs, purchase drugs from some guy on the street not knowing what they were, and absolutely had hope and faith that I was getting what I was paying for. At any given moment, I could have been given some bunk shit that killed me.

When you get married, when you get a new job, when you buy a new car, when you start a new friendship, there is hope and there’s faith that this is going to work out. You hope that your marriage is going to be everything you ever dreamed it would be, and you have faith in yourself and in your partner that you’re going to create this amazing life together. We apply the principles of Hope and Faith every single day. For me, every time I got on my knees and genuinely prayed to God or something or whatever the case may be, to help me change the direction that I was currently in … When it came from the heart and I truly wanted to change, then God would put opportunities in front of me, so that I could make those changes.

He didn’t just take the urge away from me to use drugs. He guided me to a meeting. He guided me to my sponsor. He allowed me to hear the message, to listen to the message, and as I did the work and showed up to meetings and got a sponsor and worked the steps, the urge started to diminish. Aha moments started to present themselves. Miracles started to present themselves. I could no longer deny that, while I was just going through the motions because this is what my sponsor told me to do, I could not deny that miracles were happening in my life. We all need Hope and Faith in something to get us through in this world.

If you’re having a hard time with the idea or the concept of allowing a higher power in your life, connecting with a higher power in your life, what I would encourage you to do is to sit down and think about exactly why you are so resistant to allowing this power into your life. That, what is the worst possible outcome that could come from coming to believe in a loving, caring, nurturing, power greater than you are that can help you stay clean one more day? When we remove the old stigmatic, dogmatic, man-made, religious, punishing, guilting, controlling God that we have been introduced to, and consider joining a realm, or a society of individuals that are completely spiritual, that do not belong to any religious organization, that have a individual relationship with a God of our understanding, independent of anyone else or any institution — it is you and your higher power and your personal conception of what that would look like.

I think what you’ll find is that there is a calming peaceful warmness that comes with knowing that there is a power greater than you that only wants the absolute best for you. The only thing your higher power wants is for you to be happy, is for you to be successful, is for you to help others, is for you to carry a message of hope. We were not meant to be alone. We were created to be together, to be a community, to love and nurture and care for one another, and the world around us has crumbled. It has crumbled and has become a materialistic, egocentric, fear-based society that is only concerned with self. The only way you can find true fulfillment in your life is to help others and be in a community of like-minded individuals.

So, when you hear me say, “HP, baby,” then know that I’m referencing this beautiful God of my understanding, that is loving, and caring, and nurturing, and forgiving, and helpful, and supportive, always has my back, is always pushing me in the right direction as long as I’m doing the next right thing, as long as I’m doing my part. As long as I’m carrying the message and helping others, then I know that I will continue to live a life beyond my wildest dreams.

I’ll leave you with this thought, and it is one of the examples that I use when I first start working with a new sponsee: There’s one thing that I know about working a 12-step program. It’s that I have no idea how it works, or why it works. I just know that it does. I have no idea how going to meetings, getting a sponsor, reading some literature, writing some step work, and then carrying this message to another addict suffering from this disease keeps me clean and sober and happy. I have no idea how that is possible, how someone who was using every single day and could not stop for any length of time, that was in a constant state of intoxication on a daily basis, from one day to the next stopped using everything. Simply by going to a meeting, sharing my truth, connecting with others and asking for help allowed me to go 24 hours without using one controlled substance.

That, I will never understand for as long as I live, except to say that when I genuinely got on my knees and asked for help and followed the suggestions of the guys before me, that today I have 14 years clean and sober and live a life beyond my wildest dreams. That, I refuse to take all the credit for. I did the work that was required of me, but I also prayed like I’ve never prayed in my life to something I have no idea ever existed in my life. Today, there is no doubt that God and I are a team, and I can’t do this without Him. This podcast, my marriage, my life, my happiness, has been given to me by my higher power. HP, baby!