When it comes to Higher Power, open mind, insert relief

By Jeff Vircoe

The old-timer grunted it out.

“There are only two things you need to know about God, son: There is one. And you’re not it.”

When I first heard that proclamation at the Out To Lunch Bunch 12 Step meeting in North East Calgary back in 1986, I nearly spit out my coffee. It was so outrageously sanctimonious, yet, at the same time, so very helpful. I was, of course, too new and too afraid to say I had no idea what the hell I was doing in this cult. I just sat there and laughed between my ears where nobody could see me.

I didn’t believe in a Christian God.  Okay – I was more afraid that there was a God because if there was, I was in big trouble. But I got the point just the same – I’m not all that and a bag of chips. I was just another drunk trying to get better, and I needed to keep that in mind.

As time has gone by, I’ve actually learned to pay more attention to the hidden gems in the slogans. While interviewing people for this one, I had an atheist tell me that There is a God and You’re Not It was an “idiot slogan” that he didn’t bother processing or interpreting.

I understood his disgust. I also understand that, like it or not, more people in recovery believe in a Higher Power than not, so it is up to me to figure out how to deal with what seem like over the top slogans that are occasionally spouted in recovery rooms.

Asking around, it seems people in recovery – renowned for taking things too seriously – actually don’t worry too much about this one.

Thirty-three year-old Elspeth just finished her time in Edgewood’s Extended Care program. Though she spent the better part of attending meetings, to the tune of five a week, she says she never heard the slogan “There is a God and you’re not it.”

But it gave her something to think about, and as she pondered it, a smile crossed her face.

“What immediately comes to mind are other slogans. Like running your own show. In the therapeutic sense, it is the block on my Wall [assignment] of terminal uniqueness,” she said, moments after receiving her treatment medallion in the lecture hall for completing treatment.

As a recovering addict, knowing you are not God and that you need help from others to survive is fundamental stuff, says Anthony C., an Edgewood alumnus, former chaplain and current counselor. He says most addicts don’t trust people so they end up trusting themselves as their own higher powers. Not a good idea.

“Unless they fire themselves as their authority and their God, they are going to continue to be slaves to addiction,” says Anthony. “If they fire themselves as God, they need to find something that is greater than their addiction and greater than themselves, that will help them and they can trust.”

The power of “We”, found in other recovering addicts and the first word of the first of the 12 Steps. A creator. A supreme deity. The home group – whatever, the bottom line with the slogan is its important to learn to ask something greater than yourself for help. Stop being God!

“Discovering that I’m not God is like ‘ahhhhh,’ says Shaun Jessop, a chaplain at Edgewood. “It’s a relief. Because it’s not all my responsibility. And I’m not where I’m at solely because of me. There are more things going on than just me being a horrible person in this addiction, in this disease, you know?” he said. “I’m not alone. I can identify. Because when you are your own God, your own Higher Power, you’re isolated. There’s so much pressure. All that weight on your shoulders.”

That makes sense to newcomers.

“Actually, there is a lot of power in the relief that would provide,” Elspeth concurred. “Finding the relief and knowing you think you’re doing yourself a favour by being all powerful and in charge. The relief it provides in knowing I’m not!  It all comes back to Step Three and turning it over, and realizing that that is unburdening yourself. Allowing things to happen without obsessing about the outcomes. Relinquishing control.”

That from the mouth of someone just getting into recovery, newly post-treatment.

In the rooms of recovery, others who’ve been around a while have a whole different pallet on the slogan.

One woman in Parksville, who will notch 30 years of sobriety later this summer, is Renée L.. She says when she works with newcomers regarding the slogan, she tries to keep it simple.

“I tell them to look for the essence behind the saying,” says Renée. “It just means I’m not in charge of the universe. I don’t have control over anything or anyone but my own actions and attitude. Not even a little bit. So, quit trying!”

The essence, she says, is humility.

“I take responsibility for my own stuff and never mind what’s going on on the outside – it’s none of my business how others live. There is no room in recovery for self-importance. Self-respect and self-care, yes. Self-importance, no.”

Another old-timer, familiar to most who have a connection to Edgewood, is Sergio O.. With 29 years of clean time and 17 years counseling addicts at Edgewood, he also sees the principle of humility at play when it comes to There is a God and you’re not it.

“In the early stage of my recovery, I used to hear that,” he says with a smile and a nod. “For me today, it says there needs to be a lot of humility. Being humble. There is a power greater than myself, which I call God, or love, today. For me it’s about God, it’s about loving. It’s not a mystery; it’s not something up in the sky. It’s in my spirit and in my heart. That’s the meaning for me. I’m not it.”

Whether you have decades clean, days in recovery or somewhere in between, the point of the slogan “There is a God and you’re not it” resonates. Chelsea P. completed Edgewood back in early 2012. Five years later, she sees the slogan as something to not get all twisted up over.

First of all, I love this slogan. It brings the good ol’ ego down a couple of notches,” said Chelsea, adding, “I don’t hear it often in the rooms, but when I do, it’s from someone who’s been around for a while.”

Like many, the whole God issue is something that can frustrate newcomers if they let it, which she chooses not to.

“I don’t need to overthink it. Simply put, this whole HP [higher power] thing exists even if I can’t explain it and even if I don’t initially believe in it,” says Chelsea. “Being open to something I don’t understand is sometimes hard to grasp but it’s also been very comforting for me. And the fact that I’m not God – well, what a relief!”

“Imagine if I had that kind of power. Or you. Or any of us. What a weight to carry on my shoulders. I can trust that something is out there that is guiding me, and I can choose to seek that guidance on a daily basis. I am not God. Nor do I wish to be. I thank my HP for that,” she said, with a wink.