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Being Religious and Recovering

By: Rev. Jack Abel, Director of Spiritual Care, Caron Pennsylvania

1 Your Role
I want to learn about treatment options for:

2 Basic Information
The Person is:
years old

graduated high school

3 Condition Information
Caron Treatment Centers accepts patients aged 13 years or older. For more information on services available to those 12 and under, please learn more about Caron's Student Assistance Program.

When we say in recovery that we are “many and varied,” often people understand that to mean hospitality to atheists, agnostics, and to the ‘spiritual-but-not-religious.’ An often unspoken population within recovery communities are those who ask whether we are welcome, not because we have little faith, but if in some sense, we have too much.

Have you ever been or seen the person who scandalizes the meeting attendees for talking too much about Jesus? Are you, or do you know someone who is a profoundly observant Jew who has to ask themselves about what to share, and what to think in the meeting where everyone says “the Lord’s Prayer?” The deeply Buddhist, avidly Hindu, enthusiastically Native American, the Mormon, the Jehovah’s Witness: I have met all these persons in recovery, and have had quiet conversations with them outside of meetings about what it is like for them to hold their deep belief and, at the same time be active constituents of their 12-Step community.

It's not always easy. First, people of deep faith can feel stigmatized, laughed at, judged, or excluded in some meeting contexts, or at the very least grossly misunderstood. At the same time, they may feel a real tension between AA’s etiquette of quiet about one’s own beliefs and a sense that one has, in some of these traditions, that bearing witness is a necessary part of belonging in that faith.

I don’t have all the answers, not for myself, nor for any or everyone else. I do know that the “many and varied” approach largely works. It’s an amazing thing when it does, and that, often some of our best and most humble voices within the approach are people who hold deep faith, but are not always very transparent about it being there. This is the careful invitation of the recovery movement, and I think it can work for all of us: the not-very-religious, and the deeply religious. The common ground on which we stand involves the basic practices and principles claimed explicitly or quite clearly through the 12-Steps. We can all be honest, take inventory, work our way towards healing, explore prayerful and meditative practices, and examine the question of the power outside ourselves.

The early literature of the recovery movement is very explicit about the inclusion of devotional and religious practices for those who belong to a particular tradition (see pp 85-87 of AA’s Big Book, for example). At the same time, this literature calls us to be careful not to scare away the newcomer or to disrespect those who are struggling to find any kind of belief. One of the great privileges of my life in these last decades has been to be a part of a community that spans that range in a way that, on most days seems smooth and almost effortless. My own experience was one of moving from one side to the other – from not having belief, to holding belief quite strongly. I’m so glad I was always at home in recovery, each and every day.