Stepping Through to Recovery

A Pagan approach to the Twelve Step programs

by Anodea Judith

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(Steps 1 through 6)

The beginning of this article may be found at pagan1.htm

Standard steps are listed in italics, adapted steps in bold, and commentaries in regular type.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over (alcohol, food, co-dependency, etc.) -- that our lives had become unmanageable.
We admitted we had a problem and that we were squandering our power.
This could be shortened to simply: Admitted we had a problem.
The purpose of the first step is to counteract the denial that says "I can quit anytime, I just haven't tried hard enough yet." Admitting a certain powerlessness can enable us to be more open, to give up on holding on to a certain behavior and to let go of the part of our ego that interferes with receiving help from others. Seeing that our lives have become unmanageable is a way of admitting the severity of the problem, but many people have addictions precisely because they feel powerless, so this step can block them from all that follows. Tell a person who has been gang raped to stand in front of a crowd of strangers and admit powerlessness and you'll find a lot of resistance. Also, if people whose lives have not yet become unmanageable, but who still have a problem with a substance or behavior, can get help sooner rather than later they may avoid "bottoming out," and can nip the problem in the bud. Having to admit your life is unmanageable can deter such people from connecting with the programs. It is more empowering to say we have mismanaged our lives than to say they are unmanageable, and this can apply to a broader range of conditions.

Step 2: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Came to believe we could realign the power within and the power without such that each served to enhance the other.
It could also read: Came to believe there was hope for recovery.
This step is about becoming an open system. In order to become open we need a sense of hope to reach out, to ignite the enthusiasm necessary to get through the difficult parts of recovery. The power within and the power without are interconnected and our pain results from their severance. An open system has greater power than a closed system.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Made a decision to connect the powers within and without and see them as One.
Addictive processes are the result of already having turned our will over to something else -- the challenge is to reclaim our will. If it is "turned over" -- even to something "better" -- we do not necessarily change the addictive process. Those who have been sexually abused or suffered the religious abuse of an angry God will not want to turn their will over to Him or perhaps to anything else. When we consciously choose to connect the powers within and without, however we define them, we are making a decision of empowerment of which we are a part and which gives us a sense of pride.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Took an intelligent look at our behavior, seeing its relationship to family patterns and dysfunctional culture.
The importance of this step is to understand the chain of cause and effect that has influenced us, to step beyond judgement, to see our behavior as an attempt to cope with a cultural situation that is off-balance, and to empower ourselves by creating more productive strategies for coping. Not all of the ways we were shaped by our family were our fault, and the shame that results from taking on the blame is often the very fuel of addiction. Much of recovery rests on learning self-acceptance: not acceptance of damaging behaviors, but rather a fundamental acceptance and understanding of ourselves that gives us the strength to let go of damaging behaviors. Let us not set ourselves up against a moral standard to se if we are worthy enough to continue, but instead look at ourselves as part of a process we once had no control over, then learn the causes and effects so that we can change them. We must understand in order to make permanent change.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Shared our searching with others, seeking feedback.
We need the reflection of a friend, a coworker, partner or therapist to accurately get the intelligent perspective sought in the previous step. We are by nature blind to our own programming, so another perspective is necessary to help us see.
For Pagans who want to use ritual in their recovery, putting what we understand into a ritual form and sending it to a god or goddess or spirit can be helpful. For example, I once did a ritual in which I stripped off my clothes in a circle of friends and invoking Erishkigal, lay on the ground and admitted aloud all the things I was aware of that had gotten me to this terrible time in life: my pride, my carelessness, etc. I asked for Her to see I was learning my lessons and to let me out of the Underworld. Two days later I got a new job and all the other circumstances unwound themselves gracefully in the weeks that followed.

Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Made myself ready and willing to let go of old patterns.
Nothing other, mortal or immortal, can do the work for us, but the willingness to change is an essential prerequisite. This may sound too obvious: if we weren't willing to change, why would we be in recovery? Yet this is one of the most difficult steps of all. Old patterns were put there for a reason -- they are part of an outmoded survival strategy. Being ready to let go of what we once truly needed is as scary as jumping off a cliff, and very similar in that there is a period of time where we are in free-fall, when we have to let go of something old before we can get something new, before we even know what we are replacing it with. The alcoholic who uses alcohol to be able to socialize or the marijuana smoker who uses it to stimulate creativity may go through a period of being socially dull or uninspired until the natural juices kick in. Old patterns also have secondary rewards: the co-dependent gets ego gratification out of caretaking; the addict gets attention or simply the high that lets him endure. Letting go of patterns means letting go of their rewards as well.

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To read the rest of this article:

Copyright 1998 by Anodea Judith.
Note: reprinted, with the author's permission, from Green Egg, vol.24, no.92, Ostara, 1991, pages 10 through 12.
Article is divided into four HTML files for convenience.

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Counseling Basics for Wiccan Clergy home page, by Judith Harrow and Gwyneth Cathyl- Harrow.

Also by Anodea Judith: Out of the Frying Pan - Into the Fire: Dysfunctional families and group energy.

Visit Anodea Judith's website, Sacred Centers.

Return to Elements of Recovery

Last Update: May, 1999 ce

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