Recovery for 12-Steppers from all worldviews: Learning the North, South, East & West of 12-Step language.
Twelve Step rooms were designed to invite every still-suffering member of society to be dignified as equals. The language of early AA recovery, that may have been cutting-edge in it's day, has not kept pace with transforming demographics that make up today's world. This blog is a little bit different. It’s an invitation into Rebellion Dog’s next book idea, looking at what we believe, how we express ourselves, privilege and prejudice that arise from exclusive language and how we can avoid triggering and offending each other.
I think out loud in today’s blog and ask for your feedback. The four quadrants of human worldviews is a model that looks at what we believe and the personal reasoning style we employ to ratify our beliefs.
I believe that every attempt was made for a wide gateway that invites all who seek the help that AA offers. We see today that, in an interest to preserve the message, time has unfavorably passed our "language of the heart" by. For example, here's how some of Chapter Four of Alcoholics Anonymous reads:
We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men.
When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you. At the start, this was all we needed to commence spiritual growth, to effect our first conscious relation with God as we understood Him.
Almost certainly there was no intention at the time to be dismissive of Buddhists, humanists, Hindus, Muslims, women, atheists or others. However, what was meant as a friendly "welcome one and all," in 1939 sounds more exclusive than inclusive today. Our hope today is not to fault-find but to work together. The hope is that we can all be more sensitive to the diverse tapestry that is today's newcomers whom for some, talk of spiritual matters in Judeo/Christian terms may restrict or offend. With the thought of a brighter tomorrow, Rebellion Dogs devotes the dog-days of August to ask, "How we can renovate our welcome mat so that today and in the future, we are as welcoming as our founders intended the 12-Steps to be?"
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Coming to Sedona Mago Recovery Retreat September 18th to 20th is a first of its kind gathering to discuss 12-Step language in the 21st century. One theme we aim to explore with attendees is how our narrative about 12-Step recovery can be more inclusive. A first step is to develop skills to understand each other better.
Demographics have changed since the 1930s. Somewhere, it seems, there must be an encyclopedia of religions, creeds, worldviews. We want the hand to be there whenever, wherever a common sufferer reaches out but how do we speak our truth candidly without appearing dismissive or confrontational towards someone with another worldview?
More so than ever, 12-Step rooms are each a coat of many colors. But just as all the colors of the universe can be distilled down to variations of three primary colors—blue, yellow and red—worldviews we encounter in the rooms can be categorized into one of four basic belief structures.
The title of this September’s retreat at the Sedona Mago Retreat in Arizona:
“Beyond Belief: An atheist and a religious man go on a 12-Step call together…”
Now, that title suggests two worldviews to choose from. The atheist holds a natural worldview whereby all that is known and unknown has a natural (cause and effect) explanation. The religious man holds a supernatural worldview informed by the world of both material and spiritual forces. These two AA members would explain the transformation from addiction to clean and sober in different terms—same experience, two different narratives. Poles apart, one 12-Stepper speaks of a sobriety guided by a higher power as they understand Him, Her, It or Them to be. Conversely, in the narrative of the natural, there is no prayer-answering, sobriety-granting god(s). She or he is non-theistic but not a non-believer. Among a natural’s beliefs, powers that might aid sobriety could be the power of example (in the rooms), faith in the process or a higher purpose, derived in part from the 12-Step process. The supernatural vs. natural perspectives, I suggest, are only two parts—or half—of a four-part story of worldviews that 12-steppers use to describe the recovery process.
Plotting these belief systems, imagine a belief structure that involves a personal God or gods called, “supernatural” at the top of a page—our North Pole. At the bottom of the page is our South Pole, the natural worldview whereby all that is known, all that is unknown and/or not-yet-known is believed to have a cause and effect that can all be explained by natural phenomena. So again, we have supernatural belief to the North and a natural belief to the South.
Let’s add another dimension (a West and East plane) that looks at our reasoning style or problem solving process that we employ to resolve these existential quandaries. Some of us employ a combination of inductive and deductive reasoning. Some of us are more intuitive. Some of us are more abstract in our thinking and others demand absolute true or false answers to the universe’s riddles. So the North/South poles of one belief vs. another doesn’t completely define us without the West/East line of reasoning style.
If you are inclined to a concrete or binary conclusion to the question, you are on the Western side of the ledger. The Eastern hemisphere is for abstract, intuitive or complex approaches to weighing the possibilities of two converse beliefs.
Bill W’s “We Agnostics” ultimatum is binary—true or false, yin or yang, a one or a zero.
“(W)e had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else he is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t. What is our choice to be?” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p 53)
This question, posed this way is a Western hemisphere reductionist approach that we might expect from someone with a legal education such as Bill. We are asked to weigh evidence or physical properties to make a material choice that we see the world as, a) governed by a personal higher power, or b) the evidence for such a power is insufficient.. That’s a fair ultimatum if our personality type or approach to philosophical questions is one that yearns for concrete/binary absolutism. Being either in the North West (Supernatural) or South West (natural worldview), we may feel gnostic (having vital knowledge) and point to reasons for believing to which anyone who reviews the arguments would see that ours is the sound, correct position.
But this isn’t how all of us negotiate the big questions in life. If our style/personality is rooted in the East we tend towards an intuitive or abstract process. We might start with the premise that the answer to the question is unknown and unknowable. If we have the gall to speak up against our Western sisters and brothers we might warn them that no matter which worldview they stand by, the more certainty they espouse, the less credibility they will build with us. Being sure of oneself isn’t indicative of being right about something.
If we are inclined towards a supernatural view, that puts us in the North East quadrant; we are abstract supernaturals. We might say, “Well, if the world is made up of what I know, what I don’t know and what I don’t know I don’t know, there is more to life than meets the eye. The very possibility of a supreme being makes it worth exploring. My gut instinct is that I must have the humility to bow to the reality that I know but a little; I ought to reach out to whatever might be.” No human construct (religion, book or following) has provided a narrative that resonates with us but we won’t bet against infinite possibilities. “My gut says ‘I feel something, but I can’t define it.' I will satisfy myself with the possibility of spiritual forces at work in my life.”
Those of us in the South East are not as optimistic. Either god created man in his image or man created god in our image; the latter is more likely than the former. If there is a superior being, any attempts to connect to it would be egotistical and futile. “I don’t put my faith in supernatural forces because there isn’t enough evidence to support such a thing. Sure, I could be wrong. But I don’t know because I can’t know, so I don’t care. I will search for enlightenment from within. I will not pander to either personal nor collective wishful thinking for some entity that might get me out of a jackpot or offer the big ticket to eternity. Hey, if I’m wrong, the actions informed by my own internal compass ought to please Yahweh and I’ll be able to answer for myself. But in the meantime, I will just do the next right thing.”
Ambiguity is a fact of life in the Eastern hemisphere. Westerners see Easterners as wishy-washy, or in a provisional position of purgatory. Westerners might urge the Easterners to see that more searching will help them “save time and see it our way.” Easterners may view their Westerner counterpart’s reduction of complicated matters to simple ones or zeros as rash or arrogant. Easterners may sometimes wish that their outlook was more absolute, more definitive. But in time, Easterners might see doubt as a higher or more honest level of consciousness compared to the certainty that their Western neighbors seem to enjoy.
|Four worldviews in |
he North, the concrete supernatural Westerners and abstract supernatural Easterners might feel they have a 12-Step advantage over their southern brothers and sisters; so much of the literature is written in higher power-friendly language. Yet, both the concrete naturals and abstract naturals of the South may sarcastically retort, “Don’t worry about us; we stay sober without God the same way you do—because there isn’t one (as far as we’ve seen).” The “unsuspected inner resource” referred to in AA’s Appendix II is not a second-rate sobriety coach. It’s a perfectly viable route to happy, joyous freethinking.
Consider that each of these four ways of seeing the world could be natural and healthy. None of the four worldviews is superior or easier than the other.
Here’s one advantage that those in the concrete supernatural North West quadrant hold over the rest; most of the early 12-Step language was written in your theistic language. “We realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves”, “We asked God to remove all these defects of characters” and “For our group purpose there is but ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself through our group conscience…” These are stark examples of the AA story being written in a concrete supernatural narrative, suggesting that a higher power is a given.
But all of AA is suggestive only. If it is suggested through a theistic narrative, AA’s truth, taken literally, isn’t true for everyone. One can either conclude that, “I don’t belong here because they haven’t spelled it out in a language that speaks to me.” Or, one could assume from the positive results reported in the early writings that there was something to be learned from the change in attitude and behavior. Can we translate the heavy theistic language to a more universal language? How would I describe the process in my own words? How could I help another member translate the process into their language?
Many members have stayed sober without having to accept anyone else’s worldview or having to deny their own. Some reject the Twelve Steps almost entirely, deeming them a flawed and ill-fated process based on an incorrect premise; fair enough. Many more have taken heart from this passage:
“The wording was, of course quite optional, so long as we voiced the ideas without reservation.” Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63
That invitation or challenge has been taken by many addicts from AA to SLAA to Online Gamers Anonymous. We now have Humanist Steps, CBT Steps, aboriginal/Native American Steps, Buddhist, Atheist and Agnostic Steps, Internal and External Locus of Control Steps and a wide open invitation still stands for every member to write their own twelve, two, six or twenty steps.
In Sedona we’ll look through some of the varieties of 12-Step experience and discuss the possibilities for us and today’s newcomers. One member’s poison is another member’s cure. It’s a matter—not so much of fitting our square-ness into a round hole, but—of finding what fits. In Sedona we’ll look at tools already available and maybe we’ll craft some new ones.
Here are a few examples of Twelve Step interpretations already changing lives for the better:
- Step Two: Came to believe that a power other than self could restore us to wholeness. (The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12-Steps, p 19)
- Step Three: Become willing to do things differently and make healthy choices in my thoughts, behaviors and actions through various methods, be it CBT, suggestions from wise friends, my sponsor … meetings, meditation and the development of my own inner strength and wisdom. (Tracy Chabala, After Party Magazine)
- Step Four: I will make a fearless and honest review of my life, my values, and my goals. (Teen Addiction Anonymous)
- Step Eleven: Find and study something that we find amazing. Realize that there are ways of living that can bring us a deeper degree of personal fulfillment. (Steps and Principles for Atheists and Agnostics, Online Gamers Anonymous)
Look at that Step Eleven. Who wouldn’t want to do that, regardless of what we believe? How fun; how refreshing. Look at Teen Addiction Anonymous’s 2008 variation of Step Four—not only does TAA remove the biblical word, “God,” but the religious morality is extracted from the inventory process, too. In this day and age, only our imagination limits us.
Back to these four quadrants. What are we going to do with this exploration of four quadrants? First we’ll look at which belief and reasoning style is the most authentic fit for us. They are made up of made up compound worlds. Why? Well first of all, overused words lose their meaning. Atheist for example defines someone by what they don’t believe. That’s no way to look at ourselves or others. Nonbeliever is just as bad. Supernatural worldview was my best attempt at including everyone who believers in one or more personal deities—God of our understanding, my higher power called Wonder Woman, Allah, Yahweh, the collective-consciousness—without excluding others. Most abstract thinkers would be what we call agnostics but “agnostic” comes with its own load of baggage now, so I avoided the triggers associated with the word, "agnostic." Make your own words which you feel communicate best. That’s the whole idea here.
Let's look at others we know, in and out of the rooms, too. Who are the people we love and what corner of the graph are they in? Why are we more tolerant of some who fall in one of the worldviews that is different from ours? Think about people in the rooms that really bug us; what quadrant are they in? Is there something about the language they use that triggers us? Can a second look at language help us see past the words they say and the negativity I feel under my skin? Can I better understand what they are saying? Maybe we are two people divided by a common language that have more in common than we realize. Oh, the narcissism of small differences.
We might look at popular personality categories and how, within each corner of the recovery quadrants, the room for variety is wide open. The Five Factor Model (FFM)—openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism—how would our score in these scales impact how we’d represent our quadrant? Extroverts might think that everyone would be happier if they saw it their way; it may be hard to get an introvert talking about her or his worldview. Are we open to new experiences? That personality trait will likely inform how warm or intolerant each of us is to the worldview of others.
The program for Sedona Mago is still in the revision stages. If you have ideas, don’t be shy. We’re looking into the possibility of Continuing Education credits to those attendees whom are professionally accredited. In the theme of together, we’re better, we are looking to facilitate a weekend where we all go back to our home towns and home groups better able to hear and speak to today’s rapidly changing tapestry of newcomers. After all, it is our responsibility.
Beyond Belief: An atheist and a religious man go on a 12-Step call together… is one of several great recovery retreats offered at Sedona Mago Retreat Center. If you can’t make it Beyond Belief, check out other offerings on Buddhism and the 12-Steps, AA History, Spirit-Stock, Loving Sober and more:
BEYOND BELIEF Sedona Workshop FLYER in PDF