This is one of those subjects I’ve meant to write about for a long time… Back when I attended NA meetings, I used to hear about it a lot, especially at one particular meeting. The man who chaired that one always spoke of the five pillars, and woe unto anyone who didn’t know what they were. (Meetings, higher power, step-work, sponsor and service.) He always introduced the subject the same way, comparing the stability of recovery to that of a table. His logic was that you could not have a stable recovery without the pillars, much like you can’t have a stable table without four legs to hold it up. And every time he said this, I thought of my three-legged table at home. It’s an office desk, a would-be rectangle with one corner removed in an oval shape, into which one slides a chair. So it has three corners and three legs, and is perfectly fine.
It’s easy to get caught up in your metaphor, but recovery is not a table. It’s also easy to project your own approach onto others and expect that what works for one works for all, but the reality is that we are all individuals, and there is no one approach, no correct way of doing recovery. I’m prone to such projection too, which is one reason that I write about my personal experiences and issues. I won’t tell you that it applies to everyone.
Of course there is some value to learning from the experience of others, especially if they have overcome similar problems. If that were not the case, no other former or current addicts would be reading this. And you get a little of that, the wisdom of others, in and around meetings. But that’s not all you get. I started with this point rather than writing it after the others, because if I wrote it only in the context of the other “pillars”, I’d have to conclude that it is useless.
A higher power
It’s convenient to believe that there is some guiding force, an intelligent designer of the universe. But there is no evidence for any such thing, and it is more about having something that you want to believe. It is incredibly arrogant though, to believe that you have a personal relationship with such a being, and more so to impose that notion onto others.
A higher power in recovery is a bad thing… No matter what anyone tells you, accepting the idea is all about the notion that you are broken, and cannot be fixed but must pray to a higher power for guidance, to be saved. It’s all about a one size fits all, generic approach, a cult-like culture where your individual needs and issues are forgotten as you waste your time on praying to something that does not exist, deluding yourself into the false comfort that your life is being guided.
People will tell you that you can have an alternative to god as your higher power, but those are people who believe in god, and who think that you will ultimately come around and be saved.
I have no higher power, and am perfectly fine without one, and without trying to pretend that some other single thing is the one thing on which I rely to stay clean.
These so-called pillars lose their value, and the metaphor breaks down, when you realize that they are not separate ideas at all. The 12 steps are all about god saving you from yourself, and you can waste your time pretending that they mean something else, but the reality is that you’d be better off spending your time on something that has personal significance.
I’d rather take my son to a movie, or read him a book, or spend time reading and increasing my knowledge by learning something new, than sitting with a sponsor and reinterpreting 12-step bullshit to make it relevant to me.
See previous point.
Having a sponsor is all about working the 12 steps. It is not a separate pillar on which to rely. It might be useful to have someone to talk to when you doubt yourself or are tempted to use drugs, but you don’t need a sponsor for that. I have several people I can discuss anything with, but don’t need to anyway because I am at a point, and have been since I was about two weeks clean (in September 2013, nearly three years ago) that I am not tempted anyway.
They were always vague about what this means… According to some, making coffee at meetings counts as service. So does helping addicts in prison (though I have no idea how that works), or helping people in a hospital. So it is all about helping others. I’m all for that, but not in the context of NA or anything that it stands for.
To conclude, I don’t believe that there is any right way to do recovery. If you find that you need to believe in a higher power, and that a 12-step plan works, then maybe that is for you. But I ask that you don’t go into meetings with a closed mind and tell people that it is the only way, especially if they say that they don’t believe in any god. Not only is it not the only way, but trying to force such an approach on someone who isn’t a believer may actually do them more harm than good.