Sunday, 11 October 2020

Religion In My Recovery

My name is Russ and I haven’t had a bet today or since my last meeting. It has been a while since I last wrote a blog and it’s simply because I haven’t had much to write about. I still haven’t gambled and past the 18 month milestone recently and during Covid-19 my recovery has gotten stronger with the amount of meetings available via Zoom. I’ve found a great set of meetings in Georgia and met some amazing people through them and have also added a Sheffield meeting to my weekly routine. Recovery is out there, in more ways than ever before, for anyone who wants to find it and you really will be spoiled for choice. Keep that in mind as you read on.

So, why am I writing a blog today? What has happened to get me typing again? I was at a meeting recently and from a personal point of view it was the worst meeting I have attended in a long time, maybe ever, as it went completely overboard on religion during many of the shares and it frustrated me. The meeting was about Steps 1, 2 and 3 and for anyone that doesn’t know they are:

Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless over gambling - that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step 2 - Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to a normal way of thinking and living.

Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Power of our own understanding.

As you can see, there are mentions of a Power greater than ourselves and people do interchange that with God or say that their Higher Power is God and I have no issue with that. Where I have to draw the line is when it becomes more like a sermon and people are using their share to preach because I didn’t sign up for that and if I wanted to hear it I’d go to a place of worship and this was how the meeting in question came across to me. I know if that had of been one of my first meetings I would have threw my hands up and went “fuck this shit, this ain’t for me” and left and wouldn’t have came back. 

I can make the argument that people should be allowed to share whatever they want and I do not want to come across as someone who wants to tell people what they can and cannot say in a meeting. My issue is, especially with those who have time in the program, is that although recovery is a “selfish program” (something else I disagree with...maybe it is my ego) that isn’t an excuse to ignore how other people may feel about contentious issues and religion is one. It even mentions it in the literature that:

“Gamblers Anonymous is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organisation or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any cause.” 

This statement, for me, covers religion. I try, and I’m sure I fail at times, to not alienate other members when I share. I want to make sure people come back and I also want them to feel like recovery is a place they can belong and thrive. For me, it is not helpful for others or good practice of Step 12 (Having made an effort to practice these principles in all our affairs, we tried to carry this message to other compulsive gamblers) to use my time to rant and rave and tell people how they should do things or to share for far longer than required to push an agenda without thought of who is in the room. That’s just me. The longer I am in the program the better and more concise my shares should become.

In saying all that, I have to ask myself this question. Am I the problem? In short, maybe. I will hold my hands up and say I am not a religious person and my spirituality is significantly lacking which of course gives me something to work on during my recovery journey and I also have trouble separating religion and spirituality but that is probably a different topic for another blog. 

Furthermore, when I came into recovery seeing the word God would immediately make me roll my eyes or hearing someone mention it would put me off listening to them. That was my problem and it’s something I have been working on in recovery. I’m a big believer in HOW: Honesty, Open Mindedness and Willingness so I started to internally tell myself to wise up and listen when I found myself rolling my eyes or zoning out of a share and I have gotten better. In fact, I enjoy listening to how someone uses their religion as their Higher Power because they have something I do not have and I can potentially learn from them. It could be my ego or it could be that I’m not actually as open minded as I think I am and I can’t really argue against that. I do have an ego that I am working on and will continually be working on and I find that writing about stuff like this can help me.

Additionally, I have to recognise that where I am from plays a role in my view on this. Growing up in Northern Ireland I have seen the impact that religion can have on people and on a country. I have seen how religion can be used to divide people and stir up hatred. That has turned me off religion and I need to make sure I don’t allow it to turn me off my recovery because people mention religion during their share. As I said earlier, I have been working on it and will continue to work on it but there is always going to be a line and in my opinion there should be a line to enable the recovery program to remain inclusive for all members. 

To conclude, my issue isn’t that people are religious or believe in a god, far from it, more power to them. My issue is how it can impact the recovery of other people when it goes too far. It’s no secret that religion is something that puts people of Gamblers Anonymous as a quick Google search or a read of Facebook groups or Reddit threads could tell you. I can only speak for myself but I feel like I have a responsibility to let people know that you can recover without religion the same way you can recover with it. One of my good friends in recovery sent me a quote the other day which I really liked:

"Religion can't enhance the 12 steps but the 12 steps can enhance any religion "

Finally, I just wanted to share my take on the Steps from my point of view because I cannot help but feel the message I got from that meeting I attended was without having religion you will never be able to “get” recovery, which in my opinion, is bollocks. It is also possible my opinion is bollocks and that’s OK too because it is important to remember that opinions are like ass-holes, everybody has one. So here is a very brief look at how I interpret the first three Steps from a non religious point of view.

Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless over gambling - that our lives had become unmanageable.

This Step is all about admitting I needed help and realising that my way of thinking and living wasn’t working. Finally admitting I had a gambling problem was a huge step for me and it was me finally realising the damage it was causing not just to me but to those closest to me.

Step 2 - Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to a normal way of thinking and living.

The Power greater than myself can be anything from God, Allah, my kids, my parents, my friends, the group, the program itself or my toaster. It doesn’t really matter. A great one I heard recently was someone using the door knob they use to enter the meeting room was their Higher Power. Whatever I choose, what is important for me is to realise I am not the centre of the universe and that there are other things more important than my needs and wants. I was a selfish prick when I was gambling and didn’t care about anybody but myself. Step 2 is all about me realising not only are there other people who matter but also that connections with those people are important going forward and vital to my recovery, which leads me to Step 3.

Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Power of our own understanding.

This, for me, is all about admitting I can’t do this on my own and I need other people to help me. Admitting that I don’t have all the answers and I never will and to realise that it is OK to reach out and ask for help. What I love about recovery is I have met so many great people that will help me get through the tough times and will be there to celebrate the good times as well. 

I’ll end with this. There is only one requirement to be a member of Gamblers Anonymous and that is a desire to stop gambling. If you have that desire you can work the Steps and develop a strong recovery that works for you.


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