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Article ID: 10058

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Pagans in Recovery: Maybe its Time for our Own Program?

Author: Ari C.
Posted: October 9th. 2005
Times Viewed: 5,587

Pagans in Recovery: Maybe its time for our own program?

(Note: there are many Pagan versions of the 12-steps, the recovery tool originated by the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Pagan Sanctum Recovery is not the one and only method for Pagans to get clean and sober and/or recover from other disorders. We encourage the Pagan who is still suffering to explore the diverse world of Pagan recovery, and listen for the message that rings true to the soul.)

My spiritual journey began when I was eleven years old. One summer night in 1973 I had a profound, soul-shaking dream. I woke the next morning feeling. . . aware. The forests, the moon, the sky, the flowing streams, and the great forces residing within and beyond, all had a name: Witchcraft. It was like turning the lights on in a dark room.

I felt an overwhelming urge to go to a bookstore; there I found Ann Grammary’s The Witch’s Workbook in the “supernatural” section along with books on ESP and UFOs. I bought it, took it home, and devoured it. Poof: Instant tween solitary! The Witch’s Workbook was a mishmash of spells, numerology, Egyptology and voodoo; it was riding the national “Witchcraft” mania ignited by The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. Today, Workbook is alien rubbish to me, and bears no resemblance to the Welsh Celtic tradition I practice now. But it was all I had in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And it told me that there were others, somewhere.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was also suffering from major clinical depression. It had begun shortly after I turned eight, when my had father died in a parachuting accident. My soul had a big, gaping hole with jagged edges, and I needed something to fill it. I knew there was an answer, somewhere out there, maybe spiritual, maybe not. I operated on the belief that I would “know it when I saw it.”

At some point I realized that spirituality was taking too damned long. I needed something right now to kill the pain. Alcohol and other drugs worked, and worked well. This seemed to be the answer. Drinking instantly removed the feelings of uselessness, futility and self-loathing. I felt good, I felt happy, uplifted, and nothing else had ever done that for me. I believed that magick would keep me immune from the adverse effects of drink and drugs; my youthful sense of immortality supported this illusion well into my adulthood.

In my denial I thought everything was OK. Truth was, I was drinking and drugging myself to death. It went on for years. My liver swelled. I was in a prison of obsession, loneliness, craving, compulsion, and gut wrenching hangovers. There were some good times, but as time passed they were become less frequent.

By the time I was 27 I finally realized that alcohol was killing me. But I couldn’t stop, and I learned to deny and hide my problem, sortof. I had completely abandoned my Pagan beliefs at this point. What or gods or goddesses would allow this to happen to me?

Then, in 1989, something happened.

It was my usual routine, drinking myself into oblivion at a convention at a hotel. I went into a complete blackout by 9 p.m. and came to in my hotel room at 9 a.m. the next morning. I had no memory of the previous twelve hours. Someone had destroyed the room: mirror broken, furniture overturned. My lover was on the floor, and he wasn’t breathing. For a good minute or so I believed, really believed, that someone had murdered him, and that someone had been me.

But fortunately (and I often think, miraculously) he wasn’t dead, just passed out drunk like I had been. But those horrifying moments changed my life. A light other than sunlight filled the room, and spoke directly to me. It reached through my mental fog and slapped me hard, once, across the face. It told me there was a way out of this agony. It was the Goddess, the God, a guardian angel, perhaps all three. I don’t know. I wasn’t very picky about solutions at the time.

I returned home with a sense urgency and hope, and made a list of things I would do to address this problem, in order of expense. Alcoholics Anonymous was free. Therapy, rehab, etc., were not, so I went to an A.A. meeting first.

I was relieved to learn that I probably had a genetic predisposition to addiction. Recent discoveries in DNA bioscience support this premise. The how and why is interesting, but in the end its not all that important, especially to someone who is still suffering. Some people simply cannot stop using once they start. For me it was like throwing a switch: as soon as the drug gave me a buzz I had to have more, and more and more. Normal drinkers generally slow down or stop when the effects start. This is the primary difference between addicts and non-addicts.

This craving becomes an overpowering force, and there is no stopping it. Most folks drink reasonably and safely on a regular basis. I see it all the time at festivals and other gatherings in and out of the Pagan community. But for those with this progressive disease, there is no medical cure. Class, upbringing, intelligence, will power, strength, are all irrelevant. This is not a “moral weakness.” It is a disease of the mind, body and spirit.

Two drunks, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, established the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. Through bitter trial and error they learned that two alcoholics, helping each other and providing support, had a better chance of achieving sobriety than if they did it on their own. They developed a program of 12 steps to recovery based on the program of the Oxford Group, a Christian fellowship popular at the time. Both Bill and Bob were Oxford members, but soon left because the evangelical practices were too aggressive and dogmatic. But from this group came the ideas of self-examination, restitution for harm done, and defects of character. (On the Pagan Sanctum Recovery website, the page “Pagan Precedents” lists these same ideas Pagan sources, predating Christianity) .

Even in 1935, drunks usually shunned mainstream religion. The A.A. founders saw the wisdom in changing “God” to “Higher Power.” Throughout the text of Alcoholics Anonymous “God” is referred to repeatedly, but in their day, this was their generic version of Deity. Pagan religions as a current event was unheard of in the general public of the 1930’s. Yet, the program included the disclaimer that “God” could be anything.

I was very fortunate to find the gay/lesbian group that I did. Judeo-Christianity had already failed them, having condemned them to Hell for their sexual orientation, so talk of a monotheistic, male deity was minimal. However, there are some groups (which are all self governing) who put their own spin on “Higher Power” to mean the Judeo-Christian God.

This is where Pagans run into trouble. Finding the right meeting, as I did, is a crap shoot. Just like the Bible before it, fallible human beings (also in recovery) read their own Christian beliefs into the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. For good reasons, Pagans visiting these groups get up and walk out by the droves.

I make a clear distinction between the 12-Step program with its membership. Even though no one person speaks for the program, this tradition often gets lost in lively group discussions. There are no A.A. “cops” to remind everybody this is a spiritual program, not a religious one. On occasion, aggressive Christians preach their beliefs to the group with the enthusiasm of evangelical ministers. Sometimes the meeting chair or other group leaders smile at these outbursts and gently steer the group discussion back to the topic. Or sometimes not; the meeting chair may also be an evangelical, and pretend to forget the traditions long enough for their comrade to finish their sermon.

I have come to accept this unpleasant fact, and have stayed with meetings that pay attention to the founders’ original intent.

In the last few years I hit another barrier, which became a major turning point in my journey. I had become complacent, and wasn’t paying attention to my spiritual maintenance. Keeping my Pagan beliefs a secret from the group had distanced me from them, and in my isolation I forgot I was an alcoholic. After eight years of being clean and sober, I relapsed.

I wanted out of the broom closet. I needed to discuss my recovery with language I was comfortable with. . . but wouldn’t it be nice to do so with a group who knew what I was talking about?

I soon discovered that many recovering Pagans were in the same spiritual predicament. At a festival in Texas ( ) I facilitated noon recovery meetings using a version of the 12-steps by Selena Fox ( ) . The meetings were well attended. With this experience in hand, I went searching the local recovery community for other Pagans in recovery, some times “flushing out” a solitary or two by wearing my robe and cingulum (blades of course are not allowed in a rehab center!) to the Big Speaker Meetings.

Over the last two years our group has produced a set of steps that embrace nearly all Pagan paths by defining “higher power” as both an inner and outer divinity. So far this concept has merged seamlessly with the traditions we’ve encountered (including Asatru, Native American, British traditional, Seax Wicca, Gardnerian Wicca, Welsh Celtic, and solitary eclectic, to name a few) . We ended up with 13 steps, which is quite appropriate for a group of recovering Witches!
1) Realization
We realized that our spiritual, physical and mental disorders have totally defeated us, and that it is time to reclaim our lives.
2) Acknowledgement
We acknowledged that our combined disorders have been sustaining our illusions of control, and that through meditation, honest introspection and help from others we can overcome this barrier and rediscover our Inner Divine Power.
3) Recognition
We recognized that our disorders have severed the bond between our Inner and Outer Divine Powers, as we define them, impairing our ability to function, heal and live in peace and serenity.
4) Reunion
We abandoned our will to the reunion of our Divine Powers.
5) Surrender
We surrendered completely our body, mind and spirit to our Divine Union, seeking a new directing force for our lives.
6) Examination
We examined our character thoroughly and made a list of our attributes, both positive and negative.
7) Responsibility
We shared our examination with another person, accepting full responsibility for our actions, blaming none.
8) Invitation
With humility and respect we invited our Divine Union to remove our destructive traits.
9) Accountability
We made a list of all persons we have harmed, and accepted the need to make amends to them all.
10) Amends
We made direct amends to these persons when possible, unless this would cause harm or make a difficult situation worse.
11) Maintenance
We maintained our spiritual balance through daily character examination, and continued to make amends for our wrongs whenever necessary.
12) Connection
We reinforced the bond between our Inner and Outer Divine Powers through meditation, magick and ritual, and allowed this renewed connection to guide us in our daily living.
13) Continuation
As the direct result of our spiritual rebirth, we practiced these concepts on a daily basis. We continue the circle of healing by helping others in recovery, regardless of their spiritual beliefs. We keep it only by giving it away.

Of course, there are other Pagan steps and programs besides PSR. Just do a Google on “Pagans in Recovery” and you will find many different Pagan versions. What is important, if you are in need now, is to find a program that works for you. We still encourage our membership to go to other 12-Step programs (I still go to A.A. and N.A. ) for the wealth of experience, strength and hope to be found. We also share our gift of sobriety with others, regardless of their religious background.

The “Tulsa Original Group” of Pagan Sanctum Recovery has been meeting at 12 and 12, Inc. ( ) since November 1, 2003. We share space with several other meetings and groups from A.A., N.A., S.O.S., D.R.A, Al-Anon. Our Pagan presence has been very educational at this facility. When others in recovery see that Pagans are not different, that our problems are the same, that our pain is the same, the evil image of the Witch painted by their respective faiths crumbles to dust. There are of course some pushy Christians who still squawk from time to time about the “devil worshippers down the hall, " but their protests don’t amount to much. The 12 and 12 values our presence, and`supports us fully. We offer an alternative, which apparently in short supply in the recovery community

As of this writing we have one other chartered group, “13 Step Lunar Recovery, ” in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We hope there will be more, but in my recovery program I try to avoid expectations. I do what I can today to find peace, and to help someone else do the same.

It took me fourteen years to understand that fellowship is half of the recovery process. Feeling and living with compassion for others in recovery is has resulted in the most positive and gratifying transformation of my adulthood (I’m now 43) . I finally understand what “self-actualization” means, and I no longer wonder what I’m going to do when I grow up. Our 13 Steps and other elements of the Pagan Sanctum Recovery program are the other half. . . important, but incomplete without the companionship, and support, of others.

In the past, hiding my Pagan beliefs separated me from others in recovery. Now I share these beliefs with others as an integral tool of my healing, and that of my new companions, the children of the Gods and Goddesses . . . and of course the suffering addict, no matter what their beliefs are.

Alcoholics Anonymous, Big Book 4th Edition, 2001

Copyright: A different version of this article appeared in the Summer 2001 issue of the Accord, Journal of the Council of the Magickal Arts. Copyright reverted back to the author on publication.


Ari C.

Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma


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