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Government-enforced religion at the half-way house

Last October, I went into rehab to give up a very bad marijuana habit. I managed to kick the habit, and I graduated in early February and moved into a half-way house called Crana House in the inner-northern suburbs of Brisbane.

I was assessed by public servants working for the Queensland Government's Alcohol and Drug Information Service. I learnt while being assessed that one of the conditions of living at Crana House is to attend 12-step meetings (Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous). There is a six-week trial period at Crana House during which you have to attend three 12-step meetings per week, and after the trial period is up you have to attend at least one 12-step meeting per week, and at least two other recovery-related activities.

I'd never been to a 12-step meeting before I became a resident in Crana House, and so I started going along to NA meetings. I was aware that they were based on a belief in God, and since I am an atheist I was a bit concerned about that, but I decided to give it a go and see what they were like. Once, before going into rehab, I had suggested that a religious group may not be for me because I didn't believe in God or a "Higher Power". The psychiatrist I was talking to said that a Higher Power didn't have to be God - one person apparently called the bus his Higher Power as it took him past the pub to AA meetings.

When I started going to meetings, I found that this philosophical fudge was not used by most of the people there. People at meetings generally talk about "God", in the sense of a supernatural being with a distinct personality. This was the first major problem that I found I had with the 12-step program. I don't find the idea of believing in physics or gravity or the group a satisfactory substitute for a belief in God. I don't need to replace God with anything. As far as I am concerned, there are just people - nothing else. If I am going to find the strength to overcome addiction and other toxic habits, it's going to have to come from within me.

Now, if it were just the God stuff, I probably wouldn't have big problems with the 12-step stuff. But as I went to more meetings, I found deeper problems, far more important than religious belief. The third step of NA says:

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
One of the deep strains of thought that I kept hearing at meetings is that people with addiction must not obey their own will. The only way to remain free from drugs, according to this type of thought, is to let a Higher Power take over your life. You have to find out God's will, and obey it instead of yours.

Well, even if I did believe in God, I would consider that as a way to give up my responsibility to make my own decisions. I am not about to hand over my will to anyone or anything. I believe that my will in the past has led me to make rotten decisions, including the decision to depend on marijuana for a decade and a half. And I believe that I now must change my will and use it to make better decisions - or I will have very unpleasant consequences. But all those decisions are mine, and mine alone. Even if I believed in God, I wouldn't be able to blame him for my own decision to use marijuana, and I would deserve whatever credit there is for giving up.

There are other things I have heard at NA meetings that keep reinforcing the idea that our lives are not our responsibility. One big one is the idea that addiction is a "disease". It is very common to hear people talk about "my disease" at meetings. Well, I reject that. Addiction is a choice. I chose to use marijuana, and now I choose not to. I haven't been "cured", I have changed the decisions that I have made. Talking about addiction as though it is a disease lets you avoid the moral responsibility for the things you have done.

If you've found 12-step programs successful, then you will probably find a lot to object to in what I've said. If 12-step works for you, good on you. It's not my job to judge you and decide how you should live your life. But hear me now: These are my deepest beliefs that I feel at my core. Going to 12-step meetings violates who I am. So please don't bother telling me that I am wrong, or that I don't understand the steps, because I DON"T CARE. What I care about is the fact that I am forced, by public servants, as a condition of my accommodation, to attend meetings that violate me at my core. My other alternative is to live on the streets.

We had a house meeting tonight at Crana House. There was a discussion about recovery-related activities, and I explained how much I hate going to 12-step meetings. The public servant who attends the weekly house meetings said that EVEN IF the committee (all the residents of the house) were to vote to allow me to replace 12-step meetings with something else, she would veto it.

Who has authority over Crana House? Legally, it's very unclear. There appear to be no written rules saying exactly who has the authority to decide what is acceptable and what isn't. This legal murkiness is being exploited by the public servant so that she can claim whatever decision-making power she chooses.

The house is leased from a private landlord. I do not know if the lease is in the name of the Committee, the Alcohol and Drug Information Service, or some other person or organisation. Therefore I don't know who has the legal power to decide who shall live here and under what terms. The rent, food and utility bills for the house are paid by the residents out of their weekly rent. Council rates and such things are paid for by the Department of Health (which "owns" the Alcohol and Drug Information Service). I don't know if there is even a written lease.

So it's entirely possible that the public servant is pretending to have power she doesn't have. But even if she does have that power, I am being forced, as a condition of residence in a Government facility, to attend religious meetings - religious meetings that violate everything I believe in, at that.

I think it's entirely fair that people living in a half-way house like this should have to prove that they are doing the things they need to do to stay clean. People living here should have to go to activities that promote their recovery, and they should have to account for their activities, and if they don't go, they should be evicted.

But the Government has absolutely no place forcing people to attend religious meetings - for that is what the 12-step movement is - as a condition of residence in any facility whatsoever.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

It seems that for a decade and a half you had a higher power and now you have found yourself as a higher power. Is this working for you? If so, then continue to use yourself as a higher power and start the madness all over again. You said it over and over that you made the choice in your addiction. Nobody made you, nobody will get you sober either. You also may have not hit your personal bottom in the disease of addiction. It is a disease as stated by the American Medical Association. Your half-way house is there to provide you a structured life and inform you of a method that has worked for 73 years now. For you to say you do not have or do not want a higher power is your choice. I only ask that you consider all the things you yourself cannot do for yourself or have no control over. Would these things not be your "higher Power"? You obviously wanted relief from a substance you could not control yourself. Are you now "cured" and will never have the temptation to burn one? Not even when your friends, girlfriends, or the guy at the concert passes one down the line? will you be strong enough to say no thanks and go on with your life? I urge you to reconsider your thought process, EGO will get us drunk and high. We think we can control it. No matter how long we have been sober, every day is a choice and a gift. Remember this if you will, it has helped me in the past when I felt as though I could have one beer and everything would be OK. EGO- Edging God Out. GOD- Good Orderly Direction. Persevere my friend..! As we say in AA...Keep coming back..!

ZenballWizard said...

I'm always interested in the way atheists seem compelled to rant and rave about their atheism, just as others rave about their deism. Seems to me that a 180� turn leaves you in the same old rut, and whether you let religion or lack of it dictate the directions you move in your recovery -- it's still religion dragging you around by your thoughts. People who are truly free of religion simply ignore it.

I find agnosticism far more relaxing, because I don't have to take any stand, nor need I grind my axe. That's a lot of what recovery's about, by the way.

David J said...

Anonymous, if you're happy being a member of your cult, good for you. I am not interested and I DON'T want to "keep coming back" (and I'm sick of the cliches that are used at 12-step meetings in place of thinking things through for yourself).

Your half-way house is there to provide you a structured life and inform you of a method that has worked for 73 years now.

I'm certainly not interested in being forced into ONE method of dealing with my problems by my halfway house. You've obviously chosen to ignore what I said:

I think it's entirely fair that people living in a half-way house like this should have to prove that they are doing the things they need to do to stay clean. People living here should have to go to activities that promote their recovery, and they should have to account for their activities, and if they don't go, they should be evicted.

You say:

Are you now "cured" and will never have the temptation to burn one?

Of course I'll be tempted. What a stupid thing to ask. And whether I succumb to temptation, or resist it, it's my responsibility, not God's. Or anything else's.

I urge you to reconsider your thought process, EGO will get us drunk and high.

Didn't you read what I said?

If you've found 12-step programs successful, then you will probably find a lot to object to in what I've said. If 12-step works for you, good on you. It's not my job to judge you and decide how you should live your life. But hear me now: These are my deepest beliefs that I feel at my core. Going to 12-step meetings violates who I am. So please don't bother telling me that I am wrong, or that I don't understand the steps, because I DON"T CARE. What I care about is the fact that I am forced, by public servants, as a condition of my accommodation, to attend meetings that violate me at my core. My other alternative is to live on the streets.

Your ego might get you drunk or high. My ego is sick and tired of getting drunk and high and has decided that I am better than that. Which is why I don't want to go to twelve-step meetings. I don't agree with the philosophy and it's a fraud for me to be there. Go your own way, don't try and convert me to yours.

zenballwizard, you've clearly chosen to decide what I am like while knowing almost nothing about me. Perhaps you should read the article again and look at what my philosophical objections to the 12-step movement would be EVEN IF I WERE A RELIGIOUS BELIEVER.

I don't "rant and rave" about my atheism usually, and I ususally do just "ignore" religion, but when I am being forced by the Government to attend meetings of a cult whose precepts are directly opposed to my own I think it's reasonable to be annoyed.

Frankly, I found that not taking a stand on anything was part of my addiction, and learning to be less tolerant of unacceptable behaviour (and therefore leaving my own behaviour open to criticism as well) is an important part of my recovery. It's a change from bullshit "tolerance" of unacceptable behaviour - if you don't call me on my crap, I won't call you on yours.

Anonymous said...

I am hearing alot of feedback that enforces religion to you. 12 step meetings ARE NOT about religion. It is spiritual. Spirituality doesn't have to come from a God......or to a God. It comes from within yourself. Where we choose to focus it is up to us. What we choose to call it......is up to us. As individuals. I believe in a power greater than myself and I choose to call it God. But that is my choice. However you get rid of the obsession to use drugs or consume alcohol (in which I consider a drug also but some may differ) is YOUR CHOICE.
12 step programs show us a way of life that WORKS. But only if we let go ABSOLUTELY. That doesn't mean that you have to believe in God. Only in a power greater than yourself. I couldn't stop drinking by my own free will. I had to have help. Without God, I wouldn't have AA and without AA I wouldn't have God. But that's for me. Maybe not for you.
If you know that the life you were living was destructable and unmanagable......and that you yourself was powerless over it and you have given it up and it is working........more of that power to you. I hope that it lasts a lifetime. Good luck to you!
(I want to say...May God Bless you always but honestly.......I DON'T want to offend you....that's just something that comes from my heart to everyone that is trying in life)

Anonymous said...

1) Anonymous, you saying that David has not hit his rock bottom is very presumptuous... You clearly don't know David and have no business making judgements... How low must one go? Is the answer one hasn't hit rock bottom until one embraces a 12-step program? If so, there are a lot of dead and homeless people who have not hit rock bottom yet.

2) Paid professional drug and alcohol counsellors and psychologists who can afford to follow peer-reviewed best practice use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This is what was offered at the rehabilitation service that David attended prior to Crana House and he responded well to that. (It is also offered at a range of other services). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is based on the premiss that individuals makes choices about everything they do. For more information about CBT look up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy

3) David is in the situation where he has been asked to follow two diametrically opposed belief systems as conditions for receiving support to give up drugs and alcohol. At the Government-funded Rehab, he had to do CBT. (There are other services that offer 12-step rehab, provided by religious-based services) He was released from Rehab into a half-way house which is forcing 12-step programs. If David could simultaneously believe he had choices whilst surrendering to the higher power, he would have a form of schizophrenia requiring further professional help.

4) David has made it abundantly clear that he is not opposed to 12-step programs if they work for other people, that is well and good. However they do not work for him and are in effect undermining his recovery. I agree with him that a government-auspiced service should allow choice of support available, tailored to what works for the individual.

Anonymous said...

David J.,
You're obviously an angery man trying to find SOMETHING. Try your alternative and quit bitching, live on the street by yourself and enjoy yourself as it seems you don't like or need anyone or anything. Have fun with yourself. You've misinterpeted and changed peoples words and feelings when the only thing that needs changing is you and everything you do, it seems. Since you have nothing but yourself to help you, (yet you want people to listen to your rhetoric) then pull yourself up out of the mud and "fix" yourself.

derrida derider said...

One big one is the idea that addiction is a "disease". .. I reject that. Addiction is a choice.

It certainly is for marijuana "addiction". Not so much for some other drugs though - marijuana's biochemistry is very different to that for, say, amphetamines, barbiturates, caffeine, nicotine or alcohol. The chemistry of these latter drugs is such that some people are far more susceptible to physical addiction to them than others, so in that sense those so vulnerable can be can be seen as having a disease.

Anonymous said...

Alcholics Anonymous has a book that teaches us how to stay sober. There is an undermining reason that we all use the drug of our choice. IF we live the way that is suggested in "the big book" of Alcoholics Anonymous then we will dig into our lives and be able to be better people, healthier people........mentally, physically, emotionally and so on.
There is a chapter in this book called "the chapter to the agnostic"......maybe you need to read it. It might help.
It just sounds like to me that you don't want to stop the chaos in your life. If you did, why are you making such an issue out of something so simple? Lots of people analzye but I have found that it leads to being paralyzed.
I can't grow into a better person if I don't get out of the way.
Find something that works for you and stick with it. Quit bucking it and step up to the plate and just do the next right thing.....whatever your heart says that is....or do you not believe in that either?

David J said...

derrida derider, thanks for your comment. To be a bit more balanced than I was feeling when I wrote the original article, yes, I can see your point. Although when I had a look at the definition of "disease" it is so wide as to be able to include almost anything. The definition in emedicine (Via Wikipedia) says a disease is:

"1 . An interruption, cessation, or disorder of body functions, systems, or organs. 2 . A morbid entity characterized usually by at least two of these criteria: recognized etiologic agent(s), identifiable group of signs and symptoms, or consistent anatomic alterations."

Yes, some people are more genetically susceptible to becoming addicts than others. But I think it is crucial to remember that that doesn't determine their behaviour.

The real trouble I have with the disease definition of addiction is that it encourages people to blame something else for their own unacceptable behaviour. "I have a disease, I can't help myself, it's all up to God/Higher Power/Whatever to make me recover and I can't do anything myself".

Rational Recovery (a website that I have been much taken with) posits a different view; that alcoholism or other addictions are the result of a healthy survival/pleasure drive gone wild.

The last two "anonymous" comments are not worth much time at all, except to say that it's interesting how 12-steppers will keep on trying to recruit me to their movement, even after I've plainly said I'm not interested.

I couldn't stop drinking by my own free will.

I have stopped using marijuana by my own free will. My own will is all I have.

Anonymous said...

If your addiction is a choice, then why go to a half way house where you are forced to do what you don't want to do? Why not just leave? Make your choices and live with the results of your chioces

Anonymous said...

If you don't like the fellowships, don't publicly bag them like they're a cult, you're obviously a confused individual. I kicked a heroin habit among other things through the fellowships, and I have to say it works just fine for me, because there's no religeon involved.... Your veiw is yours to express, but once you decide that your marijauana habit is bad enough again, or if you've picked up a worse one, come back once you've lost your job, family, friends, car, house, dignity and will to live, and people will be more than happy to help you....

David J said...

If you don't like the fellowships, don't publicly bag them like they're a cult

Never heard of freedom of speech? Oh that's right, you're a cult member.

[Y]ou're obviously a confused individual.

Accusing someone who criticises an organisation as "confused"...hmmm, that's not very cult-like at all now, is it?

I kicked a heroin habit among other things through the fellowships, and I have to say it works just fine for me

Congratulations, the cult helped you. Well done. What about people who are not helped by the 12-step cult who are forced to go to their meetings as part a government program? Should everyone should be forced to go to cult meetings just because you like them?

I have to say it works just fine for me, because there's no religeon involved....

Then how come people sit around in the meetings talking about what God's will for them is all the time? You know, God, religion....

Your veiw is yours to express

Oh, how generous of you.

...but once you decide that your marijauana habit is bad enough again, or if you've picked up a worse one, come back once you've lost your job, family, friends, car, house, dignity and will to live, and people will be more than happy to help you....

1) So you assume that people who don't go to twleve-step meetings wil relapse back into drug use? Now THAT is the sort of mind-controlling propaganda that cults love to use.

"ONLY we can help you beat the evil of the world".

Why the hell should you get off drugs and then spend the rest of your life going to meetings with self-declared drug addicts like the ones you meet at 12-step meetings?

2) People at 12-step meetings are happy to help IF you accept their mindset and don't challenge it. They are most unwilling (as are the 12-step mafia in the drug treatment industry) to even debate the fact that there are alternatives and that 12-step meetings are not the only way to abstinence.

Your response just goes to show that there is a desperate need for non-cult ways to support people with drug problems.

goodwin55 said...

David: Here's an unofficial definition of addiction that works for me: any behavior or use of a substance that becomes pathological and ultimately becomes the mechanism an individual employs to avoid living in the present.

Two words are key here: pathology, meaning beyond healthy or normal leading to a disease process, and avoidance. I was a pothead and drinker for many, many years, had some great and memorable times in those days. Neither marijuana nor alcohol are inherently bad or problematic.

My use of both moved beyond normal and healthy until, without me noticing, the only time I felt right with the world and myself was when I was stoned, in the process of getting drunk, or both. Impairment became my norm, because the "present," my life, was in such a mess I wanted to avoid it at all cost. And I dared not look at the wreckage of my past or my role in it.

I too went to rehab and was instructed to go to 12 Step meetings. Like you, I was turned off to much of what I heard, struggled with all of the God language, and generally participated from the fringe, if at all. I stayed clean and sober that way for a whole year and stood up to receive my hard-earned one year chip at a small meeting I attended on occasion.They were glad to give me one, but when a lady asked me if I was visiting from out of town I knew I wasn't even being fully "present" for my own recovery.

It was my good fortune that day for an older fellow there to volunteered to be my sponsor. By hanging out with him and a small group of like-minded individuals in the local recovery community, I gained invaluable insights into the 12 Step recovery model that you may find helpful:
1. They are suggested, not required steps. My friends told me to just use what made sense to me and forget the rest. That was incredibly freeing information. As it has played out, more and more of it began to make sense the longer I remained clean and sober.

2. Although the Judeo-Christian understanding of God is projected onto the concept of "higher power" be the vast majority of folks you encounter at NA or AA meetings, there are many, many people in the 12 Step recovery community who do not embrace that idea and find it off-putting, if not outright harmful to some people. Their focus is much more on the spiritual"spiritual" aspects of recovery.

One of the most useful approaches for me has been to consider the wisdom of the group and the combined sober living experiences of group members who practice healthy, sober living, as a source of power much greater than my own, especially in the first five years or so.

Turning my will and my life over to the care of god (higher power) as I understood god meant nothing more than realizing I didn't have all the answers and might benefit from following the instruction and guidance of folks who knew more about being fully "present" for their lives. I still rely on their wisdom,insights into my struggles, and the humor and humility that shapes their way of viewing the world.

I wish you well in your efforts to lose the habit and grow in sobriety. 12 steps or not, surrender to the process, clean house, and practice living in community day by day, and your life is going to change in amazing ways. Stan B

Anonymous said...

All i have to said after reading your point of view which we all are free to have you feel that your beliefs are been violated by someone streching out a hand to bring you into a better understanding of the decision been made at the time by you. why keep falling in the same hole if you can have an alternative solution that will work in both ways in recovery bodily and spiritual why come against a hand out to help is that your decision or whatever is working in you that makes you do what you already do? The truth shall set you free...Honesty thats how recovery begins

Anonymous said...

Keep it up David.

You are a rational human being living in the real world now.
Unfortunately there is no legislated seperation of church and state in Australia.
From what I can find. The success rate of the 12 step program (AA stats) indicates that the success rate after 12 months is somewhere between 7% and 12%. Which is just lower than the rate at which alcoholics recover without an AA program (but with other support/recovery mechanisms). Of the people who remain sober after this time, various surveys have indicated that it appears that people with a greater self determination to succeed are the ones who are still sober! While attendance rate also figured highly in long term success, you could logically summise that the people with the greatest self determination could reasonably be the ones who attend the most meetings.

You appear to be in this group: the rational and tenacious.

This looks like the most respectable result set and commentary (bit long):
http://dickb.com/relapses-successes.shtml

I don't think that substituting a delusion creating substance with a deluded mental approach has any place in a government funded program.

My best heart-felt wishes go out to you, and "get the fuck off my planet you child molesting crettins" goes out to all the true believers out there!

;-)