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:
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.