Addicts are dancers in the darkness: staggering & stumbling, gracelessly moving through our lives. Sometimes, our dance is constricted, arms held tight to our bodies, fearful of touching or being touched. Other times, we flail wildly, not caring what we break, or who we knock down in the process. The rhythm of our addiction beats at us; it drives us on to places we never would want to go if we had our wits about us. And yet, we find ourselves in those places, not making sense to ourselves or others. And if we’re very lucky, we actually, really, find ourselves, or someone else finds us, and offers us the hand we need, to begin to navigate our way back to sanity.
There are many paths that could lead to our wellness; some take 12 Steps, others 9, or 16. Sometimes the steps aren’t that clear-cut, or we are encouraged to stop counting and just walk. What these ways have in common is: we figure out that something’s not working. We take responsibility for our actions. We forgive ourselves.
If you are a program* person you’ve no doubt heard people in the rooms** express gratitude for their disease of addiction: “There are lots of asses in the world, and I’m one too, but at least I have a program that helps me learn to not act like one…”
As creatures on a spiritual path, addict or not, hopefully we all have some sort of program we are working. Daily prayers, commitment to right action, seeking the wholeness of all beings; these can all be an important part of how we hope to heal ourselves and the world of our ills. Drunks or perverts or druggies or gamblers or whatever our ‘drug’ of choice, the consequences of our disease are brutal, but with focus and intention (aka magick), we can offer our gifts in a positive way.
As active addicts, we destroy things: our work, our family, ourselves. Most of us have tried many times to change our behavior and been unsuccessful. Having a tried and true support structure, with a history of success and clear requirements enables us to let go of the false control we’ve held, and to fall back with trust into something larger than ourselves.
However, a big problem that many of us face when we do finally seek a program is that many 12 Step groups are Christian-centric. Sometimes, that doesn’t stop us. We are so far down in the gutter that any light is welcome. But, when we get a little healthier, it starts to rankle. The “He”s and “Him”s and Lord’s Prayers feel exclusive and off-putting. And that’s all we need to convince ourselves that this sobriety thing really isn’t for us.
So. How can we manage that? How can we get clean while holding our own spiritual practices intact?
That’s the purpose of this humble column: to delve into the many issues facing addicts of all sorts, and approach those from a pagan perspective. We’re going to talk about specific rituals to help with recovery, what deities might support or detract from our resolve (because, dang, some of them really like to party), existing groups for pagans, prayers that help when we’re digging in our darkness, and all sorts of other subjects to help you and me find joy and creativity and truth and beauty on our path.
We’re going to help each other to learn the steps of all the dances that keep us healthy and sane.
Here’s why I think I can help guide this process (aka “Jenya’s Abridged Drunk-a-logue”):
I came from a loving family. Mistakes were made, but they always are. I had “new-kid syndrome” a lot, as we moved several times before I was in high school. But when I was in 9th grade, I found the magic key to happiness: alcohol. When I drank, I felt unworried and relaxed for the first time I could remember. I started hanging out with people who partied all the time. We all got completely sh*t-faced every weekend (or weekday, if we could swing it). I smoked weed, took speed and mushrooms and LSD, and drank like a fish, but in 1984, I made it to graduation (2.54 GPA, thanks for asking) and went off to college on the strength of my SAT scores (I was never nervous on tests!). Living on my own did not help me to curb my appetite for intoxicants; quelle surprise. After my first year, the school sent my parents a letter suggesting that perhaps I would like to take some time off to think about my goals. AKA — I got the boot. I got a job, even got promoted to manager of my little shop, until I expanded my druggie repertoire to include smoking PCP and snorting cocaine. Suffice it to say that my job didn’t last much beyond that.
Now I was free! My parents tried to help by encouraging me to move back home, but that would have put a damper on my activities, so I stayed free-floating out in the world. I had always had an interest in magick and the occult, and I started exploring that interest more. I did tarot readings, read The Spiral Dance, and believed in things I couldn’t see. Some of those may have actually been real.
In 1989, I moved to California. I was excited because I thought: a) I’ll find some real Witches! And b) I’m going to be the girlfriend of a drug dealer and get my drugs for free! Luckily, only one of those came to be.
I stumbled into a hotbed of Witchery in the Santa Cruz mountains: Gardnerian and Feri and NROOGD, oh my! We began a ritual group. By this time, I’d stopped doing drugs, but alcohol was my constant companion. Those around me didn’t have the same issues I had, but oh! Wine/s in ritual! Beer/s at the party! Nightcap/s of Scotch! There were so many new opportunities to drink in this community where ecstasy was so highly prized. “All acts of love and pleasure” indeed!
I tried to get sober on my own several times with no success. I had lots of “bottoming out” experiences: waking up in the wrong house with the wrong people, making bad choices about my family, and so on. I finally got clarity in an unexpected moment: I denied my beloved brother a drink out of my pint of brandy (because, dammit, I had this down to a science and I knew exactly how much brandy I needed to make it through the night!). Suddenly, the pattern shifted and I knew what I had to do. The next day I went to AA for the first time: September 18, 1995. And I haven’t had a drink since.
I would love to hear about your experiences as a Pagan in recovery from any addiction, working a 12 Step or Other Step or No Step!
* ‘program’ = a 12 Step or other recovery program
** ‘in the rooms’ = ‘in a 12 Step meeting’