Pagans in Recovery
Copyright © 1996, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits
Like many people in the helping professions,
I grew up in a dysfunctional family, the child of parents who
grew up in severely dysfunctional ones. I had a number of unpleasant
things happen to me as a child and became an anorexic (yes, it
happens to boys too). Ive got most of the personality characteristics
of people from such backgrounds: low self-esteem, a fear of both
failure and success, a tendency to attract and be attracted to
people from similar backgrounds, compulsive rescuing, a terror
of making mistakes (which leads to thirty years of writers
block), an unwillingness to ask for what I need, a habit of reinacting
my childhood abuse and my parents dysfunctional behaviors,
etc. For a few years, my co-dependent, enabling behavior towards
a best friends alcoholism almost destroyed A.D.F.
In 1990, my son Arthur was born and I became determined to break
the cycles of dysfunction.
I would guesstimate that if we added up all
of the Neopagans who are current or recovering alcoholics or
drug addicts, adult children of alcoholics and/or drug addicts,
adult survivors of childhood abuse (physical, emotional, spiritual
and/or sexual), have eating disorders (such as anorexia or compulsive
overeating), who are sex and/or love addicts, etc., that we would
wind up with 95% of the entire Neopagan community and
150% of our clergy. Of course, these figures are true for many
American religious communities, we probably just tend to hide
it less. I know someone who used to teach a workshop at Pagan
festivals called, Why oldest daughters of alcoholic fathers
become high priestesses. She said that she had modified
it only slightly from one she had done previously for women who
become nurses or social workers.
I suspect that most of us in our overlapping
subcultures Neopagans, science fiction fans, renn-faire
roadies, medievalists, computer techies, Mensa members, etc.
suffer from Aspergers
Syndrome (A.S.). This is a multi-syndrome
subtype of mild autism, characterized by:
- high intelligence and creativity,
- mild to severe Attention Deficit Disorder
(which I prefer to think of as Attention Dynamic Difference),
- usually with Hyperactivity,
- often with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
( O.C.D.), and
- perhaps most importantly, dysthemia,
which is a difficulty in understanding the non-literal
content of human communication, such as facial expressions, body
language, voice tonalities and other social cues.
When you combine all those characteristics,
A.S. seems to equal I.N.S. (or Incipient Nerd Syndrome)
and much of the bizarre personal behavior and miscommunication
that plagues our communities suddenly becomes understandable
not to mention the oh-so-common cluelessness
that characterizes many of our best known members!
Many people with A.S. (or just plain A.D.H.D.)
do whats called self-medicating with alcohol,
drugs, or other endorphin-raising activities, because they have
no access to (or no understanding of the need for) appropriate
medications that could be administered under the supervision
of a healing professional. Unfortunately, that self-medicating
can be a very slippery slope indeed, often leading to addictions
and/or obsessions that can destroy lives. A major irony, of course,
is that other forms of self-medication include meditation, prayer,
and other spiritual disciplines.
Heres some definitions Ive found
useful: addictive behavior is the compulsive use
of destructive substances or behaviors to relieve, temporarily,
the psychological pain that arises from abuse, or deprivation
of basic needs, in early childhood (from a group called
W.E.B.S.) Toxic shame is the core of addiction
and compulsive/addictive behavior is a pathological
relationship to any mood-altering experience that has life-damaging
consequences. (both from John Bradshaw, Healing
the Shame that Binds You.)
Our communitys Dionysian reaction against
the Apollonian asceticism of the mainstream religions has been
used by many of us to excuse substance abuse and compulsive/addictive
behaviors. This reaction was justified, but the dualistic extremes
which many of us reached have caused great pain to ourselves
and our loved ones.
Before Matthew Fox, the heretic Roman Catholic
priest who invented Creation
Spirituality, was officially silenced
by the Vatican, he wrote and published a brilliant open letter
to Grand Inquisitor Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) called, Is
the Catholic Church Today a Dysfunctional Family? (Creation
Spirituality, Nov./Dec. 1988). He showed just how easy it
is for a religious organization to become as crazy as an alcoholic
family, when its leaders and members dont pay attention
to their personal power and control issues. Its not surprising
that they defrocked and purged him later, and its even
less surprising that the Catholic Churchs reaction to current
scandals has been primarily denial and the blaming of their victims.
Dealing with these issues has become increasingly
important, not just to me, but to the entire Neopagan community.
Thinking about all of this finally got me to
join a Twelve Step group. Id been familiar
with the Twelve Step programs, such as Alcoholics
Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous,
Al-Anon and Alateen, Sex Addicts Anonymous,
etc., for several years, having some friends involved in them.
Participating from the inside was a revelation. I discovered
many other people who couldnt remember most of their childhood,
who were filled with inexpressible emotions, who could never
find the right Mothers Day or Fathers Day card to
send because they all seem inappropriate for the dysfunctional
parents they remembered, etc.
There are definite problems with the Twelve
Step programs as they currently exist. Perhaps the major one
for a Neopagan is the fact that, despite an officially nondenominational
position, most interpretations of the program use mainstream
monotheistic language when talking about the divine. The overwhelming
majority of Twelve Steppers talk about an omnipotent, transcendent,
single, male deity as their Higher Power. The underlying
theology is guilt-based and emphasizes the powerlessness of the
individual in the face of addiction and/or obsession. Most programs
end meetings with Christian prayers, despite the fact that, officially,
they arent supposed to. These problems have long been used
by some Neopagans to avoid getting the help they need.
I wont go into a missionary trip about
the Twelve Step programs. They have their weaknesses (mostly
polytheological), but they are nevertheless the most powerful
and effective systems I have seen for healing the inner child
and giving the adult appropriate life skills. I believe that
all of us, especially the clergy, could learn a lot from them.
In time we will create our own versions that are more in keeping
with Pagan principles and beliefs. Meanwhile, there is nothing
better available for those of us who are in pain from addiction,
obsession, and/or victimization issues.
There are plenty of Pagans working with the
programs now. In fact, just about every festival Ive been
to in the last several years has had Pagan Twelve Step meetings.
These are usually multi-program meetings (people from A.A., O.A.,
N.A., Al-Anon, etc.) devoted to discussions of how the Twelve
Steps can be adapted by Neopagans. There are even support groups
meeting in local occult stores. Anodea
Judith, author of Wheels
of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System
(which I highly recommend), has done much research and writing
Pagan Approach to the Twelve Step Programs. Many Neopagan
organizations are now dealing with issues of addiction and obsession,
and/or requiring their clergy to learn about these issues.
So I cant recommend highly enough an
unfairly obscure (one might almost say Anonymous)
Neopagan publication called Pagans In Recovery. This quarterly
newsletter is now defunct, but carried many articles and stories
of value to the Pagan 12-Step community. I hope to set up a P.I.R.
section here someday on neopagan.net where the best of their
publishing run will be available online, along with new materials--yet
another plan that needs an intern!
Here is a group I just learned about in August
Healing Grove is the oldest and most
comprehensive website for Wiccan and Pagan survivors of rape,
incest and abuse and their allies. We have articles, resources,
international hotlines, and a poetry anthology by survivors.
We are currently accepting new articles and poetry. Our online
support group accepts survivors and allies of all genders and
orientations. We are open to friendly nonpagans who enjoy our
nonjudgmental atmosphere as well. The Healing Grove has an
associated Yahoo Group of the same name. For women who prefer
an all-female support group, we recommend the Yahoo! Group Daughters
If you know of other Pagan-based recovery
groups and publications, be sure to let me know about them. If
any of you would like to write an article on how Neopagan polytheology
can work with a recovery model, send it in to your favorite Neopagan
publication, and to me. To those of you who are struggling to
resolve these issues in your lives, remember: you are not alone.
12 Steps for Pagans
- Honesty: Admitting
we were powerless over our addictions, that our lives had become
- Hope: Came
to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore
us to sanity.
- Faith: Made
a decision to turn our will and our lives over to a higher power,
as we understand it.
- Courage: Made
a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Admitted to a higher power, another, and ourselves the exact
nature of our wrongs.
Were entirely ready to have a higher power remove all these defects
- Humility: Humbly
asked a higher power to remove our shortcomings.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to
make amends to them all.
- Justice: Made
direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to
do so would injure them or others.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly
- Spiritual Awareness:
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious
contact with a higher power, as we understand it, praying only
for knowledge of the way for us and the power to carry that out.
- Service: Having
been enlightened as a result of these steps, we tried to carry
this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles
in all our affairs.
is anything that the addict accepts, be it a God, Goddess, the
Tao, Nature, and/or even the group; it is to be used in such
a way that the addict is getting away from the self and selfishness.
Five States of Mind or The Death of the Old Way of
- Denial: I dont
have a problem, I only use on the weekends, etc.
- Anger: Everyone
is after me, its their fault, why me?
Ill cut down my use, I wont buy it, Ill only
Im a bad person, I cant do anything right, life sucks.
First step in the healing process.
Healing for Family and Friends of Addicts
- Addicts dont use on purpose, they cant
help it. There is something wrong with the addict both mentally
and physically, they have no control.
- Dont take the addiction personally.
You didnt cause it, you cant control it, and you
cant cure the addiction. You cant even help the addict,
unless they want help first.
- Be willing to confront the addict in a descriptive
manner. Dont shame or nag them, but be firm and gentle.
- Be willing to lose your relationship with
the addict if the addict repeatedly refuses to seek help for
himself or herself.
- Dont cover up, enable, or shield the
addict from their behavior.
- Arm yourself with understanding, knowledge
and education about addiction. Know that denial is not the same
as lying, the addict often times cannot see the obvious because
it hurts too much
Signs of Addiction
the person begins to lose control over the behavior.
- Repeated negative consequence, yet
progressive inability to stop the behavior.
- Increasing obsession with or thinking
about the behavior.
- Behavior creates problems in the persons
relationships, family, work, school, and/or social life.
- Increasing tolerance or
the need for more.
- Behavior becomes progressively more destructive,
risky, and/or damaging.
- Secrecy and
- Increasing isolation.
- Behavior is used to hide or cope with
problems and/or unpleasant feelings.
- Behavior causes feelings of shame,
remorse, guilt and/or regret.
- Engaging in the behavior at inappropriate
physical and/or psychological, when behavior is stopped.
Ways of becoming an Addict
- Susceptibility/Availability: Dose, frequency, and duration of use
- Psychological factors: mood imbalances/mental disorders/ belief systems
- Developmental and/or social factors
- Traumatic events:
Grief, loss, chronic physical pain and/or trauma issues
Pagans in Recovery (typical group rules)
Meetings every-other Thursday, 8pm-9:30pm
at the XXXX community office space. No alcohol or drugs, those
under the influence are ask to declare it, so that it may be
determine if your presence would be harmful to the group. Participation
is encouraged by all, we all have something to teach and learn
from one another.
The goals of the covenant range from support
and healing, to educating ourselves about the sickness that we
are powerless over. Families and friends are important to this
never-ending battle with addiction, their understanding about
this disorder can and do help them to heal also. It is important
to note, there is no magic pill to cure addiction it must be
faced everyday, and if you are willing to work for it, a happy,
fulfilling life is waiting. The hardest step to take is the first
There is only one pact that all addicts in
the group must follow a desire to quit the addictive behavior.
All faiths and believes are accepted, none
will be shunned or slighted for the path they have chosen.
There is no set policy on how a group meeting
will start, that will be decided according to those present,
as not to offend. Topics will very from week to week. After opening,
it is asked, but not mandatory, that all introduce themselves
and briefly say why you are there.
The speaker will ask if there is anything
important that someone would like to share. Many times afterwards,
a topic is chosen or decided upon by the group.
It is important to note that this is your
group, your meeting; you will only get from it what you put in.
I cant remember who sent this to me. Credits
will apear someday, I hope.
Non-12 Step Recovery Groups
Not everyone finds that the 12 Step paradigm
works for them. One reader tells me: I offer the following
links as alternatives to 12-step programs. I have serious qualms
about 12-step programs, beginning with the requirement to self-identify
as the problem (Im an alcoholic) instead of as a person
dealing with a problem (I have a problem with alcohol). The belief
that the person is powerless is also problematic--and so forth.
The efficacy of such programs is also suspect, both in the aggregate
(when data can be found) and in the individual (the recovered
addicts I know werent in 12-step programs and those who
He sent me links to the following websites
which may be of assistance to Pagans seeking alternate means
of recovery from addictive and/or obsessive behaviors. The quotes
are from the sites opening pages.
Recovery® offers free face-to-face and online mutual
help groups. SMART Recovery® (Self-Management And Recovery
Training) helps people recover from all types of addictive behaviors,
including: alcoholism, drug abuse, substance abuse, drug addiction,
alcohol abuse, gambling addiction, cocaine addiction, and addiction
to other substances and activities.
SMART Recovery® is an alternative to Alcoholics
Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. SMART Recovery® sponsors
more than 300+ face-to-face meetings around the world, and 16+
online meetings per week. In addition, our online message board
is an excellent forum in which to learn about SMART Recovery®
and seek support.
Management (MM) is a behavioral change program and national
support group network for people concerned about their drinking
and who desire to make positive lifestyle changes. MM empowers
individuals to accept personal responsibility for choosing and
maintaining their own path, whether moderation or abstinence.
MM promotes early self-recognition of risky drinking behavior,
when moderate drinking is a more easily achievable goal.
The primary idea behind this system seems to be to teach addiction-prone
drinkers how to control themselves before they get to the full-blown
Recovery is the original and only resource on self-recovery,
providing inspiration and guidance in every community through
the internet, bookstores, and libraries. This website is a comprehensive
resource which will allow you to proceed to full recovery in
as short a time as you like -- without the use of any other resources
such as recovery groups, professional counselors, or addiction
treatment centers. The key concept used is that of the
Addictive Voice Recognition Technique® (AVRT®)
which is an approach to addiction recovery based upon the
experiences of people who have actually recovered independently,
as an expression of moral judgment and free will. ... someone
without the desire to quit an indulgence or activity altogether
is not addicted, but simply engaged in risky behavior. In AVRT-based
recovery, addiction is not a diagnosis, but a condition evident
only to oneself. Accordingly, AVRT® is not a source of moralism
for judging other people's personal conduct, but only a means
for constructively judging your own conduct. Who knows,
it might work for you if the other ones don't.
Copyright © 1996, 2006 c.e., Isaac Bonewits. This
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