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Recovery Through the Higher Power of Karma

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Step Six: "We're entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."
Step Seven: "Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings."

Steps Six and Seven can be another stumbling block for someone who doesn't believe in a monotheistic or Abrahamic God. If you don't think that some guy up in the clouds is going to reach down and fix you, how can you conceive these Steps? This was the question I had when I first encountered this part of the program. I couldn't fathom the 12 Step literature's interpretation. Fundamentally what I wanted to know is, "How do you change?"

It would be nice if I could just say some magic words and be okay. Or if I could just believe hard enough and be transformed. But it never seemed to be that simple.

I did believe, though -- I believed that if I stayed clean and sober and kept showing up and being responsible something would change. These were two things I'd never been able to do. I'd been drinking and using since I was a teenager, and I had been running from responsibility just as long. It was a huge leap of faith to stop running and to face my life unsoothed by pot and beer. Things did start to change then.

But it wasn't enough to just go to meetings and not drink. I wanted my life to go somewhere, both internally and externally. I started challenging myself to work harder, to go back to school, to build some kind of career beyond the poverty and insecurity of my life as a club musician. I also started confronting my deeply conditioned habits around relationships, depression, and limiting self-judgments. Both these internal and external changes were wrenching, breaking out of my comfortable, though miserable, box. Being willing to drop identities that seemed so real and so safe and step into new, unfamiliar and risky roles.

To me, this process isn't about God in a Western sense, but it is about power -- the power of karma, action. In the Bible it says, "Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you." This sounds a lot like Step Seven to me. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, a Thai forest monk of the 20th century says this about that passage: "From the Buddhist point of view, this is a matter of karma ... we beseech the Law of Karma through our action and not merely with words." From a Buddhist point of view, the Law of Karma, which says every action has a result, can be seen as a Higher Power. For those of us who have been lost in addiction, when we connect with karma in this way, take the actions that harmonize with the Law of Karma, our life changes in radical ways. There's no magic here, but there is great effort and faith. We have to abandon long-held beliefs, about ourselves, and about the world. We have to fight the self-destructive and pleasure seeking habits that have destroyed our lives, even as we have devoted ourselves to them. We have to take actions, internally and externally that may be uncomfortable and unnatural, and we have to stick with these new behaviors even when they aren't producing the results we want.

Addicts are in a hurry -- we want to get high now. We expect results now. Recovery doesn't work like that. It doesn't run on our schedule. The Law of Karma doesn't deliver results on our timeline. For an addict, this can be torture, but it's all part of the recovery process, learning to show up, do your part, and turn the results over to "God" or the Law of Karma. Take your pick. Either way, you're going to have to get to work.