It’s About You
We often hear people say “It’s not about you,” and I truly understand what is intended by this statement. Yes, it’s not all about you, but it certainly will always involve you. If it concerns you working a program, developing a spiritual life, as opposed to a religious inclination, then you are most emphatically involved.
Why is the statement “It’s not about you” so popular and widespread in recovery circles? What other spiritual movement has wanted to deemphasize the individual’s role in achieving success? Well, truth to tell, many; sects in all religious denominations, not forgetting the power of widespread cults, including Islamic extremists groups that will send an individual to blow himself up for the cause of Allah.
Here is what I said about religious extremism in the previous edition of Counselor:
Whenever religion seeks to limit or paralyze us, or is used to victimize and oppress others, then it is both dangerous and unhealthy. It’s an aspect of addictive thinking and the substance being used is the concept of God (2015, p. 20).
Obviously, I do not wish to imply that recovering people are in any way similar to ISIS, but the concept of victimhood, what you say and think is not important, can easily lead to “extremist” views even in recovery circles. How many times have I heard a reference to a “Nazi sponsor?” Too numerous to count. Furthermore, is it really helpful to keep a newcomer in their place by saying, “If your lips are moving then you must be lying”?
Why do people affirm and continue to defend “It’s not about you?” Where is it coming from? Well, at its best, it is about keeping your ego in check. It’s the concept of “don’t get too big for your boots” or “don’t have a ‘big head.’” Okay, I can see the need for all of us to have some humility in the way we conduct our lives. However, when we are speaking about recovery, as I said earlier, you are involved. If we are talking about what we did in order to get what we have, then the “we” does involve me and you.
Some people have responded saying “God is responsible for my recovery. I did nothing. It’s only through God’s grace that I am sober.” Really? You did nothing? Is God going to work the Steps for you? Is God going into a recovery home or treatment center for you? Is he getting you a sponsor?
I have been arguing against these harmful and disempowering statements for many years. They seem to be based on the belief that you cannot affirm God and yourself at the same time. That you cannot believe in God and have a healthy belief in yourself at the same time. God does all the good things and we are responsible for all the bad things. This unhealthy belief system, in my opinion, is unfortunately sustained in the prayers we say at recovery meetings.
In my book The Happy Heretic (2012), I address this problem:
I remember hearing a powerful sentence that was attributed to C. S. Lewis, “I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God; it changes me.”
We have had many years of Augustinian thinking and teachings: nobody has been spared in the way it positions our relationships with God, especially in our prayers. Here are two prayers that are regularly recited at Twelve Step meetings:
Third-Step PrayerGod I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do Thy will.Take away my difficulties that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help, of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life.May I do Thy will always.
Seventh-Step PrayerMy Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad.I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows.Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding.Amen.
Why is all the action coming from God? Enlightened by the teachings of the theologian Pelagius, surely we need to work with God, partner alongside our Higher Power, and make changes that will support our ongoing recovery. Asking God to take away or remove from me every single defect of character is passive, emphasizing helplessness. It’s also not true. I have been with recovering people for years, and I’m always inspired by their heroic acts of courage. Many went into therapy, entered recovery homes, stayed separated from family and friends, and actively changed their attitudes and behaviors with the help of the program. Our prayers need to reflect our involvement in the recovery process.
Let me add a Pelagius touch to these recovery prayers.
New Third-Step PrayerI am ready to work with You in building my life.Alongside You, I face my challenges, creating the victory I need to serve others.May this Oneness be reflected in my life.Amen.
New Seventh-Step PrayerMy Creator, I bring myself before You.Working with You I seek to remove my defects of character that hinder my usefulness in this world.Celebrating Your strength within me, I go out to do service.Amen.I understand and appreciate the poetic beauty of prayers, but they are dangerous if they suggest that God is doing everything. We work with God in creating the good life, one day at a time. As Rumi would say, “We are one.”
I realize this is a challenging article for many people because it can seem to be an attack on Twelve Step recovery. It is not. Nobody loves the Twelve Step program more than I do, and I shall die, hopefully, a proud member. But we are not perfect, and what we write is not perfect. Everything should be open to healthy criticism or how do we grow?
Booth, L. (2012). The happy heretic: Seven spiritual insights for healing religious codependency (pp. 115–7). Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.
Booth, L. (2015). Spirituality vs. religious extremism, part II. Counselor, 16(5), 19–20.