Step I

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.

-The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous

It is remarkable how easily outsiders misunderstand the concept of powerlessness within Twelve Step Recovery. A simple moment spent Googling will bring up page after page of anti-AA rhetoric accusing Bill W (one of AA’s founders) of having created an entire organization that teaches learned helplessness. Many Twelve Step detractors will say that this concept of powerlessness allows the addict to shrug off any responsibility for the things she has done.

In the disease model of alcoholism and addiction, which Twelve Step recovery subscribes too, it is believed that the alcoholic or addict will never be able to regain control over their drinking or drugging. It said that upon ingesting alcohol or drugs, an allergy is set into effect that acts upon the alcoholic or addict as a tremendous craving. In addition to that, this person also suffers from a mental obsession that constantly tells them the lie that this time it will be different, that this time they will be able to pull it off and drink or drug normally or without consequence. When the first A.A.’s wrote the word “powerless”, they were saying that no addict or alcoholic would be able to circumvent either the mental obsession or physical addiction. No matter what they do, what clever tricks or management plans they come up with (and we can be quite creative!), they will never be able to drink or use without terrible consequence.

Is this a learned helplessness? Does it allow the Twelve stepper to shrug off responsibility for their actions? A reading of the 11 steps that follow should make it clear that the answer is no. It demands abstinence as the only sane reaction to the news that we cannot drink or use as other people can. The process that follows is a thorough and quite humbling experience that requires the 12 Stepper to come to terms with their worst actions and be willing to accept the consequences of their actions, even if it causes financial or legal hardship.

I see accepting my powerlessness as one of the most, strangely enough, empowering actions I have ever taken in my entire life. Before I accepted my powerlessness, I was a girl who spent years throwing herself against the wall. I was convinced that eventually, through the force of my own stubborn resentments and anger, I would somehow break through. What was I trying to break through? An endless list of things, including my own startling inability to drink like a normal person, other peoples unreasonable (so I thought) expectations of me and their resistance to my efforts to control them. I believed that if I could only manage things correctly, I would gain power over my situation, my feelings, and other people. I could somehow manage to have a normal amount of drinks or drugs and then stop. My dad would drop to his knees in sorrow for all the mistakes he had made and beg me to forgive him.

The result of these years of constantly throwing myself against the wall in this effort to exert my power? A bruised, battered body and spirit. More tragically, lost opportunities to embrace reality as it was, limitations and all. It was only when I accepted that I was powerless over certain things – my family, what other people thought of me, my drinking – that I could stop spending my time beating my body against the wall of denial and instead become engaged in those choices that WERE under my power.

It is only when I fully accept what I am powerless over that I can take my rightful place of power in the center of the pentacle and access the powers of spirit, earth, air, fire and water. At that moment, I finally understand myself in right perspective to the things that are around me. A witch cannot shape reality until she understands it. Admitting that there are things in the world, in nature, that she is powerless over is acknowledging that she is part of the tremendous web of life in which all things are connected. Humans, no matter how impressive our cognition, cannot set ourselves above or apart from the forces of nature. We are all bound by the laws of physics. We are all touched by death. To admit we are powerless over things is to claim our birthright as people of this Earth. It is to lay our heart out open and say “Yes, I am vulnerable. See how strong my heart beats”

And yet, In their efforts to rewrite the Twelve steps for a more Pagan-friendly model, many authors have written the concept of powerless out of the first step. Let’s take a look:*

“We admitted that we had a problem and made the decision to reclaim our lives.” The Spiral Steps

“We admitted that we have given our power and wills to (alcohol, drugs, food, anger, people, places, things, situations, the past – whatever you are having issues with…) and that our lives had become unmanageable.” The 12 Steps for Pagans by Khoury 

“We admitted we had a problem and that we were squandering our power. “ Anodea Judith, A Pagan Approach to the 12 Step programs

I understand the motivation for writing the word “powerless” out of the steps. Many people come to Witchcraft bearing scars from monotheistic religions were they were browbeaten into subservient and powerless relationships with their religions and their God. While the Twelve Steps were written expressly to be used by people of ANY spiritual beliefs, they were written by Christians in the 1930’s. Though the language they used was extremely inclusive for their time, it can read as alienating today. This concept of powerlessness can seem like a painful relinquishment of the sovereignty of the personal power that one reclaims when practicing Witchcraft traditions.

As discussed above, I believe that acknowledging our powerlessness is the exact opposite. I believe that for recovering addicts and alcoholics, it is the essential first step to reclaiming our true personal power that our addictions stole from us. Furthermore, it complements the worldview of the Witch by emphasizing the interconnectedness we share with all things.

Blessed be Powerlessness! Blessed be the First Step! Blessed be all recovering Witches, and blessed be all those still out there struggling.

*I have great respect for these steps and for anyone who got clean & sober working them. I am not arguing that they are bad or wrong.

 

Please click over to Witches and Pagans and read my new blog post on Powerlessness and the First Step!

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The push and pull of Home

Home.

What a loaded word, for so many people. Especially for those of us whose home lives were shot through with the pains and tragedies caused by alcoholism and drug addiction or other compulsive behaviors. My concept of home was a dangerous one through the fault of three alcoholics. The first was my father, who brought violence into my life as a child. The second was my mother, who filled my nights with uncertainty as she drank glass after glass during my adolescence. And the third was me, who hit my bottom one summer in my hometown, filling that place with anxiety and bad memories that required many years of forgetting.

Newly sober, I would creep into my hometown on occasions I could not avoid with my head ducked down and my eyes warily scanning the landscape. I was terrified of running into someone who had been part of my meltdown that summer. Someone who would claim to know a “me” that I was desperately rejecting and trying to cast off. What was most terrifying were the things I didn’t know I had done—I was a blackout drinker, and so never really knew who I had met, what I told them, and where we had gone.

So, even though I have grown more comfortable with it over the years, and the fact that it is considered a “destination” by manner, I still resist the pleas to come visit. My husband suggests we spend more time down there and I wrinkle my nose and dither. I might make it down there three or four times a year-kind of ridiculous considering it is a beach town, only three hours away, and a place many people would be thrilled to have a free place to stay!

But this place, though absent from my life, is everywhere in my magic. I can’t get away from it. It is where I find myself entering the underworld in Shamanic journeys. It is where I am taken in dream trances. When someone asks me how I became a witch, I know it is on this land that I found my Gods. I grew up on a large tract of land on a Bay. As a young child this is where I searched everywhere for the hidden portal into the “Other” world. This is the specific marsh where I dragged an empty brass pot into a hidden spot in the reeds and began to do well magic. This is the lake where I once buried a box containing a photograph, a letter, and salt in my first banishing/binding spell. This lawn is where I would stand under the bright light of the mood and first raise my arms to the sky and feel that sense of holy power and love descend upon me.

I was taken to this place in a trance last week. I had shape shifted into a crow and felt drawn to eat of the crabs, worms and other creatures that dwelt in the mud. Again I shape shifted, this time into a younger version of myself, a fierce, worldless child that existed before I began abusing substances but after the great shattering that would lead me to them. Not speaking, she slowly covered her body in the dark, smelly and tarlike mud from the marsh, until her entire body was black, and you could only see the whites of her eyes staring out from the darkness. It felt like a baptism, or a call to baptism, it felt like a fierce assertion of my fetch that this place, this land is holy and needs my attention, needs my power. As I need it.

What place do you need? Do you feel called Home? Is there a push/pull?

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Galactic Energy

The first time I was led in a grounding and centered by a Reclaiming Witch, the top of my head felt like it blew wide open.

I had done many of these exercises on my own-and struggled. I had struggled to send my roots deep down into the earth. I had struggled to feel truly, deeply connected. I felt like I could easily float away. It was a very frustrating feeling for me. I wanted to feel bonded and connected to the earth, but I struggled to make connections “downward”.

The first time I was led, she took us downwards. She ran us through the traditional litany I was familiar with-sink into the earth, through the soles of your feet. Feel those roots go into the earth, through the soil, through the bedrock. Around obstacles like rocks, through where the earth is hard, through where the earth is soft. Down to where the Earth begins to feel warm, down to where the earth is liquid and molten. And draw that energy up, breathe it up with each breath, through those roots, until it reaches your feet. And then breathe it up into your calves, into your knees, into your thighs. With a deep breath bring it into your belly, let that warm earth energy meet the fire that burns in your belly always, let it rekindle that fire, and breathe it up still further, into your chest, into your throat, and into your head, let it touch your third eye, and feel the energy of the warm earth flowing through you, connecting you to the center of the warm earth.

This is where I stop.

But she kept going.

Now let that energy burst out of the crown of your head.
Let it stream into the sky and begin to reach towards the distant light of the stars.
Reach towards the stars, towards the far reaches of the solar system.
Begin to drawn down that cool cosmic energy. Bring down the cold, star energy. Draw it down, draw it down into the crown of your head, into your body, feel it fill your head and touch your third eye. Breathe it into your throat, into your chest. Feel that cool energy fill you with the dark lushness night set against the ferocious glow of the stars. Breathe it into your belly, and feel that cool energy of the galaxy meet the warm energy of the earth, feel it coil together at your center, and know that this power is always here, waiting for you.

Holy shit.

I am a channel between earth and sky. I am a conduit for energy between the two. This is why I felt so uncomfortable before—I was only opening one valve.

When this witch showed me to open the second, the feeling was extremely powerful.  My head buzzed with a clear, fine high vibration. A tight band I hadn’t realized was there had been removed from around my forehead. My mind no longer felt like it was confined to the space of my brain, but was instead able to expand and extend several inches up and around my head.

I feel very connected to cosmic, galactic energy. I feel very drawn to the stars, and the idea of immense space and infinite possibility. The creator goddess in Feri Witchcraft, from which Reclaiming was born, is the Star Goddess. She is not Mother Earth, she is not Gaia. I spoke with a Reclaiming Witch a few weekends ago who told me that she sometimes struggles with even considering Reclaiming and Feri as “nature” or “earth” religions, because she feels so strongly they are linked to the energy of space and the cosmos as much as and maybe even more than they are of Earth.

I’ll reserve my judgment on that, as five months spent studying and celebrating in the Reclaiming tradition doesn’t really give me a solid foundation on which to make a statement like that, but I certainly relate to her feelings.

This experience is evidence to me of how important working with others can be. I don’t know that I’d have made this connection and understood that there can be a powerful connection to be made with the energy of the cosmos all on my own. I doubt I would have.

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On Having No Baggage

I have no baggage.
Jesus was never thrust on me, unwilling. In fact, we had a great experience together, once, at a youth group skiing trip for over-privileged private school kids. He was totally buddy Christ, hippie Jesus, Socialist Jesus, Ragamuffin Gospel Jesus. I was there because my best friend was there; she was there because a guy she had a crush on was there. She ignored me the whole time, so I paid attention during the nightly sermon and singing. I had already begun to identify as a Witch by this time, but there was nothing about my claiming of this title that was about a rejection of anything else. It was simply an affirmation. And so getting swept up in the romance and energy of the story of Jesus’s sacrifice was very easy for me, that week at an isolated ski lodge. I felt something dawn inside of me that was natural and so I reached out and accepted it.

I think I identified as a Christian for a few months after that. I remember sitting in front of what had been my altar, making the sign of the cross in the air trying to banish the sign of the pentacle that a coven-sister had traced there with words indicating it would hang there forever. But slowly I returned to my Pagan ways, called by a deep connection to the land on which I lived, the many bays that surrounded me….Isle of Wight, Assawoman, Sinepuxent, and of course, the Great Chesapeake. Growing up in the Coastal Bays Watershed, what chance did I have to not be a witch? I grew up on 40 acres on the Bay. Nature’s glory at my doorstep. Of course this happened. Blame my parents.

Leaving Jesus behind (on friendly terms) was no struggle. My parents were not ardent Christians. I barely remember going to Church except for Easter and Christmas. My parents split when I was 9, so regular Sunday church-going where we met my paternal grandparents ceased after that. I have some fuzzy memories of Sunday School but not many. So, like I said, no baggage. When my mom found out I was practicing witchcraft, she wasn’t upset about me going to hell. She was more worried about me embarrassing her (because the snooty school I went to knew all about it and we were in trouble!) and getting involved with dangerous people. So I had to hide it, but not for long.

I tell all this to reveal that I am unprepared to understand the baggage that many Pagans bring with them when they step into Paganism. And furthermore, I am unprepared to understand the baggage that many Pagans bring with them when they step into 12 step recovery. I was about to be in ritual last night with several people, and I jokingly said something about being inspired by “the Holy Spirit”. Several people in the room recoiled visibly. They explicitly reject that language as it is so strongly tied to something they were forced to endure. Whereas for me, it is a concept that can be owned by a Witch just as much as it can be owned by a Christian.

The same disconnect exists for me in 12 Step Recovery. When I discovered that some Pagans used rewritten versions of the Twelve Steps, I was disconcerted. It really bothered me. “Just another example of an alcoholic thinking they are unique precious snowflakes who can’t do it the way everyone else did it,” I thought. But I have to look beyond that initial response and question where my blind spots are. I have no trouble in a meeting where people say “He” when referencing their higher power. Damn, I first joined 12 step recovery in Ohio where people said “Jesus” and I was ok with it. I guess I fundamentally took the whole “God as you understand it” part to heart. I’ve never felt like anyone judged me for speaking my truth about my own conception of a higher power, and no one has ever challenged me or told me mine was wrong. But other people are coming to these meetings with years of struggle, years of being treated as different, years of being told, “What you believe is wrong.” Does that fall firmly under the heading, ”Their shit”? Sure it does. But if it gets in the way of their recovery, then it is a problem. And maybe then, it makes sense for someone to have written alternative steps.

When I look at the “Spiral Steps”, the issues that Pagans seem to struggle with become clear. There is no admission of powerlessness. The reliance on a higher power to restore the addict to insanity is replaced by a vague belief in “hope for healing”. The decision to turn the will and life over to the care of God is supplanted by an honoring of the connection with the divine and an acceptance of the process of change. The sixth and seventh step, where traditionally the addict and alcoholic prepares and then asks their higher power to remove their character defects is replaced by a willingness to seek a higher good, and a letting go of dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors.

Where my Twelve Step alarm bells start ringing is that the complete and total removal of a reliance on a higher power. This is Twelve Step Recovery 101. You tried to do it on your own, you failed. Now, do it God’s way. I understand why this is problematic with Witches, who have learned to do deep inner work, move energy, and be frankly powerful agents of change. To suddenly surrender so much agency, will, and sovereignty seems to go against everything they have been working towards. Why would they ask their Higher Power to remove their defects when they can do it themselves through ritual or kala? Why would they surrender their will when their will is holy?

I can sympathize with this because I am coming at it from the other direction. After not being active in Witchcraft for several years, and very active in Recovery, I have struggled with being more assertive, more willful, and more proud. I am currently working the Iron Pentacle through Thorn Coyle’s Fiat Lux program and each point seems to be a real struggle as I break down my initial, recovery oriented reaction to it. Pride? Power? Self? Oh my.

I know there is somewhere in between these things. I know, because I am finding it. I have found fulfillment in the Pride point on the Iron Pentacle and I am still working my third step. I am beginning to use words like claim, own, birthright and will and am understanding them in a way that is informed by my recovery and by my witchcraft. I am finding the alchemy that happens when these worlds are brought together in a place of love and curiosity. The authors of the Big Book spoke of a “Broad Highway” and I think this is where I am currently walking. In future posts I hope to explore some of these particular sticking points-like will- more closely.

I know there is somewhere in between these things.  I know, because I am finding it.  I have found fulfillment in the Pride point on the Iron Pentacle and I am still working my third step. I am beginning to use words like claim, own, birthright and will and am understanding them in a way that is informed by my recovery and by my witchcraft.  I am finding the alchemy that happens when these worlds are brought together in a place of love and curiosity.  The authors of the Big Book spoke of a “Broad Highway” and I think this is where I am currently walking. In future posts I hope to explore some of these particular sticking points-like will- more closely.

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Facebook!

I’ve just created a Facebook Page for this blog, so please “like” me on there for an easy way to be updated when I post a new piece of writing here.  I will also be linking to other interesting blog posts and articles from across the internet.

The 12 Step Witch on Facebook

 

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Fear

This Sunday I attended my fourth holiday ritual with my local Witchcraft community. My fourth ritual with them since Samhain. Not so long ago, but so much has happened since then—I’ve taken their introductory core class, spent time socially with members of the community, and started to feel a “part of.” Still, I was surprised when they asked me to play one of the four central roles in this Vernal Equinox ritual.

Was I nervous? Yes. And ironically enough, I was invoking the emotion “fear” and leading the group in a journey about that emotion. You can write what you think you are going to say, and say it aloud in the car, but when you are in front of 20 people, and drums are rat-a-tatting and boom-booming behind you, and suddenly you need to make your voice fill the room, it is a lot different. I also went last, after three priestesses who really brought down the house. I mean, seriously. Not easy acts to follow. They knew how to work with the drums, they knew how to let the energy in a room build naturally without feeling anxious about trying to push it to a specific place. Whereas I was like the nervous girl on a date rushing to fill every silence in the conversation with inane nattering.

Priestessing is not easy. I do not know why this did not occur to me before but of course it isn’t! It is performance and a spiritual act all in one. You need to let yourself be spoken through but also hold your presence. You have to be large enough to lead people but not so big that you crowd out their personal experience and expression. The challenge of trying to evoke a negative emotional state in a large group of people through words, chanting, sounds, and then leading then through an exploration of seeing that state as a possible ally… Quite the order for my first priestessing gig.

Things happened that surprised me. I did not expect to begin full-throated singing about halfway through my invocation. But that was my response to the moment, my response to the fear, my response to the flop sweat that was starting to bead on my forehead. I told people I was afraid, afraid of what I was doing right at this moment. And I asked—will you join me now? And they did, beginning their own singing. Fear we sang. You will not destroy me. Fear, please transform me. That was when I felt the energy of my invocation begin to shift.

You can’t tiptoe around the topic of fear when you are a member of a recovery program. Your sponsor will hit you with obnoxious sayings like “You can Fuck Everything And Run or you can Face Everything And Recover!” You will be writing a list of your fears and reading them to another human being. You will be facing your fears by making amends to people, by tackling situations sober that you previously could only handle while under the influence. Here’s what the AA Big Book has to say about Fear:

This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread: the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn’t deserve. But did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling. Sometimes we think fear ought to be classed with stealing. It seems to cause more trouble. Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 67

What happens when we look at the shadow of the shadow? When we look at fear not as an enemy, but extend our gaze beyond the obvious and ask “In what ways can you be my ally?” Yes, fear can paralyze us. Yes, fear can fill us with anxiety. Yes, fear is uncomfortable. But what actual function is fear playing in my body? Have I ever been about to take a shortcut down a dark alley, and fear has whispered in my ear, “No. Not this dark alley”? Have I ever been about to go somewhere with someone I just met and the hair has raised on the back of my neck and told me, “Not with this person.” If I was running for my life, would fear make me run just a little faster? Fast enough to make the difference between being caught and not? Has fear ever been a beacon? Has it shown me what I SHOULD do because I am so afraid of it? Have I ever been so afraid to die that I realized how very much I wanted to live? What is that knowledge worth?

Can fear drop down deep into our bodies and become instinct? Can it become intuition? Can it become one of the ways I hear the wisdom of my unconscious self?

We had planned that day to have other people do the elemental quarter callings, but in the end the four main ritual priestesses ended up doing it, with little notice. When I called North, I was unprepared, and I truly felt that space inside of me that is God Hirself turn hir head up and speak with me. What is deep in the caves of the Earth? We asked. What is deep within the mountain? What message is held there? What will we find there? Will we fear it, or will we claim it? Later, I entered the cave. I entered the mountain. I feared it. And then I claimed it.

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What is already mine

The wheel keeps turning, and has brought us around again to Spring.

I snuck out of work today and walked around the  old military fort down by the water.  It’s shaped like a pentacle and surrounded by water on three sides.  It was cold down there but warm when the sun broke through the clouds.  The sun played hide-and-seek.  It reminded me of this holiday, the way it proclaims Spring as Sprung, though the earth is still hard and the trees still bare. 

The wind blew fiercely, making water crash against the seawall, making my ears burn with cold.  Air, bring me clarity.  Sun, cleanse me with your fire.  Trees, show me how to root deeply. Water, teach me how to adapt.  I am surrounded by the elements all the time. I am made of them. I feel cradled by them, caressed by them.

I walk across the grass.  I see a small blue weedy flower I learn later is called Creeping Veronica—what an amazing name! I pass by the twenty-four foot statue of Orpheus, the ancient Greek hero of song and poem, and my pick for most idiosyncratic statue in town. He holds his lyre and a fierce look in his eye.

I leave this place reluctantly.  I want to bury my face into the dirt and rub my knuckles against the rough bark of a tree.  Today everyone is celebrating balance, but I am more intrigued by what this holiday promises to come.  Rising sap.  The quickening of earth.  The explosion of so much sex energy, so much qi.  At Imbolc I said I was going to “Walk with the Bear”.  The Bear awakens in the spring.  She awakens hungry.  Where will I go for food? What will I chose to eat?  

I have things in need of growth.  Needs that have languished beneath the ground, beneath the soil for far too long.  They’ve lacked for water, they’ve lacked for sun.  In this springtime, when both become increasingly ample, I claim my share of sun and rain.  I claim healing for myself.  It is my birthright.  It is my destiny and my will.  So mote it be. 

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