Staring into the Void
November 1, 2022 7:06 PM   Subscribe

I find myself in a crisis of sorts. I seek some sort of connection with something greater than myself but I'm feeling dead inside.

I think I said most of it in the brief above, but I don't know what to do. I'm in a 12-step that isn't AA (not that it matters I think) and one of the most important concepts is the connection to a higher power. I've tried for years to connect with something greater than myself, but I can't seem to find something, someone, anything. I feel a huge void, something that makes me ache with sadness.

Has anyone else felt this way? What have you done? Please give me some hope.
posted by Zooming Right Along to Human Relations (30 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: you say it first and believe it later.
- when you get up in the morning, when your feet hit the floor say, "hello higher power."
- the last thing you do before you close your eyes for the night say, "goodnight higher power."

that it exists likely comes first. how/who/what it is may come later.
posted by j_curiouser at 7:19 PM on November 1, 2022 [7 favorites]

practice it for a year, notice what happens.
posted by j_curiouser at 7:22 PM on November 1, 2022

Best answer: I have bounced around between spirituality and belief and non-belief most of my life. I am pretty much a committed agnostic but I recently picked up a new spiritual practice and it's been interesting. What j_curiouser recommended is probably right. Maybe just reach out. Ask (whoever you want, who or what it is doesn't matter) to manifest in your life. Make a regular practice of reaching out to them. Talk to them in your head. Ask questions. Ask for help. Tell them your fears and hopes and wishes. And so on.
posted by natteringnabob at 7:40 PM on November 1, 2022

Psychedelics have often been helpful or at least clarifying in this situation, especially DMT (which, with some effort, is possible to extract at home from legally available materials, though the extraction itself is illegal). Of course do not follow this advice if you have substance abuse issues more generally, though I will say it removed all desire for alcohol from me permanently.
posted by derrinyet at 7:56 PM on November 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: There are a lot of spiritual people who are also extremely educated and have incredibly scientific minds. The more you know about the world the more you know how much we don’t know. Maybe you could find connection by learning more about a subject that interests you to the point where you become aware of all the things we don’t even know how to ask.

Human history has a lot of these mysteries, or there’s also astronomy. We have about one percent of a single clue about how the human brain works nowadays and why it reacts to things the way it does. There are animals out there we thought were extinct and new behaviors of animals we thought we understood being studied all the time. Music is being constantly broken down and reconstructed by new artists and dances are being performed in new contexts and we still don’t particularly know why people like what they do - but musical theory is a whole area of study.

It sounds less like you are an innately atheistic person and more like you’re depressed. Not everyone who doesn’t believe feels empty and dead inside. When I’m struggling with my depression it really does help to engage in wonderment. By that I mean, I try to find something that can hold my depressed focus and learn things we don’t know about it, and wonder about them. Sometimes I can do this with fiction and then I go on a fic reading bent because that’s just a bunch of people going “I wonder what would happen if…” about a shared story and then putting that online. Sometimes I get into culinary anthropology - who was the genius Peruvian who figured out how amazing potatoes are? Sometimes it’s asking my brother mr phd in subatomic particle physics to explain planck’s constant to me. Usually it helps because instead of feeling emptiness I feel an awareness of all the things we don’t know - the emptiness is full of things I just don’t know or understand, but I can keep asking questions and trying to get answers.
posted by Mizu at 8:00 PM on November 1, 2022 [17 favorites]

Yes, in college I felt that way. Before college I had few friends and much structure, during college I had many friends and no structure. I am now 69 so there was hope for me, and there probably is for you also.

I will try to phrase this in a way that is not directly tied to what I actually believe in, so that it is more likely to apply to the situation in which you find yourself. I think there is an equation that you must come to terms with: "Is there something that I am willing to give up, so that I can gain something that I cannot lose?" In my opinion, there always needs to be that kind of exchange, or else (as you say) you will feel lost, dead, adrift. To find your path, read biographies of those you admire, call to mind those you have known and admired personally, and the effect they had on you, dream worthwhile dreams for yourself and others. You are not the first person to be in this situation.

"When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstances, revert at once to yourself, and don’t lose the rhythm more than you can help. You’ll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep on going back to it." — "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius, Book 6 paragraph 11.

For what it's worth.
posted by forthright at 8:10 PM on November 1, 2022 [9 favorites]

What does move you, or did move you in the past? Try the ocean, the woods, the desert, a mountain, looking through a telescope. Try listening to intense classical music or monks chanting. Try focusing on a particular color or number or gemstone or flower. Notice if you feel something ineffable or transcendent and name it, whatever you want to name it, invoke it daily, then address it in the ways suggested above.
posted by kapers at 8:14 PM on November 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I feel a huge void, something that makes me ache with sadness.

This is going to sound really heady, but...maybe, right now, what you're feeling isn't a void, but a need. If there really was a void, and you didn't care, you wouldn't feel sad. But you DO care. What you feel is a DESIRE for that higher power.

That can be a very important first step. A lot of people get to where you are, expect to just Feel Something right away, and then get disappointed and give up when they don't. But maybe your own path towards a higher power works a bit different - maybe you're meant to explore that need for a higher power first. Like, imagine God (or Allah or Yahweh or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whatever you like) is sort of shy right now; They are trying to see WHAT you want from them first. Or maybe They're waiting for you to realize some things about yourself first.

So what you have in the meantime is this really big need for Them to be there. Maybe spending some time reflecting on that. Are you just saying you need a Higher Power because you're being told you need one? Or does the fact that its absence make you that sad maybe mean that you DO believe a higher power is there, you just don't know Who it is yet? Or maybe a part of you needs the higher power to be a certain specific thing, instead of letting it be what It is? Is that need for a higher power something you think is going to just fix everything instantly, and could you really be okay with it if it isn't?

I'm not sure I'm explaining myself well. What I"m getting at is - I think the fact that you are so deeply moved by the idea that God doesn't exist is a good place to start your explorations of faith; you don't know of God exists, but the idea God DOESN'T exist feels terrible to you. Exploring why that may be so, and what you DO want, can help you feel your way forward. Religion and faith are a REALLY personal thing sometimes, and some of us kind of fall into weird gray areas that don't fit all that neatly into any given religion's dogma. So we have to kind of feel our own way forward, with a lot of self-reflection. (And sometimes some of us started out in a particular faith, but realized we're heading off into a weird alternate area.)

It's like a passage from a letter from Rainer Maria Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” That ache you feel at the thought of nothingness is one of those questions. It's okay that it doesn't have an answer yet, you can keep just feeling it out as a question, being patient with yourself while you sort it out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:21 PM on November 1, 2022 [29 favorites]

I understood the reality that there is no higher power—why would you try to get treatment for an illness (because that’s what addiction or mental illness is) that is rooted in some sort of fake, magical belief system instead of actual treatment? Why would you think it’s ok to try to treat illness with something (belief) you have zero control over?
posted by Violet Hour at 10:01 PM on November 1, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If higher powers exist, living a rich life full of kindness and curiosity will surely please them and assure you a place in the cosmic order. If higher powers do not exist, how nice that the same life will please YOU and the people around you.

I am a very, very happy atheist: for me, the absence of gods most assuredly does NOT mean a cold, uncaring universe. Our corner of the universe is teeming with life, and with opportunities to be warm and caring, to ourselves as well as others.

You could wake up each day and spend time holding and dedicating your day to yourSELF, the person who cared enough to get you into recovery, the person who has kept you alive, the person who knows more about you than anyone else on the planet. You are your own great protector.

If you’re in a 12-step, you are probably trying to NOT do something that you used to, most likely because doing that thing helped you cope with how shitty life can be. To avoid a coping mechanism IS a Void, emotionally and physically: it fucking sucks.

If the coping mechanism was psychoactive, your body will need time to get through a period of withdrawal. No matter how mild, withdrawal also fucking sucks. I drink a cup of coffee a day - one cup! - and not drinking it gives me a headache.

Plan to take tender care of yourself in this time when it’s easy to be drawn in by that void-feeling. Talk to youraelf and treat yourself as if you were a sick kiddo or lover. When life looks bleak, move your body, get outside, take deep breaths, cook food, stroke your own shoulders and reassure yourself that this feeling is a scared part of you that wants to protect you from pain. Wishing you luck.)
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 1:22 AM on November 2, 2022 [19 favorites]

You could try just asking Jesus to please come to your heart. That’s it. You just ask: please Jesus open my heart and then open your heart to allow Him in.

Similarly, the prayer for the blessings of the Buddha: picture Him on your crown and He melts into light, travels down your spine and takes up light residence in your heart blessing you always.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:25 AM on November 2, 2022

Best answer: I heard of a Buddhist who was in AA and asked his teacher about this. His teacher told him, "Look at the mountains. They are certainly larger than you. They are deeply connected to this world. They can hold whatever you need to give them. Believe in the mountains."

It doesn't have to be mountains. It could be a forest or a lake or the ocean. Find something that brings you comfort or joy to think about (and preferably spend time with) and start directing your thoughts and concerns towards it. I promise it will be able to hold whatever you need to give it.
posted by ananci at 2:01 AM on November 2, 2022 [30 favorites]

Best answer: Ooh, I had a movie recommendation for you....

There's a Martin Scorcese film from 2016, Silence, which may be worth a watch. It's set in Japan in the 1600's; at this time, there were a lot of Jesuit priests who tagged along all the different places where European colonizers were going, setting up missions. Japan was one place they were going, and the Japanese emperor of the time Did Not Like That, and Christianity was made illegal. The film is about what happens when two younger priests (played by Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield) go to Japan to investigate what happened to an older priest (Liam Neeson); no one's heard from him in a while, and the rumors are either that he was executed, or that he'd given into the pressure and renounced Christianity. While they were there, they could also pay visits to any of the Japanese Christians living in secrecy.

One thing Andrew Garfield's character struggles with a lot is that he used to feel Jesus a lot more as a "presence" when he was younger, but in Japan, he isn't. Repeatedly through the film he asks Jesus to "speak to him" the way Jesus used to - show up, work a miracle, something. But at some point Garfield's character has a different thought - maybe the reason Jesus isn't "speaking to him" right now is because it'd be putting him in danger. Garfield and the other Japanese Christians need to keep their faith under wraps and silent, and Jesus is keeping silent along with them. But He's still there, somewhere.

It's a quietly powerful film, with a hauntingly beautiful ending moment that is still staying with me months after seeing it. Maybe check that out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:33 AM on November 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

I can't really tell from the question whether you're the one who really wants a "spiritual" connection, or whether you're in an environment that makes you feel like you should have one and that you're missing out on something important by not having it.

I put "spiritual" in quotes because I feel like some kinds of connections get called that and others don't, and that the ones that are called are treated as more valuable, and I can't really agree. I like hanging out with plants, growing them, taking care of them, just watching them. I don't do it as any sort of spiritual thing at all. But I do get a feeling of connection from it, both to other things living in this world with me and to something that feels very real and very grounding. But not at all mystical or spiritual.

Basically I think there are a lot of different ways to feel connected and a lot of different types of things to feel connected with, and if it's the connection you're looking for rather than a spiritual connection specifically, maybe try different things and see how they make you feel, and if the feeling does something good for you. I'm not even sure you've got to look for connection, per se - lots of people need it, but maybe you don't, and that's okay too. Spend some time noticing how different things make you feel, maybe trying some new things and see what kind of feelings you get out of that, and pay attention to what kinds of feelings really come from you, versus those that are influenced by expectations.

Also, you don't say how long you've been feeling this way, but fwiw I've gone through some long periods where I wasn't able to feel good things very much or at all, and at this point I've basically come to the conclusion that it's not the end of the world; it will pass eventually, and one day I will remember how to feel okay again. Forcing myself to feel hope when I can't doesn't work, but reminding myself that I've been through this before and that I will be able to feel it again one day, without even trying, does help. Basically the condition itself is unpleasant enough; the extra meta level of being distressed about being in the condition is something I can spare myself. Ymmv.
posted by trig at 4:44 AM on November 2, 2022 [7 favorites]

Glad you are getting help. Take heart and be patient. Many mystics would identify that void with being quite close to the divine, which is different than feeling so.

Here is St. Augustine:

“In the anguish of my heart I groaned aloud. There is a hidden anguish which is inaudible to men. … But the desire of your heart is itself your prayer. And if the desire is constant, so is your prayer.”

Here is the more modern Simone Weil:

“It does not rest with the soul to believe in the reality of God if God does not reveal this reality. In trying to do so it either labels something else with the name of God, and that is idolatry, or else its belief in God remains abstract and verbal. …

The state of nonbelief is then what Saint John of the Cross calls a night. At a time like the present, incredulity may be equivalent to the dark night of Saint John of the Cross if the unbeliever loves God, if he is like the child who does not know whether there is bread anywhere, but who cries out because he is hungry.”
posted by oddovid at 5:40 AM on November 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Finding Sanctuary has meditation suggestions which were really helpful for me.

If you are thinking of "something greater" being a formalized god, have you considered going to a gathering where worship happens? Being among people unified in their belief can be powerful.
posted by Dotty at 6:14 AM on November 2, 2022

Best answer: Decades ago, I had started attending Quaker meetings from a similar sense of wanting something bigger to connect to. At a Quaker conference, I attended a workshop on monastic practices, and found myself really drawn to the rosary for some reason. I ended up making myself one from beads I liked, and I prayed the rosary every morning for maybe a year? My rosary didn’t have a cross on it, and I modified the Hail Mary in a way that made sense to me. I didn’t say the Apostle’s creed (IIRC there’s a point where you’re supposed to).

My interest in this was a mystery, but I let myself do it, and it helped me, eventually, to learn to pray on my own, and to feel a connection to something that might be God or might be a figment if my imagination, and I’m fine with it either way.

When I started going to Quaker worship, which is held in silence unless someone is led to speak, it was enough for me to have an hour in my week when I could just sit quietly. Eventually I became a person of faith. I sometimes say, I guess when you sit down regularly to wait for God, God eventually shows up.

This is all to say, practice can precede belief. As others have said, what might be a practice you’re drawn to? Walking in nature? Walking a labyrinth? Meditation? Experiencing something physical, like a tai chi practice? Connecting with others in a Buddhist setting or elsewhere?

Give a practice a try. See if that feeling of connection you’re looking for can grow out of the practice.

Good luck. I wish you all the best.
posted by Well I never at 6:42 AM on November 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: When I was an atheist, I was pretty content with Science as my higher power, including the Mysteries of Science and Medicine that we won't have clarity on for a hundred years or a thousand or maybe ever. And even though the explanations are still very imperfect, I am satisfied that there are forces bigger than my own self-determination that make my body and brain, and the world around us, work the way they do. The specific thing that really sealed the deal for me was thinking about how our bodies produce electricity. Like, I'm not telling it to do that, I do not know how to instruct it in the process, it somehow has all the components it needs and knows what to do with them. That's something bigger than me.

Interestingly, my views have not shifted dramatically but I no longer consider myself an atheist. I'm comfortable identifying as a witch now, but my higher power is still the natural world, known and unknown. Source, the Universe, Something. The only real difference, fundamentally, is that I now believe from experience that The Big Whatever is, somehow, responsive, and I am able to communicate with it to some extent. I don't have any real need for anyone else to believe that, though I enjoy community with people who do, and I don't think belief fixes anything in and of itself. But I find it more comforting than the way I felt before.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:14 AM on November 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: A few kindnesses I allowed myself when I simply could not believe in a deity:

Accepting that I did not believe, and attending ONLY recovery meetings specifically oriented to nonbelievers and freethinkers. Do a web search on "secular recovery." Lots of good people with longtime recovery in those meetings. For most 12 step programs the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop the behavior in question. That's it.

Getting off the "fake it till you make it" bus permanently. As a wise sober alcoholic once told me, all you do is make more fake.

Remaining open to the possibility there might be a god. We as humans simply can't know the reasons for everything. This meant keeping my observational apparatus active. I didn't try to force a conclusion here if something drew my attention.

Getting away from any faith traditions from my childhood, including music, that were triggering in a negative way.

Reading "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." Nothing fatuous about that guy.

I went from the kind of agnostic disillusionment you describe to taking my shahada earlier this year and becoming a Muslim. It has not been easy but it has been very rewarding. Happy to chat about the journey privately if you like.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 10:33 AM on November 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

It's the void.

You wouldn't feel sadness if the void was nothing. That feeling, that ache is your connection to the higher power.

In your room there are a million microbes, everyone of them alive and seething with life, straining and trying, and everyone of them will die and be forgotten. Everyone one of them will touch only the lives around them so lightly. Maybe they will be prey, maybe they will be a predator, maybe they will be a sister, sensed and not interacted with, maybe no other living thing will be aware that this unique tiny life ever existed.

The heat death of the universe is coming, you are not as good a person as you want to be, when there are too many guppies in a fish tank it turns into fetid soup, the anaerobic bacteria that once owned this world live now in tiny crevices under the earth and in the vents in the ocean floor, encapsulated, the world they once dominated destroyed by their descendants.

And there is always something that comes after. Always. Every living thing dies and every living thing lives on other living things and it never stops. Every one of those lives matter. The way you feel about your childhood matters, the pain you feel when you get damaged matters, your hunger, your fear of the darkness that lies ahead - you know it matters. You feel it. And every other life feels it and stays alive as long as it can because it knows its life matters.

One day all the life on this planet - this planet, this sun will be gone, but life will not be gone because on some other planet amino acid chains will form and life burn into life. Life can't stop happening the way gravity and inertia and covalent bonds and time can't stop happening. And life can't stop ending because that is the definition of life.

Listen to the void. It is utter hopelessness, and it is the inability to stop hoping. Every feeling you have matters, and every breath you take matters, and everything you create matters and every choice you make matters because you are ephemera and you exist for such a brief blink of time. Every pleasure in your life, the bite of a too tart apple is a miracle, the pains in your shoulder that signal damage and weariness and aging are a miracle. This is your one and only chance. You can hear, you can taste, you can feel, you can think. You are aware. The flip side of hopelessness is elation, just as the flip side of life is death.

Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky, says the song, but DNA has lasted longer than the earth, has gone under the ocean and mutated and been ready to colonize the new continents that formed when the tectonic plates rolled over each other and came to the surface again. Mountains are young. Life is old. Life is immortal because it never stops happening, because when this universe is compressed into the black hole where time stops there will be another big bang and another universe, and milky way, and millions and millions of planets with the surface writhing with the scum of life, organizing, gaining complexity, turning into cells.

That sorrow you feel when you know how little you matter, and how little anyone matters and how this planet is doomed and how short your life is, how short everyone's lives are, that sorrow is your connection to the Higher Power. It's so vast it hurts. And it is so vast it is breathtaking. And it is so kind, because it created you to be here and have a chance to be alive and try to find a meaning and to find joy.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:55 AM on November 2, 2022 [11 favorites]

You might find solace in Friends (Quaker) Meeting. Friends meet in silence, and speak - 'Bear witness' - as they feel called. It was a refuge for me for a time in my life, and I carry the spirit and teachings of Quakerism in my life.

Unitarian-Universalist Churches embrace a wide spectrum of faith, or lack thereof. I think attending any services of any faith that does not conflict with your morals provides community and services provide a structure that can be a great help. I'm an atheist with beliefs akin to Lyn Never, including a kinship to wicca, a woman-centric, nature-centric path that resonates.

I haven't read it in years, but Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, is worth reading. You may find meaning in volunteering, music, writing, art, nature, etc., and in connecting to others, in which communities of faith play a great role.
posted by theora55 at 11:13 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

I also recommend Playing Ball on Running Water, David Reynolds.
posted by theora55 at 11:15 AM on November 2, 2022

Whenever I think about the void, what worked for me spiritually is that it is a tunnel that connects to the entire world that I can't see but has invisible forces that I don't know full knowledge of. It is how I bridge my need for both science and spirituality while also acknowledging my own ignorance about such things, but also allowing me to feel very connected to things. I am never truly alone, I am always connected and it is up to me to learn to be open and receptive and aware. Doing an extended meditation session helped as well for dropping down into that stage of awareness.
posted by yueliang at 11:16 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Duuuuuuude, yes. I know exactly what you mean.

I've never been able to believe in a god, like, I rejected the whole idea as an obvious fairy tale when I was four years old, and have never looked back. I was an atheist before I knew how to be edgy or rebellious. Don't get me wrong, I was also did the rebellious, edgy atheism schtick in my late teens! But while I outgrew the edginess and rebellion, I never outgrew atheism.

The funny thing is, in my late 30s I began to feel an immense longing for the capacity for faith. The capacity for surrender. The capacity to suspend my disbelief just long enough to dedicate myself to some higher power, because it seems like that would give me a respite from an awful sense of solo responsibility that I cannot otherwise shed.

There are some moments when I feel a sharp and painful envy of anyone who has faith, who feels this connection with something divine. In my imagination, having faith feels like having the memory of a good parent. Even when such a parent is no longer around, their presence stays with you and gives you comfort, gives you strength, gives your inner child a place to curl up in safety. Indeed I think my inability to believe in a deity from such a young age is the direct consequence of never having the experience of a good, safe, loving parent. My theory is that to find refuge in the notion of a god, you must have first experienced that refuge from someone else - usually a parent, for most people. This is by no means a theory that applies universally. But it sure applies to me!

Might it apply to you? Because for me, the path through the longing to believe and have faith has led me to confront my grief re: lacking loving parents. I have begun to understand my longing for faith as rooted in loneliness, of having no experience of someone who really sees me, nurtures me, who has made it their life's work to support me and love me unconditionally, someone who dedicates themselves to my welfare. A therapist really helped me with understanding these things about myself, healing these issues, and learning to recognize and receive this type of love from others in my life.

I can't say it's totally resolved my weird, middle-aged longing for faith. I still feel twisted pang when I look at temples and synagogues and churches and mosques and gurdwaras, a feeling like: here is something magical that I will never be part of. Something beautiful I can never glimpse. A whole large section of the human experience that's closed to me.

I don't know how to fix that. I've come to appreciate that feeling, though. I write about it: I've put that feeling into poems and stories and essays (and MeFi comments). Sometimes the ways we cope with our big, painful feelings can be rewarding in and of themselves. Also, I can see that having the capacity for this poignant feeling is just as precious as having the capacity for faith.

What keeps me from becoming too maudlin about it is the thought that this isn't the ONLY magical section of the human experience that's closed to me. I'll never know what it's like to be stinkin rich, for example. I'll never be on a private jet, or have an army of servants catering to my every whim. I'll never know what it's like to be a man. Or tall, or British. I'll never go to the moon, and oh my lord how badly I want to go to the fucking moon!!!!!!!! I want that so much more than I want to have faith. Oooooof. This longing is physical, let me tell you. It makes me so angry and so upset that I can never ever ever go to the moon. Fuck everything. Christ. Now I'm pissed.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. There's nothing special about the longing for faith when you don't have any. We all have a hundred longings we can never fulfill. We do our best to cope. We do our best to feed these longings in oblique ways, however we can. Me, I spend hours every summer sitting outside at night staring at the moon. And I read a lot about religion and the history of religion, so that even if it's just as a spectator, there's a place for me in the experience of faith.
posted by MiraK at 11:21 AM on November 2, 2022 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in a 12-step that isn't AA (not that it matters I think) and one of the most important concepts is the connection to a higher power.

Warning: Some 12-step folks may find the following comment offensive. It is strictly my opinion and not intended to be hurtful.

So I have been in Al-Anon for more than 10 years. I'm probably terrible at 12-step, since I have never made it past Step 4. That said, the program and the fellowship pretty much saved my life in that it helped me move into a better life, much better, than the one I was in before.

I am an atheist and after about 6 months in the program, I decided that reality is my higher power. As you know, the fellowship or literally anything you choose can be your higher power. The folks in my particular 12-step program say it is not a religious program but a spiritual program. Here's the thing: I am not a spiritual person as that term is commonly understood. Al-Anon works for me anyway.

There are people in the program who seem to have strong connections to a higher power, often the kind of higher power that has traditionally been called God. A small portion of the folks I have met seem to have a concierge higher power, the kind that finds them parking spaces and new jobs. I do not have access to that kind of benevolent higher power. What I have is the day-to-day reality that some moments are great, some moments suck ass, and either way if I am up in my head and fantasising rather than being grounded in reality, my life will go sideways.

Honestly, most things in my life are bigger than me. That includes the ocean, redwoods, the Swedish tax authority, and my local internet provider. I control very little in this world. I am not, in any way, suggesting that you need to be an atheist or change your conception of a higher power. You do you. But I also felt a void, so I asked a potentially related question here a while back. Feel free to review the many fine responses for possible help.

I was an only child. I have only one child. I am not in a romantic relationship and don't expect to be. Pets are not allowed in my building. Pretty much my only fulfilling role in my old age is being of service to my grandchildren and to my kid to whatever extent I can manage without making myself crazy.

Some of us have to make our own meaning and fill our own voids. Folks who don't need to do that are lucky. The rest of us get to chug along doing the best we can and experimenting to see what works and what doesn't. I do not have a good answer to your question. Mostly, I just want to say that I hear you. I feel you. Until recently I was in the same boat. Now I have one foot on shore, but only one, because of family. Thanks for asking this question. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:50 PM on November 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

Just wanting to touch on things other people have said - the actual fact is, we are all connected, all things in the universe. (Have had the experience of feeling this viscerally on mushrooms a lifetime ago, it is maybe worth trying.) We really don’t know how things add or end up. It will be an experience to find out. That’s how I see things, good or bad they’re part of a completely unique experience only you will know the way you do. It’s a kind of adventure, like Dr. Who’s.

But in this view, the universe can be amoral and disinterested, and it leans you more towards passive acceptance. That doesn’t satisfy the need for a personal connection to a benevolent higher force that a) is ethical in a way that makes sense to a human mind (ie there’s so much apparently needless and undeserved suffering, so much unfairness, why - maybe that makes sense to a supernatural being, but it doesn’t really, to us), b) has an interest in human affairs, c) has an interest in you personally, and d) could or would respond to a request for help. I think a belief in that sort of force is what’s needed to ground hope firmly enough to support the kind of recovery you’re working towards.

I think Christians deal with this by embracing the idea of submitting to God’s will. Maybe it’s their will to help you through addiction, maybe there’s another plan, and it’s unknowable. You can only hope it aligns with your goal, and act in ways to support faith/God.

How do you get there, I guess through Pascal’s wager.

I myself accept an amoral and indifferent universe, and don’t hope any longer for a relationship with a god, which in hard times makes more difficult, no doubt.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:12 PM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

What about Deep Ecology?

Thanks to the efforts of some extremely partisan Christians writing about eutrophication and essentially arguing: "What our species is doing to all the water on Earth is Good and Right because it is in accordance with the Holy Bible that said 'be fruitful and multiply,' and if we're going to do that, we will naturally turn all the water to hot, stank, toxic stew in the process, so turning all the water to hot, stank, toxic stew must be God's Plan. Furthermore, arguments that destroying lakes is not good and right are all as religious as that destroying the lakes is in accordance with God's law, and boil down to a silly, new-agey faith called Deep Ecology," I realized that I must not be an atheist, as I had thought, but an adherent to the tenets of whatever they're calling deep ecology.

I did no research into deep ecology, but simply took the name and decided that if I ever had to be a 12-stepper, that would be my higher power. My take on it is, it's basically Pope's "Whatever is is right" minus the Christian God but still plus: [harp strum] Life. And: [angel trumpet] The Earth.

So I believe that we're fucking up the planet for ourselves and many or even most other contemporaneous species but that once we finish the project, the postanthropocene will come and in the end our terrible perfidy won't really matter because geologic time, something something, microorganisms will eventually eat up all the plastic, blah blah, extremophiles, mystery mystery. Essentially, we will wipe ourselves out along with a hideous lot of living things but new living things will come about exactly because of us and our interesting efforts, and eventually a new Eden will prevail upon the face of the Earth, though we will never see it. We are the scourge and the apocalypse now and in the near future, but in time we will come to have been the galvanizing force behind... something new, and, if past is prologue, something really cool. So that's my higher power: I have faith that the Earth will take our crap and make new and nifty life out of it. Unless the Earth gets obliterated by a moon-sized asteroid first, but even if it does, it will have been in the process of taking our crap and making something nifty, so all good.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:57 AM on November 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

and one of the most important concepts is the connection to a higher power.

A good faith reading would suggest it is designed for people who already have a higher power concept in their minds, since childhood perhaps. A bad faith reading suggests blaming the victim for failure, and a double bind that opens the patient to further control due to a trapped mental state. Consider CBT, which is now the gold standard for such treatment. Old school programs have dismal rates of success, but AA was honestly pioneered with psychoactive mushrooms in the 1930's, since replaced by higher power jargon, appealing to established temperance roots. Regardless, the key is emotional regulation, which is a mental skill of learning to self-moderate emotional states through which we are most often manipulated and urged to react by past influences.
posted by Brian B. at 8:01 AM on November 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

I too feel reality is my higher power, this likely depends upon your background. I'm ecologically minded and kinda humanist too.

We typically adopt philosophies designed to simplify our lives, but if you read someone like say Peter Singer then you'll observe just how far reasoning goes in moral philosophy. At the same time, we actually need intuitionistic logic in moral philosophy, not merely deductions ala Singer.

As an example, deep ecology "promotes the inherent worth of all living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs", which imho sounds technically excessive but typically always correct in practice. Any conflict between humanism and deep ecology warrants closer scrutiny, with the error landing on the reasoning of either.

How does this speak to spirituality? We do not really understand our world, so any intuitionistic honest comparison of consequences helps avoid the errors inherent in any human philosophy, and thus brings us closer to reality. It's not the simple prepackaged answer many people find useful, but basically the methodology goes:

Anytime you learn something with philosophical significance, then consider it from multiple different directions, so the intuitionistic exceptions pop up early and often.

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails.”
― T.H. White, The Once and Future King
posted by jeffburdges at 7:00 AM on November 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

I understand that sometimes people can only access twelve step programs for various reasons, but wanted to add to the bank of approaches that can work, if there is any possibility of looking into it - “motivational interviewing” has a good track record for addiction, usually for alcohol but other kinds too. SMART recovery is another secular option. Depending on the substance, there may be pharmaceutical therapies that can help as well.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:29 PM on November 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

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