It’s Not You, It’s Them: How Zealots Threaten Your Safety
By David Bohl
It seems to me that now, more than ever, religion and religious beliefs have been at the forefront, infiltrating our lives, whether we like it or not. As a member and a follower of a few secular recovery groups, I’ve observed several discussions where people have voiced their frustration with what they were experiencing in traditional groups. A lot of people believe – or say they believe – that god will get them through this tough time in their lives, and it is the ones who have a god who claim to be thriving better under the dire circumstances of lockdown life. Whether that’s true or not, it is the typical nonchalance of faith enthusiasts, and it doesn’t do much for their fellows other than make them feel inferior or defective because their beliefs are different or not as strong.
I am inclined to think that those who shout about god being great and getting them through COVID-19 are so loud because they need to deafen the insecurity and fear they feel. Those are the natural human emotions when going through a crisis, but, of course, if you have god, you should feel no fear or insecurity, so you better proselytize about the benefits of prayer and conscious contact and so on.
Recently, I got a text message from a friend, and in the message the friend has referred to Jesus. It was Easter Sunday. It baffled me that a friend who knew of my beliefs – or lack of – would send that kind of text. It’s not like getting it would get me to suddenly get down on my knees and shout, “He has risen!” In the end, I knew that was about her, not me, even though she disregarded who I was as a person and what my values were, at that moment. I considered sending a witty reply but decided it would be pointless, and it would probably result in some back-and-forth that would potentially lead to an argument that neither of us would win. At the same time, it is frustrating to me that I must continually take the high road and ignore religion flaunted in my face – in my former recovery groups, on television and everywhere else. My boundaries are strained, and I feel exhausted.
Of course, many respectful and reasonable people have religion out there, but they tend to stay quiet and only offer their opinions when asked. This is how I too conduct myself. I write this blog and offer my beliefs here because my readers seek me out – I would never think of sending a link to, let’s say this post, to a friend who goes to church.
The truth about recovery movement is that a lot of groups are based on 12 steps, which are, in turn, based on the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, which contains a lot of references to god and which uses a lot of religious concepts (“defects of character” can easily be a euphemism for “sin,” and doing a “public inventory” is not that different from confession). Unfortunately, many people join groups where those teachings are prevalent. Yet, we tend to forget that people come to these groups looking for a solution to their addiction problem, and when they do, they are often told they need to concede and embrace things that go against their deepest-held beliefs.
But what happens when vulnerable people are told what to believe? It damages them. It damages them because it makes them feel misunderstood or not cared for. They feel misplaced even within the community of seemingly like-minded individuals who share the same problem. They feel unsafe and unheard. They often feel manipulated, controlled, and instead of being validated and accepted, they find rejection and disapproval. Imposing one’s beliefs and philosophy will lead not only to a lack of safety and trust, but it might also ultimately result in shaming the recipient – humiliation and disgrace that could be lethal at the time a person is seeking support.
I know this might seem harsh, but it’s the truth. In my practice as a consultant and counselor, I’ve found that treating someone with unconditional positive regard is the way to build a relationship of safety and acceptance. If you are a part of a group that makes you feel unsafe, unsure, or aggressively ignored because of what you do or don’t believe, you need to get out of there. If you feel that you’re questioning your sanity now because some ecstatic individual in your group has found god and this god is helping them through COVID-19, then you need to find the place where you can share honestly and where not having god in your life is not a liability, or worse, where it means you’re more vulnerable to a deadly virus.
Ultimately, we better get better at beneficence. If we cannot be accepting and supportive of each person, providing a safe place for them to develop personally, then we should, at the very least, do no harm.
David B. Bohl, author of the memoir Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth, is an independent addiction consultant who fully understands the challenges faced by so many who seek to escape from, or drown their pain through, external means. His story offers hope to those struggling with the reality of everyday life in today’s increasingly stressful world.
Through his private practice substance use disorder consulting business, Beacon Confidential LLC, David provides independent professional consultation, strategic planning, motivation and engagement, care coordination, recovery management and monitoring, and advocacy services to individuals, families, and organizations struggling with substance use issues and disorders.