Church? Support Groups!

It's Sunday morning.  Many, if not most, of the people in my southern state are just getting out of church right now.  I'm at home.  Ironically, I took someone to church this morning as part of doing rideshare as a side job.  But I didn't stay.  I also didn't go to another church after dropping him off.  I was dressed and out of the house.  Most would think it would be so easy to just go to a church if you've already gotten that far.  So why won't I go to church?

I actually sat down at my desk only to again write about how difficult it is to be in my place right now.  At the moment I'm crashing, coming down off a mostly manic cycle.  I say mostly because I also had some very deep depression right along with the mania.  I often have a lot of anxiety with mania (I had that too), but rarely the kind of low lows while still experiencing all of the manic stuff.  (It's called Bipolar Disorder Type 2 with mixed features, for you technical peeps.)

Anyway, as it usually is, it's been a particularly rough week/month/season.  I'm not going into it all now, as you can read earlier blogs to get an idea where I am.  However, do note that I added another ER visit, this time with my daughter, to the list of things I'm dealing with right now - an ER visit which really didn't help any but cost me a good bit monetarily.  It was one of those times I had no idea what to do and finally decided to just do it.  I'm trying to think of the good things that could come from it - like that it might help get her appointment with the orthopedist moved up - but honestly, it probably was just a loss.

But after sitting down I realized I haven't written much at all about the whole reason I started this blog: stigma.

Last night I went to a 12-step meeting for one of my addictions, a special event we had with potluck and an open speaker meeting (which means you don't have to be an addict to attend) afterward.

It took a lot to get there.  I had a shoot that ran over the allotted time yesterday.  I already felt bad about leaving my daughter home alone for the shoot (though we have gotten her pain under control).  I kept debating about whether I should have gone home right after the shoot or if I could put in some much needed "me time" by going to the meeting.  After checking with her to make sure she was okay and reassuring her that I could leave the meeting early if needed, I decided to go.

It was well worth it.  I got to catch up with my sponsor, who I haven't gotten to meet with much lately due to scheduling conflicts for both of us.  I got a wonderful meal (southerners can really put on a good potluck).  Plus I got a very inspiring message from the speaker.

During the question and answer session, he said something that I have felt ever since I admitted I am an addict and need 12-step support groups.  When this idea dawned on me over a year ago, it was an amazing realization.  As he said it last night, I felt so very validated.

This statement was that for him, this support group was church.  He does go to a "regular" church in addition, whereas right now I don't.  I have no idea why he still attends a regular church.  But I am almost positive we share the same feelings on why we consider this support group more of a church than a regular one.

Why I don't go to a regular church:

- I get overwhelmed at how everyone else is so put together when I'm very much falling apart.
Though I'm sure there are exceptions, the vast majority of churches still believe that you have to be cleaned up before you can attend.  They may say differently but their actions prove otherwise.  This cleaning up is both metaphorically and on the outside.  I'll concentrate on the outside right now.

Because I'm very overweight, it's very difficult and expensive to buy nice clothes.  I don't have the money or the time to find good "church clothes".  Even though many churches have become more casual with dress over the years, look around your "casual church" one Sunday and check for this: how many women are wearing blue jeans?  The guys often do.  But the women usually don't, at least not where I live.

Take that one step further and look at the stages or in the choirs.  Even if there's a smattering of women wearing jeans in the congregation, they aren't involved in ministry.  In the past, I have led worship, played on worship teams, and been in choirs.  I have run sound and done other technical jobs.  If I start attending a church again, I want the option of being able to do those things, but my clothes won't usually allow it.  I emailed a worship leader once, asking several questions, including if I could wear jeans in the choir. He responded to my other questions but just avoided that one.  I'm sure the answer was no.

I have one pair of khaki pants and 2 pairs of black, very ill-fitting pants that I wear for photography shoots.  I can't take the risk that I will stain or tear them by wearing them unless necessary.  They are too hard to find and be able to afford right now.

- I can't share who I really am and my struggles.
Inside a church building, who really shares what's going on in their lives?  When it's time to ask for prayer requests, physical sickness is mentioned a LOT.  "Unspoken" prayer is requested for anything you can't admit (often due to its stigma).

Take, for example, the single adult Sunday School class in the last church I tried.  These women are real.  They have dealt with divorce, single parenting, financial hardships, etc (other stigmas I'll touch on eventually).  The Church has now started talking about those issues. Nowadays usually these are okay to mention why you are having a hard week...e.g. "I'm having a custody battle right now and need prayer on how to deal with my ex."

But I just can't even imagine the looks of shock on these same women's faces - these wonderful, caring, loving women - if I said that I was having an especially hard week because my bipolar mania was causing me to have a hard time maintaining my sobriety with my addiction.

- Most of those at church can't understand me and I can't understand them.
This one really needs explaining, but this was the biggest light-bulb, ah-ha moment I had after starting to attend support groups.  An addict's brain is literally different than someone who doesn't have an addiction.  For someone without an addiction, willpower is enough.  It might take a lot of willpower to overcome a bad habit, but it's possible.

Part of the definition of being an addict is that you have NO power over the addiction.  You can try every strategy in the book, every treatment out there, the full laundry list of things that have worked for others.  These things might work for a time.  But the root of the problem can't be addressed this way.  It takes a 12-step program or something very similar for a true addict to become truly sober.

I really do think that people who aren't addicts literally can't understand why we just can't fix our issues.  It doesn't matter what consequence has happened or what horrible thing we know could happen, we can't just stop doing the things we are addicted to.  This not being able to understand leads to both conscious and unconscious judgment.  If it's obvious you could lose your marriage due to an addiction, then stop doing the bad behavior... duh!  (If it were just that simple...)

I feel that this is the issue.  It's like a cultural divide that no one even realizes is there.  If people don't realize that there's this basic difference in people, how will it ever be addressed?

I'll admit I'm guilty of avoiding the "normies" because I can't understand them.  I just don't get how one day you simply decide you are going to stop a horrible habit and do it successfully.  I don't understand how you can find the motivation to choose nice clothes and do your make-up before going out.  I can't identify with how you can spend hours doing small talk with strangers.

I just don't have enough energy to fight addiction, mental illness, other life crap and still do those things.

Why I feel this support group is more of a church than any other I've attended (the short version):

- Like at a church, everyone there KNOWS they have to rely on a Higher Power. 
In fact, the second step out of the 12 Steps directly states it - We "came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." Six of the 12 references this Higher Power and some versions directly state it as God. 

- Similar to the last point, many of the same concepts covered in churches are part of the core truths behind these groups and are directly mentioned in the Steps.
1 - We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
            (recognizing the need for help)
2 - Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
            (understanding that we can't do it on our own)
3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
            (giving in to God)
4 - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
            (noticing and noting what we are doing wrong)
5 - Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongdoings.
            (confessing sins to God and being transparent with others about our failings)
6 - Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
            (getting ready to change)
7 - Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
            (relying on God to ultimately be the One who resolves those issues - not that we aren't part)
8 - Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
            (preparing to ask forgiveness)
9 - Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
            (asking forgiveness)
10 - Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
            (admitting wrongs on an ongoing basis)
11 - Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
            (making it a priority to connect with God about what He wants for us)
12 - Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
            (telling others about what we have experienced so they can have the same freedom)

- It's all about "us" and not just "me."
If you noticed in the 12 Steps above, everything is "we" or "us." Not only do we rely on a Higher Power to overcome addiction, we rely on each other. It's often mentioned that this isn't something a person can do by himself/herself. 

- I can be real.  
It's partially due to the anonymity that we have in group sessions.  We know that no one there will tell what we've shared outside of the group.  While shares in our sessions are focused on the solution to addiction and not our problems, sometimes we do share those issues that we are facing.  That leads to the biggest reason...

- I know I won't be judged.
During those shares, we share hurts, problems, and sometimes even complaints.  We talk about how we've overcome this obstacle, but we just can't overcome that one.  We talk about how the 12-steps are really hard, but incredibly important.  We talk about how our purpose and the main way we stay sober is by serving others.  But no matter what anyone says, he/she can be assured that no one is judging.

After all, we are all messed up and broken in some way.

But, I feel the main difference between a "typical" person and those who attend an addiction or mental health support group is that they admit it.

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