When You Get Drunk on Doubt
I am a recovering addict. My addiction isn’t to alcohol or drugs; I’m recovering from an addiction to doubting. However, I am a grateful doubt-aholic. I am grateful because God taught me about faith, courage, and hope through all of my doubts. I am grateful for the people I’ve met because of my doubts and for the lives of fellow doubters I’ve learned from through the years. But it hasn’t always been this way. Not at all.
If you’ve never been to an AA meeting, I encourage you to check one out. AA holds some “open meetings” that welcome anyone to come regardless if you are a recovering addict. The beauty and wisdom you will glean from attending a meeting by just sitting and listening will be vast. Here’s what I’ve learned through attending a few meetings, reading the Big Book, and hanging out with my friends who are at various stages of recovery.
In an AA group, no one judges you based on your race, your education, your wealth. They don’t care if you drove up in a Mercedes or just got out of prison. You may feel you are better and smarter than the people around you, but as the writer Stephen King says, “We all look pretty much the same when we are puking in the gutter.”1 The level of acceptance in most Twelve Step groups is like none other. Unconditional love and acceptance are what you will find. Everyone in the group has been to hell and back. They know what it feels like to “hit bottom” or “come to the end of your rope.” No story of pain, loss, and chaos from a new guy rattles their chains because they’ve heard it all. Plus, the old-timers are living survival stories, examples to the newcomers who need hope. Just like in the story of the man stuck in the blizzard, they provide proof of men who went down the same path and made the jump.
AA is a simple program for complex people. Here, all of us know exactly the pain and frustration you are going through. We have all been there. We have found that our addiction is a life-or-death situation, that we had to admit that we were powerless to overcome it, and that only God can restore us to sanity. We hit bottom because we have a big problem. We found that we can only overcome this big problem through the help of God and the people in the group. Millions of men and women have found the solution in the Twelve Steps. We’ve followed the program and are free. If you want to get free, we can help you. This is simply our testimony and the testimonies of millions of recovering addicts around the world who have kicked their addictions as well.
When I was stuck in the middle of my bout with doubt, I wished there had been a Twelve Step support group to attend—a place called Doubters Anonymous or something like that. I would have walked in and said, “Hi, my name is Ben, and I am a doubt-aholic. The group would reply in unison, “Hi, Ben.” Then I would go on to tell my story of how I got drunk on doubt:
I doubt that God is there. I doubt that the Bible is true. I’m more convinced of evolution than creation. I can’t look at nature without thinking about evolution. I don’t understand how God could become a man. I don’t see why a person dying on a cross two thousand years ago has anything to do with me. I pray for a sign or a miracle and get nothing.
At the same time, there is another part of me that wants to believe. I read Christian books. I still pray. I worry about people’s eternal destiny. But I am stuck in this doubt. I hate it. It troubles me. No one can relate to me. It irritates me when people give me their pithy advice. “Doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs.” “Read this apologetic book.” “Just have faith.” “Cast out the demon of doubt.” Blah, blah, blah. The bottom line is I don’t have peace. I’m not happy believing all this Christian stuff or believing all this skepticism and atheism. I worry. I can’t sleep. I swallow a lot because I feel like I am lying about being Christian.
Then after I blathered on about all of my doubt, an old-timer in the Twelve Step group would say, “Yep, I get it.” Then someone else would pipe up, “I was in that exact place two years ago. I know just how you feel.” Then the group leader would say, “Ben, you’ve come to a safe place to doubt. We’ve been helping doubt-aholics like you for years. Heck, we’re all doubt-aholics ourselves. Just work the program. We will give you a sponsor, and you can call him anytime of the day or night if you feel like your doubts are freaking you out. Thanks for sharing.”
I know that may sound odd, but I wish there had been a place like that. And my desire is that this book would serve as a type of Twelve Step group for you. A place where you could go to reflect and connect with someone who knows what you are going through and can provide some help along the way.
The founders of AA were known as Bill W. and Dr. Bob. They were so smart. Though they had had born-again experiences themselves, they realized other people may have had bad experiences in church or may not share their beliefs. Many folks had hang-ups even talking about God, Jesus, or Christianity. When people walked into a meeting for the first time, they didn’t say, “You have to believe the Bible is true. You have to believe in a talking snake and a man renting a room inside a whale. You have to believe Jesus rose from the dead. You have to believe Jesus is God.” Nope. That’s not what they said.
Instead, they accepted people where they were. They said you simply have to be willing to admit that your life has become unmanageable. Turn your life over to a higher power or just pretend to believe. You don’t take all twelve steps at once. Start with step one. Start where you are, not where you think you should be or where you want to be, but honestly where you are at this moment. Ask God to help you experience Him in a fresh way. Don’t try to believe in this strange doctrine or supernatural miracle. Start with a simple confession of your brokenness and your desperate need in your life. Even if you don’t believe God is real at this moment. Obviously, their approach is not for everyone, but I like the fact that they met people right where they were.
For years, my friend Mark was an outspoken atheist. He thought Christianity was nonsense. A highly educated and well-read person, he would mock Christians and their naive beliefs about God. At the same time, he had a drinking problem that had gotten out of hand. He met a guy who told him to pray to God for help to stop drinking. Mark said, “I can’t do that. I don’t believe God exists, so how can I pray to someone that isn’t real?”
The wise old man said, “Just pretend. When you wake up in the morning ask this God you don’t believe in to help you stop drinking, and at the end of the day thank Him for helping you not drink.”
Mark thought the idea was silly, but he knew he needed help, so he took the advice of the older gentleman about prayer. As fate (God) would have it, he stopped drinking. Mark slowly began to believe in the existence of God, as he continued to gain freedom from alcoholism.
After many years of praying to God, he began seeking a real relationship with this God. He tried some Buddhism, but it did not work. He tried some Mormonism, but it did not work. He tried a myriad of self-help books, but they did not work either. Over time, he started to ask questions about the person of Jesus Christ. What did He teach? Why did He have to die on a cross? Who was He?
Gradually, Mark came to trust in Jesus Christ. He told me, “Ben, when I was an atheist, I had difficulty believing in the existence of any God. So back then, if you told me God had become a person in Jesus Christ, I would have said you were insane.”
So start where you are with God. Come to Him as you are, doubts and all. That’s where Mark started. Take the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who aptly said, “Faith is taking the first step when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Excerpt from Room for Doubt: How Uncertainty Can Deepen Your Faith.