I knew when I decided to enter rehab that I was going to hit a roadblock pretty early on - I was sure the "spirituality question" would trip me up. Most successful rehabilitation programs involve a spiritual component, and this particular one was no different. I fretted over it, having never really been at all religious (and not ever being a believer in the Christian brand of it at all), but I decided to dive in and see what people more successful at being non-drinkers might have to say about it.
I needn't have worried too much; it's really not a "conversion" program, though if what you're looking for is a group to read scripture with, you can find that pretty easily in any corner of any room. There's as much Official God Talk as you could ever want. But I had more than one conversation with more than one counselor/advisor/case manager where there was plenty of support for and approval over the idea of a non-traditional higher power.
A few years ago, I had a chance encounter with a bear when I was on a solo hike in Calaveras Big Trees State Park in the Sierras of California. The bear came crashing noisily through the thicket of ferns to the right of me, stepped into the path directly ahead of me and froze, staring at my face for a second. He shook his head as if to clear a thought from it and then continued down to the left of me toward a stream, where he was headed for water. I finally thought to breathe and continued on my way, sure that I was safe from any danger. And I was safe. Nature did not have it in for me that day. Nature was just trying to get water to the bear; that's the only reason the bear was put in my path.
I thought about this encounter a lot the first few days before I entered rehab and the first few days I was there - I was trying to put my finger on the thing, the power that was higher than me, that I could turn my unmanageable life over to. And it finally occurred to me that I was spending a lot of time trying to define this nebulous, abstract thing and not a lot of time going and looking for it. I only had to walk outside and watch the snake of morning fog lifting up from the river hidden just past the first row of distant trees to know there was something larger than me, and I didn't have to figure out what the fuck it was called. It was right there and that was enough.
I pick up a chambered nautilus and look at how it's formed and I recognize Math as a higher power. I watch a leaf trace a Jacob's Ladder arcing back and forth through the air as it falls from branch to ground and acknowledge Architecture as a higher power. I think of a particular alpine lake fed by a glacier in eastern Nevada (yes, Nevada) and I know the possibility of snow in July signals the presence of a higher power. I remember that yards from that same lake, I held a ten-thousand-year-old bristlecone pine cone in my hand and acknowledged the existence of a higher power too abstract for me to attempt to articulate. I string these little beads of acknowledgement together and that strand of beads becomes my higher power: The Natural World.
I have known all this for a long time, but I allowed my alcohol abuse to veil my senses for years and now each day that I am another step away from it, I catch the scent of something I forgot about - the strange allure of a faraway skunk or the sweet, funky smell of mountain galax - even if it's just a memory. And each time that happens, I know that there is a power higher than me.
One thing I learned about spirituality in rehab is that I don't have to go form a church about it; I don't need any converts to agree with me. I can just have it. And now and then I do get a little jealous of the people with a lot of organized religion under their belts, because it's easy (and acceptable) for them to start going on about Jesus or Buddha or Whoever and they can quote things chapter and verse to prove their connection to a higher power. And I'm sometimes not sure how to "prove" mine. Should I just rustle up a campfire right there in the middle of the table at group therapy and say "SEE?! It's called FIRE!"? But I know I don't really have to do that. I should, though. That would be funny.