Rob W (NY)
Prayer and meditation are the only tools mentioned by name in the 12 Steps. To me, this means that prayer and meditation are, apart from the Steps themselves, the most important tools of recovery.
Prayer and meditation are also among the most personal tools, because we usually use them alone, although they’re also very flexible tools, because we can use them almost anywhere. We don't need a phone, or a book, or a pen and paper. We don't need any religious training or upbringing either. Someone once told me that I could get down on my knees and pray anywhere, even on a busy sidewalk: all I had to do was pretend my shoelace needed to be tied. That would give me the perfect excuse to drop to the ground, bow my head and start praying.
Of course, you don’t have to be on your knees to pray. Sometimes I talk out loud to my higher power when I’m driving in my car. If you overheard me, it would sound as if I was having a conversation with an invisible friend. I’ve found this to be a very helpful form of prayer, especially when driving to work in the morning. Talking to my higher power that way helps me figure out what I’m feeling (no easy task most mornings). I can also turn over secrets and resentments, and also ask my higher power for help staying sexually sober.
The 11th Step explains that through prayer and meditation we can "improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God". I think this means that prayer and meditation help us cultivate a relationship with God. This is extremely important since God, or a higher power, plays such a large role in so many of the Steps.
Oddly enough, I had no clear conception of my higher power when I started praying. I was an atheist and had never prayed before in my life; and yet the prayers worked! They helped me stay sober. And gradually, I developed a belief in a higher power.
The 11th Step also says we pray "only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out". I understand this to mean that we don’t pray for a new car or a new job; we pray for guidance and the strength to stay sober and do the right thing. But I also use the other Steps as a guideline for my prayers. For instance, when I "take personal inventory" (10th Step) aloud or by writing it down in my journal, I consider it a communication with my higher power, and therefore a form of prayer. Or when I admit to God "the exact nature of [my] wrongs", I consider that a form of prayer, also.
As for the relationship between prayer and meditation, I've heard it said that during prayer we talk to God, and during meditation, God talks to us. There are countless ways to meditate. Using a how-to book as a guide, I tried to meditate every morning; I felt tremendously calm and worry-free after a couple weeks, and I did, in fact, feel closer to God.
Lately, I combine prayer and meditation by writing in a journal every morning. My words are directed toward God: I ask for advice, share my thoughts and take personal inventory. Sometimes I write down slogans that I want to use that day. I also write down my dreams and try to interpret them because I believe dreams are communications from God.
If you don’t know what to say in your prayers to God, my advice is to just say anything. Once you start, the words come naturally. You can also look in the literature. The Big Book and The Twelve and Twelve suggest a number of specific prayers.
Sometimes I feel as if I don’t have time to pray, but if I choose not to pray on a certain day, I pay the price in lost serenity and sexually compulsive feelings. I’ve heard it said that if I’m is too busy to pray more than 15 minutes a day, then I should pray a half an hour a day. The serenity I pick up from the extra effort helps me survive the rest of my busy day. If my goal is to stay sober and grow spiritually, prayer is the tool for me.
Bill B (NY)
When I was a child, my family used to pray together every night. The prayers were simply, thanks for mommy, thanks for daddy, thanks for each of my siblings and myself by name. My family also prayed together in church. Being raised in the Roman Catholic Church, that might have included singing a simple song, saying the rosary or praying sorrowfully for forgiveness, possibly on my knees, feeling unworthy.
Over time, my opinion of prayer became conflicted. Sometimes prayer was offering a beautiful song to a joyful God. Other times, it was with much guilt and self-loathing that I begged an angry God not to abandon me, when I truly felt I deserved to be abandoned. In the past few years, I have come to realize that as an addict, some of those really dark periods of distance from God were a combination of Roman Catholic upbringing and guilt about acting out sexually.
During most of the time that I was an active addict, I did not believe I had any feelings and meaningful prayer was too painful. I was good at praying for others, but avoided praying for myself. Sure, there were those times, as I mentioned, that I bargained with God that I would not get caught cheating on my partner, or fired from my job, but it was only in rare moments when I realized my powerlessness and asked for God’s help.
The past few years, after some good therapy, I have dared to pray again. I usually start each day, before I even get out of bed, reminding God and myself that this is our day and asking for God’s will. Then I usually spend some time in prayer before work. Throughout the day, I reflect and give thanks or ask God for guidance. Songs and exercise and even a productive day at work are prayers now.
I recently had a powerful experience while on a pilgrimage to a tiny village on a hill in France. There I spent one hour three times a day in church with other seekers. We sang, we prayed and for a period of each service, we sat silently. We sat silently. And I learned something amazing, that God speaks if I am willing to wait and listen.
Since I came home, I have incorporated this new discipline of prayer and meditation into my daily routine. Prayer has changed me, but just like everything else, prayer is work. I simply must choose every single day, sometimes every single minute, to foster a relationship with my higher power. And in my experience, it is well worth the work.