The Higher Power: Transcendence in Rehab and Writing

I’m flexing my own creative writing muscles this morning with a flash fiction challenge from Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch. Naturally the prompt leads me  to experiences in my personal life for fodder. This provides a bit of conflict, since I recently vowed to keep this blog confined to writing topics. Still, I hope to honor my vow not only by falling back on the oft-repeated maxim about writing—write what you know—but also tying in the theme of transcendence, whether in your personal life or your writing life (as if the two were separate.)

One thing I have come to know (against any intent or desire to do so) is the terrible challenges for individuals and their families wrought by the epidemic of opioid abuse in our country. According to last week’s New York Times article, Inside a Killer Drug Epidemic: A Look at America’s Opioid Crisis, it killed more than 33,000 people in 2015. When you count the families and communities affected, the damage goes much deeper.

Today, though, I want to address not the epidemic itself but the related topic of rehab, in particular the idea of the “higher power” invented and popularized by the most enduring drug and alcohol rehab program out there, AA.

Rehab and the Higher Power

I recently visited a loved one in a rehab facility here in Phoenix where he was doing a month-long residential treatment. It was cold outside, so we gravitated to the rather institutional cafeteria to chat. Posted on the wall were the 12 steps, among which 6 mention God or higher power, a key element of the program:

* Step 2—We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
* Step 3—We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
* Step 5—We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
* Step 6—We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
* Step 7—We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
* Step 11—We 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.

I was struck by the focus on God in the program, though I was aware of the idea of the higher power and that participants could interpret that according to their own beliefs. Yet, tending toward an atheistic view of reality myself, and having raised my children with a more scientific and evolutionary understanding of the nature of things, I wondered how my young man could reconcile his secular grounding with a program clearly designed with a deistic approach to human existence.

We revisited this topic last week when I drove him to a different facility for a second month in residential rehab. He admitted that he was having difficulties with this focus on God, that he had talked to his counselor about it. He understood the idea of replacing what had been his “higher power”—heroin—in the sense that he  had lost control of his life by giving it over to the needle. But try as he might, he could not identify what a “higher power” meant to him outside of the religious sense.

I recalled a conversation I’d had with my philosopher futurist husband, Tom Lombardo, concerning the idea of transcendence, which appears as a major theme in chapter 12 of his forthcoming book, Future Consciousness: The Pathway to Purposeful Evolution. In applying the idea to the struggle with addiction, I had understood it too narrowly. I believed that transcendence, in the case of overcoming addiction or character flaws or adversities, meant simply to connect to a vision of yourself that transcends your former self. Just as our older selves transcend our younger selves, so, I thought, could our future “good” selves transcend  our former flawed selves.

For Tom, however, transcendence is connected to deep purpose in life. As he writes:

Deep purpose usually entails some higher good or reality transcendent to our personal existence or life. Deep purpose is a “calling” toward something greater than ourselves, a holistic, perhaps cosmic dimension to motivation, bringing in the ego-transcendent, above and beyond our individual well-being. Deep purpose is intentionally placing the storyline of our lives within a bigger whole.

Granted, conceptualizing a higher good transcendent to our personal reality is a a task of a high order even for those of us with less challenging struggles than addiction. When each day is a battle with a demon, how do you identify what that transcendent reality might be? And yet, it is a mistake, I believe, to to underestimate the desire in the substance abuser to do just that. While the idea of the higher good may begin on a highly personal plane—good health; job stability; a “normal” life—from there it expands to goals such as improved relationships; marriage; membership in a community…moving beyond the narrow focus on self that substance abuse engenders to a view of how we might contribute to a broader good as neighbors, friends, citizens, humans, inhabitants of the earth and cosmos.

Moreover, the beauty of conceptualizing the higher good in this way is that it in no way sacrifices a person’s individual condition. As Tom adds:

Yet, reciprocally, deep purpose invariably reflects and serves the individual. In identifying a person’s deep purpose in life we find that it intimately connects with that person’s strongest interests, skills, and qualities of personality. Deep purpose seems to emerge, at least in part, through finding activities (and consequent goals) that we love. Deep purpose requires personal passion.

Transcendence and Writing

These passages only skim the surface of the topic of transcendence, but as I applied the message to the theme of rehab, I also thought of how it worked in my life as a writer. Specifically, what do I want to accomplish with my writing? What do I want to write about? What purpose does it serve? Certainly I write not only for personal satisfaction. I would like to touch others with my writing, to provide something of value, beauty, (dare I say) wisdom. On the highest order, I want to improve my craft to improve myself as a person, and thus equip myself to fulfill what I see as my own evolutionary purpose: to in some way contribute to the positive evolution of humanity.

These are the thoughts that go through my head as I enter my fifth year of a life dedicated to writing. What about you? How does your writing connect you to your deep purpose? How does it reflect and/or facilitate your passion? Is your writing ego-focused or ego-transcendent?

And…before I forget, here is this week’s flash fiction challenge:

January 5, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rattling sound. It can be an intimidating sound of protest, a disorienting loud sound, a musical expression or a gentle baby’s toy. Go where the prompt leads you.

The Gettin’ Place

He took a drag and rattled the ice in his cup.

“That Coke’s no good for you,” I said.

“One poison at a time, Mom.”

Our usual exchange.

“Feeling ready?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“We’ll get the apartment packed up. Figure out the rest after rehab.”

He nodded, his beauty piercing and hopeful in the dawn light.

“Those blankets, though, I’m tossing them.”


We’d argued about the overstuffed garbage bag the girlfriend had left behind.

“Where’d she get them anyway?

He smiled, knowingly, sheepishly.

“The gettin’ place,” he said.

He’d come far, but the street was still in him.



6 thoughts on “The Higher Power: Transcendence in Rehab and Writing

  1. That’s a very thought-provoking post, Jeanne. And what an interesting position you find yourself in, with a loved one in rehab and a philosopher partner able to explain transcendence and deep purpose. I like the idea of a higher power, being a purpose greater than self, and wish, like you “to in some way contribute to the positive evolution of humanity”.
    Your flash paints the situation clearly, showing how different it can be to fully step away from the past and find that deeper purpose and higher good. No matter how bad, there is also something a little familiar and comforting in the past. I hope he is able to move beyond soon. Best wishes.

    1. Of course there is much more to be said about deep purpose and transcendence. It seems to me that you achieve both with the work you do with children Norah. Teachers are perhaps those who most contribute to the purposeful evolution of humanity! And I wholeheartedly agree with you that the familiar and comfort we find in the past, not to mention the lessons in our personal lives and as members of humanity, is important. Our lives are a continuum. We are the sum of our experiences up to the present time. Thanks for your kind wishes, too. I am hopeful!

    1. Thanks Debby. I want to stick to writing topics but as I indicated in that post, the writing also has to mean something. At least the flash fiction challenges give me a way to reflect on what is important to me while contributing to the craft.

  2. Hard work, this transcendence. Yet, I do believe it is the sense of purpose that drives us to feel connected. Dealing with addiction, that of of a loved one, challenges all those experiences and norms up until the point we are trying to unravel the hows of recovery. I love the flash. It’s so beautiful in it’s simplicity of the moment with the recognition that the street is yet there. I look forward to Tom’s book. I often think futurists and historians are both concerned with connections to explain now.

    1. Hard work indeed, Charli! God knows I haven’t got it figured out. But it’s the striving that counts, I hope. My son’s recovery has been a journey of learning for me. As your eyes have been opened to the plight of veterans and the homeless, mine have seen so much suffering I was not aware of before. But it’s not without grace and even beauty in a strange way. Have had some remarkable conversations with people. As for the flash, I just really found that phrase he used so provocative. “The gettin’ place”… it seemed to reflect in such perfect simplicity the narrowing of needs and resources to a simple formula…one certainly that could be condemned, as “gettin'” often means stealing or appropriating or otherwise coming into possession of something without a right to it…but, though I can’t quite put my finger on it, it struck me as symbolic of a way of life where possessing something has lost its importance. Must think about it more. Maybe I am just trying to justify something that is bad…. As for historians and futurists, well time is a continuum. I think you can’t really understand reality without seeing that. We can’t know where we are going unless we know where we’ve been, individually and collectively. Thanks for dropping by!

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