Faith & Feminism: Sobriety through feminist spirituality

This courageous guest post from Karina Keeley continues our Faith & Feminism series. See Karina’s full bio after the jump, and be in touch with if you’d like to contribute a future column.

I wasn’t raised religious, or spiritual, atheist or agnostic—I was raised ‘indifferent’, as I like to call it.  Not to say that my parents did me a disservice; I think, in the long run, it has actually granted me space to organically and sincerely figure out what works for me in the deistic realm.  As an angsty, bewildered teenager, I often flirted with a variety of god-like notions, different forms of prayer, and even a gothic-inspired foray into paganism. Nothing seemed to resonate, however, and with the discovery of punk rock and Bikini Kill, my search for a higher power was quickly abandoned.

For my formative years and on into my early twenties, feminism became my religion and in many ways, it still is.  It gave me a sense of hope and my first taste of that ever-elusive and seemingly religious concept of ‘faith’.  However, there was one thing that feminism just couldn’t do a damn thing about and that was my addiction to drugs and alcohol.  I tried over a ten-year period to get sober, to stay sober; to live a life I was proud of.  Sometimes I didn’t try. Sometimes I couldn’t find it in myself to know that I deserved better.

Through years of ups and downs, depression, suicidal ideations, violence (self-inflicted and inflicted on others), and friendships come and gone, I finally decided I was sick of wanting to die and that I had to do something to change my life: I had to get sober.  I came to a 12-step program that suggested a spiritual solution to maintaining long-term abstinence from drugs and alcohol.  I developed a belief in a power greater than myself, and most importantly to a feminist like me:  one of MY understanding.  Meaning: not male, not white, not vindictive or jealous or hateful or any other notion of ‘god’ that I had found so problematic in organized religion.

I was comfortable with the notion that there can be a difference between religion and spirituality and that spirituality can have aspects of religions, such as ‘prayer’ and ‘faith’, while not having an ounce of religion in it. I began to realize that there is nothing inherently oppressive or patriarchal about prayer or faith; in fact, both have become instrumental in my ability not just to stay sober, but to actually be happy, cultivate self-love and help other women—something I never thought was in the cards for me, and something that I now believe to be a fiercely feminist act.

And I’ve had to contend with friends, the feminist and ‘progressive’ communities seeing all things ‘faith-related’ as rooted in religiosity, as somehow the exclusive realm of organized religion.  Yes, faith and prayer have certainly been popularized by mainstream religions, but that doesn’t mean that for those of us for whom religion gives the creepy-crawlies, we can’t utilize them to improve our lives.

I have faith in love, compassion, my higher power (who, by the way, is a gender-neutral non-entity that I often refer to as beloved, goddess, sunlight of the spirit, or spirit of the universe, or Kathleen Hanna), feminism and hope. Faith has granted me the freedom to not have to live a life ruled by fear, addiction, depression and hopelessness—and that is a wonderful, empowering and lovely thing.

Karina Keeley is a second-year Women’s Studies graduate student at George Washington University where she focuses on comprehensive sex education for underserved youth and youth empowerment.  She lives happily with her dog, Badger, and her cat, Raven, in the District of Columbia.

Join the Conversation

  • Gretel

    Thank you for this. Upon reading it I realized that I haven’t read anything concerning feminism and recovery in . . . years? Ever? I’m so glad you’ve found something that is working for you. All the best for your continued recovery.

  • Kayla Calkin

    Great post Karina. Feminism is a religion in many ways for me too– it influences how I treat others, how I view the world, and how I conduct myself.

  • Caasi Holiga

    Thank you for putting this definition of spirituality and faith out there in a much more eloquent way then I had been able to. I have tried but it has always seemed to skate over peoples heads!

    It took me a long time to actually understand that my beliefs were based on the fact that I could be spiritual and have faith without having any ties to a religion per se. Once I realised that it made reconciling the fact that the person I am doesn’t have to be who people, mainly my father and ex husband, expect me to be. It helped with giving me the strength to stand up for what I believe in and put a much more positive framework into my life.

  • Steven Olson

    That is awesome that you have been able to beat your addiction and become much happier!

    Though I disagree with the assertion that feminism can be a religion to someone. I am a scientist and science influences basically all aspects of my life, including most interactions I have with people, how I view the world and how I conduct myself, but it could in no way be thought of as a religion. I think feminism is the same way, as feminism is based in rationality. And rationality is the opposite of the dogma and tradition typically associated with religion, as well as the lack of a deity.

  • Lara Emily Foley

    Absolutely beautifully stated. I too have always drawn a distinction between religion and faith or spirituality. I’m not religious but I can be sometimes spiritual (I have no defined beliefs really, if anything I’m an agnostic polytheist)

    Thanks for writing this :)

  • Deb Jannerson

    Terrific post, Karina! I love the idea of a non-religious faith in line with feminism.

  • Tori Rodriguez

    Excellent post, Karina. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Karina Keeley

    Thank you all for your feedback and nice words! I’m honored I was able to share my experience.