God No God

By Ken Wells - 11/05/2021


Series Two; Blog Seventy-Eight

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”.

The concept of God has always been problematic to the treatment of addiction. When people use the name God, the meaning is particular to that individual. There are concepts of God with distinct description in the thousands of religions across the world. For some people their belief in God is influenced by a strong patriarchal dominant parental figure. It makes sense. During the magical years of childhood, ages 3-10, children depend upon their parents and caregivers to be “God”. If my dad told me when I was age 6 that the sun would come up in the morning from the west and be bright purple, I would have believed him. If people can become stuck in emotional development as a child because of trauma, why wouldn’t that same trauma impact the development of their concept of God?

Some addicts do not accept a belief in God. It doesn’t make sense to them. Some even find its emphasis offensive. Some addicts in recovery say it doesn’t matter what you call God. You just make up whatever you believe about God. The emphasis is moved from the word “God” to the idea of Higher Power. I have heard the story about Higher Power that old timers tell with a laugh about Ol’ Joe who decided that his Higher Power was a tree in his back yard until lightning struck it! Their emphasis is you can make your HP whatever you want. So an atheist addict says, fine that works! I will choose to believe in no god and no higher power. For many in a 12-step community, this conclusion is disturbing.

The attitude that is often communicated by some in 12-step communities is “I will give you latitude. You can make up your own God or Higher Power. However, not to believe in God or a Higher Power is not an option. That’s just incompatible to working the 12-steps”! To that, those who do not drink the Kool Aid, say “well screw all this, I will just figure out another way to practice sobriety”. And they do! Thank God, or no-God, that there are a myriad of ways to help someone stop addictive behavior. There is Rational Recovery, pharmacological interventions, psychedelics, hypnotherapy, trauma resolution strategies and other psychodynamic approaches that have helped people for years to become sober from their addictions. We live on a big planet and most who live in an insular world don’t know what others are doing to address the same shared problem of addiction.

The 12-step approach has been helpful to millions of addicts. Spirituality is at the core of its effectiveness. Its meaning is as varied as there are beliefs in God. Once when conducting a small group on spirituality during intensive therapy, all eight members of the group identified as atheist and were offended by the word “spirituality”. Together, we agreed that the word “energy” was compatible to their atheist approach. Bill W, co-founder of A.A, took the position that A.A. was not the final word on treatment. He mentioned that it might be only the first word. With openness and flexibility his emphasis regarding therapy and spirituality was that it could be practiced in any fashion that any group or individual wished to practice it.

So recovery with a 12-step strategy can include those who don’t believe in God or Higher Power. An emphasis upon connecting to the intuition of their higher self can be helpful in recognizing powerless living (step 1), belief in their higher self (step 2) and letting go to the higher self (step 3). When 12-step members share that “my best thinking got me to where I am at”, surrender can suggest turning addiction over to one’s higher self versus the addictive mind. In this way, the 12-step community can support the recovery journey of those who do not believe in God or Higher Power.

Recovery through therapy and the 12-step community has literally transformed my life. It has helped me to experience the reality of others in me. For me, the power that restores me to sanity is the power of connection. I have learned in recovery that we are all connected through common shared brokenness. Therefore, in me there exists LGBTIA, Republican, Democrat, Socialist, Communist, racist, offender, atheist, agnostic, Catholic, Nazarene, cult and every other kind of difference because of that shared brokenness. May God, Higher Power or no-God help us all to recognize our sacred connection.

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