“The God Thing”

Some people are uncomfortable with 12-Step programs because of what is often referred to as “the God thing.”

First, let’s dispense with one common misconception: 12-Step programs are not a religion. They are a spiritual program and there’s a big difference. The Steps are not a dogmatic list of musts. They’re not hard-and-fast rules. Rather, they’re a “suggested program of recovery,” to work to the best of your ability (though it’s strongly suggested that one work the Steps, in order from 1 to 12, with a sponsor, a veteran of the process).  In fact, there is only one requirement for participation: a desire to stop drinking or using drugs.

Second, there is no requirement that you believe in anyone’s God. (I had big problems with this misconception when I entered rehab, as described in Doubt a Spiritual Program Works?) Rather, you are told to find a “power greater than yourself,” and you are free to choose what that is. For example, in rehab the first counselor I discussed this with, himself an addict in recovery, told me that in early sobriety the ocean was his higher power. He was a surfer, and he knew that no matter how strong he might be, the ocean was stronger than he was, as it had tossed him around as if he was nothing.

I’ve heard many members say that their Higher Power is the 12-Step program itself. They rely on working the Steps and the collective wisdom of AA members as expressed at meetings. In that case, “God” can be an acronym for “group of dunks, or the “good orderly direction” of the Steps and veterans of sobriety. I’ve also heard some who substitute “love” for “God.”

Most people in 12-Step programs do refer to their concept of a “higher power” as God. But agnostics and atheists are not disqualified or disrespected. All one needs is some power to have faith in, some power to turn to for strength beyond one’s own willpower.

A spiritual program gives addicts a healthy way to deal with emotional problems and irrational impulses rather than using drugs to medicate them away. The conception of “God” or a Higher Power is an individual decision.

For more questions about 12-Step programs click on What Happens At Meetings?

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