In the field of addiction medicine, it is widely agreed upon that there is not just one way to recover from the insidious and pernicious disease of addiction. That being said, when most people think of addiction recovery, they will typically envision a group of people sitting in a circle, working together to refrain from using drugs and alcohol by practicing the principles of the 12-Steps which were first laid out in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). While there are scores of 12-Step recovery programs to address anything from alcohol use disorder to sex addiction, which may do things in different ways, they all share the common thread of the 12-Steps.
It is often said that everyone is welcome at a 12-Step meeting, as long as they have a desire to get better. Yet, many people have recoiled from such programs due to a word that they struggle with, i.e. GOD. Programs of recovery that incorporate the 12-Step model, are spiritual programs, which members are cautioned to not confuse with religious. Organizations like AA and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), pride themselves with not being associated with any religious sect. While many of their members may choose Jesus or GOD in the biblical sense of the words with regard to assigning a higher power, every member is free to choose their own unique higher power. Even people who are on the fence about the existence of God, or do not believe in God at all, are welcome to join the 12-Step community.
A Spiritual Program
It is fair to say that countless addicts and alcoholics have stayed clear of 12-Step recovery because of the pervasive nature of the word God in the Big Book. And sadly, it is not only an unfortunate choice, it can be a deadly one. 12-Step programs of recovery are in fact spiritual rather than religious, and one should not let the wording (albeit somewhat antiquated) keep them from finding recovery.
In fact, there are countless people who are atheist or agnostic who are or will be attending a meeting of AA or NA. They have learned how to work a spiritual program without compromising their beliefs. There are people at meetings from all walks of life, who have varying systems of belief. It is possible to be spiritual without being religious, one need only acknowledge that there is something that is greater than himself. Through which, one can learn how to be accountable to others, and most importantly—their own self.
A requirement of getting, and staying, sober is not understanding others’ higher power; it is about understanding and having a relationship with their own higher power. If you are struggling with drugs and/or alcohol, and are considering joining AA or NA—do not be discouraged. Before you write off the program because of certain words, please keep in mind that many atheist and agnostics have managed to work a program of recovery for well over 20+ years through practicing the principles of 12-Steps in all their affairs.
“God,” is a God of Your Understanding
Alcoholics Anonymous officially recognized atheist and agnostic membership in the October edition of Grapevine, the International Journal of Alcoholics Anonymous. The publication began in 1944, just five years after the founding of AA. In 72 years of publishing, Grapevine has never devoted an issue to atheist and agnostic members—until now. Grapevine’s Editor’s Letter writes:
This month, our special section features stories by atheist and agnostic AA members, some who have many years of sobriety. One member quotes our co-founder Bill W., in a 1946 Grapevine, ‘… an alcoholic is a member if he says so … we can’t force our beliefs or practices upon him.’ In editing these stories, we honored the request of some authors to not capitalize the word God, which is our usual style. Bill W. intended Grapevine to be a mirror of the Fellowship. We hope these stories will shed some light on the joys and challenges of our atheist and agnostic members.”
If you are a young adult male who is struggling with drugs or alcohol, please contact PACE Recovery Center, our team specializes in working with young adult males struggling with chemical dependency and behavioral health issues. We can help you or your loved one break the cycle of addiction and adopt healthy behaviors to ensure long-term recovery.