In my recovery, the absolute most frustrating step has been the concept of a higher power. I don’t believe the concept itself is hard for me. I, in fact, do a have a concept that I understand very well. No, I struggle with the fact that people often tell me I can have my own concept of a higher power, while only ever referring to a christian god when speaking of a higher power. Twelve step literature is filled with this kind of double sided talk. “Use whatever god works for YOU!….. now lets talk about the judeo christian god”. Even more annoying is stating that I don’t believe in a god and then having someone come up to me later and say, “you can borrow my god” or “give it time and He’ll find you”. And I admit that I feel guilty calling out a program that has literally saved my life. But since I have struggled so much with feeling isolated in a program of my peers, I feel it is helpful to reach out to other lost and recovering heathens.
First, my concept of a higher power is very simply Truth. I do not refer to my power as god. It is not a Being and does not grant magical powers of will or protection. It is very simply its name, Truth (No, I couldn’t resist capitalizing the first letter because yes, when I think of Truth I think of more than a word). My first sponsor taught me that there are three forms of truth. There is your truth, my truth and the Truth. I have to be careful not to get caught up in my truth or another’s truth. Reality is what grounds me and it’s not always easy to find. I have to work at it. I guess you could say I have to stay in conscious contact with Truth.
Second, no you do NOT have to believe in a god to stay sober. I don’t say this just from my limited experience. I say this from decades and decades of sobriety from other atheists who are in recovery. This is a Truth. When I am in doubt because I’ve heard an old timer INSIST one can not get sober without god, I remember that’s his truth and not the Truth. aaagnostica.org and aabeyondbelief.org are just two of many sites that will lead one to other freethinkers in sobriety.
Third, my sobriety isn’t any less because of my lack of belief. As I’ve studied recovering alcoholics and addicts I’ve come to the same realization about them as I have about all other people; our morals make us better people, not our religion. There are certain people in recovery that I admire who are ardent believers in a god. There are a few atheists in recovery for whom I have little respect. And the same goes the other way around. Belief in a god does not make people better outside of recovery so why would it make them better inside recovery? Most people believed in a god while they were drinking and drugging and lying and cheating and stealing. Now they’re sober and suddenly it’s a belief in a god that’s changed them? Or adherence to that voice in their head that they claim is god? Whatever helps a person stay sober I suppose.
However for my sobriety and sanity I had to accept that I just do not believe and that is perfectly fine. Truth keeps me grounded and support from other recovering addicts keeps me motivated. If you’re new to recovery or just in a rough spot, here’s one fellow atheist telling you to keep going. There’s nothing left for you in the past. There is no hope in the bottles and track marks of addiction. So keep treading that path forward and know that while there is no god to carry you, your fellows in recovery are there to walk beside you.