I’ve committed myself to the AA program in order to stay sober. As many of you will know, the AA program has a 12 steps. Six of these 12 speak about God or a Power greater than ourselves (often called your Higher Power). The 12th step talks about having had a spiritual awakening.
For many addicts and alcoholics this belief in a God is very problematic. Many came into the program as atheists or agnostics, and yet the 2nd step is that we “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”. Thereafter, as the 3rd step, you need to have “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him”. So if you can’t get yourself to believe in the existence of a God of your own understanding then you will never get past step 1 which means you will not be able to stay sober under the AA program. (By the way, the 1st step is to simply admit that you are powerless over alcohol— and that your life had become unmanageable).
Having been a hardcore atheist most of my life – since the age of 13 – I was surprised to find myself opening up to the Christian faith about two years ago. This was as a result of my personal and substance problems at the time and of the persuasion from my current boss (even before I started working for him). But my belief/faith was never on very firm ground, although I went to church and read the Bible occasionally. During the last few months I’d gone back to my old atheist, basically nihilist, belief system. At my first AA meeting I realized that this was going to be a problem. There is so much emphasis placed on having a spiritual awakening and believing in a God (in whatever form you are comfortable with) that getting past step 2 is of crucial importance. This leap of faith clearly was the key for the AA founder, Bill W, in his path to recovery (as reflected in the AA’s Big Book).
My problem wasn’t that I didn’t want to believe, it was that I couldn’t believe in an intelligent Creator. I’m still grappling with the exact contents of my belief in God but I think I’ve opened the door just a few inches – which is apparently all that is required for God to enter your life. How did this happen? There is a chapter in the Big Book that talks to “we agnostics” (but it also includes atheists). It makes it clear that in the first AA group at least half of the members didn’t believe in a God. I won’t recount all the arguments and testimonies this chapter delves into in order to break down the “closed mindedness” of non-believers, because you can read it for yourselves online. What I will share with you is how I came to conceptualize a Higher Power where before there was only a void. I remembered that over the years NA and AA members had told me that your Higher Power can be something as abstract as “the universe” etc. While I was reading this chapter of the Big Book my mind kept racing for a hook on which to hang a nascent faith. The aha! moment came when I realized that I believed there was some fairness and goodness in life and the universe. As I watched my children play on the trampoline with the boys from next door I felt this goodness. It was right there in their little laughing faces and suddenly all around me too. I reflected on how I actually always believed, in the back of my mind, that something regulated my life to be relatively fair. I didn’t really expect all manner of random calamities to strike me because there was a force of nature that kept things in check.
So there, in an instant, was my God. Now I hope that this good and fair entity will open the door wider until it takes the center stage in my life. I’m so relieved that I’m not an absolute nihilist after all!