It’s something I’ve heard time and time again for those wanting to get sober or for those that continue to relapse.
“I’ve tried getting sober, but I can’t get past the God part,” “I don’t believe in God,” or “I don’t need a Higher Power to stay sober.”
So, is it true? Do we really need a Higher Power to stay sober?
I Don’t Believe In God
For the agnostic, atheist and humanist, it can feel like a distraction from the work at hand as well as a disturbing admonishment to check their beliefs at the door. We’re all different, and something different works for each person. These conflicting mindsets have brought forth a solution that 12-step meetings have tried to address over the years.
When I first got sober, and started going to meetings, I was told that 12-step meetings were the only way to get sober, and I believed these people. After all, why wouldn’t I? They were staying sober I wasn’t. My only hang-up was the higher power part. I began to read the literature that they provided me. And, in the Big Book, there is a chapter dedicated to agnostics and atheists that claims by the time the book is read the person reading it will become a believer. Then I read this:
‘To one who feels he is an atheist or agnostic such an experience seems impossible, but to continue as he is means disaster, especially if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.’
It even contains the sentence, ‘We must find a spiritual basis of life – or else.’
Umm.. Scary shit to say the least. I then, began to dig deeper into my findings and found this:
“To us, the Realm of the Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men. When therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find int his book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you.”
– AA Big Book, We Agnostics
Take or leave what you will. In simpler terms, a Higher Power, or God, can be anything that you want it to be, and with that being said, in one way or another, we all have a form of a Higher Power. Whether that be money, people, our jobs, materialistic things, or whether we choose to believe, however, there’s something that we all believe has more power than us.
“There’s Something We All Believe In”
Maybe it’s your favorite shirt, or a lucky piece of jewelry you wore each time you needed a streak of luck. All of these things that you believed brought you good luck or kept you safe – this is the same. We all need something to believe in – and maybe one day you’ll find yourself in a situation when the only thing between you and a drink or a drug is something greater than you – this that you can believe will keep you sober.
However, there are time’s when 12-step meetings can seem like a turn off even though those say that you can create your own concept of a Higher Power – as many posters on the wall make use of the word God, and most meetings begin or end with a religious prayer.
While this doesn’t quite answer our question if you can stay sober without a Higher Power, in turn, there have been a number of non-12-Step groups that have begun to form that have offered a secular way of recovery for those looking for it.
Here are four ways atheists and agnostics have recovered from addiction:
AA For Agnostics
For those that don’t conform to the traditional teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a specific sect of the traditional group specifically for agnostics and atheists. These types of secular AA groups do not recite prayers at the beginning or end of meetings, and additionally do not suggest that a belief in God is required to get sober or maintain a sober lifestyle, which in turn is a key different from regular AA. Secular AA maintains the principles of the 12 traditions as well as encouraging members to share their experience with AA through the General Service structure. They additionally provide an international service network for the Agnostic, Atheist, and Freethinking in AA. You can find these types of meetings at AA Agnostica, or Secular AA.
SMART Recovery is a recovery group based on scientific principles standing for “Self-Management And Recovery Training.” This support group includes face-to-face, as well as online meetings. For those that attend these groups, they learn different types of recovery methods based on scientific research and self-empowering techniques. There are four points to the SMART program that include: building and maintaining motivation, coping with urges, managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and living a balanced life and additionally the program avoids talks about religion or of a God of any kind. SMART Recovery is always evolving as new scientific approaches unveils itself. You can check out local meetings in your area, here.
Secular Organizations For Sobriety
Secular Organizations for Sobriety is a non-profit collective dedicated to helping people achieve sobriety from any sort of addiction. It can be commonly called S.O.S. and can sometimes be called, “save our selves,” acknowledging the belief that the members in the program play the biggest role in their sobriety. In S.O.S., each member takes responsibility for their individual sobriety on a daily basis. At meetings members share their experiences, thoughts, feelings, in an anonymous setting. Find local meetings, here.
Blaze Your Own Trail
Aside from some of these secular support groups, those who are atheist, agnostic, or don’t believe in a Higher Power may not feel like any type of recovery groups speak to them. Some of these people may find their own way of staying sober whether that be reading self-help books, seeking out a recovery coach, doing exercise, or engaging in a healthy lifestyle or living habits.
So, What’s The Answer?
In short, do you need a Higher Power to stay sober? The answer is – it’s up to you. Many have done it, and many will continue to do it with these types of support groups and organizations. However, for many, having a Higher Power or God in their life has helped. Something different works for everyone, and we hope you continue to find what works for you.