This article is not directed toward individuals who do not find themselves struggling to embrace a Higher Power of their understanding while working toward recovery. It is directed at those who may want to embrace something, yet cannot identify with what they are comfortable.
Several of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (and Narcotics Anonymous) involve a Higher Power, so one could imagine this being offputting to someone who does not identify one. It can be challenging to wrap your head around the steps if God or a Higher Power is not in your life.
Notice I said “challenging,” and not “impossible.” Atheists and agnostics who have been clean for years can attribute their success to both AA and NA, as well as a variety of other resources: rehab, individual therapy, a community of shared beliefs, to name a select few.
The following is an expansion of a conversation I had in session with a client who was struggling with the grip alcohol had on his life. He was reluctant to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and embrace the program, stating he cannot buy into the idea of “a bearded man in the sky.” My client identified himself as an atheist, stating he literally was a-theistic, not believing in a god, by anyone’s definition. He was having difficulty thinking about embracing their philosophy, and imagining feeling part of the AA community.
I asked him what his beliefs were, and he kind of playfully rolled his eyes and threw his head back, as if to silently ask me why we were even discussing this at all. I nudged him to humor me, asking if he believed in the theory of evolution. He said, “yes.”
I wouldn’t let him off so easy, asking him to explain more of what that meant. He stated he believed there was a Big Bang, and the universe was created. Then, molecules huddled together in specific formations, eventually creating living beings. These beings evolved from simpler, single-celled life forms, into much more complex animals and plant life.
At this point, I interjected that he seemed to trust in the process of evolution, of things transitioning as they should: more complex, more interactive, more self-sufficient, more progressive, each new stage being an improvement on the former. He nodded.
So would it be safe to say, I asked him, that he believed in “smart biology,” that things seemed to evolve into better (smarter, stronger, more resilient) versions of themselves? He agreed.
And could it be fathomable, that biology, in its natural, unaltered state, would unfold as it should? Evolving, changing, improving?
“Yes,” he said.
Is it possible then, that evolution or biology was his Higher Power? That his body, in a natural state unaltered by alcohol, is as it should be, evolving and following the best natural course it could? Providing him the opportunity to be the healthiest it could possibly be, make choices from a place of clarity, respond to things from a place of emotional balance?
Hmm … maybe … Or maybe he could make Batman his Higher Power.
The last statement was said in jest, but the previous statements were thought-provoking for him.
Is it possible to use something other than God as a Higher Power? Why not? Some people use nature, or their ideal self. Many use the power of the group itself.
Something I’ve noticed as a therapist is the quantity of information out there to help people. It can get overwhelming. Sometimes you may even feel like telling everyone to keep their recommendations to themselves already.
I encourage my clients to find what works for them. Take the best, and leave the rest. Just so long as it’s providing you with solace, comfort, guidance, strength, or hope.
It doesn’t have to be an addiction, either. It could be depression, anxiety, grief, or trauma that leaves us feeling alone in the world.
Find your way. Allow yourself to find what works for you.
A good therapist will help you through it, if you choose to seek therapy. A good sponsor will as well.
Embrace the healthy changes, and whatever help there is out there for you. Take the leap to the new you. Trapeze artists have to completely let go of the bar as they leap through the air, arms outstretched to grasp the next bar. A Higher Power of your understanding can be your net. Or the force behind your leap. Or even the bar you’re reaching for. Just know that if you keep swinging, it may be fun for a little while, but eventually, you will grow weary, no opportunity to rest or move forward, or you may fall.
Take a leap, either with your faith or with your actions, toward a new life.