Outside Issues: Belief, Faith, Spirituality, and Religion


Table of Contents

It’s an old code of good manners to never talk about money, politics, or religion in public. There are plenty of people who can get away with following that code. But for alcoholics and addicts like us, we’re going to have to talk about it at some point. We can go ahead and steer clear of politics — after all; we do our best to avoid controversy. But our spirituality, or lack thereof, is something we’re going to have to address with our sponsor or a trusted friend at some point as we work the 12-Steps of recovery. In fact, it kind of comes up a lot.

An Open Mind

Most of us notice right away how often the word God appears in the 12-Steps. Then we notice it in the literature, along with “higher power” and “power greater than ourselves.” Each of us has our own unique response to, and experience with, this set of words and phrases. Some of us bristle right away. Some of us get angry, confused, or even sad. For others, it conjures a whole host of memories, experiences, and opinions. We all have some preconceived notions about this topic, whether positive or negative, from our childhood or our own more recent past. The God idea can be controversial and even divisive, but it’s up to us to not let that potential trouble keep us from the opportunity to recover. Our lives are at stake here. In light of that, it is literally a life-or-death decision to try and stay open-minded. Are we willing to let our ideas of spirituality kill us? That’s a question we must ask and answer of ourselves.

The Good News

The good news is that the 12-Step programs aren’t trying to pitch us their own idea. They aren’t trying to get us to reconcile with the faith of our childhood. All the 12-Steps want us to do is work them, find a happy life in recovery, and then help other people do the same. So we are encouraged to discover a power greater than ourselves of our own understanding, which leaves a lot of wiggle room. Working the 12-Steps is simply the best way to find and come to understand a higher power of our very own.

The not-so-secret news is this — the 12-Steps are indeed a program of spiritual action. As alcoholics and addicts, we stand little chance of survival, let alone recovery, if we remain the highest power in our personal universe. After all, if we had the power to recover on our own, we surely would have by now. The 1st-Step helps us understand the position our disease puts us in and the need to at least try to be open to discovering a higher power that can work for us—discovering, naming, and starting to understand that higher power is what gives us the courage to work the rest of the 12-Steps. The big mysteries of the universe begin to answer themselves as we just get busy living a beautiful life in recovery. It’s pretty nice how that works out.

But I Don’t Believe

You don’t have to. Nowhere in 12-Steps or the book Alcoholics Anonymous does it say you have to believe in anything specifically. The words God, higher power, and power greater than ourselves are used often, but to convey the power contained in working the 12-Steps — the power that helps us recover from the hopeless condition of alcoholism and addiction. You can call it whatever you’d like. Just work the 12-Steps while you do and you’ll be fine. The spiritual experience that happens as a result of the 12-Steps unfolds differently for each of us, and much of it takes place on a deep, personal level. That life-changing stuff is between you and whatever your higher power is or isn’t.

To understate matters, this is a complex and extremely personal issue. Whatever our position may be on belief, faith, spirituality, and/or religion, it will play an important role and can have a positive effect on our recovery and our life, as long as we don’t let the language drive us away. Whatever we do or don’t believe, whatever we practice or abstain from, we will have to work the 12-Step program of action — a spiritual program of action. It will serve us well to know what it is that we truly feel, think, believe, and understand our own personal faith, belief, spirituality, and/or religion.

You Can Believe in Recovery

For those who are still baffled, vexed, or angered by this topic, please don’t let it run you off from the opportunity to experience a life in recovery. This area is one of the great common struggles for people of all ideas, opinions, and beliefs. So much so, in fact, there is an entire chapter in the book Alcoholics Anonymous called “We Agnostics.” This whole chapter is devoted exclusively to including those who feel turned off by spiritual topics, and for clearing up misunderstandings that may arise from the language.

It doesn’t matter what we believe exactly when we understand that we all share a common deadly disease in alcoholism and addiction, and we are all given the chance to recover together. Recovery is something that we can all believe in.

At Jaywalker Lodge, we make no bones about the spirituality involved in the 12-Step program of recovery. But we don’t ask that you believe the same way we do, except when it comes to this — recovery is possible for you. We’d like you to believe in that as much as we do. Alcoholism and addiction affect people of all backgrounds and beliefs. However different we may be, our disease gives us something in common. But we have a common solution, too. The 12-Step program of recovery, when taken with honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness, can produce the necessary psychic change and vital spiritual experience we all need to recover. The 12-Steps we take together, but the spiritual experience each man has for himself. Nobody can tell you how to have that experience, but we can tell you the 12-Steps are the way to get there. If you have struggled to achieve or maintain recovery, we know what that’s like and we are here to help. To begin your journey in recovery, call Jaywalker Lodge now at (866) 529-9255.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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