It is not implied that there needs to be a belief system in a 12-step program, it is required. AA, NA, and CR require a higher power in their 12-step programs. Spirituality is a significant part of the 12 step program. Now, to simply attend such groups, one does not require a belief system. The support group is there, regardless of belief system. However, for the program to truly work, a higher power belief system is necessary. Check out my resources page for more information here: Recovery Resources.
The aim of a 12-step program is to “aid in spiritual growth” (Doweiko, 2015, p.517). If the aim is to aid in spiritual growth, a belief system is therefore required. One key issue though, is they do not provide that higher power, and the addict must identify their own higher power. In programs such as Celebrate Recovery, that higher power is identified as the Christian God, and his word is used throughout the steps to guide addicts through the step study process.
According to Doweiko, “the individuals (addicts) area also asked to remove themselves from their self appointed role as the center of the universe an accept that there is a higher power: the only requirement for a higher power is that this indeed be something greater than the person” (Doweiko, 2015).
Through this process the addict learns humility. While using, the substance they use becomes their idol. The only way to truly stop the worship, is not abstinence alone. They need something else to idolize. If the addict were to stop the idolization of the substance and themselves, and not replace it with a spiritual higher power, they would be left with a hole. This is why straight abstinence has been shown to not be as effective as having a higher power in recovery.
I grew up catholic. I did everything I was supposed to do. I went to mass, had my first communion, then my confirmation. I went to confession. But I lived 29 years without knowing God, or his son. I didn’t know God or Jesus until I found myself in recovery 7 years ago. I had bottomed out in my marriage, with alcohol, and with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. My only coping skill was codependence. I think back and I just have no idea how I existed before recovery, before a belief in my higher power. For more on this moment and other moments of enlightenment in my journey, check out That Day I Cussed God Out….and He Healed My Father Wound.
It wasn’t until I finished my first step study and drafted a testimony, that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was with me the entire time. He was with me, while I was still sinning. While I was still a raging, alcoholic, hot mess, he was there. I just chose to ignore him and idolized my own capacity and drug of choice instead. When I really got into the step work, I discovered my true identity and finally got knocked off my high horse thinking the universe revolved around me.
I was finally part of something bigger at work, and it was no longer about my way of living, but finally about his plan for my life. I finally had a purpose (see The Power of Purpose ) and a mission that was greater than myself. I committed to living out that 12th step and serving others, and that my friend is when life finally began for me. Love is my purpose. That’s it. To give love and accept love through others is the greatest commission; this is where we see God in the flesh.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally get why some are put off by the idea of a higher power. Some of these reasons include a prior church hurt, father wounds, anger, etc. But what I do believe, is that these wounds can be overcome and transform a bland life into a life with intent and purpose. In any event, we cannot argue the fact that a higher power is required in traditional 12 step studies. For those who choose not to believe, that’s totally their prerogative, and there are programs for them as well. Check out my resources page for more information here: Recovery Resources.
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Doweiko, H.E. (2015). Concepts of chemical dependency (9th ed.). Stanford, CT:Cengage. ISBN 9781285148700
Stay Sober My Friends!