‘C’mon, Do I Really Need a Higher Power?’

This article first appeared on Addiction.com.

When I read Step Two of the 12 steps, ‘Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,’ I let out a heavy sigh. We’re only at Step Two and they’re already hitting me with the God stuff? I thought. This whole 12-step thing might not be for me after all.

It wasn’t that I had anything against believing in God or a “higher power,” or whatever anyone wanted to call it. I just didn’t think I wanted to live my life with that higher power front and center. Whatever I believed or didn’t believe was private. I neither wanted to talk about it in a room full of strangers nor did I want to have to sit through listening to their views, especially if they were going to push one idea or another on me.

After only a few weeks sober, though, I realized that two major improvements had happened: I felt like a brand-new human being physically, and I stopped pretending that I was fine while secretly downing wine like it was post-marathon Gatorade. So I wanted to keep doing whatever it was that made me feel this way.

I decided just to listen for a while and see if the program was really going to center on this higher power stuff. What I heard surprised me. People were all over the map with how they viewed God, a higher power, or whatever they chose to call it. Several people said they didn’t believe in God. I didn’t hear anyone judge anyone else’s beliefs.

The specifics of what “a power greater than ourselves,” meant or looked like was a decision everyone made on their own. Yes, the 12-step literature refers to “God,” but that reflects what the founders of the program believed. No one has to agree with them on that to be a part of and stay sober in 12-step programs.

I’ve heard people refer to God as he and as she. I’ve heard people say their higher power is the 12-step group itself, which has helped to restore their sanity. I’ve even heard people say that their higher power could be a doorknob — it doesn’t matter, as long as it works for you.

How A Higher Power Helps Me

For me, a higher power can take different forms on different days. What I find most important is acknowledging that some kind of “power greater than myself” exists, meaning I don’t run the world. All I can do is take the next right action, try not to be a jerk and let go of what ultimately happens. I don’t get to dictate outcomes, for myself or for others. Once I accepted that and learned how to let go of the things I couldn’t control, a huge burden came off of me. The constant frustration of not getting what I wanted eased up. And I discovered that that kind of frustration was what had fueled a lot of my drinking and drugging. So this ‘belief,’ if that’s what someone wanted to call it, was helping me feel better in the moment and keeping me from needing the relief of alcohol and drugs. Not a bad deal.

In accepting that “a power greater than myself” existed, I didn’t sign up for a God program or any kind of religious practice. I gave myself permission to loosen my grip on the steering wheel of my life. I understand that a lot of people struggle with or reject the idea of a higher power. I get that and whatever works for them is great.

For me, choosing to accept a higher power has brought relief. When I considered myself to be in control of my life fully, I couldn’t put down the bottle or the coke. Since I started going to 12-step meetings and being open to a power greater than myself, I haven’t picked up either in more than 11 years. That’s all the proof I need. Whether in fact it’s rightly or wrongly placed doesn’t matter to me. I’ll take it.