The 12 Steps and the Non-Believer

Can a God skeptic find hope in a 12-Step program?

Countless people have wandered into a 12-Step group, only to be put off by the seemingly religious undertones of the program. The church basements, talk of miracles, and G-word are just too much for some. And who can blame them? For the person just looking to clean up a bit, the spiritual hype can seem like unnecessary fluff. Especially as addiction medicine has advanced over the years, it can seem absurd to say that only a spiritual experience will remove your addiction.

So here’s the truth in my experience:

You don’t need to believe in God to benefit from a 12-Step program. If you have just finished treatment and want to stay connected to the recovery process, or are struggling to do it on your own, twelve-step communities have countless benefits that should not be overlooked and have nothing to do with God or spirituality.

  1. Community – Some amazing research in recent years has demonstrated the vital role connection plays in addiction recovery. There is little doubt that 12-Step fellowships offer access to a community of like-minded people who often create lasting friendships with each other as a result of regular gatherings.
  1. Support – Recovering from alcoholism or addiction is no easy work. Going it alone makes recovery unnecessarily difficult. This is why all reputable treatment programs suggest finding a support system beyond the treatment facility. Twelve-step fellowships offer a reliable network of people who can lend support and insight into handling life’s challenges.
  1. Opportunities for Service – Being of service to others can be a powerful antidote for anxiety, fear, or shame. Getting involved with people who share your problem will give you countless opportunities to be helpful and selfless. These opportunities are a gateway to feeling more purposeful, more grateful and satisfied in your own life.
  1. Life Skills – A lifetime of substance abuse leaves most people with less-than-optimal coping skills. Learning how to navigate personal and romantic relationships, financial matters, and the professional world can be overwhelming for the newly sober. Learning from others who have braved these territories can be extremely helpful, and save you countless hours of trial and error.

So there you have it. A solid list of reasons why you might benefit from a 12-Step fellowship even if you are ambivalent about the spiritual side of things.

Now, all of that said, mounds of recent research indicate that people who believe in something greater than themselves have lives that are richer in satisfaction, meaning and personal connection. Many people arrive to 12-step meetings deeply skeptical, only to grow slowly into their personal faith. It’s also worth noting that although sometimes they can seem otherwise, 12-Step fellowships are not dogmatic about what you believe. It’s a big tent approach, and all are welcome. I once knew a girl who prayed to Stevie Nicks (the very much alive singer of Fleetwood Mac). So in the end, what matters is how you are living. If you are staying sober, living comfortably, and finding some happiness, you’re doing great. If you are struggling to find some deeper sense of meaning or strength, staying open-minded on the higher power thing might really serve you. And at a minimum, it won’t hurt you.

Christina Rock is a Seattle based writer and photographer who loves late sixties music, strong coffee, and days that go better than planned.

 

 

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