I remember my first AA meeting almost five years ago. I had no idea what to expect as I gathered into a room containing almost 100 female prisoners.
The topic that night was deconstructing Step 5: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” As we read from a passage in the Big Book, I remember one girl interrupting and asking, “Who do we admit our wrongs to if we don’t believe in God?”
It was a valid question. There were plenty of women in that room who I knew weren’t Christians. As I continued going to meetings, I realized a good handful either completely tuned out, or just caught some zzz’s during the hour. One woman later told me, “I feel like I’m in church here, which is offensive to me. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t court-ordered to attend.”
It made me wonder: Is believing in God an essential component of the recovery process?
Religion vs Spirituality in Recovery
There are numerous references to God and spirituality that appear in Alcoholic Anonymous literature, namely in the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. Some meetings even take the religion thing a bit further and recite the Lord’s Prayer. But for those who aren’t Christians, this rigidity can be considered too intolerant and offensive, making it a turn off for a number of recovering alcoholics looking to stay sober.
The conflicting mindsets have created tension over the years, and AA has sought to alleviate it by adopting a more diluted approach: encouraging a personal definition of “God” as any higher power the person may choose. In essence, this broadened concept of a higher power could mean a doorknob, a piece of cheese, or even your pet cat.
Unsurprisingly, this approach has attracted more people to AA, and a number of non-12-Step groups sprang up in major cities that tend to offer a secular approach to recovery. Here, fellowships modify the Steps to their own purposes, while some don’t even read the Steps at all.
Proponents of this approach argue that vigorous application of the 12 Steps is not the only way to succeed in recovery. Other factors can play an even more important role, such as whether or not the person has a sponsor, whether or not a support system that include non-drinkers is in place, and whether or not he or she is committed to helping others through community service.
Surrendering the Reins
But for whatever side of the fence you stand on with this issue, it’s important to acknowledge the necessity of relinquishing control – giving up on the notion that we can do everything ourselves. We are merely passengers in the Game of Life; only through surrendering our ego to someone or something can we find peace.
What works for one person doesn’t always work for someone else, so take what you need from AA’s language and leave the rest. This ultimately puts you in the position of being able to form a treatment program that works for you. Remember: If it doesn’t apply, let it fly.
Additional Reading: 5 Alternatives to Traditional 12-Step Recovery Programs
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