Key to Spirituality in 12 Step Addiction Recovery

Is it necessary to believe in God to recover from an addiction through use of the 12 Step Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon (12 Step Program for those in a relationship with an alcoholic), Nar-Anon (addict), and other such programs? My answer is: “No, you do not, at least in the beginning.” However, I suggest that one’s chances of developing and maintaining a long term mentally healthy, balanced, and serene recovery will be enhanced with willingness to seek and find a source of spiritual strength.

First a word about those new to recovery who take the position that they know all about God, theology, and organized religion and have had an excellent relationship with God, and, therefore, need not work to improve their relationship with God in order to stop use of drugs of alcohol; often these folks are clergy or religious who have developed a drug or alcohol addiction. I suggest to these individuals that they look at how, by definition, addiction had proved more powerful than their own efforts to control it, and has proved somehow resistant to their requests for help from God to do so. Usually, with guidance, these individuals will come to see that drug or alcohol use has come between them and God because of their own self-centeredness that is powered by the relentless demands of addiction. It is almost impossible for a drug or alcohol addicted individual to have an intimate relationship with another person or with God; drugs or alcohol become the addicted individual’s God.

The key for all individuals suffering from addiction, including clergy, to beginning a successful recovery through the 12 Step Programs using spiritual principles can be found in Appendix II of the book Alcoholics Anonymous; this quotation from that Appendix sums up in a few words what is needed:

“Most emphatically we wish to say that any alcoholic capable of honestly facing his problems in the light of our experience can recover, provided he does not close his mind to all spiritual concepts. He can only be defeated by an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial. We find that no one need have difficulty with the spirituality of the program. Willingness, honesty and open mindedness are the essentials of recovery. But these are indispensable.

‘There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.’ (Herbert Spencer).”

In my experience anyone can find recovery support in the 12 Step programs, if he or she is willing to have an open mind and is willing to seek a source of spiritual strength, or, as phrased in 12 Step circles, a higher power, or God as you may understand him. It is vital to success in 12 Step programs that the new person put to one side any negative experiences and thoughts about organized religion; indeed, prior negative experiences do not have to be an obstacle to spiritual recovery in the 12 Step programs. One need only approach 12 Step meetings as a place to learn practical tools, including spiritual tools, to stay away from the first drink or drug one day at a time. or to avoid, one day at a time, trying to control another person’s behavior (Al-Anon or Nar-Anon).

The best mind set or way of thinking for the newcomer to have is one of a student who seeks to find information that he/she can relate to, not looking for information that he/she cannot relate to; that is, to seek to compare in, not out. After attending, say, ten or so 12 Step meetings with an open mind, one should have had the awesome experience of hearing real people share real feelings that he/she can relate to, maybe even hearing a part of one’s own story. The ability to relate to stories, experiences, feelings, in 12 Step meetings is in my view a spiritual experience that is the essence of spiritual recovery. In my personal journey in 12 Step recovery, I was intellectually opposed to anything I heard in meetings that even remotely sounded like God or religion. That intellectual position almost resulted in my death through drinking. At some point, I was able to really hear and relate to (and get chills of recognition) when listening to real people sharing from the heart. Being able to connect through the sharing in 12 Step meetings can be the gateway to finding a source of spiritual strength.

I invite comments from others about their experiences with spirituality in recovery. Jan Williams, 06/15/2016.

2 thoughts on “Key to Spirituality in 12 Step Addiction Recovery

  1. I have some particular thoughts on the 12-step process. Personally, although the literature tries to make an effort to referencing your “Higher Power” in a way that could cover the spectrum of religions, it is evident in the practices, at least here in the south, that it is only with the help of your “higher power” that you will achieve or maintain sobriety . Don’t forget there is the closing with the “12-step serenity prayer”. Please don’t get me wrong, for I am a religious person, but I wish the program would be a little more up front about this issue, because it may truely not be effective for someone who is an atheist, or has differing religious views. I think this is the reason why so many AA,NA meetings are held in churches, which is a great thing. I would love some dialogue.


  2. Although everyone in 12-step is equipped with stories they relate to, and this helps the process, so the person in recovery does not feel alienated, but rather has a support group, I can’t help but feel that this support group is all that is truly accomplished here. There are so many rules (designed for respect, and other constructive purpose) it tends to exclude the ability for someone to analyze WHY he/she was doing drugs in the first place. I know , at least for every addict I’ve encountered, they have a REASON they’re doing drugs. They may not know it. It may be buried beneath lies and the delusion that they “just like the way it feels”, and while that may be how some addictions start, by the time they are full blown addicts, they have a frequently trauma filled space in time, in which they experienced loss, abuse, or a host of other pain that they never received any treatment, justice, closure, or general therapy for. They drudged through the pain on their own, settling into the only comfortable numb of the pain that they know. Think of all of the victims of child abuse or sex abuse that become addicts. It’s all too common. Years of hiding scars and numbing pain. Victims of rape, close losses to violence/homicide. Wounds so deep, the leader of the local 12-step group, would drop a jaw, not knowing what to say. I’m a believer in God, but had someone told me after being raped, by more than one man….that “God would fix it, it just takes time”. Really. Time festers wounds in victims who really needed help. Personally for me, the DA told me since I had been drinking, that I had no case. Can you imaging the pain in your gut and heart knowing that in some crazy messed up way you feel you should say thank you to your second rapist, for had he not looked deep in my eyes and seen an unmistakable tear of pain and violation, there was a third perp waiting beyond the door. Lucky me, my second rapist stopped the train. I carry that baggage, and I know that there are countless stories like mine, similar, and worse. I believe to truely help the victims of this disease we must take a different path. Use medical detox if necessary, as some people have a longer path to healing. Medical detox can ensure sobriety while one gets his life back on track. Also, ask the question at the core WHY do you drink/use drugs. Help the patient get to this true issue(s). By order of how they effect the patient, step by step, readdress these issues. It may be the first time they’ve been addressed. Help the patient develope coping skills as the triggers emerge and are identified. Give the patient a new choice to make, one they didn’t think was available before. No I’m not going to do that, because now I have options. I know where that path leads, and I know I want a better life. Equipp the patients with the tools they need to stand up to triggers, and the empowerment they feel when they solely conquer them. It’s not as easy as 1,2,3, and it’s far more involved…but through CBT therapy, I believe we can make a medical breakthrough in addiction by simply personalizing each case, and giving each person an individual path to sobriety . I think it’s an epidemic, and I think we have a fighting chance, but I think how we address the problems and patients is the true key to success. Unlike 12-step, while addiction may be chronic for some, when I am 10 years sober, I want to say, Hi, I’ve been sober for 10 years. I’m not an addict, but I do in fact, welcome anyone with issues of addiction into my doors, and I would love to help you find recovery.
    I fought the battle, and I won. I believe in the winners to live life and not be branded for the rest of their life, but rather, to turn life around, be a productive member of society, pay taxes and give back to the pool that I had to depend on, and most of all, use my knowledge, experience, empathy, and hope to reach out and help others that feel their life is drowning in circles. Maybe get sober, but still don’t know how to deal with life, run back into old triggers, and back in old habits. The cycle of pain and tears can’t go on for years, but when he/she has the desire and truly wants to change their life, it’s time to do it right.
    The flaw I suppose is that I only see this working for those who WANT a change, there needs to be desire. But then again, is there Any program that can change someone who doesn’t want to change. I haven’t seen that….


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