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.