I have been a member of Narcotics Anonymous for 24 years and have stayed clean for that time. I have always had problems with the need for a Higher Power. My question is how do you (as an atheist) reconcile the implicit need for a Higher Power (often referred to in the literature as god or the god of your understanding). Are there any people out there who have applied atheist thinking to the 12 steps and have an easy practical way of understanding and applying that process to life.

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I have been clean for 22 years now and I have come to trust in the process. By practicing principles like compassion, empathy, patients, and tolerance, my life continues to feel more complete and whole. I am able to feel content most of the time.

I went through AA, and have been clean and sober for 7 years.  I just look at the 'higher power' as understanding that I'm just a very tiny part of the interconnected web of all of existence.

I've discarded a great deal of AA, but see the utility in certain tools that they use.

Technically I guess I have 3 years clean due to a wayward 9 days in Barcelona.  Whatever.  Before that, I had been clean since 1988.  I went through a huge spiritual process in early recovery, during which I really did acquire some kind of faith that helped me through some difficult times.

Eventually I abandoned 12 step programs altogether and decided to become a regular old human being.  I know I can't drink alcohol or take drugs but other than that i'm just a person.  I found that the more I identified as being an "addict" the more I limited myself.

I find it interesting that although I did smoke some intense pot in Barcelona, I did not have much of a desire to do it then and I've had no desire to use any drugs of any kind since then.  It did not reawaken a beast of any sort.  So I've gone on living for 3 years as I did the previous 21 or 22 years, whatever it was.  

So a Higher Power figured largely in my early recovery and has no part in my ongoing growth as a person. I am thoroughly grateful for what I learned about humility, gratitude, and acceptance -- I am a better person for it.  I don't need to ask a Higher Power for it now though.  I have learned to use resources within myself and to build and maintain functional relationships with flesh-and-blood people instead of relying on something I sincerely do not believe to be a supernatural Higher Power.

On the other hand, clearly I am a small part of the cosmos and most other parts of it and events are completely out of my control.  In that way, the Cosmos itself is a higher power.  I cannot control it nor do I expect it to have any kind of sentient awareness of me in particular or anybody else for that matter.  It just is.  

Seriously, when I need some kind of reading to ground me, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe never fails.  Besides that, anything that supports my level of awareness of the current moment is usually helpful.  I don't know if that answered your questions at all but I feel strangely happier now that I have replied.  Thanks.

You are absolutely right Diane . AA and NA are thinly veiled religious propaganda organizations offering non - science based woo instead of treatment for serious , life threatening addiction disorders . The success rate for these organizations is about 5% ( based on the last time they released these stats , which was 1989 ) . That is no better than zero treatment . Evidence based , scientific treatments for addiction disorders have a much higher success rate , and are far less traumatic for the patients . I long for the day this garbage falls out favor . It is long past due .

In spite of the dismal recovery rate from alcoholism and addiction, 12 step fellowships do help some.  I truly cannot say that AA and NA weren't helpful for me in the beginning.  I did get entangled with some born-again Christians in AA who tried to bring me into the fold but this was not official AA activity.  After I got my bearings again I decided that when they said 'Higher Power" I would insert "the Universe" in my mind.  There is something beneficial in understanding the powerlessness one has over addiction, whether or not a supreme being enters into the equation.  The paradox is that much power and control comes from sincerely admitting powerlessness and lack of control.  It is helpful to understand one's helplessness.  The bottom line, however, is that there has to be a fundamental change in thinking somehow.  

It is a complex illness and of course there is no simple solution.  I am grateful whenever anybody finds a way out that doesn't screw them up even more.  they do say at AA or NA meetings that people should "take what they need and leave the rest."  I did.  I took the social support, consistency, insight and distraction and left the Higher Power, indoctrination, and Stepford Wives-feeling of the fellowships.  Not everybody can do that though.  I am grateful that I was able to.

That is really awesome , Diane . I'm so glad you made it through that dark time .

Greetings. Interesting that this discussion has come back to life.  I started this discussion to try and determine what experience or literature there may be out there that could help me further enhance my practical understanding of the spirituality required in 12 step recovery without god, gods or the supernatural. Interesting that it also brings out some stories of bad experiences that others have had in trying to recover through the 12 steps.  My experience in NA these last 25 years and 10 months has been overwhelmingly positive and I sympathise with those critical of the 12 step movement. Like all human organisations there are problems and challenges but NA in particular has very clear statements in its literature regarding the absolute right to your own definition of what "higher power" you choose. Statitics may seem to disprove or discredit the recovery movement but for evidence all you need to do is go and observe people participating in community and helping each other rebuild their broken and fractured selves. God or no god it still works. Unfortunately the use of un-inclusive language (god, gods-will etc) still makes it harder for freethinking people to relate but if you can see past that to the genuine human concern it is a sustainable and life affirming experience (it has been for me anyway). The best result I got from this discussion page has been that I was directed to a book by Marya Hornbarcher called "Waiting - a non-believers higher power". This book has been a great help and continues to inspire me and help me get my head around the 12 step process. It largely focuses on listening for your own spiritual voice and of course being of service in the world. Not rocket science. Thank you to all who have contributed to this discussion.

Again , with a five percent success rate , the use of AA/NA in addiction disorder is questionable at best . AA and its twelve steps were birthed in 1937 . In the intervening 76 years , it's dogma , policies and procedures have remained unchanged . I would ask if any other medical treatments , procedures or textbooks have likewise remained unchanged . The only other human endeavor that remains constant and unchanging is religion . This garbage has no place in the treatment of such serious a disorder .

I can relate to what you're saying but to those "5%er's" who used the program successfully their view is hardly one of garbage.

So , I would guess that the same five percent who recover doing absolutely nothing , would also view doing nothing as worthwhile ?
Yes. Once Batman was addicted to a drug called Venom. He lived in his cave going through withdrawals, growing a beard, and he kicked the habit. His Higher Power was called Willpower, and all 12 of the steps were Discipline.
I wouldn't be so quick to say that the program works.
The evidence says otherwise.
If it "worked," the success rate would be higher.
That said, I'll have 30 years sober on Halloween.
I did A.A for the first 19 years.
My daughter is active in young people's A.A, currently, with 17 months.
We're both atheists.
When "higher power" is referred to, we consider our own neocortex, or "higher brain."
The Limbic system, seems to be at the origin of addiction (emotions).
This has worked for us, because after all, the only one wielding the power to NOT drink or use, is the individual.
When logic and reason is applied to the emotional yearning for a chemically altered reality, the answer with the most integrity, for almost 30 years, always ends up being that sobriety is the most rational response.
No power independent of my own brain is necessary to reach that conclusion.


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