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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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.

I've noticed a lot of people throwing around the 5% success rate figure. I'm not sure if this is completely accurate. There's a lot of people who go in an out of AA throughout their entire lives and have years of sobriety in between "going back out" and there's lots of people who may stop drinking  but replace their addiction with other self-destructive behaviors. Then there's people who consider themselves sober but become "mild drinkers..."....the list goes on and on....I'm not sure if there even is a valid statistic to encompass all the varied outcomes from AA. It would be interesting to find out....

That being said I don't think the program works as well as one might hope BECAUSE OF the higher power aspect specifically. I think that if they were to throw out the "higher power" garbage and focus on "personal accountability" and "reality" the true number of people who get clean sober, healthy and happy would skyrocket. I think the "higher power" aspect is what holds AA back. It's the mantra and the death of it's success...the worst kind of oxymoron...and the blind death that keeps the members looking for hope in chains. It's very sad.

According to A.A, if you're not continuously sober, working the 12 steps, have found God, working with the new comer, and consistently going to meetings, you're not truly sober.
The majority of the fellowship considers sober alcoholics outside of A.A "dry drunks," which is nonsense.
I agree Belle, that the higher power aspect is a detriment to their success, on account of lack of personal responsibility being the result.
In their Big Book, chapter 4 is titled, "we Agnostics."
It's an insult to free thinkers and agnosticism, as it says in black and white, "Well, that’s exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem. That means we have written a book which we believe to be spiritual as well as moral. And it means, of course, that we are going to talk about God."

The credulity on offer in A.A, is dangerous.
There is zero science behind AA . It's methods haven't changed since their inception in 1937 . AA is a cult that is probably causing more harm than good , and it's entrenchment in the mainstream as a treatment for dependency and addiction , have impeded the advancement and implementation of evidence based scientific treatments for this very serious , often life threatening disorder . It makes no sense to me .

I remember in the not so distant past Ray that I didn't believe you when you said that...another discussion of course....Now I unequivocally, without hesitation, or doubt...have to say...YES!!!!!!! SO TRUE!!!!

I know a woman who has been sober for 12 years...still going to AA.....still working the steps.....still considers herself an addict....and I can see how she's being held back from the very program that is supposedly saving her from herself....it's also causing her harm to keep from moving forward in the ways she needs to...for her own well-being...

The only part of AA that works is taking ownership of YOURSELF....and having a support system of people who have "walked in your shoes..." and drawing strength from each other....But the rest of it is despicable the way it breeds dependency, self-hatred, a poor-me-I'm-fucked-up mentality with religious dogma that permeates the chain smoking air in the room full of a bunch of whiners...and they say they're in recovery as they suck down their substitute of a pacifier thinking they're getting somewhere with themselves...and recite cliche "god give me the strength" bullshit as they're secretly sitting there on their hands trying not to dream of the bottle of JD that awaits them around the corner at the gas station when they leave...then they get to come back and do it all over again tomorrow and soak up pity from the other sheep and say they've made some progress...

NO WAY does AA really work. Not in solving any real problems anyway...It helped me...at least from continuing down a path that would have left me for dead...but it didn't cure my addiction and need for something outside myself....It's the perpetual need for something outside ourselves that's the real problem...the only cure is what already lies within ourselves...AA has it backwards...with god in the middle muddying up an already convoluted way of seeing reality.

I too am glad I made it out alive...but I wish I had known the Truth a lot sooner...

@Belle - I think we all need something outside ourselves.  We're not meant to be stuck away and isolated.  I've read a lot about finding "meaning" by working with a wider network of people on some kind of project.  Perhaps the two key points there are "people" and "project". 

That was always my problem with AA and NA.  I never could do things by the book and as a result I felt I was looked down upon.  I realized early on that I needed to learn some things from them but I didn't want to be going to meetings 5 days a week in 10 or 20 years.  I wanted a different life, which in retrospect is certainly what I've had, strangely enough.  It's just not the different I had in mind.

People told me I couldn't go to college with two babies.  Really?  "Watch me," I said.  They said I wouldn't stay clean or sober if I didn't commit wholly to the program.  Really?  Many many years later here I am, clearly a strong and capable person with no desire or need to use drugs or alcohol. .  I have been told that I am going to have an empty life without a god in it.  I don't think so.  I have a real life with joy, sorrow, struggles and victories just like the rest of humanity.  I will thrive just to spite everybody.

And they tell me I am stubborn!   Harumph!  : )

I agree Simon, that isolation is not good...not at all...but there's a difference between being isolated, and depending on other people or deities to solve our life's problems and to wipe away our addictions and our sorrows, and our flaws...no one can ever love me enough to take away my pain, it's simply not possible. This is because the source of my pain is never outside myself for someone to grab and take away from me...the best anyone could ever do is say, "I'm here, and I'm not going to leave.." That's what a support system does...but the pain is not lifted until you stare it in the face. This is the part one MUST do - alone. But any addiction loses it's power over you when you look it in the eye (figuratively speaking) and honestly admit the hardest truths that you wanted to stay in darkness...it's the secrets you want to take to the grave with you that become the death of you....(Lots of "me" "you" "we"....but the principles here are true of anyone who has ever suffered from an addiction...myself included.)

@Belle - you might be surprised what the right kind of love can do for a person.  Pain that is worked through becomes a strength, I think.  I agree that you have to do 90% of the work yourself.  Discipline, strength, self-reliance and self-knowledge can help provide a good basis for someone else's input, otherwise it's a waste of time.  The best anyone could ever do, I believe, is make you see that they love you in the right way that you need.  This kind of basic acceptance is what we all need, whether most people are aware of that or not. 

I'm going to be accompanying a friend to AA soon (I hope).  It's the only show in town for people with no resources. 

"the chain smoking air in the room full of a bunch of whiners..."  - you make it sound so attractive.  There is a higher power - it's the same power that mends your broken leg in hospital.  How to access it - that's the crucial question.  I believe the right conditions have to be in place, otherwise it's only partially successful.  For a start, we have "do the right things, and don't do the wrong things".  Beyond that, most people with an addiction have psychological problems, which, as you say, need to be tackled.  I've never had an addiction myself, apart from smoking, which is just a bad habit. 

You're awesome Simon....I wish your friend well....and no offense about the chain smoking, it's just that many alcoholics really do need that to get them through, in the beginning. I don't smoke, but I probably shouldn't make light of the situation. I remember how it feels.

Hey, it made me chuckle. 


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