The word “god” is an early barrier for many when they walk into a 12 Step meeting. On top of this, it’s a term that makes its appearance very quickly in meetings. In fact, even those that are not familiar with the reference and discussion of god in 12-Step programs see it almost immediately upon entry since most meetings display their variation of the 12 Steps on the wall, and it’s first seen in the second step and then multiple times throughout.
For those able to accept this first reminder of the spirituality of such programs, it’s then repeatedly referenced within the literature, driving home the idea that there needs to be some form of faith involved in recovery. Is a belief in God required to get sober?
Roomy and Inclusive
The aim of most 12-Step programs is to help those who wish to use the Steps to feel comfortable with relying on a power greater than themselves. Most 12-Step literature makes an attempt to address the spiritual side of the program directly, and in doing so there is much effort made to ensure the participant that this greater power can be one of their own design. This is well-intended and certainly makes room for a larger number of people to practice the program.
However, it doesn’t do much to calm the anxious fears of the agnostic or atheist that wishes to get sober using the 12-Steps. While certain texts, including the book Alcoholics Anonymous, make it a point to directly address this group, the language in it seems more geared towards reassuring the atheist or agnostic that they will eventually become comfortable with the spiritual side of the program, rather than telling them that spirituality is not required.
Making It Personal
So how does someone that does not consider themselves or wish to become a spiritual person practice the 12 Steps? Thankfully, though the texts that most 12-Step programs were perhaps not written with the consideration that an individual might not wish to become comfortable with spirituality, over time such programs have expanded to include meetings for the secular member.
These meetings make it a point to adapt the meeting format and wording of the literature to help those that do not identify with any concept of god more comfortable with practicing the 12 Steps. Moreover, some groups have dedicated resourceful websites to help the atheist or agnostic better identify within 12-Step programs and point them towards literature and meetings that can help them on their recovery journey.
It’s advisable, if we are willing, to give the suggestions in the 12-Step literature an honest try. Atheist and agnostics are one group among many that might struggle with the specific language found in recovery literature. Women might find that the masculine pronouns and chapters such as “To the Wives” found in the book of Alcoholics Anonymous to be a barrier.
A suggestion often made is to mentally switch the language while using the literature to words, pronouns, or phrases as needed to make the language in the literature more relatable. It can be helpful to bear in mind that the time at which some literature, specifically that used in Alcoholics Anonymous, was written during a time when the atheist or agnostic person was a much smaller portion of overall membership.
These programs also pride themselves on being built from the individual members up, with no true governing body, so that these same individuals can over time initiate change. That is not to imply that the language that includes all spirituality will be removed from the literature or changed, but there is room for growth to better represent a larger portion of the membership.
Going Beyond the 12-Step Format
If adjustments to the language or the meetings that are geared towards the secular member are not helpful in avoiding the spiritual part of the 12-Step program, there are alternative recovery programs as well. Lifering Secular Recovery and SMART recovery are programs that both focus on the individual’s power over their substance use disorder, rather than relying upon a spiritual power to help aid in recovery. These programs are not 12-Step based, however, there are many individuals that have had great success with them and achieved lasting sobriety without a spiritual nature to their programs.
Most 12-Step recovery programs note that there are no requirements, spiritually or otherwise, for membership. Although spirituality is not required of the prospective member, an open mind could be a useful tool in finding the tools of the program helpful. In 12-Step recovery, individuals are encouraged to seek out the similarities rather than the differences and this is one area that, with the willingness, this concept could be applied.
There is no foundation required in spirituality to practice the 12 Steps and there are like-minded individuals that have sought to find ways to make the 12 Steps approachable to a wide range of people and belief systems. The word “god” doesn’t have to be the one that keeps you from a fulfilling life in recovery.
No matter what your personal or spiritual belief, one thing is certain: recovery is possible. Ashley Addiction Treatment believes that connection is the key to recovery, with treatment options focused on holistic, integrated, and compassionate care. Ashley utilizes a variety of treatment modalities to help aid you in healing. If you would like to speak to someone about our care options, please reach out to us today at (800) 799-4673