It’s no secret that AA has a deep basis in Christianity, and that Bill W. began his road to sobriety after a life-changing moment in the hospital where he was moved by the spirit. The literature has been changed to read “God as we understand him” but there’s still a deep undertone that you need to believe in God for the program to work for you.
Spiritually, I’m in a strange place in my life. I don’t think I believe in God, but it’s really hard to give up on the idea. I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home. And my extended family, to this very moment, is 99% made up of devoutly religious people. And I admire them for it, I really do. Their unwavering faith and hope in life after death is inspirational. There are times when I wish deeply that I had their faith. Which might sound a little condescending, but I swear, it’s not.
I wish I had a higher power that I believed was watching over me, had my best intentions in mind, and I could turn to in any crisis. But the truth is I just don’t believe in that. Truth be told, I’m not sure I ever did. I went to church with my family every Sunday, and while I loved the messages of the sermons, I don’t think I was ever a true believer, not like my family. And most of them still think I’m a believer, and going to church. They think I am raising my children as Christians. Coming out to them as a non-believer is just too hard. I don’t want them to resent me for it, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings or insult their beliefs.
In college, it wasn’t long before I stopped going to church. Not because I was lazy or thought I was too sinful (those first years of college were pretty debaucherous) but because it didn’t feel right. It didn’t fit. I realized I enjoyed church more at home because of the fellowship. Going each week to visit with people who’d known me for years, watched me grow. In a new church, everything felt out of place. And I wasn’t getting the same spiritual fulfillment with a new congregation and new pastor.
Over the years, I have only moved further and further from Christianity. I straddled the agnostic fence for years. Confident that there wasn’t a Christian God, yet still having that itching feeling in the back of my head that there just might be. The ideas of heaven and hell were deeply ingrained in me, and as someone who’s afraid of death, it’s hard to think about the afterlife without falling back on whatever ideas were told to you as a child.
For a time, I gave up on a higher power completely. In April 2011, I had a miscarriage. The pregnancy was very much planned and very much wanted, and I was so happy and excited about it. I had already had a successful and uncomplicated pregnancy, so the thought of miscarriage never entered my mind. And when it happened, I was devastated.
I told myself there was no way there was a God that would give me the baby I so deeply desired and then take it away from me. I fell into a deep depression that I am only now beginning to climb out of.
I have since had another child, which I thought would make all the bad feelings go away. But, it doesn’t work like that. I still think of that baby daily, and I still cry when I talk about the miscarriage in therapy.
When I began to tackle my sobriety, I got onto the AA website and instantly said, no this won’t work for me. The program is religiously based and the steps involve trusting in your higher power to set you free. I had no higher power and didn’t understand how a program that relied upon the idea could do anything for me.
My husband found a series of agnostic and “freethinking” AA meetings for me to attend. But even at those meetings, the idea of a higher power permeated. For most, it was just the universe. Or nature. But, I didn’t understand how I could put my faith in those kinds of things, let alone use them to get sober.
I learned in rehab that this is common. Most addicts struggle with the whole higher power concept. But I was urged to give it some thought, and dig really deep, and find something, anything, that gave me purpose and helped me maintain sobriety.
I struggled with this so much. But I thought about it a lot. What was it that kept me going? What was it that I believed in? I had given up on everything, so what could there be? What was still there for me?
I dug and dug and thought and thought, and nothing came to me. I returned home from my first stay still not having nailed down a higher power. I thought I didn’t need it at that point. All that talk about it had just been one of many techniques they used to help me get sober. I could use the other stuff and forget about it.
I relapsed and returned to rehab, and opened my mind to anything and everything that could help me. Including reopening the chapter on a higher power. There must be something to this, I thought. Or, why would they keep bringing it up?
And one night, lying in bed, I figured it out. I had my Bill W. moment, though it was much less dramatic, and the idea still took me a few days to process and bring together.
The thing that keeps me going, that makes me think it’s all still worth it, is my interconnectedness to everything else. I suppose it’s the universe that’s my higher power. But I needed that to be more concrete. And I started to think about my place in the universe. And how we are all connected. All of us as humans, but also we are connected with the animals and plants and forces of nature.
When the tides shift, that happens to all of us, wherever we are. When something happens in the solar system, it happens to all of us. We are all a part of one big thing. I’m still not sure what that thing is, but I know it exists. I don’t know what happens when we die, but I do know that things will go on living and being born and existing after we are gone. And those things are still a part of us, and we are still a part of them.
Relying on the higher power is the hardest thing to do. But I’ve learned to remember everyday that I’m connected to everything, and it gives me strength and hope. I feel a warmth, a belonging. I’m here for a reason, that will become clear later. I’m here because I was supposed to be here. I’m a part of a much larger web of things, and without me, it doesn’t work. I needed to get sober and stay sober to keep my place in all of this.
This might not be what works for you, but I urge you to find something to fill that higher power void. It has changed everything for me. There’s something bigger than you and me out there. No one is really sure what it is, but we all need some kind of idea of what it could be. Only then does the human experience make any sense.