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Difficulty with AA concept of a Higher Power

answered 06:39 PM EST, Thu December 15, 2011
I am not an atheist but I am not really a Christian either. I believe that something created the universe and that there was some sort of design but I have a very hard time believing in a power that watches over me or takes some interest in my life personally – especially when I consider the scale and age of the universe and compare that to the concerns of my own very insignificant in comparison life.

My beliefs have always served me well enough in that I never had to really question them, but now I am at a point in my life where I need to stop drinking. I recognize that I am an alcoholic and I have started attending AA meetings. The problem is much of the program as I understand it has me praying to and seeking guidance from this higher power.

How can I make AA work for me when I do believe in some sort of higher power, but when I don’t believe that this power has any direct influence on my life as I live it today? Pretending to sort of believe that my ‘prayers’ will have any results feels pretty insincere to me and I can’t see how this could work. I am only lying to myself, right?

Penny Bell Says...

Penny Bell P. Bell
Master of Counselling, Grad Dip Counselling, Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy, M. College of Clinical Counsellors ACA, M. College of Supervisors ACA, Reg. Supervisor CCAA.

I can fully understand your dilemma, and you certainly would not be the first person encountering the idea of a higher power in AA who found it clashed with his own beliefs of how the universe runs or whether there is a God, or any kind of power for that matter.  AA was indeed founded by members of a Christian group, with the idea that if one could put aside one's objections to God or religion, one could achieve sobriety.  That being said, the higher power is to be of "one's own understanding", so not necessarily the Christian God.  The principal this is based on is that it is extremely difficult, and for some impossible, to achieve sobriety on our own - which is why we have come to AA.  We need the help and support of a group of others who have the same agenda, as well as those who have already achieved sobriety.  And if we can, we need to obtain the support of something or someone greater than our selves, greater than our humanity, because it's our humanity that got us drinking in the first place.  

Instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, thus missing out on all the other wonderful aspects of AA, perhaps you could conduct an experiment.  Rather than "lying to yourself", put the higher power part of the 12 steps aside, waiting for further enlightenment, and continue with the other steps, and see if this is helpful to you.   According to the AA Preamble, often read at the beginning of meetings, the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.  If you have that desire, you qualify, regardless of your beliefs.  Talking about the development of the AA principal text "Alcoholics Anonymous", Bill W, one of the founders, said "Our atheists and agnostics widened our gateway, so all who suffer might pass through, regardless of their belief or lack of belief". Knowing this should help you to continue on the program, utilizing the 12 steps to achieve your goal of sobriety.  I wish you all the best on your life's journey toward health and success. 

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Page last updated Dec 19, 2011

Penny Bell - Master of Counselling, Grad Dip Counselling, Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy, M. College of Clinical Counsellors ACA, M. College of Supervisors ACA, Reg. Supervisor CCAA.
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