Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step program invites their members to develop a relationship with a higher being. However, there are atheists who have moved through the 12-step program and who have succeeded. They’ve found a way to work the steps of the program without bending their beliefs. This article will take a look at how atheists experience AA and the 12 steps.
Atheists are faced with the idea of a higher being almost right from the beginning. The second step of the program asks that a member believe that a Power greater than themselves can restore them to sanity. And the third step of the program asks a member to make a decision to turn their will and their lives over to the care of God as they understand Him to be. Already the first few steps of the program ask that a person believe in a God.
However, there have been ways atheists have gotten around this problem. For instance, the third step, mentioned above, finishes with as they understand Him to be. This gives a person the freedom to interpret God as they wish. Perhaps someone might see God as nature, as the universe, or as the power of the larger AA community.
Yet, even this might not be good enough for an atheist. And yet, he or she might be attending meetings because of a requirement or to develop support for his or her recovery. Even still, there are other ways an atheist can make the most of the 12-step program. For instance, getting sober can be seen as a process over time and that eventually leads to a transformation in one’s thoughts, behavior, and beliefs. Those who believe in a higher power might make the mistake of thinking that their sobriety is the result of a magical process or because he or she has behaved well and therefore life will go well.
Other atheists get around spirituality in the AA program by simply ignoring it. Fortunately, there is no obligation for a person to believe in a higher being to be a member. And because of this, someone might attend meetings for the social experience, support in recovery, and for reminders on how to stay sober.
Lastly, an atheist might look for a 12-step meeting that does not have such a religious emphasis. Across the United States there are thousands of 12 step meetings that happen every day, and each one is different. For instance, there is one in Los Angeles for gay alcoholics. There the emphasis is on how someone who is gay can make the most of their recovery. While there are certainly some meetings that emphasize the spirituality, there are others that do not. Another one in North Hollywood tends to have celebrities attend, making it more of a social event that’s supports sobriety.
If you’re an atheist and you’re having trouble with the 12-step program, try the above suggestions. You might also find a sponsor who is atheist or work with a secular therapist.
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