One of the reasons that addicts and alcoholics have problems with the idea of a higher power is our need to control. We’re all control freaks. We controlled our feelings by acting out — or released them in unhealthy ways. We lied and manipulated to control others. We hid from reality by acting out in our addictions, and through denial and other forms of self-deception. Most importantly, we protected our addictions in every possible way because they were our ultimate instruments of control — the means to avoid recognition of our perceived unworthiness.
People with an overpowering need to control sometimes use a higher power as justification for doing things that satisfy their fears and desires, or to lend authority to their own need to control. That isn’t to say that they are bad people; it’s usually what was done to them, and they pass it on for lack of a better solution.
That often doesn’t work for us addicts, whose behavior may have gone so far in the other direction from the popular understanding of “godliness” that it is easier to reject god altogether. To measure ourselves by those standards would be untenable, so we may discard not only the opinions of other people but of their higher power as well.
When we get into a 12-step program, one of the first things we hear about is the need for a higher power. Because the 12 Steps and their associated writings were mostly composed back in a period when virtually everyone at least said they believed in God, it was natural to include the “G word” in the literature. Even so, Bill Wilson and the writers who came after him were careful to make it clear that a belief in God wasn’t necessary for working the program, only the willingness to admit that we weren’t Him.
Many of us worry about our ability to come to terms with and accept a higher power. It’s entirely possible to recover without believing in a god. What is essential, however, is that we recognize that our group, therapists, and the other authorities in the addiction field have far more experience and know far more about the process than we do. In that respect, they are our higher power, and it behooves us to admit that and act accordingly.
As for coming to believe in a God of our understanding — it isn’t our job to entice a higher power into our lives. That connection will come when we are ready. We can’t control it. If we make the changes in our lives that are the inevitable result of working a conscientious program of recovery, learn to live with humility, and do the next right thing as often as possible, then we’ve done all we can. Our hearts will open, and we will discover that which has been there all the time.
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