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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

12-steps Without God?

I recently encountered a devout atheist during a drug and alcohol spirituality group at a rehabilitation center. The one-hour session is intended to be an introduction to the spiritual aspects of recovery, centered on 12-Step, and not a religious lecture. From the start, he communicated his lack of enthusiasm.


Because of time constraint, we limit the discussion to the first three steps. He seemed to be somewhat in agreement with our discussion of the first step, but when we got to the third step, turning “our will and our lives over to the care of God, as WE understand him,” his resistance to the material was staunch. I should have known, as his displeasure with the discussion of Step 2 was obvious, as he did not agree that there was the possibility of a “power greater than ourselves.” He glared at me the whole time.

In my role as group facilitator, I have no problem with atheists or agnostics, because they are often the most honest people in the group about their addiction. They tell me what they are thinking and feeling, not what they think I want to hear. In the case of this young man, he was certain that addiction recovery was a solo operation and that no relationship, either with the God he did not believe in, or with another person, was going to have any serious impact on his health. “You have to do this by your own strength,” he said. There was no other way to recovery and he was adamant about that. He was also angry about being at the treatment center, being in a spirituality group and being in the unenviable throws of addiction.


However, I sensed he felt a connection to the other people in the group and as the hour wore on, and he began to relax and accept the possibility that he was not alone. The other members of the group were gentle and understanding. They understood him. They accepted him. I recall Bill W’s struggle with God, as documented in the Big Book. Bill’s struggle is so much like that of this young man. If there was the possibility of a God, what would he be like? Could it be that God works through the people we know, so we don’t have to go through our struggles alone?


There are so many people who suffer through situations alone, not having any sense that a power greater than themselves is there to help. The stories from addicts over the years have reassured me of a personal and present God, as through them I get a glimpse of how God loves us. I hope the young man in my group discovers that for himself very soon.

By: Ned Wicker

Ned Wicker is the Addictions Recovery Chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital Lawrence Center He author’s a website for addiction support:Drug-Addiction-Support.orgLearn when and how to do a Drug Addiction Intervention

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