I frequently hear people ask “Is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) a religious program?”
There is one simple answer to this question, whether it applies to AA or any other 12 Step recovery program for that matter.
Over six decades ago, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith sought to establish a program that would help individuals suffering from alcoholism find recovery. One of their main goals was to create a process that wasn’t too religious-based. At the time, the only thing in existence that was trying to help alcoholics recover was the Oxford Group, except it was extremely Christian-centered. Bill and Bob knew they needed to move away from that if they wanted to find a lot more acceptance to their recovery program. When they created the 12 Steps, it was done in a way to help those who might be atheist or agnostic, and even those who might have turned away from religion long ago. The absolute key that solidified all this was in their second step, which guided alcoholics to find a Power greater than themselves who could restore them to sanity.
It was never specified what that Power was supposed to be. The founders of AA left that for each individual to discover in their own spiritual journey to recovery. When I first started out on my own path to that, I was both afraid and angry with God. I also had a hard time believing I was going to find a Power greater than myself who would help me find full recovery from not only my alcoholism, but all my other addictions as well. My first sponsor helped me immensely with all of this, when she said to believe that she believed there was a Power who could do that for me. So for a good while I did what she said and followed the steps by believing that she believed I’d find that Power for myself.
While I wasn’t atheist or agnostic, I was one of those who had turned away from religion long ago because of the idea of a punishing God. I also couldn’t understand how the God I was brought up with would let so many bad things happen to me. These are the reasons why I was both afraid and angry with God and why a religious recovery program wouldn’t have worked for me. Thankfully, Bill and Bob didn’t establish that type of a program and instead, I was able to find my own path to a God of my understanding who was quite UNLIKE the God I had been brought up with in church.
The God of my understanding today is an all-loving, all-accepting, and all-forgiving God who didn’t punish me or cause any of the bad things to happen to me. I learned that all those bad things that happened were because of the mass amount of self-will that runs riot in this world. Now, when I see the words “God” or “Him” or “Power” in the 12 Steps, it is the God of my understanding that I believe it’s referring to. As for any other person who is seeking recovery, they too can create their own perception of who God is.
So if you happen to be someone who is seeking recovery from an addiction, please don’t be scared when you see some words or phrases in the 12 Steps that seem too religious-based. I can attest that while those words may seem that way, they’re not. No matter what level of belief you have and no matter what your conception of God is, the only thing you need to do is be willing to believe in a Power greater than yourself. Whatever you end up choosing, as long as it’s not yourself, I know it will help lead you to find recovery from your addictions, like my God did for me.
And if somehow you find yourself still struggling with believing there is some Power greater than yourself, who can you help you find recovery from your addiction, then believe that I believe, until you do…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson