12 Step Recovery For The Non-Believer

When I first came to 12 Step recovery programs, I struggled with the whole God concept. To me, it all sounded so religious, and at the time, I was still carrying a lot of resentments towards the God I was raised with. But, after being brought through the 12 Steps, I did a 180 and became someone who preached that a person needed to find God if they wanted to remain clean and sober. I’ve since changed my tune on this and have seen through other people’s recovery programs that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. I once sponsored an individual here in Toledo who was the very person that became the catalyst for this change in belief.

Initially, they couldn’t quite grasp the steps in the way I taught them, mostly because they were atheist and struggled with the whole God concept. They were at their core, a non-believer. I watched as they kept relapsing until they eventually disappeared from my life altogether. I made the erroneous assumption it was solely because they refused to find a belief in God and judged they were still out there living in their addiction. Little did I know they had found another sponsor who was more in alignment with their spiritual beliefs and was able to guide them successfully into a healthy sobriety and recovery. That individual now has several years under their belt and yet is still an atheist. It is because of their journey to recovery and the sponsor that led them there, that I’m now convinced that one can find sobriety and recovery from any addiction without having to eventually conform to Christianity or any traditional religious sense of God.

While I myself still maintain my beliefs in God and continue to follow the main teachings of Christ, I’ve learned through this individual and their sponsor that one can be successfully taken through the steps by using the rooms of recovery as their Higher Power. There are plenty of people around the world who have remained clean and sober from their disease of addiction for years and years, all by following the 12 Step recovery program. So, by having faith in the program itself, in all the rooms of recovery around the world, and in the people themselves who continue to remaining clean and sober year after year, is the very channel with which an atheist can effectively be guided through to reach that healthy sobriety and recovery.

Frankly, I was too stubborn to believe this could actually happen during my early years of recovery work. It was either my God-based way in my sponsorship or the highway until some of my sponsees began to walk away. My spiritual methodology was honestly too rigid. I’ve come to see though that the spiritual journey of a person in recovery, and in life in general, is often specifically tailored for the individual, by that individual. Who am I to say how it has to be done and who the God of one’s understanding must be? Saying so only ever made me egotistical and placed myself on a pedestal I was never meant to be on. Thankfully, over the past few years, my perspective on this has totally changed, and while I continue to work the steps in a way that works for me, I’m learning how to help a person work their steps and find a Higher Power that works for them, even if it doesn’t align with my spiritual views.

Thanks to my long-sober friend Gene, who sat down with me over a meal and coffee recently, I learned how I might be able to start helping those in recovery who struggle with the whole traditional God concept and religion in general. He told me that all those prayers in the literature can be turned into personal affirmation statements and how one can set intentions for the day, which will help create a mindfulness in sobriety in the process. He also expressed how observations of all the beauty in the world like with an amazing sunset for example, can be a form of prayer as well. And on a similar note, sitting by an ailing person’s side, holding their hand, listening to them, and honoring their wishes, even if those wishes aren’t in alignment with one’s own spiritual beliefs, can be yet another way of practicing prayer and exercising faith in something greater than oneself.

In the end, I see now that it indeed is possible for one to live a healthy sobriety and recovery without ever following what many in the rooms of recovery follow, that being a devotion to a traditional sense of God through Christianity. While I may continue to follow a more traditional approach on some level by practicing the main teachings of Christ, I choose to be more open now to accept that there is plenty of room in the rooms of recovery for non-believers. And that maybe the good heart and good nature of each of them, and all the good they do in this world to help others, is at the very core following the very same principles of the God I believe in. It may just look a little different and that’s okay.

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson