The 12 Step Program – A Spiritual Approach To Recovery
When a drug addict realizes their problems – sometimes after a necessary intervention – they may find that their next order of business is to rehabilitate themselves. The 12-step program is the most widely recognized tool used in rehabilitating people with addictions. A lot of the steps in the 12-step program are distinctly spiritual – they involve submitting yourself to God, humbling yourself, and accepting that God in all His glory will solely be responsible for curing your addictions.
That’s great – the 12-step approach has worked for countless individuals who are looking for a light in the darkness. The good news is that your higher power can be whatever you want.
How Can an Atheist Approach a 12-Step Rehabilitation Program?
A lot of Alcoholic’s or Narcotic’s Anonymous (AA and NA, respectively) programs are led by individuals with tremendous empathy and compassion for their fellow humans.
A truly compassionate program leader doesn’t care if the addict in need of support believes in God. The second step in the program states
We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
In an open-minded program, the leader will allow the definition of the Power greater than ourselves to stretch to whatever suits the addict. People have used the universe, the future, the power of love – any external force – as their guiding light to lead them through the 12-step program. It’s only after the third step:
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him
that God is referenced. This line clearly shows that the understanding of God is subjective to the individual seeking rehab, but some facilities are notorious for refusing to accept patients if they do not use the word, God.
If My 12-Step Program Leader Does Not Accept My Faith, What Can I Do?
First, we don’t often hear of this happening. As your higher power can be whatever you believe in. There are alternatives to the 12-step program that have worked quite well for atheists, agnostics, and followers of other religion. But over time, the 12 step programs seem to work for most people regardless of religious or spiritual belief.
Avoiding The Religious Aspect Of The 12-Step Program
It’s also possible to finish the 12-step program as an atheist. Some who have completed the program, such as those in this forum conversation, have many suggestions.
- Submitting to a Power greater than yourself does not have to mean submitting to God. It can mean submitting to any external circumstance or deity – love, life, laughter, the universe.
- There are alternative versions of the 12-step programs, such as the ones outlined here and
- The 12 steps acknowledge meditation as a method of resisting addiction. For some program leaders, this can mean only one thing: prayer. For a facilitation program leader, meditation encompasses any action that humbles yourself and allows you to absorb or reflect energy that prevents you from drug addiction.
- There was a motion proposed in the early nineties to remove the word God from all 12-step documentation. It was overturned.
Atheists And Non-Christians Can Benefit from the Twelve-Step Model
There are plenty of stories of agnostics going through the 12-step program and remaining true to their personal virtues. This story tells of an atheist who used his solid belief of psychology to deny the program’s attempts to make him submit to God – and his determination convinced one of the program leaders to reconsider his own faith. An open-minded, psychological approach to addiction is vastly superior to a restricted-religious based approach because it allows people from different faiths to receive treatment and overcome their problems.
If the 12-step program is approached with an open mind, the spiritual ideals can be replaced by one of a more general spiritual nature. “God” can be replaced by “a universal life-force,” or some-such. Prayer can be replaced by meditation. If the 12 steps are facilitated in a way that leaves them open for interpretation, then any willing addict can benefit from them.