As a recovery coach, I spent a lot of time to people considering 12 Step programs. Almost everyone I meet with shares the same concerns about attending meetings: the words “powerless,” “unmanageable,” and “God.” Through my work, I try to help people understand that many people now part of recovery programs once had the same concerns—as did I!
Here’s what I usually say. We can start with the fact that “powerless,” “unmanageable,” and “God” are just words! Those three words don’t make up the entire program. Your employee manual at work probably has three words you don’t like in it, too, but that didn’t make you not want to take the job.
God is an especially tricky concept for many people thinking about a 12 Step program, despite the fact that, in Step Three, a Higher Power is defined as “God as you understand Him.” Furthermore, in practice, people who identify as alcoholics and attend 12 Step meetings have a varied understanding of what God is and isn’t—there are as many conceptions of spirituality as there are people in each 12 Step meeting.
I find that people that are able to put their faith in something greater than them—faith in whatever they may find—all begin by dropping their struggle against those three words. 12 Step programs can be amazing, and they’ve helped people from all walks of life. Very few people who attend meetings would tell you that the God of their understanding is the same traditional God that they learned of in childhood. They define God, or a Higher Power, in whatever way works for them and their life.
I spent a long time fighting against God and religion. I was angry at 12 Step programs for including the word “God” in their literature, and I rebelled against it—but that fighting ultimately got me nowhere. Eventually I realized I probably wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind either way, and I certainly didn’t know enough about whether there was or wasn’t a God to make much of an argument about it. My program of recovery and my spiritual journey began the day I decided to stop struggling. After all, who am I to say if God exists or not?
Many self-help programs have a spiritual dimension, and 12 Step programs allow members to explore spirituality and define their relationship with a Higher Power as they see fit. Nowhere in the literature is anyone told what or how fast their spiritual journey should be.
When I stopped fighting, I started exploring. I can admit now that my first Higher Power was Yogi Bear. I needed to choose a Higher Power so ridiculous that it would make me laugh! Twelve years of sobriety later, Yogi is no longer my Higher Power—I don’t have a strict definition of my Higher Power, at this point, but I can say for sure that I’m in an ongoing process of spiritual discovery and exploration. My concept of God has shifted and changed many times over the years.
I was finally able to fully participate in a 12 Step program when I dropped the fight.
Adam Banks is a certified recovery coach and interventionist at Suntra Modern Recovery. He received an MBA from the University of Chicago and built a company which United Health Care acquired. He learned his rigor and attention to detail from his career as an airline pilot, holding an ATP, the FAA’s highest license.
Suntra Modern Recovery provides medical treatment for alcohol and opiate addictions via video visit with medical doctors. Suntra’s alcohol and drug intervention services are available in New York, Long Island, and the Hamptons. Treatment for opiate and heroin addiction, including Suboxone treatment, can start today.