Whether you’ve been in recovery for years or you just received your 24 hour chip, the notion of giving your life over to the God of your understanding is no doubt a familiar mantra to anyone looking for sobriety. Since it’s conception in the Alcoholics Anonymous Program in the 1930’s, this idea has become a staple in nearly every recovery program claiming agnosticism as its official religion.
On the outside the claim seems simple enough: if you are looking for recovery from drugs, alcohol, or the like, take whatever religion you hold to and use it to achieve the freedom you desire. You’re a Muslim? Great! Follow Allah to recovery. You’re a Hindu? Awesome. I hear Krishna is good at cleaning people up these days. Don’t know what you believe? That’s okay. Make something up and follow that. Whatever you believe, so long as you REALLY believe it, can help you on your path to a new life. Recovery is soon reduced to something with all the tenacity of faith of wishing upon a star.
This is where the problem begins. As addicts we had a good knack for taking the truth and twisting it to meet our means. We used this ability to get what we wanted and manipulate those we loved. When we finally came to ourselves out of whatever binge we had managed to muster up and had that moment of clarity, we found that that bending truth to suit our means was no longer a healthy way to live. Recovery is not just being sober; It’s searching for the truth and allowing the truth to bend us to suit itself.
Living our lives subjectively was the problem, therefore it cannot be the solution. Opening ourselves to the reality of objective truth is what the first three steps are all about. Admission of powerlessness in step one is accepting that our condition is a real, objective problem. One that we no longer have power over. This problem is impartial to how we feel and it exists no matter what we do to contain it.
Step two tells us to open ourselves to the idea that though we have NO power over our addiction, there is a power greater than ourselves out there, and that it is personal enough to want to help us recover. This step has been notoriously hard for us to take. If we have however, come to the conclusion that we are powerless, we have to come to realize that if there is no higher power, then there is no recovery. By our own admission, recovery through our own means was impossible. If you negate the second step, you have also invalidated the first. If therefore step one isn’t true, then congratulations, you are not one of us.
It must be true that a higher power exists if we wish to break this cycle of addiction. If this is the case, then step three naturally follows. We need to turn our lives and wills over to the care of God. There is however, a logical fallacy at work in the four words that follow… “as we understood Him.” We came to recovery seeking answers because our understanding of God was so distorted. God was the last thing on our minds in the midst of our addiction. We used God (if we even believed in such a Being) as a last ditch effort to get what we wanted. We cried out to Him to save us and then cursed His name for even bringing us into being. We decided with every drink or drug we put into our body that WE were the gods of our own life. What we needed wasn’t something we were capable of understanding. We came seeking the truth to save us from our own understanding.
The concept of the God of our understanding has led many to relapse. This is because despite what we were told, faith does not equal truth. Many have cried out to a god that simply didn’t exist and therefore could not help them. If we pray to a non-existent being, are we not speaking into the air? If you create a version of God in your own mind to give your life to, are you not re-gifting your life to yourself? We must remember not to give our lives and wills over to the same person who ruined them in the first place.
To find recovery, we have to find the truth about God. Truth is, by its very nature, exclusive. This means that a quarter can’t be both heads up and tails up simultaneously. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, even Hinduism, and Buddhism all claim exclusivity. Each claims that they guard the only road that leads to truth. This means that these faiths can not exist together. They contradict each other. Each has radically different teachings on the Nature and Person of God; on life’s meaning; on the origin of man; on the afterlife; and on the moral law that governs our hearts and minds.
The faith claimed by the Alcoholics Anonymous Program is Agnosticism. Agnosticism is the belief that something is out there, but we can’t know exactly what it is. This clashes with the idea that a personal, knowable God is out there and wants to help you in your recovery. Perhaps a better description of the religious beliefs of AA is Pluralism. This is a belief popular in America right now. It tells us that all that we have to do is be sincere in our faith, whether it’s in Jesus or the flying spaghetti monster, and we will make it to heaven. As stated above, this concept is shunned by literally every major religion on Earth. Remember the truth we’re seeking after for recovery is objective, meaning it isn’t swayed by our feelings or thoughts toward it. Objective truth just is.
Coming to the conclusion that Christianity is that objective truth requires only trying to fill in the blanks of the 12 steps and seeing which worldview fits best. Step one describes us as powerless, unable to save ourselves from the sin that holds us captive. Cue Jesus. Christianity tells describes us as sinners in need of a savior, unable to break ourselves from bondage. No other worldview describes us in this way. Steps two and three describe perfectly the Christian concept of salvation. After realizing our need for a savior, we give our lives and our wills over to Him to change us. The rest of the steps lead to a life full of freedom in Christ from drugs and alcohol.
With all of this said, is it possible to achieve sobriety without God? Of course there are devout men of all faiths, even atheists who have have managed to stop using by taking various views of “God” and suiting Him to meet their needs. We have found however that those who do not accept the true Higher Power have simply found a way to quit using their own self-will disguised as God. They have a form of recovery, but not the same recovery we have experienced. Our recovery is not only one from drugs and alcohol, but from ourselves, from the evil in the world that surrounded us so deeply it ran through our own veins. Through faith that Christ defeated the grave, He has given us the ability to overcome the graves we had dug for ourselves. We are no longer even a shred of the person we were; we are made new. We know the Truth, and the Truth has set us free.