From Believer to Non-Believer
At around 8 years sober, he redefined his Higher Power
By Bob S., Louisville, Ky.
Published online by the AA Grapevine in November 2014. Copyright © AA Grapevine
My journey in AA began in 1985 and I have been sober ever since. In the beginning, I wanted sobriety because I had hit an emotional bottom. I was very willing to accept the program without any reservations. I did what the literature suggested and initially I used my home group as my Higher Power. I did not give God much thought until I got to the Third Step. My first sponsor is dead now, but he was a firm believer in God. He suggested that instead of focusing on a struggle with the whole God thing, I focus instead on the fact that I couldn’t sober up by myself. I needed the help of others who had already been there. He suggested that I move on with the Steps.
I accepted his advice, hurdled over Step Three, and completed Steps Four and Five within the first 60 days of sobriety. I did not reject God, but took advantage of the slogan, “fake it till you make it.” I completed most of my amends during the first year and eventually made the Christian God my Higher Power.
I became active in my home group and in my district and area. I attended nearby state AA conventions and listened to countless tapes from fellow AA members. In my third year of sobriety, I went back to my past religion, which I had abandoned some 25 years earlier. I was completely absorbed by the AA program and by my fifth year, I felt at peace with myself and with the people around me. I learned not to struggle in life but to accept the things I couldn’t change.
After about eight years of sobriety, I was having thoughts about whether or not God existed. Although I realized that this was common, it was interfering with my recovery program and it affected my religious beliefs to the point where I considered myself a hypocrite every time I went to church. I was losing the little amount of faith in a God that I had. I had always put my sobriety first and I didn’t want anything to interfere with it. Therefore, I left that religion and just stuck to my AA program.
Making this transition from believer to non-believer was quite gradual and natural for me. It took place over several years. I became convinced my belief or non-belief was simply a personal opinion and that my actions were more important than my beliefs.
I identified my Higher Power at that time with slogans such as “good orderly direction” and “do the next right thing.” I swung back and forth with this for a few years and became rather comfortable with my non-belief. I should emphasize that I did not struggle with the Higher Power concept during this time. I simply let it happen.
Today my Higher Power is “people,” and it has been that way for several years. If it weren’t for the sober people in AA to guide me, I would not have achieved sobriety to begin with. I need to continue going to meetings to listen and to share with other recovering alcoholics. When life gets a little rough at times, it’s the people in AA that can help me – just as I need doctors to help heal me when I am ill. I need the farmers to grow crops and vegetables necessary to provide food for my survival. I need the workers who maintain the power plants to provide me with electricity. I need the autoworkers to build cars for my transportation to and from work. I need the teachers and professors in my life to educate and encourage me to become a positive force in society. I need laborers to provide highways, to put a roof over my head, to plant trees and flowers, to provide necessary clothing. I need police to maintain law and order. I need a loving partner in my life to love and comfort me during good times and not-so-good times. The list is endless and the people in AA are just part of the whole that collectively become my Higher Power.
Today it doesn’t matter so much exactly what my Higher Power is, but it is absolutely necessary for me to have a Higher Power that I am comfortable with to help me stay sober. The realization that I cannot do this program by myself is paramount. Life can deal some nasty blows at times and I am grateful that my Higher Power and I can handle those situations just fine, one day at a time, in spite of my shortcomings. My non-belief in a God has very little to do with my state of spirituality as I understand it.
Spirituality is a state of acceptance of myself, a loving of others, a giving of one’s self, and of doing the next right thing. For example, before acting on something, I ask myself if the decision I’m about to make will perhaps harm someone. If so, then I re-evaluate the situation. These circumstances arise frequently and are opportunities to grow spiritually.
The passage on page 10 in the Twelve and Twelve that reads, “He finds himself in possession of a degree of honesty, tolerance, unselfishness, peace of mind, and a love which he had thought himself quite incapable” appeals greatly to me. It describes a spiritual person. It is also absolutely necessary to be honest with myself. I create my own heaven or hell here on the planet earth and rather than turning my problems over to a God who I don’t believe exists, I am willing to accept the responsibility for my choices or situation and to keep trying to improve and accept myself.
This simple program of Alcoholics Anonymous is an action program requiring positive acts that I do in my daily life to stay sober and, to some extent, to become happy, joyous and free. My serenity today depends on how I live that simple concept of doing the next right thing. I do not question other people’s beliefs, including those I sponsor, nor do I bring the topic up unless asked. I love and cherish AA. I have no intention of changing it, and I appreciate the kindness and the acceptance that fellow members have shown towards me.