Turning Your Addiction Over to a Power Greater Than Yourself When You are an Atheist

For the atheist who takes the first step and admits powerlessness over his or her addiction, they face an immediate stumbling block: the second and third steps. "Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” and "Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God…as we understood Him.”

Observing a Christian entering rehab or a 12-step program, it might seem to you that they have this ability to breeze through the first three steps, while you are still struggling with understanding and moving past step two. It may also appear as though the Christian is, from day one, part of a clique that might put you on the defensive to not have been invited into.

If this has you concerned about your sobriety and whether you can maintain it, take comfort in the fact that you are neither alone nor is your sobriety at stake. Although it is probably easier for the Christian to do steps one through three because he had long ago accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior, who, according to him, will now take his hand and guide him through his sobriety, you will just have to take a different path than your friend the Christian. Sobriety is not predicated upon one’s belief in God, because once you get over that stumbling block, you will see that everyone in recovery faces the same challenges that you will.

Write Your Own Steps

One thing that all people in recovery can agree on is that left to our own devices, we do destructive things. We drink, we use drugs, we gamble, etc., and when we did, we harmed people we love. We stole, we cheated, we hit people, we were in jail, we didn’t show up to work for days on end or we lost our homes. Our stories and the outcomes may vary, but what landed us in rehab is the same thing. We admitted we were powerless and needed help. And so here you are, intellectualizing the steps and worrying. Sometimes taking the personalization and the ego out of analyzing the steps makes it easier to follow them.

If you look at yourself as being no different from the Christian from the moment you enter rehab and you take that first step, taking the second step should actually be easier. Still stuck? Go back to step one and remember that your friend the Christian had to take the same first step that you did. For whatever reason, and you may not know her story yet, she is right here with you. Now that you are able to see her not as a Christian who has membership in a club you don’t, see her as someone who is just like you: someone who is recovering from addiction.

Next, see what she does to stay sober. She reaches out her hand and asks for help. Whether that help is from other members of rehab, her church, the counselors, or of a sponsor, it is the act of asking that is important. Remember, left to your own, those old methods didn’t work so well. See the second step not as God, but as your family and friends who support you; if you are fortunate, your job who believes in you and is holding your job for you after you complete rehab and can stay clean, and others in recovery. Support and wisdom is what we all need to stay clean.

And now that you have been able to see that this power is not Power or some force field or entity, but rather people who are rooting for you, taking the third step should be easier. Remove the word God from the third step and replace it with your wisdom and the wisdom of those who support you. While it is true that left to your own, you can’t do this thing alone, but combined with the wisdom and support of others, you can.

From this point forward, the rest of the steps will be fraught with the same challenges as your friend the Christian will take. Examining the behaviors and thoughts that landed us all into recovery is difficult because we are now allowing ourselves to confront why we are here. No belief in God or lack thereof will make this step any easier. Introspection is a tough job for all of us.

Ultimately what success for the person in recovery comes down to is asking for help and being able to continue to ask for help. You cannot do it alone, but with help you are unstoppable. As atheists we get ourselves hung up on why others don’t see the world the way we do. Again, think of your commonalities, not your differences and it may surprise you to see where your strongest allies might come from.