An essential part of success in Alcoholics Anonymous is learning how to find your higher power. But what does this mean, exactly?
Traditionally, recovery from addiction has been parallel to religion in many ways. Many treatment facilities are connected to or supported by churches, and the history of recovery mainstays like AA is founded in traditional Christian beliefs. But in a country where religious affiliation continues to decline steadily, these structures are being replaced by a more holistic conception of “spirituality.”
This brings us back to Step 11 of AA — Deepening Your Connection With a Higher Power — and what it’s supposed to mean. In this piece, we’ll break down what a higher power is and what it means to your recovery.
The Mystery of a Higher Power
Some people walk into their first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting having no idea what to expect. When they learn what the subject matter is, it might take them by surprise. Meetings start with a prayer, and the 12 steps are heavily intertwined with Christianity. Reading the Big Book can feel like Bible study, and depending on the meeting, other group members may be participating in the religious themes.
To someone who wasn’t raised with the influence of religion, it can all feel a bit intimidating. If you’re not someone who feels comfortable with the conventional idea of “God,” you may be tempted to stop going to meetings after the first one.
But the world of recovery has changed a lot since AA was founded in the mid-1930s. While the group’s traditions and literature have stayed the same, the religious aspect of AA meetings has been replaced by a broader spirituality, with a much more flexible concept of “a higher power.”
What Is a Higher Power?
A higher power is just what it sounds like: something or someone whose purpose supersedes your own. To many, and according to the literal interpretation of the 12 steps, this means a Christian God.
But certain trends in society tell a different story. A Pew Research study explored American’s tendency to believe in some conception of a higher power and found that 90% of Americans do, despite a much lower proportion actually considering themselves to be religious.
In fact, of the population of respondents in the study who described themselves as nonreligious, 72% said they believed in a higher power.
What Does the Higher Power Relationship Do?
The reason so many people are willing to accept the presence of a higher power is because it keeps them grounded in life. It guides them, keeps them humble and reminds them they’re only a small part of the world around them.
In Step 11 of AA, you’re asked to engage in prayer to broaden your relationship with a higher power, but Step 2 is where you’re asked to verify your belief in a higher power: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Without dwelling too much on the antiquated language in this passage — we know that addiction is a disease that has no connection to “sanity” — we can see the role that AA intends a higher power to play in recovery. By embracing a higher being, and for non-selfish reasons, we can make a vow to become sober and motivate ourselves to fulfill that promise.
Can a Higher Power Be Anything?
In theory, a higher power can be anything that you place a larger importance on than yourself. If you’re religious, this naturally implies the deity at the center of your religion is your higher power. If you’re not religious, your higher power can be something else. If you feel strongly that everyone has a duty to protect the environment, for example, your higher power can be the earth.
Some people’s higher power isn’t a thing at all — it can be a powerful emotion or feeling as well. For example, if you feel a sense of responsibility toward doing right by your family, that sense of purpose can serve as your higher power.
What Does “Deepening Your Connection” Mean?
In AA, deepening your connection with your chosen higher power typically means engaging in prayer. This is a traditional religious concept, but prayer doesn’t need to be tied to religious conventions.
A non-religious form of prayer can be something that asks you to expand your thoughts and become more in tune with the world around you. The natural choice is meditation, which forces you to clear your mind, forget earthly things and reflect on the bigger forces at play in your life.
“Deepening your connection” can also be done through activities like yoga, quiet reflection in a place like a museum, for example, or even taking a hike on a trail in the woods and thinking about things that are important to you — your higher powers in life.
If You’re an Atheist, Can You Still Have a Higher Power?
Absolutely. As mentioned before, it’s clear that the founders of AA meant God when they set down the guidelines of the program, but you can get the benefits of working the 12 steps without staying rigidly true to the original intent to the words. Countless people — some religious, but many not — make it through AA every year and go on to live healthy, functional lives.
Having a higher power is important because it helps you understand your purpose in life without having to search for it. It gives you the strength to keep fighting the battle at hand by reminding you that your substance abuse doesn’t define you.
How to Find Your Higher Power at FHE
Learning how to find your higher power can be the first step to a better life. Some people hear that and think you have to be religious to reap the benefits of AA and, sometimes, recovery in general. But this is far from the case.
Belief in a higher power means recognizing the deeper meaning of your life and becoming empowered to take the steps to change it for the better. To learn more about how the 12 steps of AA are used in substance abuse rehab at FHE Health, contact us today.