Can I Work the Steps if I’m not Religious?

People who are considering attending 12-step meetings are sometimes put off by the idea of a higher power. 12-step proponents often point to the loophole in step three that they ‘Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him’. As we understood Him–see? Nothing religious there. That could mean Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and possibly even Hinduism. And Buddha is a god, right? This pretense of choice often irritates non-believers more than no choice at all. Despite that, there are several reasons 12-step programs can be helpful whether or not you believe in a Higher Power.

Meetings provide social support. If you have struggled with addiction and are in recovery, few people in your life will both understand what you’re going through and support your recovery. Your family will support your recovery, but they won’t really understand what addiction is like. Your friends who still use might understand your addiction, but they may not support your recovery. The rooms are full of people who both understand addiction and want to help you stay sober. When you are active in meetings, you feel less alone. You know there are people who will understand your problems. At some point, you will have a sponsor to talk things over with. Having a group of people who want you to succeed makes a big difference.

The Steps provide a framework for deep introspection. It’s maddeningly difficult to understand why we do what we do. We assume we understand ourselves, but we usually don’t. Therefore, we keep on making the same mistakes. The steps force you to take an honest look at your behaviour and confront the consequences of how you’ve been living. You free yourself from secrets and resentments and you try to fix the problems you’ve caused. Simply getting sober without changing anything about how you think or live will constantly be an uphill battle. If you are struggling with some other mental health issue–depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.–introspection won’t be enough and you should see a therapist too.

Meetings provide structure. The standard prescription is 90 meetings in 90 days. When you are new to recovery, meetings can be a regular fixture in your schedule. Depending on your situation, they can provide a reason to get out of the house and have some much needed social contact. They certainly add a level of accountability you would not otherwise have. They are a good way to check in with your people and reaffirm your commitment to sobriety.

There are many kinds of meetings. If you feel put off by the religious tone of one meeting, try another. There are even special meetings for agnostics, atheists, and Buddhists. You can probably find one that suits you.

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