12 Steps to Nowhere, the “Higher Power” Problem

"God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can,
and wisdom to know the difference."

A Voice of Experience

I am a recovering addict. I’ve battled with drug addiction for much of my life, and I’ve been through all the programs. But only one program has ever worked for me and you might say it isn’t a program for dealing with addiction and substance abuse, but rather it is a program for dealing with personal responsibility. You see, for all the programs I have been through, it was not until I let go of faith and the idea that some cosmic being was in control of everything that I finally took a truly introspective look at myself and came to understand that I was the problem. Every problem I had stemmed from my resistance to accepting that I was in control of myself and my actions.

Now this isn’t to say that some people do not succeed using these programs. Many people have been through the programs and had great success and that is wonderful for those people. Many people however, go through these programs and fail or relapse time and again. There are many factors behind why people fail with these programs, but I believe one of the biggest ones is that the program instills in you the idea that there are just some things outside of your control. Of course, you’ve got to appeal to a higher power to let you know what these things that are out of your control are – and quite honestly, that “higher power” isn’t all that talkative unless you’re a schizophrenic.

Tear You Down To Build You Back Up

12 step programs used by groups such as AA and rehabilitation centers are some of the most prevalent forms in the U.S. of dealing with substance abuse. There is a simple premise behind these programs;

  • You’re basically worthless and incapable of dealing with yourself.
  • You need to accept how worthless you are.
  • There’s something out there greater than your useless ass.
  • You need to accept that too.
  • That greater thing than you can handle this life that’s just too much for you.
  • You just need to accept that.

Going through a 12 step program is like being slowly dismembered. These “counselors” are trained to pinpoint all your weakest points and exploit them, and one by one they dismantle you and pick you apart preying on your own self-doubt. They strip you mentally bare and then ask you to stare at your reflection. And this introspection should be a good thing… except they’ve taken away the best tool you had for dealing with what you see, back when they told you that you were too weak to handle it on your own. And facing internal demons without a weapon is dangerous and stupid, because if you don’t kill the demon they almost always come back.

Embracing Weakness Is Like Hugging A Land Mine

I think most of us truly believe in our childhood that we can become anything, do anything, and that we are only limited by our own ambitions. Many of us unfortunately learn all too fast that it’s not always that simple. Sometimes the climb to success is a sheer cliff that seems completely insurmountable. When people can’t seem to find hand or footholds in that cliff for so long, it can be easy to seek a distraction… an escape. But the honest truth is that there is no escape, because you take yourself with you everywhere you go.

Now, I know there are people that will say that AA or some other “program” has worked for them, and I respect that they believe this… but it isn’t true. You see, the only people who ever beat addiction of any kind are those who truly want to. It doesn’t matter what “program” you use, if you don’t want to do better for yourself you’re going to fail. All of those who’ve succeeded with a program succeeded on their own merit, simply by truly wanting to succeed. Yes, they may have needed some physical treatment for the addiction as some addictions cause a physical necessitation, but ultimately it’s one's own will to overcome that leads to continued success.

An Area of Agreement

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One thing every addict learns is that it doesn’t really matter how long you go without indulging the addiction, it never really goes away. To this day, in my hardest moments there is still a nagging memory of how much easier it all seemed when I walked in a drug addled haze. Every day is just another step in a long walk of continued recovery. For me personally, one of the worst things is that I remember the “fun” of those times pretty vividly, because it’s easy to just forget the destructiveness of it.

The thing many addicts fail to learn however is that you can’t replace one addiction with another that can be just as destructive and call yourself cured. This is the escape that so many take through embracing ideas like this Serenity prayer and all the programs based on the same premise. It’s a dismisal of personal responsibility to say, “There are things I cannot change.” In reality there is almost nothing that we can’t change. Sure, there are things like cancer or other deadly disease that we can only fight against, but even that fight is an act of changing the situation. You may not prevail, but you didn’t just lie down and accept it.

You Take Yourself With You Everywhere You Go

There is an important thing that every human being should understand which is: The only person you actually have any control over is yourself. You can’t force anyone else to change. You can beg and plead and make the best case in the world, but it’s up to each individual to want to change. If someone isn’t willing to change for the better to help themselves and those around them, then you must eventually accept that you may just have to walk away. But you can’t ever walk away from yourself. No matter where you go or what you do, you take yourself with you everywhere you go. You will always be reminded of who you were and who you want to be because you carry your memories like a pull-behind luggage bag.

Just as you can’t change another person, others cannot change you. Only you can change you, and unless you want to change you will always fail. It’s all in your hands and in your mind. It is all on you. You don’t need a “higher power” to appeal to – you need to find your own higher nature and appeal to that within yourself.

*A Note From The Author

I held on to this piece for a bit, not sure of myself in this post and my articulation of these ideas. I was also a bit apprehensive about how you guys would respond and if this was an important topic. However, just as I was deciding to leave this one on the back burner for a bit, a news article caught my attention on Facebook. The article deals with a man who had his parole violated for refusing to attend a substance abuse course based on the twelve step program (read more here: Atheist parole revoked for not believing in a "higher power"). You see, the man in question is an atheist who was charged with methamphetamine possession, and his gripe with the substance abuse programs run on the “Twelve Step Program” was the call to yield to a “higher power”. The man subsequently sued the state for wrongful imprisonment based on the fact that forcing him to attend a substance abuse program that forces the idea of a higher power on someone is a violation of his constitutional right to freedom of and from religion. That article really brought it home that this is an important issue and one that should be addressed within the atheist community. We need to come together and devise alternative programs dealing with substance abuse from a secular stance. If you know of any such groups, please list them in the comments for those who may need some help with dealing with a substance abuse problem as an atheist. Thanks guys! :D

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