AA and the Higher Power

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I have been reflecting on AA and the Higher Power…

It seems to me that so much of the resistance to AA and other fellowships seems to come because of the instance that the alcoholic or addict buy into some version of a Higher Power. This issue often can drive alcoholics out the door before they begin to give the program a chance.

Reflecting on the whole God element – be it in AA or in any modality of recovery – it is my experience that the “Higher Power” piece in AA simply gives many addicts an excuse to avoid getting sober. And that is what it is… an excuse to avoid the emotions that removing the drug of choice will inevitably bring up.

In the rejection of the God piece by an addict many see a theological argument against the existence of God and quite understand how (ethically) no person should be forced to accept the existence of, or belief in, God in order to get sober. However, this is not what is generally happening. It is my experience that when we unpack the emotions here, the discomfort with the concept of a Higher Power is not a reasoned dismissal of the transcendent. It is rather an expression of the deep attachment wound of the addict not seeing God responding to the basic questions any addict has cried out in their pain: God, are you there for me? Do I matter to you? Will you come to me when I need you, when I call? 

The addict has asked those questions of God in his/her addiction and the answer has been resounding silence. This is a fundamental attachment wound. The addict is basically saying “F**k you God! I hate You – You weren’t there for me so I’m going to punish You by NOT believing in You! So there!!!” I have attended many “atheist” 12 Step meetings and generally everyone that shares, shares how mad they are at God. And as an addict I can entirely understand that sentiment. 

Often, our understanding of God or a Higher Power is modeled on the Higher Power that we knew best as children – our parents. Now for a little “therapeutic use of self”…My understanding of God was as a Deity that was dismissive and dropped in and out of my life randomly, and unexpectedly. The Deity only liked me when I was “good” and didn’t cause a fuss. Those who know me will see how nicely this view dovetails with my experience of my family of origin. My original attachment wounds with my parents were enacted in my relationship with a Higher Power. This sort of dynamic is found in many addicts and becomes a great excuse to reject AA/CA/NA etc.

The surrender to Faith is not a “white light” moment for most of us. It does not happen in one moment but is rather an extended journey, a gradual letting-go of our closed down heart, our opinionated head, and our defensive and defended body…of opening us up to the possibility that we are loved. As Phillip Yancy describes it: “…there is nothing we can do to make God love us more” – no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciation, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And, “there is nothing we can do to make God love us less” – no amount of drinking or using, hatred, pride, self-will, and commandment breaking can make God love us less.

The Higher Power comes to us “disguised as our life” writes Paula D’Arcy. The immediate embrace of the Higher Power is offered always, as is the loving understanding that whatever time it takes us to “come to believe” is alright. Coming to believe is often a slow gradual healing and reconnection of head, heart and body. It is a willingness to be loved – not just the “good” parts of ourselves but the broken and unlovely and scared and scared parts of us too.  All we can do is keep out of the way, weep over our defensive behaviors, and keep ourselves from closing down – as the slogan says: “keep an open mind.” 

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