When he opened the Big Book for the first time, he thought … How will I ever fit in?
Recently I visited a relative in Maine who asked me only one question about AA: “Is it religious?” My first thought was, Of course it is. Instead I paused, and told her she had asked the $64,000 question.
I thought back to that bleak day 10 years ago when I washed up into AA, still a bit tipsy, beaten into a state of reasonableness and literally dying to find a way out of my alcoholic addiction. As my head cleared, I started reading the Big Book, and since the word God seemed to be on almost every page, I thought I had to return to the Christianity I was raised under in order to get sober.
I soon realized our book didn’t actually say I had to return to the God of my youth. But I felt it strongly implied that those who really got the program and stayed sober eventually returned to their faith in good old American fundamentalist Christianity. I was so depressed. I’d never fit in with these people, I thought.
Fortunately I found a wonderful sponsor, a born-again Christian no less, who was instrumental in taking me through the Steps, including the God parts, and showed me how I could find a new way of living free from that hopeless state of mind and body I had dragged into AA with me.
We read the Big Book side-by-side, often re-reading “We Agnostics” and the Appendix II on spiritual experience. He said that if I didn’t have the power myself to stop drinking and manage my life, I’d have to rely on some other power that did. The main thing was that power had to be greater than me.
We discussed the Oxford Group’s Four Absolutes and the Buddhist’s Eightfold Path. He suggested I could replace the word God with Good, or with Higher Power or Group of Drunks or Good Orderly Direction. Our book called it God, but we can call it anything we want.
Had I believed in God there would have been no problem, but I didn’t. Try as I might, I could not convince myself I had an ethereal friend who would direct my will according to some predetermined life plan. So how could I get sober and stay sober without all that God stuff?
I asked those who had what I wanted if they believed in God, and if not, how they stayed sober. I was amazed at the number of people who spoke of their reliance on a truly spiritual force to stay sober, and never referred to God. They told me how they had worked through the Steps and slowly discovered that their Higher Power had nothing to do with God or religion.
As I went through the Steps, I came to believe in a higher purpose, not a higher being, to help me change the way I thought and acted. My higher purpose is to live by the principles of the Steps. The power I draw on is that unsuspected inner resource which makes me willing on a daily basis to strive for honesty, integrity, compassion, tolerance, humility, love and service. After cleaning house, sharing my faults, making restitution and starting to help others, I was relieved of my obsession to drink and much of my selfishness and self-centeredness. I became grateful for what I had and was much more comfortable in my own skin.
So how did I answer my friend’s question? I told her AA is a spiritual program although many of its members are religious. I said the Big Book was not simply an instruction manual, but a historical document, and reflected the predominately religious roots and views of its early members.
Our book is not perfect, but it does try to keep the door open to atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and alcoholics from all walks of life. Today, I don’t need God to have a higher purpose in my life and to practice the principles of the Steps. I simply need to believe that with help from the Fellowship and my inner resources, I can change my own attitude and actions and continue to enjoy the enormous benefit that change has brought into my life.
Copyright © The AA Grapevine, Inc. (October, 2016). Reprinted with permission.