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Health and Spirituality Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.


I am wanting to begin attending 12-Step meetings but hear they talk about God a lot. I'm not into God-talk. What can I do?


The 12-step concept of the "God of my understanding" gives you a great deal of flexibility in working with the spiritual part of 12-step recovery. The founders of AA wisely recognized two things:

1) that human efforts and human ego appeared to be ineffective in overcoming addictions and that, therefore, a spiritual solution was needed;
2) that many persons have had hurtful experiences within the context of organized religion.

Thus, it became important to point persons toward the spiritual domain but away from an understanding of God which had been a source of pain.

Many of us grew up with an image of God as something negative and punitive. Others of us turned away from the God of our youth in anger. Some of us have experienced judgment and shaming within the context of religion. Whatever the reason, many persons enter 12-step programs with either no belief in God or a very stagnant belief. By emphasizing the idea of the God of one's understanding, 12-step programs allow us the opportunity both to heal our old spiritual hurts and establish a new, fresh spiritual foundation to our recovery.

Some 12-steppers find the God of their understanding in Nature. Others find that God in community. For some, that God is not a "person" as such, but rather a force or process not unlike the Force of Star Wars fame. Still others have found the God of their understanding in the works of physicist Stephen Hawking.

The idea is to be open to the possibility of a process or entity much greater than our own human ego, a force or entity that is essentially positive in nature and oriented toward health and growth. A good place to start in trying to find such a God is to read the chapter titled "We Agnostics" in the basic Alcoholics Anonymous text, known in AA circles as the Big Book.


Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology and spirituality.


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