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I could have called this article series “Get Sober by Yourself and Tell Everyone Else to Go Jump in the Lake.” Bet we’d get about a million hits from addicts and alcoholics who really want to hear that- but, I’d be lying. I’ve seen too many intelligent, strong-willed, determined people wreck their lives by insisting on doing things their own way.

“Turning it over” is hard for nonbelievers. If you don’t believe in God, the idea of a “higher power,” and especially the idea of having faith in a higher power, sounds impossible.

But the fact remains: People tend to fail when they try to recover by themselves. Remember, addiction is a disease of the brain. As dependence develops, our brain perceives the addictive substance not as the toxin it is, but as a “normalizing agent.” That is, something that allows the brain to function by meeting its acquired biochemical needs.¬† When access is denied, the brain responds with “sickness” in the form of withdrawal syndrome- anxiety, nausea, irritability, craving, etc.

Asking this brain to take on a new agenda of decision-making, assessing risk and reward, planning for the future, and navigating the maze of situations and circumstances created by every day life is bound to create confusion. The brain is still responding to the drive for survival -obtaining and using that necessary substance. We have to shift the “locus of control” outside the self-destructive brain. For some, it’s the AA “higher power,” for others it’s group support, cognitive techniques, therapeutic guidance, intervention by a trusted counselor or mentor, or adherence to a set of practices and principles.

And there’s the catch: Turning it over, even in time of need, requires the exercise of faith.

When a surgical patient accepts the anesthesia, he’s showing faith in his doctor. A pilot takes off because she has faith in the machine she’s flying. Whenever life compels us to trust someone¬† -accountant, auto mechanic, plumber, doctor- we exercise faith in something outside ourselves.

And we probably hesitate before doing so. I know I do. After all, we all have experience of misplaced faith. But we can’t protect ourselves from every single disappointment, always and forever. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to extend faith, again. We have that choice. We can “turn it over,” not because we believe there is a God who will do something for us or to us, but because we understand that recovering from addiction depends on outside help.

The real issue isn’t whether you need outside help to recover, but who or what that help should be. “Having faith” is scary for everyone in early recovery (including believers.) The idea that we can’t do it alone is a challenge for people who have invested so much in self-control. By reaching beyond the believer/non-believer argument about the existence of a deity, we can start the process of recovery: Relying on a power greater than ourselves which (wonder of wonders!) might even include one another.

This post belongs to Recovery Without God