Alcoholism -- What About a "Higher Power?"

Sometimes a person rejects Alcoholics Anonymous, because some of their steps refer to a "higher power." He says he doesn't believe in a higher power, so he can't use the steps of AA. That's a very odd thing to say.

It would be extremely arrogant to say there is no higher power than me. Firstly, my biology is more powerful than me. Alcohol has an effect on every cell in my body. Once it's in there, I have no control over what it does to my physiology and my body chemistry. Once alcohol has been a part of my life for a while, the fact that brain cells are killed, or are "pruned" in response to that is beyond my control, other than to stop dousing my brain cells with more alcohol.

Secondly, my psychology is more powerful than me. I am not Spock. There is more that affects my behavior than just logic. In fact, most of my brain functions beyond my conscious awareness. The lower part consists of several parts called the "reptilian brain," because even a lizard has that much. All of that operates automatically, without rational control from me.

There is an area behind my forehead, about the size of my hand, called the pre-frontal lobe. That area does much of my logical thinking. There is also a thin rind covering my brain which also engages in conscious thinking. All the rest of it is the grey matter on the inside, which is most of it, and I am not consciously aware of what it is doing at the time it does whatever.

In other words, the irrational aspects of my brain are at least as involved in my behavior as the rational ones. Why is this important? It means I can not just use logic and "will power" to overcome an addiction. Will power follows feelings, and it can be used for opposite (harmful) purposes as well. The craving for alcohol enlists the intellect to work on ways to get it, and that becomes "will power."

Smart people become addicted, because addiction has nothing to do with how smart you are. A doctor, known for his superior intelligence, might think he knows how much of a drug to take, and when to quit, and be completely fooled, because those irrational parts of his brain take over.

Another thing more powerful than a person is his family. He may think he is in charge, but he is reacting to them as much as they are reacting to him. Improving his family relations can influence his recovery from addiction. His AA group is more powerful than him. His prospects for recovery improve when he has a support group, than if he tries to "white knuckle it" on his own.

One's community is more powerful than himself. It provides employment, goods and services he needs, and law enforcement to restrict lawbreaking. Good relations with his community enhance his well being.

So how do I put my addiction into the hands of a higher power? To deal with psychology and biology, one can take an attitude of let go and let be. What will be will be, especially in his desire to control his world. He has probably tried will power many times and failed. He has tried to use his intelligence, and the irrational part of himself has won, because his addiction is controlled by a different part of his brain. He must drop that attempt, and instead use the resources around him as a higher power.

Relying on his support group goes a long way toward his recovery, one day at a time. Recognizing those things as a "higher power" allows him to fulfill that step of the AA 12-step program.

One step refers to God "as we know him." As we know him is the operative part of that phrase. One person may substitute "reality" for "God." Reality is his god. He can turn his life over to reality, which includes his biology, his psychology, his support group and his family relations.

Part of his reality is his conscience. Making amends addresses his conscience, and the "reality" of right and wrong. He may have been telling himself for a long time he was a good person, and an inner voice may be reminding him that he has behaved like a jackass at times. He will be in inner conflict so long as part of him is saying he is good, and another part is saying he is a jackass. He has to find a way to make his wrongs right, to remove that conflict from his mind.

Again, all of this is recognizing that realities all around him are more powerful than his intellect or will power, but that he can use those realities to enhance his recovery.