The Delphic Oracle wasn’t available so I asked Google. Not much help there, in fact the Delphic Oracle would have been better – they were always saying AA-like things such as ‘know thyself’ and ‘nothing in excess’ and even ‘water is best’. Yes, really, two thousand years before Bill W!
The man who first nailed the idea of Higher Power was Professor Carl Jung. His famous play on words in a letter to AA co-founder Bill W, called it ‘Spiritus contra Spiritum’ – that is ‘spirituality against spirits’ (ie liquor). Like Jung, I find it impossible to talk about Higher Power without including spirituality. He compared the craving for alcohol with man’s craving for wholeness with God, quoting the 42nd psalm : ‘As the deer pants for streams of water so my soul pants for you, O God’. All very neat, you might say, if you happen to be a Judaeo-Christian. Rather inconveniently, a lot of people in the 12 step fellowships are not Judao-Christian, are not religious or even god-believing. Clearly (as my Maths teacher used to say), there is more work to be done on this.
Perhaps we should start with the problem itself (that’s how the 12 steps start): addiction is the problem and it destroys our lives – not completely, unless we allow it to, but one thing it always destroys is our spirit – this usually has more disastrous consequences than our actual misdeeds. Addiction turns us into emotional, moral and spiritual zombies. In the words of Oscar Wilde – ‘it is not what one does that is wrong, but what one becomes as a consequence of it’.
This ‘zombie’ element in addiction has been identified by many in the recovery field as a key element for attention. One purpose in seeking a Higher Power in recovery, is therefore to get back for ourselves that spirit that we have lost through addiction; to re-connect with humanity and re-enter the joined-up universe. There is however, another aspect to the matter.
The main importance of a Higher Power is of course clearly stated in steps 2 and 3. It is about belief that help is available and asking for that help. Many addicts realise eventually that they need help and find it forthcoming from friends, fellowships or a variety of other sources. This is a good start. As reality dawns (if it does), they then accept that they are engaged in a life or death struggle with a deadly enemy, and they realise that they need some really powerful help if they are to come out winners. Fight force with force, get overwhelming power on your side.
If Almighty God exists, then he is an absolute shoo-in for the Higher Power role, the ultimate Super power. It is really quite annoying that we can’t prove for sure that he does exist. Plenty of us take the leap of faith, myself included and are grateful for our beliefs. For the atheists and agnostics among us, it is not so easy. How can they too find a super power?
What can the person do who has no concept of God but has read chapter five of the AA Big Book and understands the need to find a higher power? Should he ignore it and carry on regardless? (not advisable), should he take Pascal’s wager (there is a fifty fifty chance that God exists so you might as well believe it and start praying – if he doesn’t exist you lose nothing and if he does you win the jackpot)?, should he ‘fake it to make it ‘? (a possibility). I know many atheists in the fellowships and almost all have reached a point of finding a Higher Power that suits them, a ‘God of their understanding ‘, though the word ‘God’ may beside quite alien to them. They have managed this through following a process: accepting their own powerlessness, realising the need for help, understanding that only help that comes from a source of power will do, and then asking for that help. The actual help can take many forms, from their own fellowship group, to their sponsor, to a power for good throughout the world.
Agnostics too, abound in the fellowships. Such seekers after the truth generally have little problem, once they understand the principles behind steps 2 and 3. An open mind is the key. As the great seventeenth century thinker, Blaise Pascal put it, ‘You would not seek God if you had not already found him’.
The 12step programme recognises the need for recovering addicts to find a Higher Power to fill the spiritual void, because they are powerless over their addiction and need help. This Higher Power can take many forms but it needs to be truly powerful.
Addicts in recovery have much to be grateful for. Through the 12 step programme they gain huge insights into themselves, their spirituality and their place in the universe. They learn to conquer their fears and live happily in sobriety with nothing in excess. The Delphic Oracle had some good points, but Higher Power is the key.
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | April 4, 2013