Perspective: Something That Transcends Us

by Roger C.

brainwavesIs a higher power necessary in order to recover from alcoholism or addiction?

Twelve Step programs place a lot of importance on finding a higher power to get or to maintain a life free of drugs or alcohol. That has been the case ever since the 12-Steps were first published in 1939 in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. The second Step talks of “a Power greater than ourselves” that can “restore us to sanity.”

Some of the more non-religious members of AA and other 12-Step fellowships object to the idea of a “Higher Power,” arguing that it is just a placeholder for “God.” Indeed, some of the acronyms for a higher power – Group Of Drunks or Good Orderly Direction – reinforce their suspicion. Certainly a higher power of some sort – which does not have to be a God – can be an invaluable tool in recovery.

My favourite quote about the higher power idea comes from cultural anthropologist, Ernest Becker, who wasn’t even thinking about 12-Step programs when he wrote, in The Denial of Death:

We always rely on something that transcends us, some system of ideas and powers in which we are embedded and which support us. This power is not always obvious. It need not be overtly a god…It can be the power of an all-absorbing activity, a passion, a dedication to a game, a way of life…

I was talking to my good buddy Wayne the other day. He is an alumni and addictions counsellor at Renascent with nine years plus of sobriety. I have a little over three years and we were yattering away passionately about what we need to do, one-day-at-a-time, in order not to pick up again. The most important thing for him, Wayne said, was “getting out of my head.”

That sure rang a bell for me. There is a maze inside my head, sometimes a very dangerous one. I play hide-and-go-seek in there. I run up and down the stairs. I get resentful. I get bitter. I get angry. I dissect all the unfair things in my life. And then – I do it all over again. And there are mirrors, lots of them, inside my head, with little images representing just one thing – me in the past – and many of the images are broken. It is a maze that is all dead-ends.

Got to get out of there.

Isolation and self-obsession kills the addict or alcoholic.

We need an interest in something larger than ourselves, outside of ourselves, an “all-absorbing activity,” as Becker put it. A preoccupation, a “passion,” something that takes us outside of ourselves.

We need a higher power.

So, what might that power be? One suggestion is contained in the last of the 12-Steps: service. What could more quickly get us out of own heads than thinking about other people and their needs? Serving others is a direct way for an isolated and self-absorbed human being to begin restoring some balance, some “sanity,” in his or her life.

My friend Wayne will no doubt tell you that he worked at Renascent first and foremost to maintain his own sobriety. Service gives us something that transcends us and supports and lets us get out of our heads. We have all the choices in the world when it comes to our higher power.

It can be God. It can be service. It can be, as Becker wrote, “an all-absorbing activity, a passion, a dedication to a game, a way of life…”

And, to come back to our question at the beginning, is it necessary in order to recover from alcoholism or addiction?

Two things for sure: First, in my own case, without something to get me out of my head, with its maze and mirrors and inevitable dead ends, I would be at serious risk of going back out again. And second, this “system of ideas or powers” must be of our own understanding for it to deliver that essential reprieve.

And all of that is from the 12-Steps – especially the second Step – which suggests “a Power greater than ourselves” can be a crucial asset in finding a way to “restore us to sanity” and move on from the horrors of alcoholism and addiction.


About the Authors

Renascent Alumni
Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email