As someone who began their path to recovery from a “militant Atheist” platform I can personally attest that the principles of 12-Step recovery, in many ways, are the non-believers’ first glimpse at a phenomenon Greater-Than-Ourselves. I would argue that not only do they apply but they are of unequivocal importance to those without formal tradition. By beginning to contemplate and practice “spiritual” principles, with or without formal beliefs or traditions, the person in recovery quickly realizes they are tapping into some essential part of the human condition from which they were disconnected while they were using substances or perhaps even long before.
This isn’t to say that by beginning to practice honesty, hope, courage, integrity, humility, etc., that you’ll eventually come around and believe in God the way others would have you do, in many ways even I am still agnostic. The recipe here is that when we learn to turn these principles into habit through the practical action of the program and fellowship, we find that the material that constitutes our daily life becomes more vibrant, meaningful, and satisfying. We find that we are drawn to ponder what it means to be selfless, compassionate, peaceful, hopeful, and whole in the context of our personal lives… and that becomes a most rewarding and satisfying venture.
And so, in many ways coming from a nontraditional belief system is a burden. We initially have to face the mystery and fear of recovery without a familiar guide to spirituality. We may be resentful towards “God language”. We have to work extra hard at finding hope and sustenance when the going gets rough. Conversely, this is a great opportunity to be creative! We find that we are free to collect, interpret, explore, feel, question…engage life in a way that is unique to us. Even the most ardent rationality-obsessed atheist would find it hard to say that their life does not come to bear some alluring transcendent quality when 12-Step principles are considered daily and with primary importance.
I would like to appeal to those reading this and identifying with the tag of “different or no beliefs” to be brave, take a long moment to reflect on the meaning of the principles in your life and in your relationships. Tackles your own trepidation, resentment or obstinacy. I guarantee that you will find that you have what it takes.