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Came to Believe? Not Exactly

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Updated on

This Will Not Be One of Those “I Then Came to Believe” Stories

When I first came into the 12-step room and read steps two and three, I froze. Back then I was a “recovering Catholic” of 21 years and identified as an atheist, so seeing those words frightened me. I panicked, but my current state of unmanageability and the emotional pain I was feeling trumped my avid atheism. I felt uncomfortable, but the willingness I held to move forward with these steps, despite my stout disbelief, allowed me to continue. With the help of a sponsor, who was a Christian, I began working through these steps.

I decided I would pick up the religious undertones that so many in the groups I attended and my sponsor held. I agreed to do everything my sponsor suggested, like praying on my knees every morning, meditating, and most importantly believe in a Higher Power. I somehow convinced my sponsor (and myself) that I had step two down and could move onto step three. My sponsor instructed me to say the Third Step Prayer every morning:

God, I offer myself to Thee – To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!

I bristled when I said the words, but I had the willingness to do so due to remembering the pain of where I came from in active addiction. I kept saying the words every day for the first six months of my sobriety. It still felt uncomfortable and unnatural, but I had convinced myself that I believed in this “god fellow” everyone talked about so much. I “acted as if” I believed for about the first year of my sobriety. I remember sharing in early recovery that I was an atheist and I would get responses from the group like: “just believe that I believe,” “just be willing, keep praying, and you will be contacted,” or “it doesn’t matter if you believe in Him, He believes in you.”

I’m sorry to inform the readers that this will not be one of those “I then came to believe” stories that are all too common in 12-step programs. I am now more than six years sober, and consider myself agnostic. I do not believe in any theistic religions. I still worked a 12-step program successfully. After my first year in recovery, I realized that I was only doing two of the three components that are needed: open-mindedness, willingness, and honesty. I had been open-minded, so much so that I almost convinced myself I believed what others seemingly wanted me to believe. I was willing, I did exactly what my sponsor asked me to do for a long enough time for it to be considered a habit. However, I lacked honesty.

Around a year sober, I started being honest with my sponsor and everyone in the meetings I attended. I said that I was an agnostic, I didn’t know what I believed, but I knew what I did not believe. I didn’t like the words god, creator, etc. My sponsor laughed and told me that I didn’t have to agree with her concept of a Higher Power, or anyone else’s, and that I could have my own. At that moment, I had a weight lifted and I began to realize that my Higher Power was the 12-step group, their experiences that I learned from and could still learn from, and the collective consciousness of all of us in recovery.

Living in Jacksonville, Florida (also known as the “Bible Belt of the South”),  I get some pushback when I share that I’m an agnostic even today. I jokingly share that “I’m still waiting to be contacted like everyone said I would be,” and get responses like, “you already have been contacted, you just weren’t listening,” to which I can laugh. Who knows, maybe one day I will be contacted or listening appropriately. I’m open to any of that!

Around three years sober, I found a group called We Agnostics and Free Thinkers. I couldn’t believe that there was a group where people believed differently as I did, still attended traditional 12-step groups, and could openly discuss their differences without pushback. In this group we have Christians, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics, Seekers, etc. and we all discuss our individual journey with our common goal: to live each day sober. Prior to finding this group, I always felt like I fit in, but that I didn’t belong. I finally felt like I belonged, like this group was made for me, and it was.

This group introduced me to literature that refreshed and revamped my recovery. They had a little book of 12-steps with all different kinds of vernacular in it. They had an “agnostic daily musings” book, which is essentially the Daily Reflections, but behavior-based rather than spirituality-based. I love my 12-step program, all of the people in it, and all of the experiences they share with me. Those groups and those people helped me when I had no idea what direction to go in. Since finding my perfect-fit home-group, I have a newfound appreciation for the traditional meetings, too. There is truly a place for everyone in 12-step programs, sometimes it just takes some open-mindedness, willingness, and holding on until you find your perfect fit – your TRUE NORTH.

  • Ashley Harms, MS, CAP, CRC

    Ashley is the Director of Alumni Services for Lakeview Health. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of North Florida in Psychology with a double minor in English and Spanish. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the University of North Florida. She has over two years of experience in addiction and mental health treatment. Ashley is also a person in long-term recovery; her sobriety date is January 13, 2012. She joined Lakeview Health in 2014 as the Aftercare Coordinator. Ashley has experience in working at both adult and adolescent inpatient treatment facilities. She enjoys inspiring other young people to live sober, fulfilling, happy lives.

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