For as long as I can remember, religion has made me squirm. I’ve never felt comfortable in churches. The Bible has never resonated with me. I’ve never felt really, truly connected to God as many people understand Him. Prayer has never come easily or naturally to me.
So when I got sober, I got hung up on step two of the 12 steps. For anyone unfamiliar with these steps, the second one has to do with a higher power. It reads as follows: “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Right off the bat, I had an issue with this step. I wasn’t quite sold on getting sober, though I knew I needed to do so. I was still in the stubborn and frustrated phase of early sobriety. And at that point in my recovery, I assumed a higher power had to mean God. Because my past experiences with religion weren’t the best, and because I no longer really considered myself religious, this was a confusing step for me. I didn’t want to suddenly turn to God and religion when neither had been part of my life in recent years.
So I overthought it. I protested it. I ignored it. But eventually I had to move past that step and move forward with my recovery. Four years later, I’m still sober. But my success in recovery has had nothing to do with God or religion. Here’s why.
1. I seek connection in other areas of life
Even though I don’t consider myself religious, I still believe in something somewhere out there that has the ultimate say. I just don’t put a name to it. When I feel like life becomes too much and I need to be calmed down and remember who I am, I turn to nature. Grass and wind and sunsets and rain all make me feel alive and connected to this world. When I immerse myself in the beauty of this Earth, I realize how small I am, and how small my problems are as well. The same goes for connections with other people in life. There are a select few people in this world who can always say the right thing and ground me when I need it most. Cultivating those relationships and connections is so important. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy, though. When I’m in a hard place in my own life, I struggle to show up for people. But recognizing that is part of improving it. Connections — to the earth, to others, to anything — are so vital in recovery because they give it all a meaning.
2. Religion wasn’t part of my life before recovery.
Sure, there was a time I went to church. My parents raised us Catholic until I was about 10. Then we began attending a Covenant church. But as time went on and I grew older and more capable of making my own decisions, I realized that going to church was something I dreaded. I never felt comfortable or at home like so many others did. I craved that feeling, but church was never where I found it — even as I got older and attended a few different churches of my own choosing. It just never clicked for me and I saw so much conflict in what people said versus how they acted. So when I got sober and people began talking about God, I felt myself withdrawing and disconnecting. Because I hadn’t been active in religion before getting sober, I didn’t feel that I wanted it to be a part of my recovery. In the early months of sobriety, I did try church and I did try praying. But I was met with the same disconnect I’d always felt. So I listened to my gut and I did what I felt was best for my recovery — and that has nothing to do with religion or church or prayer. Instead, it has to do with talking and writing and connecting and helping others. It has to do with voicing the ups and downs of life and recovery and trying to be an example that it’s OK to not be OK. Today, I just try to be raw and real and me, and that’s what works.
3. I knew I had to be the one to save myself
When it comes down to it, my sobriety was up to me at the beginning and it’s still my choice every single day. If I wanted to, I could get in my car, drive to the liquor store, buy alcohol and drink it, and no person or other force could stop that. No one apart from myself has a say in whether or not I pick up a drink. I’ve heard people in recovery say they are sober thanks to God and God alone, or say that God keeps them from picking up a drink. That has always confused me a little bit, simply because they do have control over their own actions. I’m not saying God and religion can’t play a role in recovery, as they definitely can for some people. But even those people put in the work themselves to remain sober. At the end of the day, we save ourselves.
I’ll admit, I don’t know what the future holds. For all I know, I could find a church where I do feel comfortable and connected. Religion could become meaningful to me, and if that is the case, I’m sure it would become a vital part of my sobriety. But at this point in my life, religion plays no role in my recovery and I’m 100 percent OK with that. We each have our own path and our own methods for living the best life we are capable of. What I am doing to maintain my sobriety has worked for me for four years, and at the end of the day that’s what matters.