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What is a “Higher Power” that you hear about in recovery?

What is a Higher Power that you hear about in recovery

Most people have heard the term “Higher Power” – particularly used around recovery. But what precisely is it?

Firstly, it is not really precisely anything. Certainly in its usage in the Twelve Steps groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) it is emphasized that a Higher Power is your own conception of what that is.

Many people do use the name God for their Higher Power, or at least eventually come to use it. But there are also a great many atheists and agnostics who find a Higher Power of their own conception that works in helping them beat an addiction that had previously beaten them, sometimes for many years and often virtually to death.

Indeed, in the Twelve Steps the only part that’s underlined or italicized is when it says after the word “God” – “as we understand Him”. It does this on Steps Three and Step Eleven of the Twelve Steps.

These were written in America more than 80 years ago. So even then when most people went to church, they knew this aspect had to be accentuated.

May the Force be with you

A Higher Power can be anything that the person believes is of a greater power than they are alone – and that it’s loving and caring. Some call it Mother Nature, Lord, Buddha, Allah, Vishnu, the Highest Good, the Universe, the Greatest Ideal, the Creative Intelligence, consciousness, Truth, love…

Think of a metaphysical and ubiquitous power, an energy. So it has also been known that someone has found strength through thinking of their Higher Power as the Force from Star Wars, the managerial set-up of their favorite baseball team, or the Twelve Steps program itself.

However, it should not be another person such as a partner, sponsor, therapist, best friend or a parent. It needs to be a greater power than any individual alone.

Frequently at Twelve Steps meetings, in the beginning new people think of the other people at the meeting as a greater power. “God” in this instance has been said to stand here for “Group of drunks/drug addicts”.

As professor of literature Joseph Campbell, who realized the extraordinary concept of the hero’s journey, put it: “God is a thought, God is a name, God is an idea, but its reference is to something that transcends all thinking.

“The best things can’t be told, because they transcend thought. The ultimate word in our language for that which is transcendent is God.”

Spirituality not religion 

Often the spiritual association to recovery is off-putting for many people. It is a route a lot of people feel uncomfortable with for a number of reasons.

Identifying as atheist or agnostic means they cannot see how this method for recovery and living life on life’s terms could possibly work for them. Some people, for instance, may have had terrible experiences connected with a church and want nothing more to do with religion.

It’s fully understandable, but as is often pointed out: spirituality differs from religion in that instead of following a defined way of thinking and having rules, people can become aware of the spiritual aspect inside themselves.

There is an inner knowing that we all have of human morals and values. Many atheists and agnostics who have tried a program where belief in a Higher Power is part of the solution have found great success.

Came to believe

“Higher Power” and “Power greater than ourselves” appear in the AA “Big Book” three times. 

“[The alcoholic’s] defense must come from a Higher Power.”

“Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world, no matter what your present circumstances!”

“Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

It is believed the term Higher Power came to be used after AA founders read psychologist and philosopher William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature book. This book mentions “higher power” or “higher powers” several times.

Purpose of having a Higher Power

Step One of the Twelve Steps says: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Having a belief in a Higher Power helps people in recovery because they are powerless over whatever it is they want to stop. As first written here it says alcohol, but replacing that word with drugs or sex or gambling and so on has also helped a great many suffering addicts to stop and stay stopped.

It’s because the first step in recovery is for someone to admit that they’re actually powerless over what is happening. Whatever they’re in the grip of, whether it’s alcoholism or whatever it may be is far more powerful than they are.

If they had power over it on their own, it wouldn’t be a problem. They would just decide to stop – and then be able to stay stopped.

So after admitting they are powerless, they need to find an alternative source of power if they are going to live free from whatever they were powerless about. The concept of a Higher Power is: how can we find a power greater than the disturbance that is within us.

The word “power” comes from Latin posse meaning “be able”. So people who want to be able to stop an addiction or something negative that they’re chronically feeling can invite a greater power in, whatever is their conceptualization of one.

For several decades now, this method has worked for hundreds of thousands of people around the world. This is in not only helping people quit addictions but in transforming their lives so that they can play a successful and meaningful part in society. 

Our expert team has many years of professional experience in treating all types of mental health problems and emotional issues. We offer proven successful treatments that can help everyone who needs emotional rehabilitation.

Our 30-90 Day Personalized Treatment Program includes an introduction to the first three of the Twelve Steps. It has helped a great many people to overcome an addiction and/or mental health issues.

Located next to our beautiful tranquil lake in the perfect natural setting, we have created our luxurious mansion with your total relaxation as a priority.

Contact us today to speak about how we can help you or someone you care about to get into recovery.

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David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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