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Do We Really Need a Higher Power to Stay Sober?

Higher Power is a term coined in the 1930s in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and is used in other twelve-step programs. It is also sometimes referred to as a power greater than ourselves and is frequently abbreviated to HP. The term sometimes refers to a supreme being or deity, or some conception of God. – search “Higher Power”


So you have gone to a few meetings and you keep hearing that you are powerless over alcohol and that you need to find a Higher Power, and of course you absolutely revolt against such a crazy idea!! (I sure did!)

Practically no one wants to admit lack of power or control over anything in life, and especially not over drinking. Then on top of that, also admit that some sort of help is needed, and a reliance on a Higher Power… just in order to stay sober!? That seemed quite unattainable to me.

I have never been a religious person. I used to consider myself an atheist, and I believe that I am more of an agnostic now. Religion still boggles my mind and makes me feel uneasy. I think it is mostly because when I was a kid I was often threatened with God and his punishments when I misbehaved.

However, religion and spiritually are not necessarily the same, and I most of my life I lived without either; I did not have any religion or any beliefs, and I had no spirituality. I was scientific, I proclaimed, and science can and always does explain everything!

Eventually alcohol had become EVERYTHING to me, and when I made it my Higher Power there sure was not much room for any spirituality.

When I finally started my recovery journey, I could not stay sober for more than a few months at a time. I was struggling terribly and I kept thinking that I was missing something. Being part of the 12-step program I was often reminded that I needed a Higher Power, a God of my understanding, a belief in something greater than myself, a spiritual path to follow, and faith of some kind. But this was quite a tall order for my so very scientific mind, and I was not having any part of it! However, I came to my wit’s end – my life was in shambles, I was lost and in lots of pain, and I just could not stay sober!!

Slowly, I started accepting the possibility that I might need spirituality of some kind; I just could not do this all by myself.

Although the 12-step literature often reference God and Higher Power, do not let that stop you from being open-minded about your spiritual path:

“To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men. When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you.” AA Big Book, We Agnostics

So in simpler words, your Higher Power, or God, can be anything you want it to be! And when you think about it, you have probably already had a few of these sort of higher powers – your favorite shirt, your lucky charm, that lucky number, or some special thing you got from a dear friend long, long ago – all things that you believed brought you good luck or strength or kept you safe. This is the same! We all need something to believe in. And possibly one day you will find yourself at some situation, event or moment in time, when the only thing between you and a drink is something greater and bigger than you, that you can believe will keep you sober!


My very first HP was a giant oak tree outside of my house – it was bigger and stronger than me, so I thought it was quite fitting. I spent hours sitting under this tree and talking to it. But the tree could not be with me all of the time and I felt that I needed something that I could always have with me. My second HP was a necklace with a cross pendant that I wore every single day for 3 years! However, I felt that it was not quite fitting since it had a religious symbol, so eventually I bought a new pendant that says BELIEVE –  that’s really all any of us need.

Here is a bit more on the Higher Power concept as AA sees it:

SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE  from Appendix II – AA, Big Book
The terms “spiritual experience” and “spiritual awakening” are used many times in this book which, upon careful reading, shows that the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism has manifested itself among us in many different forms. Yet it is true that our first printing gave many readers the   impression that these personality changes, or religious experiences, must be in the nature of sudden and spectacular upheavals. Happily for everyone, this conclusion is erroneous.

In the first few chapters a number of sudden revolutionary changes are described. Though it was not our intention to create such an impression, many alcoholics have nevertheless concluded that in order to recover they  must acquire an immediate and overwhelming “God-consciousness” followed at once by a vast change in feeling and outlook. Among our rapidly growing membership of thousands of alcoholics such transformations, though frequent, are by no means the rule. Most of our experiences are what the  psychologist William James calls the “educational variety” because they develop slowly over a period of time. Quite often friends of the newcomer are aware of the difference long before he is himself. He finally realizes  that he has undergone a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that such a change could hardly have been  brought about by himself alone. What often takes place in a few months could seldom have been accomplished by years of self-discipline. With few exceptions our  members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves. Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it “God-consciousness.” Most emphatically we wish to say that any alcoholic capable of honestly facing his problems in the light of our experience can recover, provided he does not close his mind to all  spiritual concepts. He can only be defeated by an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial.

We find that no one need have difficulty with the spirituality of the program. Willingness, honesty and open mindedness are the essentials of recovery. But these are indispensable.

If you are still struggling and want to see what others are using as their Higher Power, check out this great list from Sober Nation website, 5 Forms of a Higher Power to Believe In: 1. Music, 2. Nature, 3. The Universe, 4. Humanity, 5. LOVE 

If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with alcohol addiction, please click the Find Support link for an extensive list of support groups. Also please check out the links to many useful resources in the sidebar, and always feel free to contact me anytime at

You may also find some great inspiration and support from all the awesome sober bloggers listed in the side bar under POSTS I LIKE and RECOVERY BLOGGERS, as well as Sober Courage page on Facebook and Sober Courage on Twitter.



  1. Hello Magz! So I sought this post out because I worked with someone recently you approached me because he was struggling with step 3. I met with him for an hour and threw what I knew and experienced at him, all of it. He could accept HP business to a certain extent. But it ended with the group as the HP. After that, he couldn’t bring himself to pray. “How could I pray to that?” That’s sort of where we left it. He told me the other day that he was going to stop calling if I keep pushing the “prayer stuff.” So, I don’t know. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

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