12 Step Recovery: Higher Power

  1. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  2. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Some people struggle with the Higher Power in the 12 Steps. For others it is a deal-breaker that excludes them from the program. I’ve heard of some other recovery programs described as “like the 12 Steps but without a Higher Power,” which is an oxymoron. The whole premise of the program is captured in the first three steps: I do not have enough power; something or somebody else has sufficient power; I am willing to let go of the steering wheel and let the Higher Power drive.


Yggdrasil – Oluf Olufsen Bagge, 1847

“How we understand Him,” is actually the first obstacle. If we can only imagine Him objectively, categorically, as “Him over there,” physically as matter or energy, then we are in trouble. Any such Power is dubious at best and intellectually insulting at worst. God – He (pardon the old but convenient language) has to be transcendent. He has to go beyond subject/object divisions, all categories, time or space. After that, you can understand Him any way you want. The Perennial Philosophy says that He is the “ground of all being,” but all language and concepts necessarily fall short of capturing God’s essence. Perhaps the most honest description can be borrowed from quantum physics: “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.

The “who God is” is directly tied to the “how God is.” How does God “restore us to sanity?” God does not zap us from on high to cure us of alcoholism or anything else. In a paradoxical way, we effect our own sobriety when we give up our illusion of autonomy and begin to participate in the cosmos and the divine-human community. What a relief it is not to be struggling for our private self-worth and happiness-amidst-chaos on a moment to moment basis! How you position yourself is everything. If you are a self-sufficient island, your life becomes unmanageable. If you are participating, connected, even dependent in some kind of Ultimate Reality, then overall management is no longer your headache. You are “saved” by your deeper identity.

This place of self-positioning has always been there. It does not “happen” when you decide to work the steps. You only start to benefit by opening yourself up to what has always been available. This is how T. S. Eliot can write:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

The Higher Power is latent inside of you, where you started, but it is not you – wholly other. Expand into it (“turn our will and our lives over to”) and you will see yourself as if for the first time.