Recovery Without Faith?

Recovery is as much a spiritual process as it is a physical one. And that shouldn’t be a surprise. When we were lost in our addiction not only did we harm our bodies and our relationships, we compromised our souls. We became slaves to our substance or behavior. It ruled our lives. Our real selves went into exile. Our Godly soul fell silent and an impostor took its place.

In recovery we not only stop a damaging behavior; we not only give up a harmful dependency. In recovery we restore our sense of self. We become whole again…or maybe for the first time. We are renewed as much in spirit as in body.

This is in concert with what our tradition teaches us. When we pray for healing it is always for a refuat hanefesh as well as for a refuat haguf, a healing of the soul as well as the body. Because if one is impaired it cannot help but affect the other, and in addiction recovery both need healing.

Their maybe other methods to stop using, but  recovery based on the 12-Steps fosters a holistic view, taking into account both body and soul. Time and again, The 12-Steps call for a spiritual consciousness. The work required of us to use this method of healing involves cultivating a relationship with our God.

Take a look at the first three steps, often thought of as the building blocks of the process…

1   We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

2   Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

3  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

The first half of the first step is the only time that substance use is even mentioned, the remaining eleven and a half steps focus on spirituality and having a relationship with our “Higher Power” In clear and challenging terms the Steps call us to faith. Some have reduced the first three steps to six words. “I can’t. He can, Let Him”  In the tradition of Twelve Step recovery one not only needs a desire to stop using but also a willingness to find faith and to trust in a Higher Power .

But here lies the problem for many of us who want to do more than stop our dependency. How can we who don’t believe in God participate in the Twelve Step recovery. How can we, who have for whatever reason found ourselves full of doubt and questioning, turn our lives over to God, any God?

Many of us want to feel whole and renewed of spirit. We want our selves back as we were meant to be….yet we became estranged from our faith. We lost our connection to God and to tradition.  We want back, or perhaps for the first time, the spirituality the Twelve Steps call for…but how? How do we find a spirituality without faith?

I think the answer can be found in a wise saying often heard in the recovery community. It is asked what is the difference between religion and spirituality?  The answer, “religion is for those who don’t want to go to hell, spirituality is for those who have been there!”

The truth is that all of us who are, or have been, slaves to our addiction and it’s devastation know that hell. We have been there. Our spirituality emerges not out of a belief in God but in the desperation of our desire to escape that hell. Faith is not a luxury for us. It is a necessity. The spirituality expressed in the 2nd and 3rd step are rooted in the first step, “came to believe we were powerless…” Everyone needs to believe in something and if you feel powerful enough you can even believe in yourself. For most of us addicts our god was our addiction. It was or “savior’… until it wasn’t…until our lives had become so unmanageable that something had to change. That the hell we experienced led us to a point of desperation so intense that anything was better that what we were experiencing…anything.

Without the addiction, without believing in our own power, we must believe in something to survive. We have no choice. For those of us who believe in God we learn to surrender to Him and His will. For those of us who can’t yet find a way to God we need to believe in something…no longer can it be our addiction, no longer can it be ourselves. So what will it be?

Our choices are many, but all need to support our renewal and recovery. Maybe we will believe in the power of the fellowship…or maybe in the goodness in the world…it matters not…as long as it is a healthy source of inspiration.

In the end what matters most is the awareness of our hell and the recognition that we cannot escape that hell, our hell, on our own. Out of desperation we will find a source of belief in a Higher Power. For some of us that Higher Power is God, and for others it isn’t God per se.

Yes, the Twelve Steps is a spiritual process and yes, it belongs as much to the one without traditional faith as with.  And why? Because we all need to believe in something..something beyond our limited selves, something other than our addictions.

We call that something our Higher Power. If for some it is not G-d it is of Him and surely leads to Him.

About the Author
Michael “Big Mike” Gondelman is the Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Sober House. After a long battle with Drug and Alcohol addiction Big Mike turned his life around and has made it his life’s work to help others struggling with addiction. Mike holds a Certified Addictions and Substance Abuse Professional (CASAP) international certification from the IC&RC and a Bachelors Degree in Judaic Studies from Ohr Somaech Yeshiva. To find out more about the Jerusalem Sober House, visit us online at: To contact Mike, please email
Related Topics
Related Posts