‘Higher Power’ in AA

The Concept of ‘Higher Power’ in AA

A core tenet of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program, often perceived as a requirement, is “finding a power greater than yourself.” This principle is explicit in the second step, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” and implicitly referenced throughout the Big Book and countless meetings with the concept of a “Higher Power.”

An Individual Interpretation

Many AA members resonate with the idea of this “higher power they choose to call God,” but not all share this sentiment. Not every individual in AA who achieves sobriety shares a passion for God, Higher Power, or Spirituality. However, despite differing beliefs, many have managed to get and stay sober, work the steps, and pass on the program to others. Sobriety, in itself, is a potent concept.

Avoiding Alienation

Insisting on the concept of a Higher Power can potentially alienate potential members seeking sobriety. Despite the strong language used in the Big Book, such as “may you find him now!” the text emphasizes open-mindedness: “We realize we know only a little.” Varied approaches to sobriety are generally respected in AA.

Personalizing ‘Higher Power’

Years ago, a close friend asked me for advice to help his sister, who was struggling with alcoholism. I suggested AA as a potential solution, explaining that the signs of progress would be evident in her cessation of drinking, regular attendance at AA meetings, obtaining a sponsor, and working the steps.

When asked how he would know if she was working the steps, I responded that if she made amends to him, it would be a clear indicator of her commitment to recovery. Recalling my own experience of making amends with him 30 years prior, I was met with the response, “Remember? It’s something I’ll remember until the day I die!” That, I believe, signifies a power greater than oneself.

The Essence of the Steps

The steps, particularly the action-oriented steps five and nine, embody a power beyond my own. I didn’t conjure them up independently, and were it not for AA, these actions would not have been undertaken. The fact that I was engaging in actions outside my own thoughts and inner direction effectively represents a power beyond myself.

By substituting “greater” with “other,” I bypass any potential misconceptions that can intrude into my consciousness associated with the notions of God and Spirituality.

In Conclusion: Sobriety Over Semantics

Debating the merits of faith in AA is not my objective. What I value in AA is the path to achieving and maintaining sobriety. Altering the phrase “power greater than myself” to a “power other than myself” may not appear glamorous, but it has proven effective for me, and it may offer help to others.