It can be hard to be an atheist in recovery. Especially if you are a member of a twelve-step group, you may find your beliefs are met with some contempt and judgement. Furthermore, the format of twelve-step programs doesn’t really allow a ton of room for people who are atheists. Here are a few things I have found useful as an atheist in recovery in my personal experience.
Learn to Meditate
Meditation is a great practice that does not require any belief in a supernatural power. Rather, there is quite a bit of scientific evidence behind meditation, and it’s an intensely pragmatic process. Although it may be referred to as a “spiritual” practice, meditation can be done without needing to believe in anything other than your own potential to see things more clearly. The
I have found that meditation can serve as a wonderful way to grow and learn. Without needing to believe in a god or higher power, mindfulness meditation practice has given me some direction. The path of practice allows me to investigate my mind, experience, and reactions with some trust in myself. To me, this is appealing. Rather than resting my trust in something external, meditation helps me trust my potential to grow and learn.
This can be a hard thing to do when we have beliefs that differ from those of other people. I’ve found in my personal experience that when I tell people in local AA meetings that I don’t believe in a higher power, I am often met with some sort of judgement, pity, or contempt. However, this is certainly not the case across the board. Many people really don’t care what my beliefs are as long as I am taking care of myself.
On the other hand, we have immense power in sharing. I once spoke at a third step meeting in Santa Monica, which was interesting being an atheist. I talked about turning my will and my life over to my recovery and my “higher self.” After I spoke, there was some time for sharing and a few people expressed some discontentment with what I shared. On the other hand, I had a few people come up to me after and express that they felt at home and accepted. That was a few years ago, and I actually still sponsor one of the few young men that I met that day sharing! By sharing openly and honestly, we can allow others to see us clearly and perhaps see they’re not alone.
Be True to Yourself
In the same way we’re honest with others, we have to practice honesty with ourselves. If we have beliefs, we have to stick to them. Sometimes we shy away from being true to ourselves because we want to please others or fall into the “shoulda, would, coulda” game in our heads. Instead, we can investigate what is useful for ourselves and stick to it. This doesn’t mean we become close-minded or unwilling to change, but we can do what we need to do for ourselves. Your job isn’t to please everyone around you. You need to take care of yourself first.
Regardless of our beliefs around a higher power or god, open-mindedness can serve us. We remain open to learning new things, finding new practices that may benefit us, and investigating different methods of self-growth. Maybe we try out a yoga class, pick up new exercises, or are simply open to discussing spirituality with religious friends. We can have our beliefs, stick to them, and still be open to hearing about other beliefs and learning about them. If we become too close-minded, we end up preventing ourselves from growing and deepening our understanding.
Find Your Crew
This has been a super helpful one for me in my experience. Although we may feel alone in our beliefs, there are always other people out there with whom we can connect. Keep your ears open for others that share similar beliefs. When we find a community in recovery where we truly feel understood, we have a huge opportunity. Connection is key to recovery, and can help us stay sober and happy.