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Who Needs G‑d?

Who Needs G‑d?

How AA’s Twelve Steps Can Help You


A well-known saying asserts that in foxholes there are no atheists.

When we're in a position of pain, danger or need, something within us awakens and reignites a deep connection to our Source. And somehow, with this connection, we find strength we never knew we had and the ability to move forward.

A paradigm for this is the Twelve Step Program from Alcoholics Anonymous. This program is one of the most successful self-help models in existence, so successful, in fact, that it has been modified and adapted by other groups including Narcotics Anonymous, Al Anon for families of alcoholics, CODA for co-dependency, Self-Esteem Anonymous and more.

At the core of the program is the belief in a Higher Being who has the ability to help us overcome our "unmanageable lives."

In the words of the Steps:

Step 1: I admit that my life has become unmanageable and I have become powerless.

Step 2: I acknowledge the belief that a Power greater than I can restore sanity to my life.

Step 3: I turn my life over to this greater Power, however I want to define Him, and ask for His help.

In a nutshell, these three steps are saying: "I can't. G‑d, You can. Please help!"

What is it about the Twelve Steps that makes this program so versatile and successful?

And, why does the acknowledgement of a Higher Being—rather than, for example, looking inward and just encouraging one's own efforts—bring healing and solace when we feel overcome with addictions, suffering, stress or despair?

I think the emphasis on a Higher Being is a necessary balm for any broken heart in these three fundamental ways:

1) Recognizing Our Limitations

We live in a world of unprecedented human achievement. We've conquered so many frontiers and overcome limitations on so many levels including technology, medicine, and communication. We've become accustomed to controlling our realities.

Yet, ironically, we also take comfort in becoming aware of our own smallness. Despite our human achievements, despite the cosmic significance of our technological advances, despite the intricate complexities of the machines that we create, or the crushing power of the weapons we manufacture, when all is said and done, when we consider the vastness of our universe, we don't ultimately want to be in charge. We find it strangely comforting to believe in a Power that is much greater than ourselves who takes ultimate responsibility for our world.

We aren't accustomed to accepting limits, yet when we encounter circumstances over which we have no control, we are forced to face our limitations. Recognizing a Higher Power means acknowledging that we need the help of Someone outside of ourselves to overcome our struggle, whether in the arena of health, self-limiting beliefs, addictions or negative self-talk.

And that recognition is the comforting first step to our recovery.

2) We're Not Alone

Wherever we may find ourselves on this planet (and beyond), at all times of day or night, today's technology allows us to instant message, email, voice mail, and video conference with one another. And yet, more and more of us feel disconnected and intensely lonely. We're "in touch" and always just a click away from a whole cyber-community, but we don't feel "connected" on a more meaningful level.

This aloneness becomes all the more acute when we are fighting a formidable battle over an acutely painful situation.

Recognition of a Higher Being means that we are never inherently alone.

The Ultimate Being of compassion and wisdom has a real connection with you and is saying: I am near you. I understand your struggles even when you feel so alone. I am with you even before your predicament, providing you with the fortitude to continue. I will help you tackle unchartered territory. I understand you better than you understand yourself.

G‑d understands and is with us through our fears, uncertainties, failures and successes and makes us feel that much less frightened and isolated in taking steps towards our future.

While, to some, belief in G‑d means presenting a wish list of what we want or need, it is foremost the experience of being in the company of G‑d. At all times. In all struggles.

3) You Matter

And finally, being in G‑d's presence brings the recognition that despite my smallness, as G‑d's creation, I matter.

Have you ever strolled through a crowded shopping mall, or down a crowded pedestrian walkway, neck to neck with tens of others, sensing that your presence there doesn't matter at all? No one would really notice or care if you weren't exactly where you are, doing what you're doing. Your presence doesn't matter. Not to anyone.

And yet, belief in a Higher Power means you do matter and that your every action is significant.

There is reason for challenge. It is not a random happening, but a planned struggle necessary for our souls. There is a point and a purpose to our successes and our failures. On some level, the chaos of our world is not chaos, but makes perfect sense.

Whether we are dealing with an addiction to some negative substance, or whether we are struggling with a crisis or challenge, at some point in our lives, we all cry out from the depths of our souls.

Unfortunately, life is too full of moments when we acutely feel, G‑d, I just can't.

At those moments, we need to be able to find within ourselves the comforting words: G‑d, You can. Please help!

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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john smith fort laudedale, florida August 21, 2012

posted by heather "What if there's no sign"

This where the words faith and belief come from. Free choice of the soul is yours as written...

Surely you did not create yourself, but only had the choices to become who you are...once you were created.

You may not always like the outcome of your decisions, but you always have the choice of them...

You are not alone in your thoughts, ever. Reply

Pat Zentara Lodi, California August 21, 2012

The Twelve Steps Are the best thing that ever I have experienced, There is not a moment when I feel helpless that going over the steps brings me back to sanity. They bring me back to Hashem and yes, I can work through challenges and stop trying to run the entire universe.
With forty two years of sobriety I do think that beyond addictions these are profound steps for any human being. I am aware that some think they are.too simplistic.
Thank you,Chana ! Reply

Anonymous LasVegas, Nevada May 26, 2010

Who needs G-d? Hi Chana W,
I think the 12 steps should be in school K thru Campus College, and not just for those with severe problems, but for all, the wonderful simple 12 gems of steps to help us with life's little bewildering mountains.
We who believe Torah/Bible truth can so often miss the obvious, while searching the Torah/Bible for complex answers... Reply

Anonymous Chuncheon, South Korea March 12, 2010

no real addiction Never really had an an addiction in the popular or well-known sense of the word. Basically lived a good life. I even quit smoking after two years at around 21 all by myself one evening as I lay in the grass. I felt very proud of myself. But what I failed to realize was my addiction to pornography that can eventually become a monster and destroy and distort relationships. I thought I gave this up last summer but it was on Yom Kippur that G-d completely cleaned me from this bondage...that prison with golden bars. I realized that I had to be really willing to change, and to stop playing games with G-d. Yes means yes and no means no. I did revert back to that addiction for a while but I know without a doubt that it's no longer that monster that had a stronghold in my life. Reply

jeff kassap westlake village, CA March 6, 2010

fellowship I spent time in prison and tried this new G-D concept since this being my 5th time in prison something new sounded good.I have been a addict for my entire life and desperatly need help.I studied and kept kosher for five years but it was not enough.I found out the hard way that without A.A and the fellowship that goes along with it Religion alone without a community was not enough.I am so very pleased for this combination of Both these put together that I am confident their will ot be a 6th time.Thank u Reply

Anonymous Quincy, Illinois March 6, 2010

self help groups Working the Twelve Steps whether NA, AA or any A we learn that they all are a program of action. The Big Book tells us as does the
Tanakh or Bible that faith without works is dead. Nobody can get sober by osmosis. I know if you do what is suggested to do you can stay sober and live a wonderful life... Reply

choddie59 omaha, ne March 6, 2010

hi! good story! i purposely read this to see what chabad.og had to say about AA. it's good!
i don't remember when the last time i went to a meeting (i've been in the hospital for a year and lost my memory for a couple of years). but AA used to give me G-d every day! Reply

Anonymous baltimore March 6, 2010

self help groups sadly so many in these groups think simply by saying I turn it over to G-d, that they have done all they need to. It is the true internallization and connection each of us has to our g-d and how we live our days to honor G-d that is the true turning point. Just saying it doesn't make the connection, living it does. G-d granted the strength within each of us to reach this goal. Reply

Baruch ben Yonosan Ventura, CA March 5, 2010

Re: Proof (12 Steps Not Sham) If you've found a program that works for you, that keeps you clean, but, more deeply, helps you become a sane, loving and caring person, Amen! For me, NA has been a lifeblood. It does not necessarily "replace" anything else, be they psychiatry, rehab, Yoga, Judaism, etc., but it is spiritual and fellowship and sage wisdom from over 60 years of developed NA literature. I am also Jewish. In fact, more "frum" than I've ever been, but NA is a central part of my life that complements my Torah observance. The key to recovery--true recovery, not "white knuckling it" or independence from others--is recognizing that you need help from a Higher More Powerful and More Loving Source than yourself. I believe it is clearly G-d. You may believe it's your therapist. Fine, but how is your program working for you? Plus, don't get me started on recalling all the incredible anonymous success stories that have come out of NA since 1953. Reply

Marie Z. Encino , CA March 5, 2010

Who Needs G-d? Your post on the necessity of "G-d" (my interpretation, anyway) was spot on. Thank you for sharing it. Eighteen months ago, as someone claiming to have an existing belief in "G-d," I joined A.A.-- dejected and pitiable. Through working the 12-Steps and reading the Big Book of A.A. I was shown how to put my former flimsy belief into practice. I have since come to accept that a God Of My Own Understanding is at play in my daily life--a sort of Great Oz milling about backstage, pulling the strings, even though I struggle nearly daily at capitulating.

It's a comfort, to-be-sure, knowing, as you say, I am "not alone." Still I struggle with what often feels like a battle of wills: mine and G-d's. But what the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous has taught me is, basically, to get over myself (which I find I'm actually willing to do today!) It stresses too, in equal parts: have fun,clean house; trust "G-d." And at the end of the day, I can trust I'll sleep, gratefully, and with peace. Reply

Chana Weisberg (author) March 5, 2010

To Jeff: This article may have some answers for you: Is the Lord's Prayer Non-denominational? Reply

Chuck L Soldotna, AK March 5, 2010

prayer Yossi, hi, & I understand your problem with that prayer. I'm not a Jew, wife is, but I "think Jewish" more than anything else. That prayer, "Our Father...etc" bothers me also, from the masculine connotation, Christian heritage, etc. And there's lots of Jews, Christians, and just plain "God believing" folks in AA, etc, who are uncomfortable with it. So, what the hell, we deal with all of this by metaphor anyway, just have to let it go and move on. But, you are not alone in your question. And, oh yeah, Hi, my name is Chuck and I'm an alcoholic. Reply

Anonymous from Columbus Ohio Columbus, Ohio March 5, 2010

12 Steps the gift from G-d I always had a belief, but I was confusing religion with spiritual. If one questions about a higher power and you have found your way to a 12 step program, ask yourself, why did I make it here in these rooms (recovery) and so many haven't? If that isn't a G-d of your understanding giving you back your life then I don't know. I too live JUST FOR TODAY, as the moment is all we are promised. I have no doubt that G-d surrounds me with love, light and protection. (so long as I follow this way, I have nothing to fear) Love and Hugs Reply

Jeff Kassap Westlake Village, CA. March 5, 2010

Prayer I am concerned that the serenity and the Lrds. prayer are not Jewish therefore when the time comes to recite them I feel separated frpm the group Is this a real concern or am i just maing reservations>?Hi, My name is Yossi and I am an addict!!!! Reply

Anonymous March 4, 2010

The Twelve Step Program I have been a member of AA for a while now and have to say that not only did this program save my life but it brought me here and to Kabbalah and a new awakening. It gave me my life back and brought me to understand who my higher power really is, why I am on this earth and where I am going. I am not unique, I see this happening to others every single day.

Peace Reply

Yehudis March 4, 2010

Proof? You say, "This program is one of the most successful self-help models in existence."

How do you know this?

I am well aware that 12 Step Programs make this claim, but where's the evidence? The fact that there are so many of them doesn't prove it's successful in helping people overcome their problems.

Psychologist and author Stanton Peele greatly opposes the popular 12 Step disease model of addiction which has warped our society's thinking in numerous ways and shows that there is no evidence that 12 Steps is anywhere near as successful as people claim it is. Reply

Anonymous March 4, 2010

twelve steps programs I 'm living in France and belonging to a twelve steps program, NA. I want to thank you for speaking about that kind of fellowship which could save lives. Be blessed... Reply

Anonymous March 4, 2010

Wonderous 12 Steps Chana, marvelously said. This view is so crucial to the addict. Without it, we perish in relapse. Let me also add that with G_d in control, we no longer have to live in constant regret about the past or worry about the future. As recovering addicts, we live "Just For Today." Our daily mitzvos have meaning and we can trust that G-d will reveal his will for our lives each new day. Reply

john smith fort lauderdale, fl March 3, 2010

posted by heather some people do care. in the beginning of this article there are even examples of groups of them. i am not saying that these groups are what you are looking for but there are therapist, rabbi's or even toll free (800) telephone numbers. the real question is... what do you want them to hear? Reply

Heather * March 3, 2010

poignant topic but what happens if you feel like G-d isn't there to answer your plea? What if there's no sign that anyone is listening; or that anyone cares? Reply

Often we need a break from our daily routine. A pause from life to help us appreciate life.

A little pat on the back to let us know when we're on track. A word of encouragement to help us through those bleak moments and difficult days.

Sometimes, we just yearn for some friendship and camaraderie, someone to share our heart with. And sometimes we need a little direction from someone who's been there.

So, take a short pause from the busyness of your day and join Chana Weisberg for a cup of coffee.

Chana Weisberg is the author of Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman and four other books. Weisberg is a noted educator and columnist and lectures worldwide on issues relating to women, faith, relationships and the Jewish soul.
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