Wendy describes powerlessness as being a central concept in 12-step fellowships such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It is argued that if control of substance use is beyond your own willpower, then there has to be some other power that is going to bring about abstinence.
Wendy emphasises that we must remember that the 12 steps were written in America in the 1930s by white Christian men who came from quite pious backgrounds. For them, the Higher Power was indisputably God. However, early on in the development of AA, room was made for people to interpret Higher Power in any way that made sense to them.
Wulf points out that some people reject fellowships without trying them because they say they don’t want ‘to do that god-stuff’. Wendy can understand this, given the literature is still the formal language of the 1930s. However, if you listen to the voices of fellowship members you hear really creative ways they interpret that language, in ways that make sense for themselves.
In Wendy’s research, only 25% of her fellowship participants described themselves as religious. Many people who stick around in the fellowships interpret Higher Power in secular ways. She points out that lots of ideas found in SMART Recovery, which presents itself as rational and scientific, ‘those very same mechanisms are working in this apparently religious or spiritual context’ of the 12-step fellowship.
Wulf asks Wendy where does the sense of spirituality sit between the formal religious and the secular? She points out that there are problems in making a sharp distinction between the religious, spiritual and secular.