Do I Have To Believe In God To Get Sober? GOD, Higher Power, or Dog?

Be Honest, Do I Have To Believe In God To Get Sober?

Do I Have To Believe In God To Get Sober?

God. The three-letter word that often turns would-be recovery addicts on their heads. 

I understand why, years of baggage, pain, and confusion associated with the word. 

The word, presumably, doesn’t stand in for what it initially represented. 

The term God has since been distorted, contorted, and demoted to symbolize illness rather than wellness. 

In this article, I’m not going to vainly attempt to argue that God exists. I’m not going to try and salvage the word. 

Instead, I encourage you to go for a new experience and lay aside the concept. 

I certainly don’t plan to get tied up in the age-old debate as to whether some form of religion or spirituality is necessary for recovery. 

Instead, since the word has since turned addicts on their heads, I wish to return the favor. 

Let’s discuss DOG. 

No, I’m not about to pitch the importance of our four-footed furry companions as a must-have for addiction recovery. 

Though, I probably could come up with a reasonable argument (pugs are life). 

Instead, I want to discuss the importance of Determination, Obligation, and Goaling for your continued emotional well-being and recovery.

You’ve heard of God as Good Orderly Direction, or perhaps Group of Drunks. 

But today is the day of the DOG.

Let’s get to it then. 

The D in Dog: Determination 

Complacency: self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.

The uncritical state of mind of complacency is arguably the biggest threat to contented sobriety. 

We confuse sobriety for a static state of being rather than a process, a way of life as it were. 

To confuse recovery with simple abstinence is a grave misunderstanding. 

It’s a radical alteration in one’s entire lifestyle. 

In like manner, addiction isn’t one bad habit as in “I’m addicted to alcohol.”

It’s better to think of addiction as a lifestyle composed of a host of maladaptive habits. Habits that forge a lifestyle that makes the substance or behavior necessary.

Therefore, sobriety is the practice of healthy and adaptive habits. It’s not about quitting drinking, it’s about optimizing living!

The Ingredients The Make Up A Lifestyle 

A lifestyle has many “ingredients” depending on what one values most. 

Before reading any further, if you haven’t completed a values elicitation, now is the time. 

For convenience, use our Values Elicitation Worksheet. 

Once you’ve ascertained your values, it’s time to flesh them out into the various domains that create a lifestyle. 

Here are a few common ones:

1. Health & Wellness: This includes both your physical fitness and mental wellness. This could involve workout routines, a balanced diet, mind-calming activities like meditation, and regular check-ups with your doctor.

2. Relationships: Meaningful relationships with friends, family, and partners contribute significantly to your well-being.

3. Career/Work: Full enjoyment and commitment to your chosen career path should align comfortably with your overall lifestyle.

4. Leisure Time & Hobbies: Activities that you enjoy outside of work, like playing sports, painting, reading, traveling, etc.

5. Personal Development: This includes broadening your mindset and improving skills through education, learning new languages, acquiring new skills, etc.

6. Spiritual & Cultural Practices: If applicable, these can play an important role in creating a sense of belonging and purpose.

7. Financial Security: Proper planning and management of your finances to support your lifestyle and future goals.

8. Sustainable Practices: Being environmentally conscious and adopting practices like recycling, reducing energy usage, etc.

9. Community Involvement: Participating in community activities or volunteering.

10. Balance: Perhaps the most crucial ingredient, balance ensures that one area of your life doesn’t overpower the others. Too much or too little of something can lead to overall dissatisfaction.

Remember, a good lifestyle is subjective. What works for one person may not work for another. 

Nonetheless, if your lifestyle isn’t informed by your values but by personal whims and emotional impulses, you’ll find yourself in a state of incongruence. 

Do I Have To Believe In God To Get Sober?

This imbalance, that is a lifestyle not aligned with your values, will cause a sense of chronic malcontent. It will disrupt relationships, and motivation, and produce unmanageable levels of anxiety and stress. 

Complete our Wheel of Life worksheet to determine precisely where this imbalance is. 

Now to our point. It takes grit, hard work, and Determination to allow your values to govern your lifestyle. 

Let’s flesh this out to real-life experience. 

In terms of relationships, a partnership informed by incompatible values will bottom out the minute the feelings of infatuation diminish. I’d argue the expiration date is roughly 6 months. 

A relationship with longevity and deeper levels of meaning is one wherein both parties have mutual values driving them. 

If you find yourself extremely attractive to an individual but soon discover what they value is extremely divergent from yours, the relationship will be incongruent. 

Imagine trying to go long distances on a flat tire. This is the perfect analogy. 

You’ll try to remedy the situation by crafting the individual in the image you want based upon your values, but it’s self-deception.

You’ll end up in a relationship with an idea, not a person. In other words, pretending your tire isn’t flat because it still goes in a circle. 

Thus, we arrive back at determination. It takes discipline and courage to follow your values, even in the face of emotions seemingly pulling you in an entirely different direction. 

The O in Dog: Obligation 

Since the nature of values (for example, justice, forgiveness, honesty, etc.) is intrinsically social, we must then have an obligation to other people. 

Doing the “next right thing” means diddly squat if nobody is around. 

Our values are always interpersonal and therefore compel us to take action for the well-being of others. 

Pope John Paul II once argued that freedom isn’t the ability to do what you want but the right to do what you ought. The very definition of values demands this. 

Therefore, in a sense, if we are to flourish we are restricted to a specific environment to do so. 

Timothy Keller once remarked that a fish is restricted to water, if you tried to provide it with unadulterated freedom and toss it on land, it would die (notwithstanding evolution?). 

Similarly, human beings are restricted to communities. Yes, the analogy has a massive shortcoming. Human beings can survive in isolation. True, but can they thrive? 

Certainly, as a species, we wouldn’t have survived in isolation. We die from peanuts and bee stings. But civilization has afforded us the ability to live alone, disconnected from the world…the irony isn’t lost. 

This means we can survive physically in isolation, but we really cannot thrive emotionally. I’ve yet to meet someone who comes out of solitary confinement emotionally healthier. 

Therefore, the process of growing up is grasping the necessity of, or as I’ve titled it “the obligation” we have to one another. This is the obligation of “we”. 

The Journey

Do I Have To Believe In God To Get Sober?

Ken Wilber, in Integral Vision, noted three primary stages of consciousness development:

Egocentrism (pre-conventional) – this view cannot see past itself. The world revolves around I, me, mine, and more. If something goes wrong it’s either entirely someone else’s fault or entirely my own. It’s either against me or proceeding from me. We can call this the “either/or position.” Not much meaning in this sphere, one is basically at the mercy of circumstance. One becomes the dog tied to the cart, a product of a merciless fate; a victim. This is the “you” do this for me stage – very similar to infancy.

Ethnocentrism (conventional) – this view begins to see others. The world now revolves around us. I start to see how my actions affect others. This is the arena of personal responsibility and community action. This position is very tribal and is a great manufacturer of cliques. We are no longer at the mercy of the cart, instead, our cart becomes better than your cart. One becomes either inferior or superior; a constant power struggle. This is the “I” got this stage. We become more confident in our competency and our very select group to meet our needs. This is similar to adolescence 

Worldcentrism (post-conventional) – this view is connected to others. I begin to revere diversity and the idiosyncrasies that define us. My sense of self is broader, and I find my fulfillment invested in the world around me. One no longer envisions a cart but is instead enjoying the ride with whoever the other passengers may be. This is the “we” stage, we start to see we are a part of this earth and share and identify with everything in it. 

I also call the stages the “freedom mentality.”

Most folks think of freedom as the ability to do what they want or the right to exercise their will as they see fit.

However, can this be freedom?

What if what I want impinges upon the freedom of another? This cannot be freedom. Why? Because there is always the chance that someone else’s freedom will cancel out mine and that anticipation is enslaving not freeing.

A consequence of this line of reasoning is that freedom is ultimately relational; it’s a corporate identity. It’s found with the other in mind; we will get to this in a bit.


So, perhaps freedom is the absence of restrictions or laws. It’s a freedom from something. Freedom from authorities, taxes, jobs, parents, rules, responsibilities, etc. (insert your restriction). But is freedom the absence of restrictions?

To flesh out Tim Keller’s quote in its entirety now, he rightly notes,

“Modern people like to see freedom as the complete absence of any constraints. But think of a fish. Because a fish absorbs oxygen from water, not air, it is free only if it is restricted to water. If a fish is ‘freed’ from the river and put on the grass to explore, its freedom to move and soon even to live is destroyed. The fish is not more free, but less free, if it cannot honor the reality of its nature. The same is true with airplanes and birds. If they violate the laws of aerodynamics, they will crash into the ground. But if they follow them, they will ascend and soar. The same is true in many areas of life: Freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, those that fit with the realities of our own nature and those of the world…”


Therefore, the right restrictions do not hold us back but liberate us, freeing us to act according to our nature. Freedom to love, to show compassion, to teach, to learn, to give, to share, to listen, to forgive, to trust, to hope, to help and encourage, etc.

The implications are evident. This “freedom law” or restriction that governs humanity is a moral one; hence John Paul’s “ought.” And one, the resounding motif here, ‘ought’ to keep the ‘other’ in mind, this is humanity’s nature, as water is to a fish a community is to a man…which leads to my next point.


One of the surest ways to comprehend something – particularly something difficult – is by first discovering what it is not – this is called apophatic reasoning or reasoning by negation.

A natural consequence of this is that those of us who can explicate the exact parameters of freedom might just be those who have experienced consummate captivity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Theologian, who in a failed attempt to overthrow the Third Reich was subsequently arrested, tossed into prison, and eventually killed in one of the infamous Nazi concentration camps. It was here, ironically, that he penned the finest words on freedom I’ve ever encountered.

“Freedom is not a quality of man, nor is it an ability, a capacity, a kind of being that somehow flares up in him. Anyone investigating man to discover freedom finds nothing of it. Why? because freedom is not a quality which can be revealed–it is not a possession, a presence, an object, nor is it a form of existence–but a relationship and nothing else. In truth, freedom is a relationship between two persons. Being free means ‘being free for the other,’ because the other has bound me to him. Only in relationship with the other am I free.”

Thus we see a specific trajectory:

  • Freedom from restrictions (clearing away unnecessary restrictions).
  • Freedom to act per human nature (find the right restriction per nature).
  • Freedom for the other (grounding identity in the “other”).

This is the same journey from egocentrism to ethnocentrism to worldcentricism.

It’s hard to discover meaning in life when you’re stuck at the egocentric stage. The goal of this post is to assist the reader in producing the developmental change necessary to remain sober. 

This change refers to a shift in consciousness, and the above stages are simply stages of consciousness. So they go hand in glove. 

We cannot, however, simply move from one stage to another without an authentic change of heart. This shift is what drives us, what sustains our motivation. 

Do I Have To Believe In God To Get Sober?

The G in Dog: Goaling.

Now we transition to goaling.

Tim Carey, in an article titled, “There Is No Such Thing As Behavior: It’s All In Your Mind,” captured something remarkable. He wrote,

“What we can observe people doing from an external, observer’s perspective is not always what they are doing from their private, inside perspective. The particular perspective we consider makes all the difference. If scientific psychologists had been interested in understanding and explaining behavior from the inside looking out, rather than from the outside looking in, we would be in a very different place from where we are just now. What people do, from their own internal perspective, is ‘goal.’ Yes, you read it right. I didn’t leave a word out or make some other grammatical error. I’m proposing that we should use the word ‘goal’ as a verb rather than as a noun. Perhaps this will be my lasting contribution to humanity. ‘Goaling’ is all we ever do. We can’t, in fact, not do it. Standing on the sidelines, we see some of the side-effects of other people’s goaling, such as their arms and legs waving around, but we can’t see their complete goaling process. The entirety of that activity is only ever available to them.”

So, we want to really jump-start your goaling process, meaning we need to grow in awareness and motivation. 

Let me start by saying that avoidance techniques are 100% my strong suit.

Give me a solid reason to do something and I can quickly spit out five rational and cogent reasons why I shouldn’t.

It’s a sickness – and it’s potent.

I call the avoidance committee in my head “Thats-It-I-Give-Upism.”

Well, I’ve used my greatest power against myself and formulated three robust methods to overcome internal resistance and the unmotivated heart.

This is how I stay motivated.

Know Your Why.

Friedrich Nietzsche once remarked, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

This holds true to our work as well. Certainly being addicted to recovery is not what I am suggesting; refer back to the lifestyle discussion above. 

I am recommending that you create a schedule, stick to it, be disciplined, satisfy personal and vocational goals, and utilize a lot of sweat, a lot of emotional pushback, and an overwhelming share of gusto.

Could be:

  • Material reward – cars, houses, paying off student loans, etc.
  • Individual prosperity – self-improvement and personal interests, hobbies, etc.
  • Family
  • Honor 
  • Being an expert or authority, etc.
  • Plugin a few ‘whys’ of our own, print them out, and hang them above your computer or wherever is visible while you work.

I call them Manifest Motivators.


The Thick of Thin Things

I read this quote in one of Steven Covey’s books – the 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People.

He reiterated the words of Thomas S. Monson:

“We become so caught up in the busyness of our lives. Were we to step back, however, and take a good look at what we’re doing, we may find that we have immersed ourselves in the ‘thick of thin things.’ In other words, too often we spend most of our time taking care of the things which do not really matter much at all in the grand scheme of things, neglecting those more important causes”

It’s odd how much time we spend preoccupied with trivial details and events. We are trained to think this way, which probably has some adaptive value to avoid future snares.

However, this primitive mindset should be appreciated but also needs to be benched.

I once read a meme that stated, “I have 99 problems, and 86 of them are completely made-up scenarios in my head.”

Sound familiar?

So how do we avoid the ‘thick of thin things?’

Practice mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes each morning before the workday. And if need be, a few times throughout the day. 

Sometimes one needs to disconnect for optimal engagement. 

Like the old TVs that needed to be unplugged every once in a while to function correctly….yup, we are like that old TV.

Covey also commented, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”

In other words, we should seek to understand our values and what’s most important to us (again reference the value discussion above). Let this be that which guides your attention, not the demands of society and the gobblygook of the media.

Do I Have To Believe In God To Get Sober?

Reward. Repeat. Reward. Repeat.

My dog loves to sit when I request it from her. She gets overexcited – to the point where it’s frightening.


Because I’ve programmed her to experience sitting as its own reward.

The enthusiasm is overflowing as she anticipates what good will come next. 

That’s the nature of repeat (sit command) and reward (small training treat). 

It’s not her, it’s her system. I simply hijacked it and reprogrammed it per my needs.

That sounds odd but that’s an accurate statement.

Well, I’m not calling you a dog per se, but you too have a system that can be infiltrated for optimal functioning.

It’s that simple – follow through with a goal and give yourself an honest reward, then repeat the process.

For example, after the week’s tasks are accomplished you could easily reward yourself with a movie night preceded by your favorite dish. Certainly, this is a reward and will assist in the repetition of the behavior which created it.

But when you’re really under that dark emotional cloud and you’re seemingly incapable of comprehending the motivation conundrum, will that still work?

Probably not.

Judson Brewer has a different idea – it’s less direct, tantamount to a flank attack.

The idea? Curiosity.

Sounds bizarre, particularly the notion that the very concept has left in its wake thousands if not millions of dead cats.

However, if behavior and its accompanying parallel thought processes are driven by impulse (automatic habits), then what could lift one out of their skins more than mere curiosity?

Brewer noted during his TED talk,

“When we get curious, we step out of our old, fear-based reactive habit patterns. We become this inner scientist where we’re eagerly awaiting that next data point.”

So, what’s the recommendation?

Explore the ominous dark cloud, don’t avoid it or impulsively react to it, just sport your Indiana Jones hat (if you don’t own one you can purchase it on Amazon) and dance with the discomfort.

Become curious as to what you are really experiencing (thoughts, sensations, craving, etc.) and it – the habitual response – will take on a new direction.

The reward of adding something new to your system changes it completely!

How? Well, for reliance on the old programming, your brain is dependent upon the old system remaining entirely unchanged and intact. But it no longer is, you’ve introduced a new variable – you got curious.


So That’s 3 Options To Turn It All Around!

Know what motivates you and don’t stop reminding yourself – know your why.

Don’t get distracted by trivial things, and here’s the kicker, 95% of it is trivial.

Lastly, get curious, and explore the sensations behind your impulses: pause and experience. Break free from the habitual, feel, and react automation.

Don’t let the Thats-It-I-Give-Upism win.

Sure, it will most definitely feel at times like gut-wrenching-impending-doomism. But endure. On the other side of the crucible is a new dimension of existence.

This is the day of the DOG.