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William Moyers


It Never Ends An overnight trip to New Orleans ended late at night back at home with a deep breath, a deeper exhale and an exasperated lament over the inboxes of emails and phone calls still waiting for my reply. I don't recall my exact words, but I do remember …Read more. It's Only a Brain Tumor From, defining stigma: "a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one's reputation." Stigma obscures the truth about alcoholism and drug dependence. It fosters the public's misunderstanding that addiction is somebody …Read more. No Fun on the Merry-Go-Round A flashpoint in the debate about addiction is what it means to be "powerless" over alcohol or other drugs. There's not enough space here to make the case one way or the other. But I think we can all agree that addicted people do have power over …Read more. A Disease, But... For years, I've argued the science of addiction. In layman's terms, that translates to, "Addiction is a chronic disease." And it is. But I'm rethinking how I argue it, based on the results of a groundbreaking survey that seeks to define the question,…Read more.
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Have Faith


My hero, World War II combat reporter Ernie Pyle, gets credit for coining the phrase "there are no atheists in foxholes." He meant that in times of intense fear and duress during battle, all soldiers are quick to believe there is a God who answers their prayers to protect them from an enemy that's trying to kill them. (Seeing as that enemy usually believes in the same God, I often wonder whose prayers God endorses. But there isn't room here to get into that.)

A nascent organization is in the news this week for declaring that indeed, there are nonbelievers in foxholes. "We exist. We're here. We're normal," said Sgt. Justin Griffith, chief organizer of Military Atheists and Secular Humanists. "We're also in foxholes. That's a big one, right there."

This reminds me of the dilemma faced by many people fighting addiction and by their families, who often don't know what to do to help them.

Dear Mr. Moyers: I am a Catholic priest. I've been in a monastic order for the past 30 years, but my religion and my service to the parish haven't kept me free from alcohol's lure. I've been pulled into alcoholic drinking of the worst kind now. What a paradox! The shame — me, a servant of God, a pillar in my local community, yet a slave to Communion wine. How can I believe in a helpful God if my God could not shelter me from this suffering shame in the first place? I am desperate. — N.L., Waukesha, Wis.

And this, from a 22-year-old woman who did get help.

Dear Mr. Moyers: My problem isn't denial; I know I'm a drug addict. I know I want to stop. My problem is this "higher power" thing that the treatment center insists I believe in if I want to be sober. Sorry, but I can't believe in God.

My parents never took me to church as a kid. I really can't even pray. — Laura B., Augusta, Maine

A young woman, a Catholic priest and all of us in between — I know of no addict or alcoholic whose journey hasn't included this deeply intimate struggle with faith. Is God a noun or nothing? Is it about blind faith or being blind to the possibility of divinely rendered redemption? If God is real, then why so much suffering and relapsing? If God isn't, then how is it possible to overcome addiction's omnipotence with free will?

In my own life's journey, at times I, too, wrestle with some of those questions. I know there isn't a single or easy answer. Besides, all these years later, as my own sobriety rolls down into life's dirty foxholes or upward to peaceful plateaus, invariably I still circle back to the question that engulfed me in hopelessness on the day I finally got sober, in 1994: "Now what?"

Back then, I had no clear answer except to finally stop trying so hard on my own to fix myself. I stopped looking at the problem. Instead, I became part of the solution. I allowed professionals to help me and "fellow travelers" to teach me. I clung to my family's love. And each morning and night, I consciously reached out to connect to a conviction beyond myself, to something more powerful than the alcohol and drugs that had tried to kill me and would have if I had stopped believing. It worked. And it still does today.

I know what I call this power; it doesn't matter what you call it. But name it and give it a tangible identity. Nurture it. Then have faith that you are no more alone than the atheists are by themselves in their foxholes on the battlefield. If nothing else, they have one another.

William Moyers is the vice president of foundation relations for the Hazelden Foundation and the author of "Broken," his best-selling memoirs, and "A New Day, A New Life." Please send your questions to William Moyers at To find out more about William Moyers and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



2 Comments | Post Comment
Thanks for writing such a good article on faith, "Higher Power" and getting sober.
George Carlin said it well with less tact, "This AA, 12-step, things is pretty good and works great, except all this crap about a higher power." Or words to that effect.
The best words in the steps for are, "As you understand Him." Lots of wiggle room there. A little less wiggle room in the big book, Chapter 4 never convinced me.
I always go to a newcomer after a meeting that expressed doubt and give them my experience and hope.
I pretty much sum up my feelings with that I am not an atheist (a) meaning "no" or "not" theist, but rather I am a naturalist, meaning I see no "supernatural" powers and that most theists are really more defined as a-naturalists. And when you get right down to it what really matters is as Thomas Jefferson said, "Whatever does not break my leg , nor pick my pocket..."
Thanks again.
Your friend,
Comment: #1
Posted by: Larry Lombard
Sun Apr 10, 2011 1:18 PM
I'm a 61 year old Dentist who will celebrate 15 years of sobriety on Aug 12 of this year. I was educated by the Jesuits for eight years, high school and college, and despite my lowest times in my active alcoholism I never lost my belief in God as my Higher Power. The Jesuits taught me to see God in all things. They also taught me that I was created with free will which gave me the ability to screw up. As a result I didn't blame God for what happened to me but I did credit Him, along with AA for the good things that have happened to me since I got sober.
I have a vision of a God who is saddened by our human failings but because He created us with free will, he doesn't interfere until we ask for help! Then like a loving Father he helps guide us along the right path.
These are my feelings and I would never force my thoughts or feelings on another. All I can say is what worked and still works in my new and better life of sobriety.
Comment: #2
Posted by: John Murray
Sun Apr 10, 2011 8:14 PM
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