Agnostic 12 steps

Agnostic 12 steps

November 26, 2023

By Andy F

Categories: Atheists, agnostics and freethinkers

An agnostic arrives at AA.

Although I loved AA from the beginning, I had a bad reaction when I saw the twelve steps. They were hanging on the wall of every meeting. Five of the twelve steps mention God, and the sixth is a higher power. I grew up in care with a foster Mother who was very religious. Despite her strict Catholic observances, I never felt accepted in that family; quite the opposite. Growing up, I never experienced God’s love in that environment.

When I was nine or ten, my Mother took me away from my foster family. She placed me in a Catholic monastery boarding school. Besides our regular lessons, the school curriculum included intense exposure to religious education and ritual. Once again, I never sensed God’s love from the priests, only strict control and punishment.

I rejected God and religion by the time I was ten years old. Following my early life experiences, I wanted nothing to do with either. Understandably, I brought this prejudice with me into AA. As soon as I saw that God was involved in recovery, all my old resentments flared up. The twelve steps weren’t for me. I decided to take my issues to a therapist instead.

An alcoholic in therapy.

I became very disillusioned with therapy after ten years. Not only did it not heal my wounds from childhood, it inflamed them even more! This failure was not the fault of treatment. It was me that was the problem. I had a lot invested in blaming my childhood and seeing myself as a victim. Moreover, I was unwilling and unable to take any responsibility for the life I had created. I decided to walk away and increase my meetings.

Fixing the emptiness within.

For the next few years, I found temporary relief in sex, power, money, and codependent relationships. I used these distractions to mitigate loneliness and inner emptiness. In the same way I used alcohol, I was now pursuing casual sex. I ended up in SLAA. (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) This compulsion made my life even more unmanageable.

 It was the same with my addiction to food and relationships. A dependency on sugar soon became a problem, as did my various attempts at relationships. They were all needy and codependent and ultimately ended up in tears. Mercifully, I didn’t drink when these relationships collapsed, but I became suicidal when they broke down. These separations would trigger childhood abandonment trauma.

“The primary fact we fail to recognize is our total inability to form a true partnership with another human being.”

12&12 p.53

Lack of power.

While all this madness was happening, I became obsessed with pursuing a career and making good money. The truth was that I was too emotionally and mentally unstable to create any professional success.

I was determined to prove to myself that I was a winner. A lack of self-esteem propelled me into what I saw as impressive career paths. I sought social acceptability to bolster my non-existent self-esteem.

Looking back, I lacked the personal confidence and power to create anything worthwhile. My unmanageability was especially true in the areas of romance and finance.

“Lack of power, that was our dilemma.” 

(BB p. 45)

The geographical cure.

Having created so much chaos and failure, I began to run away overseas. These trips were an attempt to re-invent me and find a new lease of life. Was this another temporary fix? These geographical cures worked for a while. Temporarily, I got away with the role of the wild drifter. After a time, my untreated alcoholism caught up with me. Sooner or later, the false image shattered. Wherever I went, I took my fractured self with me.

The alcoholic ego collapses.

After thirteen years of sponsoring myself and creating nothing but misery, I hit an all-time rock bottom. It was a dark place. I tried so hard to make a successful, sober life. Doing recovery my way had failed. It was time to do the one thing I didn’t want to do: get a sponsor.

“Finally, when all (my) our scorecards read zero,” I was finished. I arrived “at the jumping off place,” I wished “for the end.”

12&12 p. 29 and BB p.152

Despite trying to recover on my terms, the day came when my ego collapsed. I knew that it was all over. The game was up! Nothing worked. All these external fixes resulted in an even more bottomless void. They frequently resulted in relapse.

Surrendering to Good Orderly Direction (Acronym for God).

When brought to my knees, I went to a meeting in Chelsea. There, I knew I would find David B. I had heard about his reputation as a tough sponsor, but that didn’t worry me. By this time, I had the Gift ODesperation. There was a glimmer of hope that he could help me. The million-dollar question was, would he take me under his wing as an agnostic?

David was my last hope. If things didn’t work out with him, I was a lost cause. The idea of drinking again was no longer an option. Drunk or sober, life with my crazy head had become intolerable. If the step work with David failed, I thought seriously about ending my life. Perhaps I would find some peace at last. 

Getting lucky.

I got fortunate with David. He assured me that at this stage of my recovery, there was no pressure to believe in God. He gave me some precious new information and advice that were ideal. One was to use AA as a power greater than me. 

The other greater power was to follow his guidance unconditionally. His suggestions worked. I immediately started to feel better after taking his advice. 

Thus began my journey towards a complete and meaningful sobriety. After step five, David and I stopped working together. The journey continued over the next few years with two new sponsors: Jamie and Witek. I was fortunate again because they were both experienced AA members and happy to support an agnostic.  

In my book, The Twelve Steps for Agnostics, I share a detailed account of what I learned from these sponsors. Their suggestions and step work have slowly led me to a non-God-centered spiritual awakening. 

“A Happy Destiny” (Big Book p.164).

I went on to enjoy a career in which I was happy and fulfilled. I stayed in my chosen field until I took early retirement. That same year, I decided to move to Thailand. There, I met my future partner. We have been together for almost ten years. As a result of working through the steps, I have finally grown up. My current relationship is no longer needy and codependent.

My primary purpose is to sponsor other alcoholics through the program and enjoy my sober life. The twelve steps will work whether you believe in God or not. I now have a connection with a higher power. It’s a higher consciousness. Through many chance meetings and incredible coincidences, it guides me along “the road of happy destiny.” (BB “Vision for You,” p. 164)

The twelve promises on pages 83 and 84 of the Big Book continue manifesting in my life. As long as I trust the program, clean house, and help others, I am a satisfied sober agnostic in AA.

In fellowship

Andy F

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