The Twelve Steps For Agnostics
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About My Book: The Twelve Steps for Agnostics
The book is a biographical account of my thirty-six year journey in AA as an agnostic alcoholic. It contains ideas, suggestions and explanations of how the twelve steps can be applied with equal effectiveness by the non-believer as well as the believer. Many of these ideas have come from sponsors and other agnostics in AA. Importantly, I quote frequently from the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous known as the Big Book. Despite frequent references to God, I have found truth in the Big Book and its wisdom that has literally saved my life.
If like me, you struggle with the God word, I sincerely hope that you will find some of the ideas contained in my book useful. I hope that they will guide and support you in your journey towards a happy and meaningful sobriety.
Initially, the book will be available as an e-book from Amazon USA. If you are interested in receiving an alert when the book is published, please subscribe to this website and l will keep you updated.
Not For Profit
This book is a not-for-profit project. Any income generated from the sales of the book will be used to carry the message of recovery to the still suffering alcoholic. All proceeds from the book will go to helping low income alcoholics to get well. Income generated from the sale of this book will support them to access residential treatment. There they will be introduced to a twelve step support group.
A Sample of Themes Addressed in the Book
A Journey to Peace and Sobriety Through the Twelve Steps
My book describes a thirty six year journey of recovery from alcoholism. I drank to avoid dealing with the issues of a troubled childhood. I drank to avoid facing my feelings and to avoid repairing the destruction that I caused not only to myself but to the people that mattered to me. I went to my first AA meeting in 1984, after twenty years of very self-destructive drinking. I achieved very little before coming to AA. I achieved nothing professionally. Besides the occasional dysfunctional relationship, I also had no family. Drinking was my profession and alcohol was my family. I was once told that my addiction to alcohol was a substitute for a relationship. How true this was in my case! I came to AA when I was thirty a broken, frightened and hopeless person. AA gave me a life that I never had. I am now sixty seven and still attend about three meetings a week.
When I came to AA and began to experience life without alcohol, I very quickly realized why I drank. In those early days of sobriety life was very challenging. I was full of inner turmoil and pain. I was terrified of everything and everybody. The crippling panic attacks I used to get would sometimes bring me to my knees. I was angry, full of resentment and very depressed as a newly sober person. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that in my early years in AA I was frequently homicidal and suicidal. I was told that I was suffering from something that is known in AA as a “dry drunk” or “untreated alcoholism”. Apparently, the solution was to get a sponsor and work the steps. This is something I didn’t want to do because of the emphasis on God in six of the twelve steps. I wanted nothing to do with God. When faced with the prospect of an imminent death after thirteen years of relapse, I had run out of options, got a sponsor and began taking suggestions. They gave me a life that I never had before. I began to experience a life of peace, happiness and contentment. The absolute truth for an alcoholic of my type is that AA and the steps have done for me slowly, what alcohol used to do quickly.
I continued to relapse for thirteen years after coming to AA. As I see it now, there were two reasons for this. The first was that I was in complete denial of step one which states that “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable” I did not believe that I was powerless over alcohol until I experienced my powerlessness during those first thirteen years in AA. I didn’t believe that my life was unmanageable either. I set about trying to get a successful career, a great relationship and as much money as I could earn. They say in AA that recovery is an “inside job.” We learn that we are suffering from an inner emptiness that can only be filled from the inside out and not from the outside in. My inner world was too tortured and conflicted to achieve any material success. I failed miserably in the two areas that were most important; romance and finance. Each time I failed, oblivion in alcohol was the only relief that I knew.
In those thirteen years of relapse, I once managed to put together five years of abstinence from alcohol. I won’t even refer to those five years as sobriety. It was just physical abstinence from drinking. Those five years were achieved only through a grim determination to not drink. It was a white-knuckled sobriety achieved by defiance and will power. It was doomed to failure because I had never surrendered to the fundamental truth of my situation. I was powerless over alcohol.
The second reason for my continued relapse was that I never attempted the steps because I couldn’t tolerate the use of the God word and a higher power. That being the case, I was unwilling to get a sponsor and work through the steps. Eventually, I was shown a way to go through the program as an agnostic. That is what my book is about. I was shown a way, that didn’t require a belief in God. I was introduced to practical and effective higher powers that helped me with my powerlessness. The use of these non divine higher powers helped me to find ways in which I was able to create a sober and happy life.
When I had been in AA for a while, I was introduced to the three principles that are considered to be crucial to stay sober at all. They are honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to go to any lengths. The plain truth was that for the longest time in my AA journey, I was exactly the opposite of the three principles. Of course, I never saw myself in this way but I was completely dishonest, closed-minded and willful. It was my way or no way! This attitude was moving me ever closer to an early appointment with the undertaker.
Something wonderful and unexpected happened after my last relapse. I have to say that at the time it didn’t feel very wonderful. I arrived at a place of complete hopelessness, darkness and despair. I knew it was all over for me. I could no longer continue living the way that I had always lived. My ego collapsed completely and I knew that my way would end tragically. Ironically, of all the places it happened was in a step one meeting. This ego collapse turned out to be the greatest gift I could have ever hoped for. I realized I knew nothing about how to stay sober or to live life with any degree of peace and happiness. In that moment, I became teachable for the first time in my life. I left that meeting and the next day, got a sponsor and started to take suggestions. I did it reluctantly at first but at least I did it. The results were spectacular. By taking these daily suggestions, within a few short weeks, I began to feel better and more positive then I had ever felt. Remaining teachable continues to be a tool that helps me to grow towards emotional sobriety.
I have had about twenty sponsors over the years, especially during my dry drunk years. They were only my sponsors to enable me to look good to my friends and peers in recovery. I was just paying lip service to the whole idea of having a sponsor. The truth was that I was still sponsoring myself with disastrous consequences! The God-driven fundamentalist approach never worked for me. It didn't help my recovery, and did more harm than good. If it’s true that alcoholism really is a spiritual illness then there are three qualities that have to be present in a sponsor. If there is to be any progress in facilitating spiritual healing, there needs to be humility, love and tolerance. If these qualities are not present in the sponsor then a successful recovery may be hindered. I devote a whole chapter in my book about what to look for when choosing a sponsor.
I have now been with my present sponsor for over ten years. I am so fortunate to have finally found a sponsor that I can trust completely. I trust his integrity, experience of dealing with the alcoholic illness and of course his empathy, compassion and understanding. I will always be grateful that I found him. It has been important for a sponsor to challenge my dishonesty, closed-mindedness and willfulness. This was only effective if it was delivered with unconditional positive regard for me the sponsee. My current sponsor has been instrumental in helping me to believe that my alcoholism, at its very core, really is a spiritual illness. He was able to convince me that only a continuous application of the spiritual principles offered in the twelve steps would help me to get well. He is also of the opinion that you don’t have to have a God awakening to recover from alcoholism but you do have to have a spiritual awakening.
The God Word
I was raised in a foster family with a woman that I experienced as abusive, unloving and cold. She had other foster children in her care that she doted on. I was assigned the role of the family scapegoat. I was blamed for everything that went wrong in that family. The curious thing was that my foster mother was also very involved with religion. She was always going to her chosen place of worship and talking about Gods love. Then when I was eight years old, my biological mother sent me to a boarding school run by priests. Religion and religious rituals were a main aspect of our education. It was more like a monastery then a boarding school. All the kids that went there were exposed to an austere religious regimen. The cane was used frequently to instill sound moral and religious values. It’s hardly surprising that I wanted nothing to do with God when I got to AA.
I was simply unable to develop a concept of a forgiving and loving God based on my childhood experiences. As a child growing up, I had no father, so I was unable to develop a conception of a monotheistic father God. With that kind of religious education, there was no way that I could trust in any God and believe that he could do for me what I could not do for myself. (Twelfth promise P.84 - 4th edition of the AA Big Book). I am not saying there is no God. There may well be a God. Believing in God may well have made my recovery journey a lot easier. I continue to be a seeker. Perhaps one day, I will find my own conception of an unseen higher power that has meaning for me. I am here to reassure the agnostic reader that a life changing recovery is not only possible but guaranteed with the help of the twelve steps. The presence of the God word need not be off putting to any alcoholic that struggles with this word. What effects a wonderful recovering from the pain and darkness of the alcoholic illness is a spiritual awakening not necessarily a God awakening. “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs” (Step Twelve). For many agnostics, God may be as simple as Good Orderly Direction. When handing my will and life over to this concept, and working with an agnostic friendly sponsor, life began to turn around completely. Good Orderly Direction is a formidable higher power and leads to a long and contented recovery
The AA fellowship
I was raised in foster care so for me AA has a special meaning. It has become my surrogate family. It is a truly effective support group full of like minded people, all at different stages of recovery. What binds us together is our common suffering as alcoholics. No other community that I have ever experienced has created such a strong sense of camaraderie as the AA fellowship. Only one alcoholic can truly understand the suffering of another alcoholic. Our mutual suffering as alcoholics, offers us a bond of unity rarely found in other spiritual fellowships. For agnostics, atheists and freethinkers the fellowship of AA is itself the higher power that keeps alcoholics sober and guides them on a path leading to a “happy destiny” (Big Book - Chapter eleven “A vision for you” p. 164 4th edition).
The idea of the power of a spiritual fellowship goes back in history as long as people have sought to find spiritual meaning to their lives. Every religion or spiritual discipline practices community and fellowship amongst its members. It is unlikely that a spiritual seeker will make much progress as a loner. A spiritual community joins its members in brotherly unity. This sense of unity through fellowship creates a strong sense of belonging which quickly becomes a power greater than the individual. This is particularly good news for agnostics that don’t have faith in a personal God.
“Together we can do what we could never do alone”.
Table of Contents
- 1.The disease concept of alcoholism.
- 2.Living with untreated alcoholism, drunk and sober.
- 3.Three principles: honesty, open-mindedness and willingness.
- 4.Suggestions for early recovery.
- 5.Getting a good sponsor.
- 6.The written work.
- 7-15.Step 1 to Step 9.
- 16.The maintenance steps 10, 11 and 12.
- 17.The original message of the twelve steps.
- 18.A non God-centered spirituality.
- Addendum:Treating the illness holistically: Addictions other than alcohol.