Are you willing to do anything to stay sober?

Flower

By Sher G.

Any time I talked with my sponsor, her responses seemed overwhelmingly to miss the mark. She used AA expressions to minimize or dismiss my struggles. I found myself getting increasingly defensive and offering up ever more dramatic accounts to express how hard things really were; but everything I said prompted yet another convenient phrase.

Why couldn’t she hear my pain? Why couldn’t she respond in a way that might resonate with me? Or if she was at a loss, why couldn’t she just express her compassion?

She insisted that without a belief in a Higher Power, I would drink again; that my own will power would not be enough to resist my cravings. Her insistence that I cultivate a belief struck me as odd; can a person even construct a belief in a Higher Power? How can someone decide to believe something they don’t believe?

She said until I developed that belief, perhaps I could think of the fellowship, or Group of Drunks, as my Higher Power. But step 3 kept tripping me up: “turn my life and my will over to a Higher Power.” This group of drunks was made up of people, fallible, flawed, like me.

I felt misunderstood and mishandled under her guidance. Still long before embracing my atheism, I started to realize that I did not feel safe with her. She clearly did not know me, how could she know what was best for me?

When she sensed my heightened resistance she pushed, asking, “Are you willing to do anything to stay sober?” I realized with sudden clarity that my answer was, “no.”

No, I was not willing to put my care and wellbeing into the hands of other flawed and imperfect humans. No, I was not willing to do whatever I was told to do by someone who discredited and minimized my struggles. No, I was not willing to put someone else’s recipe for sobriety ahead of my emotional well-being, of feeling safe and valued and understood.

That marked the end of my relationship with my sponsor, and soon after I did return to drinking. But half a year later I returned to AA with a new conviction of my allergy to alcohol.

I found a new sponsor; a woman I hoped would understand me better, to better guide me through the steps. We started the steps at the beginning, and again I got stuck on step 3. She insisted that I not proceed until I was really solid with step 3. She said, “I know you find solace in nature. Can you think of that as your Higher Power?” It is true that I find time in nature uplifting and enriching. And during times of struggle I do look to nature for perspective and for healing. But nature is not a Higher Power in the sense AA implies: a benevolent being that will act in my personal best interest. Nature is indifferent to suffering. A windstorm takes down hundred year old trees; lions catch and eat antelopes; the tar pits captured unwary dinosaurs in search of water. Nature is not going to intervene when I falter, and nature is not going to keep me sober.

It was her gentle queries that prompted me to take a hard look at my spiritual beliefs, something I had resisted doing since the time that my spiritual understanding of life did not stand up to the test of one horrific traumatic event. When I looked deep inside, I knew that I no longer believed in any benevolent force in the universe; that I hadn’t believed it in many years.

When I finally faced my Atheism and shared that with my sponsor, she gently and kindly told me that she could no longer sponsor me. She cared for me and wished me well, but her understanding of the steps and sobriety centered completely on a belief in a higher power, and she would not know how to guide me without that.

That’s when my searching led me to AA Agnostica: a beacon of hope for a wayward atheist alcoholic. I perused alternative steps, and this alternative Step 3 just about knocked my socks off: “We made a decision to let go of control, assume a spirit of goodwill, seek the wisdom of responsible others, and discover our true ‘voice within’.” (from The Twelve Step Journal, reprinted in The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps by Roger C.) Discover our true voice within? This sounds like trusting a part of ourselves. This is definitely not what I had been taught, about how my best thinking had gotten me into this horrible place.

In the months since “discovering” my atheism I have done some research outside of AA literature. I’ve been reading Charlotte Kasl’s Many Roads One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps. She describes how women in our culture are raised to give our trust to others (not make them earn it), not question authority, be peace makers, and sacrifice ourselves for others. For these reasons, the AA edict of not trusting ourselves and giving up control is not the best in our evolution towards becoming self-confident, capable women (and in cases where there has been abuse, turning one’s life and will over to another can be disastrous).

Over these past months I have remembered that in fact I do have an innate wisdom that I can learn to tap into, and that I can trust. Can my addiction still be sneaky and conniving? Yes, but I find it isn’t hard to distinguish between the voice of inner wisdom and the voice of addiction.

So from here, where? For me the single most compelling offering of AA is the meetings: places I can go, as often as I need, where I can be among others who understand my struggle with alcohol; where I can be as candid and vulnerable as I want, without fear of being judged; and when my addiction starts tempting me the stories I hear from others pull me back to the reality that “one drink” is never harmless.

I find it extraordinarily hard to attend traditional meetings on those occasions where everyone is “talking God,” or where if I offer a non-higher-power perspective, afterwards I am besieged with well-meaning God-pushers. I feel left out, different, unwelcomed. And that is a sore feeling for someone who has already stepped out of the entire human population and into this subset of people called alcoholics.

So I find myself stuck, needing the support of AA, but needing a welcoming acceptance that is largely lacking. Even so I wouldn’t go back. For a long time, I felt embarrassed; I would start my share by excusing myself: “I’m one of those who can’t figure out the Higher Power,” or, “I can’t seem to get past step 3.” I no longer feel embarrassed. In fact I have found a peace that comes with accepting my deepest truths. What I need is to find a way to stay sober that is congruent with my deepest inner truths, and to find others who support me in that.

———-

Sher G. moved around the U.S. growing up, then raised her son in Northern California. When he came of age she moved to the Pacific Northwest to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a park ranger. After a series of horrific and traumatizing job-related events she turned to alcohol to cope. She has since left park rangering and is focusing on recovery. Writing, time in nature, and her pets are sources of joy and comfort. As an avenue for healing deep emotional wounds, she has created a blog, TheRangerChronicles.com, where she writes about the impacts of the trauma and retells the events that led to it. She looks forward to contributing to AA Agnostica as well, where she can freely express the impacts of her alcoholism.

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Comments

Are you willing to do anything to stay sober? — 64 Comments

  1. This is an excellent article. It’s well written and reaffirmed that step three is about being authentic! Thank you.

  2. Why bother with step 3 or, for that matter, with any of the steps? If one recognizes that the sole cause of alcoholism is physical, there is no need for the steps. That does not mean that one cannot define “powerless” in the 1st step as meaning physically unable to drink alcohol safely, or interpret the 2nd step to mean that AA can help an alcoholic stay sober ( i.e., sane ). That’s what I , an atheist, have done for more than 31 years. The steps are religiously based, no matter how many times many insist they are spiritual and not religious. Happy as pig in slop just not drinking and going to meetings.

    • Well, these are valid questions. For me walking into an AA meeting for the first time, I really had no idea what to do about any of it. And for two years (not all of it sober), I did not trust myself to outright question any of what I was told. It’s truly a shame that the (dogmatic) AA message is pushed so strongly and rigidly.

  3. My way of going to any length in AA …

    Back in 1970 I made a decision that if I was going to stay sober using a religious recovery program I needed to take away my ability to drink alcohol.

    I willingly asked my MD for a r/x for antebuse.

    No matter what was going on in my life I would have to wait 7 days for the antebuse to clear my system.

    I took antebuse for 7 years until I felt comfortable in AA. That was over 43 years ago.
    I am still sober in AA all this time.

    I’d do this again if I felt the old destructive thinking raising it’s ugly head.

    Marnin

      • Thanks for your comment – after 7 years I no longer felt the need for Antebuse, but I did feel the need for additional mental health.
        I stayed in civilian group therapy for an additional 20 + years. My higher power was Dr. Murray List.
        He also was my best man at our wedding.
        All of this while very active in AA.

        My agnostic sponsor / friend felt is you stay sober you are probably doing the steps without knowing it.
        I disregard a lot of what I hear at meetings from the aa police / clergy of aa.
        Tomorrow night I’ve secured a speaker with under 90 days.

        I have an extensive cd library I offer to members.
        I just finished making copies of 5 Rabbi’s for a Jewish newcomer at my home group.
        Judaism via JACS is out of the closet on addiction. I first joined JACS in the early 1980’s I think. JACS has been a great help in my sobriety and I miss the meetings since moving to Florida.
        This CD library is my 12th step.

      • Sounds like there are many paths to sobriety, and in fact having many resources rather than just one interpretation of just one program is more likely to help more people.

  4. A minority of one within a minority – that’s how I feel at meetings. AA saved my life, but AA Agnostica saved AA for me. I don’t need face-to-face meetings, the virtual kind are just as effective (with the bonus of not being besieged by well-meaning huggers). The only thing missing is a sponsor I can trust to understand me, i.e. who is a confirmed atheist (not a sitting-on-the-fence agnostic). Whether or not an online sponsorship could work I’d be willing to test, although I suspect a f2f sponsor may be more effective. Either way, it is hard to find one… another reason I’m not too keen on f2f meetings because the other members start acting like they don’t believe I’m serious enough about my recovery. If only I’d get a sponsor it would be the foot in the door of the awful “We Agnostics” chapter and eventually I’d believe, they assume. It’s the assumption that annoys me, and also the acting “as if” to fit in and feeling excluded if I don’t. What is in effect a cultish brainwashing for those who lack the courage of their convictions or who are not grounded enough in scientific thinking to be able to dispute what The Big Book’s faulty logic has turned into a highly pressurised group-think. People who are looking for something to believe in are highly prized by the groups I’ve attended – those who prefer to hold on to even some of their old ideas not so much.
    Oh, and if you happen to try and try the AA way for years and keep on drinking, then you are one of those “poor unfortunates” quoted endlessly from the “How it Works” page, despite the slogan “God doesn’t make junk”. So many contradictions, so little time… :)

    • Hi Svukic,

      I like your sentence: “AA saved my life, but AA Agnostica saved AA for me.”

      I believe it sums up very nicely what many of us feel.

      • Not I.

        I don’t know whether AA saved my life or not. Perhaps I would have stopped toying with booze without it.

        I will be eternally grateful to AA for the insight I quickly got into what was worrying me. I came to AA because I was concerned about my increasing consumption after some years of near total abstinence. AA convinced me that the solution was not to drink.

        AA Agnostica certainly has not ‘saved’ AA for me. I find people here take their non-belief far too seriously.

      • You’re right there is a lot of intolerance expressed toward believers in the comments on this site. Whether from believers or agnostics or atheists intolerance is hate and demonstrates a problem within us. But on the bright side there are marvelous articles on this site that I can’t find anywhere else. Remember that Bill went to great lengths to advance spiritually (LSD or Ouija boards anyone?) As our book says results are nil if we don’t let go of the old cobwebbed ideas.

    • Love it, a “minority of one within a minority.”

      I know the feeling only too well. Few Jews in AA when I joined and even today.

      To top it off being agnostic to boot!

      I succeeded in staying sober all these years anyway.

      Marnin

      • Hi Marnin,

        Funny about where we live, I guess. I’d estimate that at least half of my AA friends that I see on a fairly regular basis are Jewish. I was raised Protestant.

        My first home group – Widening Our Gateway is my 2nd home group – was made up of about half Jewish members and many of these were very involved in service at the group, District and Area level.

        Since a lot of us went to treatment at Renascent here in Toronto, one of the video series Renascent used (I don’t know about now) was Father Martin’s. In one of the segments, he said that there aren’t many Jewish alcoholics. Needless to say many, many jokes about this circulated among our Jewish members.

        More seriously, though, many of my friends indicated that the pressure not to admit one’s alcoholism within the Jewish community was a real barrier at one time, although I understand that this is changing. JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons, and Significant Others) has done a lot to change this and help overcome the stigma.

    • “A minority of one within a minority” expresses exactly how I have felt as well. With your share, and some of the others, I so appreciate hearing folks question the assumptions that are made at traditional AA meetings like immediately getting a sponsor and immediately jumping into the steps. Not that those aren’t good ideas, but it is true that the assumptions are 1. you aren’t taking it seriously if you aren’t doing those things, 2. you are a “dry drunk,” and 3. you are going to drink imminently. Great thoughts, thank you!

  5. If you’re a devout atheist like me you may have read Sam Harris’ books. One entitled Freewill became unprecedentedly useful when working steps 2, 3.
    As a real atheist, my major problem, resulting in relapse and an eventual, nearly fatal suicide attempt, was a resentment towards the religiosity of the program but more specifically the anthropomorphic tendency in the steps (an interventionalist deity). ANY higher power that can restore sanity, take care, remove defects, and has a will is by definition anthropomorphic. Therefore a god damn door knob or “good orderly direction” or the Sun or the electro magnetic force will not be applicable to the steps.
    Anthropomorphic tendency is ingrained in our instincts as humans, it is the human condition to mystify, rationalize objects through our self image.
    I refuse to be intellectually dishonest with myself and wish against reason that the steps work like this. However I’m smart psychologically and philosophically and when I finally almost died drinking at my resentment of believers (slit throat multiple times) I rediscovered a desire to stop drinking. Unveiling the steps from their anthropomorphic judeo origins I took the meat which is the sound psychoanalytic and philosophic methods behind them. I took 2 and 3 in bare form, unsoiled with delusion and married them to Sam Harris’ (phd in neurology) neurological conclusions about the lack of freewill. Here are steps 2 and 3 how I use them, not a version on this website:

    2. We realized our lack of free will and that our pursuit of control made us insane – that healthy control and sanity could be restored through guided introspection and practiced humility.
    3. We made a decision to accept our plight as automated beings knowing that objective moral truths exist for the benefit of all creatures.

    The steps in this form keep with the TRUE sense of the big book steps, insanity from pursuing the illusion we could drink normal. Its infinitely easier to give up your will when you realize through Sam Harris you never had any. I’m not responsible for my alcoholism, just accountable for it.
    Let me know if you want my full version of the twelve cleansed of anthropomorphic delusion or a better explanation here. Freewill has been proven to not exist. The steps work without a higher power. Mine do at least or I’d kill myself.

    • Neal, this is another great resource. I’m quite certain I’m not the only one who will be interested in reading this. And you’re right, a door knob, a tree, doesn’t work with the AA interpretation of a higher power that intervenes. I am glad you are still here, that you have found a way to be here. How truly horrible that AA could have helped you and failed.

      • Sher, I agree the concept of an inanimate object being a “higher power” is absurd; but I suspect that the first sponsor who suggested a tree or a doorknob was using a figure of speech in trying to emphasize that what’s important is one’s own conception, that there is no need to accept another’s view of the spiritual life. I think Bill W was far more flexible about the AA method than many of his followers (and professional adopters). He called the steps “suggestions,” after all.

      • Pam from what I’ve heard, Jesus too was more flexible than many of his followers (or at least those who came after and told the tale). :)

    • Automated beings? Lack of free will? See if your spouse, a cop or a judge will buy it.

      You’re taking this powerlessness thing a bit farther than even tight-laced AA’s!

      • Its hard to digest for some. I already intuited lack of freewill ages ago before I quit drinking. If you’re real vigilant about your being you’ll notice it; I’m helpless over countless involuntary actions like itching and which way my head swivels, all reactions brought on by the dull 5 senses.

        Data confirmed that I’m helpless to decide which car I’ll drive, menu item I’ll eat and clothes I’ll wear.

        Isn’t data confirmation a little easier to accept than believing a capricious wizard can steer my life for me? Sam Harris just confirmed what I already knew. Once I finally noticed its significance when trying to work step 3 an epiphany happened.

  6. Hi Sher,
    Thank you for your wonderfully honest message. It was a pleasure to read; I plan to pass this along to many friends from traditional AA groups who have never visited this website.
    You are a great example of recovery in action!

  7. I don’t find it useful to think I should have a higher power. God is not a higher power because he doesn’t exist. AA, although it’s helpful, is not a higher power, because I think that’s a stilted and misleading way to put its function. I just say it’s helpful. And if some other purpose or activity helps me stay sober, why should I call that a higher power? To me, the whole idea of having a higher power is silly.

  8. I sponsor many to the fellowships of both AA & NA and find the struggles with the “God” issue commonplace among newcomers. I suggest finding a LEBU…a life energy beyond understanding. There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but once there the view is the same. I have found the God…Power…Strength…Energy…however you label it…..within also.

    Much love 2 U
    Richard

    • Thanks, Richard. For your love, your sharing, and for sponsoring folks in a way that is so needed! We need more of you!

  9. Hi Sher,

    When I finished reading your essay, I immediately thought — what a beautiful piece of writing!

    And then it struck me: how can what you tell us about in your experience with your two sponsors and AA in general, which is sadder than sad, nonetheless be written about so beautifully?

    Looking at the picture Roger has included with your piece gave me a clue. Except that instead of this picture of the lovely flower among the lily pads, I was thinking of the same flower still managing to blossom amidst the litter and deterioration of a polluted piece of land, as is often the case in nature, when life springs fourth in the least probable of circumstances.

    That’s the beauty in your piece conveying the tenacity of your spirit.

    Thank you so, so much!

    • John, thank YOU! This is why I write, and this is why I decided to write about my alcoholism (which I haven’t felt comfortable sharing about in TheRangerChronicles). What a lovely compliment, you’ve made my day. As for the perfect symbolism of the blossom among the lily pads, credit goes entirely to Roger for choosing the perfect image (thank you Roger!).

  10. I started my dance away from AA at about 10 years sober. I’m an Atheist since 14. I also found Charlotte Kasl’s book at about that time. It led me to Women For Sobriety. I’ve been an active member for the last 20+ years. It was so liberating not to have to deal with the whole God/Higher Power crap. I learned in WFS that The power to live a sober and fulfilling life is inside of me. As we say in WFS “I am a competent, capable, caring and compassionate woman”.

    • Martha, Thank you! It is such a tricky thing, to admit that alcohol has bested us, and then to have to find a group that helps lead us to sobriety without the roadblocks. I am glad you have found a group that works so well for you.

    • Or you could have read page 55 of the Big Book “…deep down in every man, woman and child is the fundamental idea of God.”. There are many paths to a spiritual life.

      • Sigh. I threw out my copy of the big book last weekend. Thanks for reminding me why.

  11. I’ve mentioned and recommended this book to many of my AA friends, Memoirs of an Addicted Brain by Marc Lewis PhD. Dr. Lewis practices clinical psychology and his entire focus for the past several years has been studying the neurology of addiction. He, together with others doing similar research, is able to explain how the addict’s brain, typically sporting fewer neuro-receptor sites than normal people, is predisposed to become dependent on anything that over stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine.
    I’m not here to explain what he explains so much better. What attracted me to his book was that he was both a drug addict and neuroscientist. So for those who pick up the book expecting to find the pages dense with the impenetrable jargon of scientists and academics, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. While some of that language appears by necessity, the Marc Lewis who authored the bulk of a book that, for me was an easy read, was Marc Lewis the addict. Marc Lewis the researcher only appears when it’s necessary.
    His is the first book I’m aware of that both tells the addict’s story (Lewis’s story) using it to explain what is going on in the addict’s brain. He shines a light on those mysterious, inexplicable grey areas that most of us have grappled with at various times, explaining them from a neurological and experiential perspective.
    Lewis’s bottom was the second time he was discovered stealing drugs from the clinic’s pharmacy. He was charged, tried and sentenced to jail. When he came out of jail he knew just one thing for certain and that was, he was dedicating his career to bringing a greater understanding of the neurological configurations that exist in some people, compelling them to consume mood altering substances in dangerous, ever increasing quantities.
    The book devotes not a single word to recovery. So I can only guess, that simply wasn’t a can of worms he was prepared to open. Furthermore that wasn’t the book’s mandate.
    But, since staying abstinent is the real challenge, he does devote about two or three lines to it at the end of the book. I’ll paraphrase here but it goes something like,”I knew, if I was going to stay clean I was going to have to dedicate myself to something that on all counts was more important to me than drugs were.” And that was to learn as much as he could about the neurological machinations of the drug addict. And that’s what he’s doing.
    He said, in very few words that he was going to answer to what he believed was a higher purpose as opposed to a higher power. I’m glad he said that because I understand that much better than “turning my will and my life over to the care of God”.
    As frequently as I hear those words I’m quite certain that nuns and priests likely say something very much like that before being invested. When you really think about step 3 and what it’s asking you to do, you can’t help but understand that it is asking you to devote your life to God. I mean if it said you were to turn your will and your life over to the care of Randy Carlyle and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who wouldn’t believe they’d have to join a team and spend a lot of time on the ice developing and refining our skills?
    The real opportunity that sobriety provides us is, the “do over”, a second (or third fourth or fifth) chance to be who we were meant to be, to find something we love and dedicate ourselves to that thing. And we don’t need to be neuro scientists to do it. We have lots of good examples of people who, in some cases, returned to careers they had squandered when drinking. Returned to school to get the qualifications for the career they’d always dreamed of. Started playing hockey or tennis or golf again. It really doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s legal and it gives you some sense of personal satisfaction that is greater than the buzz from drugs and alcohol. For someone new to AA this might just sound like trippy day dreaming. It’s not. It’s as serious as the heart attack or stroke you’re going to suffer if you can’t fulfill what the step asks of you. If you don’t believe in God, you can still do the step, simply substitute the word God or Higher Power with Higher Purpose.

    • One of the things I best love about AA meetings is hearing new wisdom from members. One of the things that most makes me shut down (and make me feel shut out) is repetition of restrictive dogma). AA Agnostica is like the place where we get to focus on the former. It’s fantastic!

      “He said, in very few words that he was going to answer to what he believed was a higher purpose as opposed to a higher power. I’m glad he said that because I understand that much better than “turning my will and my life over to the care of God”.”

      Brent, your response to my article, and a few other responses, have helped me with my struggle. Thank you.

  12. Thank you Sher. I was lucky to have a very wise counselor when I was in treatment. He is a very religious man but I never knew that in all the weeks I spent under his guidance. When I first ran into a “higher power” in step 2 he simply pointed out my high power had become a certain brand of beer and I needed to find another one which would treat me better. When I hit what I thought was a game breaker at step 3 he simply asked me “Are you going to stay drunk for the rest of your life because you are an atheist? That wouldn’t be very smart.” I was so lucky he just left it open. When I went back to him for clarification he said “You can have a lifetime to figure it out, just turn it over to ‘whatever'”. I took this to be my search for my lost purpose. Simple as that and step 3 is one I never looked back on. The others get pulled out and examined along with everything else but my purpose is to be sober.
    Thank You;
    dan

    • Wow! Dan, I think you just helped me uncover one of my character defects: kicking a dead horse, or some other metaphor. I love this, “I took this to be my search for my lost purpose. Simple as that and step 3 is one I never looked back on… my purpose is to be sober.” This is simple and beautiful and truly helpful to me. Thank you!

    • I love that bit. I use the “or whatever” in my mind whenever the god thing pops up, which as we all know, is all too frequently. I’ve been ruminating on how to best come out of the closet as an atheist at my local meetings without making it seem like a big deal or that I’m trying to set myself apart. What I’ve noticed as I pay attention to what’s going on around me, looking for an opening, is that there are actually quite a few of us. Last night, when the secretary asked me before the meeting whether I would read the steps, I wisecracked that I’d do my best to refrain from editing them as an atheist. That started a really funny discussion prior to the meeting during which it became apparent that not only is he also an atheist, but several others are just kind of winging it, too, without a belief in an interventionist deity. It just doesn’t come up very often because I think many of us are reluctant to alienate our fellow believing members, and are not “activist” enough to bother to try and change the traditional Xian-oriented approach with which AA began. I mean, it’s kind of tough, after some wonderful, well-meaning member prattles on for a bit about “God’s Will for me is to be happy joyous and free…,” to come out and say “there’s no such thing as God” without sounding as if one is calling them delusional. Bit of a sticky wicket, what? I’m sure I’ll continue to treat others the way I’d like to be treated, with love, compassion and understanding, and I won’t be tossing any grenades. I will, however, take every opportunity to move the group away from sectarian prayers, and make sure newcomers understand that there are many of us who get and stay sober without the need to pull the wool over our own eyes.

      • Thanks for your share, Lenny.

        It is easier for me to say that my HP isn’t supernatural. Another reply is “It’s all between the ears,” and I am prone to say “Spiritual and emotional are one and the same.”

        Too, tactically it is better to state what one believes rather than telling others that what they believe is wrong. Better to inject some doubt than raise walls.

        YMMV

  13. A most wonderful and moving article, Sher — thank you !~!~!

    You describe an evolving consciousness that mirrors a process that continues with me today in my 42nd year of continuous recovery — my beliefs, as well as my non-beliefs, undergo constant revision, morphing into vectors previously unknown and often unexpected. That’s one of the reasons why I define myself still as a “newcomer”, because I am always discovering new information and awarenesses about my beliefs as well as my non-beliefs.

    Several weeks ago, I read an article from one of my mentors, Peter Russell, relating that he prays to no god or superior being outside of himself, but to the higher self within that he is evolving into (http://www.peterrussell.com/SP/prayToSelf.php)

    This is certainly compatible with the process you have experienced and described so poignantly with this article. Thanks again . . .

    • Thomas, you in fact were one of the inspirations for me trying my hand at submitting an article. :) One of the things I most enjoyed in our meetings was gleaning some of the fabulous thoughts that have come from others’ innate wisdom. I so appreciate yours. And I will read your mentor’s piece with interest. Thank you.

      • Beautiful sharing and handsome replies. Feeds my innermost self. Thank you. I identify with so much.

  14. I was lucky… after my first several meetings, I had a sponsor and told her that as an atheist I obviously did not belong in AA. She reassured me with two things:
    1. In her first home group was a guy with 20 years of sobriety who at every meeting proclaimed his atheism and said what idiots others were in their belief; and 2. The ONLY requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking
    I noticed on my own that Step 3 does NOT say “came to believe in a higher power” but came to believe THAT a power GREATER (broader not higher) than ourselves could restore us to sanity. I took that to be the group, people working together for a common goal.

    Early on, I spent some time pondering what belief in god was doing for people, and concluded it gave them hope that they could succeed, and that hope gave them the courage and will to keep trying. That and my own experience led me to believe that willingness is the primary sobriety-keeper.
    As for thinking, two points: when I was drinking, I was NOT thinking; and it was thinking that got me to AA and my BEST thinking that let me stay.

    In addition, I have been reading a lot of Buddhist books that have led me toward attitudes of helpfulness and compassion toward others and myself. [although many people think of Buddhism as a religion, I see no reference in the literature to god or gods. Buddha was a deep and original thinker
    who is revered not worshiped.]

    • Pam, I have often felt sponsor-envy. I hear of others who have had sponsors for years, even decades; They sit in rooms comfortably and fondly with several past sponsors; Your first sponsor assured you you did not need to believe in a higher power (and she MEANT it!!!). You are the perfect example I think that if we have just a little bit of permission and support to find our own way and our own interpretation, we can thrive in AA. Thank you for writing!

    • If you haven’t already, Larry, find resources that support your search for your innate wisdom. :) That’s what I’m doing.

  15. An old adage in A.A. is “Your best thinking got you here” along with the notion of “stinking thinking”.

    Early on I resembled those adages, but into recovery I learned to be able to think better and was able to trust myself.

    We tend to deal with absolutes, either or, and that isn’t too smart because everything is in a shade of gray, whether the true believers believe so or not.

    Joe C hit the nail on the head with the Beyond Belief reading for May 16th. “Jung criticized Xtn mythology for separating good and evil, the righteous and the wicked, salvation and damnation. . . When we accept doubt, fear, rage, and grief without hiding, over-compensating or self-destructing, we can integrate our dark and light selves. Jung referred to this integration as “individuation.”

    Gods are as good as the people who invented them.

    • So true! It often seems the AA members who are most vocal are the ones who take the more religious interpretations of it as Truth. Black and white. Not only leaves us out, maybe it leaves them out as well, really, their whole selves.

  16. The term “innate wisdom” is liken to my philosophy. The Spiritual Experience (Appendix II) says, and I paraphrase, we found we have tapped an unsuspected inner resource that we currently identify with as a higher power. It goes on to suggest that “our more religious members call this ‘God-consciousness.'” That leaves me free to forgo God language in my narrative of this change in personality sufficient to overcome my compulsion to drink.

    Is anyone else here a fan of Eric Berne’s The Games People Play? I see Transactional Analysis all over the place in Twelve Step Recovery. The basic premise is that we have ego-states, Parent, Adult and Child. The adult state is our resting state and when ever we are having a sharing of ideas, not trying to dominate each other or getting triggered by one another, we are in an adult ego-state. It is respectful, inquisitive and on equal footing.

    Our parent ego-state is informed by cues we pick up from our own parents. If we are being critical or nurturing with another we are likely in a parent ego-state. We are in child ego-state when we are impulsive, needy, stubborn or playful.

    If you’ve never heard of this theory, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKNyFSLJy6o is a 10 minute clinic.

    My point is that I see the Parent/Child games or transactions happening a lot in sponsor/sponsee relationships. It doesn’t need to be that way but these are the games we people play.

    The persecutor, victim, rescuer triangle is a complementary theory that, any of us who have been counseled in it, recognize when we or others, take on these roles. I have certainly acted persecuted and helpless at times, or smothering or critical, too. I fall into these traps. Understanding myself helps me resist some of these daily traps that cause me frustration.

    When Sher describes AA as a place “I can go, as often as I need, where I can be among others who understand my struggle with alcohol; where I can be as candid and vulnerable as I want, without fear of being judged,” she is describing what Berne calls as an adult/adult transaction.

    Two or more people sharing ideas, even challenging each other, is what I like in my AA relationships. But every day I get drawn into the games people play. Sometimes it’s just in my head now, and I talk myself down before I react to others.

    Thanks for your story Sher, I certainly identify.

    • Joe, great stuff! I just watched the video and it certainly presented a new way of looking at things. I immediately saw myself and first sponsor in the parent-child ego states. Thanks so much for this!

  17. Wow, thank you, Sher, for such a simple and honest “coming of age” with respect to step three. It also took me a number of years to realize that my higher power is my inner conscience. Contrary to another popular line heard in the rooms, something like, “We are all liars, cheats, thieves, and murderers!” I am none of those, but I am an alcoholic and I am an atheist. Neither of those necessarily override a strong moral sense and the adherence to that sense.

    • I like that, your higher power is your inner conscience. I hadn’t actually put that together. Exactly! And I too agree, AA blankets all of us with definitions that only fit some of us. Thank you!

  18. I struggled until I started to study the philosophy of Stoicism. To them, the word god is a concept of what ever created the world and rational consciousness. Their philosophy is logical, even if it is spaghetti. Bits of the Big Book comes from that source indirectly. It is a philosophy that totally replaces the need for a mystic god. AA still can provides our “social need”.

    • Really, our struggle to define our concept of god (or lack thereof) shouldn’t be defined by AA. And their social benefits are surely liferafts for those of us drowning in the ocean, aren’t they? Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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