Reviewed by Christopher G.
If you are new or old in recovery and you have old ideas that aren’t working anymore, you may find, like me, that when you get rid of an old idea (especially a big one like God), even timidly or hesitantly so, that all of your other sincerely held beliefs, which you didn’t realize were somehow connected to that old belief, suffer at least a shock and at worst a total destruction. This can feel unnerving and frightening. One’s sense of purpose, meaning and direction come into question. At least that has been my experience.
One thing I’ve noticed in my recent migration to agnostic, to possible atheist, and subsequent regressions from my conditioning as believer, and the flotsam and jetsam of all in between, is that there appears to be as many variations in agnosticism/atheism/freethinking/etc as there are in believer’s denominations, sects, schisms and various faiths. I mean there are more than primary colors in the rainbow when you get down to it and so it is with beliefs and approaches to recovery. One has to admit that the visible spectrum is but a minute portion of the whole, rather invisible, array.
Another Atheist in Recovery is one of those colors or, perhaps, a bouquet of them. SpikedUp Frog, I am assuming is the author’s name or nom de plume, relates her experience as a former believer or wannabe-liever, at first in the fashion of a recovery room share or even a circuit speaker. I imagined I could easily be listening to someone on a recording from xaspeakers.org or the like. (Although that website is at the moment more traditional AA, wouldn’t it be nice to find the We Agnostics, Atheists and Free Thinkers – WAAFT – convention recordings there?)
This book is a refreshing exploration of personal experience written in such a way that many, like myself of the former believer category, will find educational and insightful. The seventeen bibliography and reference pages alone at the end of the book, plus the connections they might engender, provide enough information to keep one busy for at least a few years of sobriety or some questionable using!
Written specifically with the agnostic and atheist in mind who struggle with god-based recovery, Spike shares her traditional “experience, strength and hope” or “what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now” without the god/spiritual jargon, laying out in no uncertain terms her definitions and meanings as to her own understanding. This is a breath of fresh air. Her treatise through the steps is less like translation from god-laced language to secularism, and more like logical, informative expression of principles found in them, characterized by her own experience and desire.
For example, here are SpikedUp Frog’s Steps “off the wall” steps, as she works them:
- I cannot use safely.
- I ask for help from others when I need to.
- I allow other human beings to care about me and I allow myself to care about them.
- I make a list of my assets and liabilities.
- I share this list with another human being.
- I set specific goals for improving the quality of my life.
- I take specific action to improve the quality of my life.
- I make a list of my regrets and my successes.
- I do something about my regrets.
- I strive for authenticity.
- I seek balance.
- I help other people suffering from addiction if they want my help.
Just as a newcomer to the traditional rooms of recovery might have little or no clue as to what the steps are about, and if they did, those clues would no doubt be shrouded in old beliefs; so too, a quick read of these might not yield a true connection to one’s own life experience. True, in fact for some, that just because 12 are portrayed here, there might be some bristling antagonism towards twelve-steppery period! (You know I always wanted to name a We Agnostic meeting, We Antagonists! Isn’t it true? Isn’t it good to laugh at one’s self? )
The major portion of her book delineates her understanding and experience relating in a more expansive way her deeper relationship to each step. It’s like a miniature version of another member’s Big Book and Twelve and Twelve. And why not? If we can’t choose our own conception then we will not have our own experience and if we cannot have our own experience then why bother with them at all?! The steps are not rules or dogma but rather suggestions and patterns to be used to fit the individual if they so choose.
She draws from many sources outside traditional AA and unabashedly promotes their use and exploration. This is truly liberating to one accustomed to cult-mentality, not thinking for one’s self, and programmed dogma. Her steps are smart and practical with a lot of life experience in the multitude of affairs we alcoholics and addicts face both in and out of the rooms and fellowships.
If you are looking to hold onto a word like spirituality you’d better forget it and get used to something like authenticity and awe. She doesn’t promote this as a dogma, just what works for her. What she does promote is thinking for one’s self. You may even find yourself having to translate what she says into your own more palatable understanding, which is, of course, encouraged.
After all, the real matter is not about perception, interpretation or understanding, although, there is a lot to be said for the magnetism of identification on an outward level; it’s about implementation and action. How these thoughts and concepts are meaningful in her daily living is what she is, not promoting, but sharing here. I don’t think she gives a damn if you, I, or anyone uses them at all. She seems to have gotten some sheer pleasure out of the experience of having lived it and has been able to, or compelled to, articulate it.
I heard Joe C. relate in his opening remarks at the inaugural We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers International AA Convention last month on the difference between message and language. He had just been to a Pacific Group meeting and told us that he heard the same message there, but in a different language, and that language does not necessarily separate us from message and purpose. As I pondered this, I took the metaphor in a slightly different direction, and I rephrased it to say, “It’s the same language but a different dialect”.
Whether in a southern Texan drawl or a Cockneyed twist on terms, I can honestly say that SpikedUp Frog is talking the same language in a dialect that is understandable to an untold many in the recovery rooms of the world and more than likely to many who aren’t here yet. Her voice is intrinsically linked to her experience which counts more than any philosophizing, intellectualizing or criticism.
I am going to take away from this book a new look at my own understanding, not only of my interpretations but of my past recovery based actions, and perhaps implement into my near future some of the tools presented in this book. Tools like the acronym F-SPIES instead of the seven deadly sins for inventory purposes. Who knows? I may have to endure some more unnerving fear as my old ideas continue to be shocked or destroyed.
This has been for the most part an intellectual and critical review infused, of course, with my own bias. It is of little import. As with most good books, they get better as they are identified with, shared, reflected upon, revisited and truly experienced. This is, I feel, one of those books and will stay in my library. Of course, it won’t do much good there. Its real benefit is in the actions they imply. Thank you, Ms. Frog, for sharing your efforts with us. Hearing how someone else does it is never less than educational, often a catalyst for connection and change, and always colorful.
You can purchase an epub version of this book at Barnes and Noble: Another Atheist in Recovery.
Christopher arrived in AA in December 1992 with a desire to stop drinking. He worked the Steps in a traditional manner, went to lots of meetings, provided service, and sponsored others: all of which brought him temporary relief but more and more he felt that something wasn’t quite right.
In 2011 he found the book, Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power by Marya Hornbacher. At about that time he was sponsoring someone and working through the Steps as well, writing them and their attendant prayers in his own words and terms. God was nowhere to be found in them. Then in January 2014 he discovered the website AA Agnostica and Beyond Belief, Joe C’s book of daily reflections.
Christopher lives in the mountains of southern California and has worked as an automotive technician and tow truck operator for the past 35 years. He no longer feels alone or untrue to himself in AA and helped start “We Don’t Know”, an agnostic AA group in Idyllwild, California and also attended the We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers (WAAFT) convention in Santa Monica.