Rewriting the 12 Steps for Atheists

By Tracy Chabala
This article was originally published in the the AfterPartyMagazine, a division of RehabReviews.com.

One of the biggest concerns of many AA newbies is the “God thing.” I sympathize, because I still have an issue with the God thing after eight years in AA. I’ve tried to avoid it, I’ve pretended to believe, I’ve skirted the issue, I’ve done the replacement thing—using people in the rooms as my Higher Power. Now I own the fact that no, I don’t believe in God, I probably won’t believe in God, I don’t have to believe in God and I’m not even going to bother substituting for God.

There’s no way you’ll get me to believe, by the way. If you tell me I’m a jerk, if you tell me that I’m defiant, if you tell me that I’m intellectually puffed-up and need more humility, if you tell me I’ll drink unless I get on my knees and say the third step prayer, I’ll sucker punch you with a Dawkins argument.

The word, concept and connotation of a Supreme Being repels me more than sour milk.

I’m not alone in this thinking. Despite the several times God is mentioned in the steps and AA literature, there are tons of atheists in the rooms. It’s turning into a growing movement—since 2010, atheistic or agnostic meetings have doubled.

WAAFT Central, which stands for We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers in Alcoholics Anonymous, is a legit organization with a legit website that’s legitimately AA. How do I know? Because you’ll find groups in the AA meeting directories under names like “Godless Heathens,” “We Agnostics,” “Freethinkers” or “Beyond Belief.”

The atheist, agnostic and freethinkers meetings are all different. Many don’t open or close with any prayers. Some don’t use the word God in any of the readings. I love the “We Agnostics” meeting near my house. It’s sort of a hybrid between a Hollywood Late Night meeting—an anarchic group of raucous folks where everyone talks during shares—and a regular old AA meeting. You don’t have to put on any saintly airs in an agnostic meeting. The newly sober kids are irreverent and the older folks are kind, open-minded and keep the meeting from veering into complete chaos.

But the WAAFT website alone can be hugely helpful for anyone with the same conflict as me. Not only are there personal stories by us godless folks who have stayed sober – many over 30 years – but there’s even a podcast starting. And the site encourages people to share the word, because so many AA’s don’t even know WAAFT exists.

12 Steps Image

You can access the Alternative 12 Steps Page by clicking on the above image.

I didn’t know about it until a week ago, when a kind soul responded to a God post I wrote on my blog.

In addition to WAAFT, there’s a site called AA Agnostica, which holds the same principles but functions even more like a dynamic blog.

The Alternative 12-Steps section is perhaps the most fascinating. Some only divert from the 12-steps in their absence of God, others don’t include the word “alcoholic” or “powerless” at all. Even more fascinating are the White Bison 12-steps, a Native American approach based on the Medicine Wheel that has the following succinct path to sobriety:

  1. Honesty
  2. Hope
  3. Faith
  4. Courage
  5. Integrity
  6. Willingness
  7. Humility
  8. Forgiveness
  9. Justice
  10. Perseverance
  11. Spiritual Awakening
  12. Service

Pretty awesome. I can definitely hang with this.

There might be a few people in AA who won’t vibe with this and it may depend on your locale — I’ve had very few problems being an “out” atheist in the rooms in Los Angeles. Still, if you’ve rewritten the 12-steps you might come across a Big Book fundamentalist who tells you that you must be “beaten into reasonableness” and become a believer. I just avoid those folks if I see them; the majority of AA’s I’ve encountered don’t seem to a give a shit, including my sponsor with 33 years.

Search“I don’t care what’s in that goddamn book,” the 77-year-old will say laughing, “You can be an atheist and stay sober.”

As many of us know, AA was based on the conservative Christian values of the Oxford Group. Though there’s the “God as we understood him” caveat in the steps, the language in the literature is somewhat black-and-white and often mirrors Judeo-Christian ideology. Many just don’t find that language palatable and to some degree, insisting people jump on board 100% is culturally insensitive, at least if you’re not a monotheist.

There are 12-step alternatives for Hindus, 12-step alternatives for Buddhists and 12 steps for Humanists. In fact, I have a book called 12 Steps on the Buddha’s Path, which is pretty killer.

As a freethinker, or at least someone who values thoughtful inquiry and constant questioning, I decided to sit down and rewrite the 12 steps in language that I can tolerate and with a philosophy that resonates with me. I don’t buy into the powerlessness thing anymore than I buy into the God thing. I do think I’m powerless over booze once a drop gets into my system—plenty of experience has proven this. Am I powerless over picking up that first drink? Of course not. I’ve stayed sober nearly six years and I haven’t been in some mystical trance the entire time.

With this in mind, here are my steps.

  1. Acknowledge that I cannot drink safely at any time, that bad shit happens to me every single time and it tears my life to shreds.
  2. Come to believe I am a) worth living happily and sober b) that I have the power to do things differently—I can change maladaptive and destructive patterns of thought, behavior and action, and make wise choices to stay sober and happy.
  3. Become willing to do things differently and make healthy choices in my thoughts, behaviors and actions through various methods, be it CBT, suggestion from wise friends, my sponsor, my father’s wisdom, a therapist, SMART meetings, meditation and the development of my own inner strength and wisdom.
  4. Look at the patterns of thought and behavior that don’t serve me and keep me angry, depressed, upset and lead me to drink. Where resentments are concerned, acknowledge my part, be it ever so small, so I can empower myself to change these patterns and have compassion for others. Recognize that interacting with unhealthy people is foolish and causes me harm.
  5. Reflect on these patterns, discuss them with someone if necessary and fully acknowledge that these things harm me and cannot continue.
  6. Become willing to surrender these negative patterns of thought, behavior and actions, including drinking or other addictive behavior, unhealthy romantic entanglements with douchebags, unhealthy job settings and unhealthy people.
  7. Take the necessary action to change these maladaptive patterns, to end unhealthy relationships and continue to take action that leads me to sobriety, sanity and wellness.
  8. Make a list of persons I have harmed and become willing to make amends to them.
  9. Make direct amends to such people, whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them, myself or others.
  10. Continue to watch for maladaptive behavior, without judgement, and take action to change it. Be kind and apologize when I’m in the wrong. Drive like a Taoist.
  11. Involve myself in positive activities, such as dance, travel, learning in classes, exercise, meditation, going to museums and readings, writing and cooking. Hang out with positive and spirit-lifting people to participate in life and keep moving forward, away from my addictive past.
  12. Develop an ethical compass. Treat others with respect and compassion, live with wisdom and generosity. Give back to the community when possible and to others in recovery while employing healthy boundaries. Live an example of a positive, openhearted, honest, ethical life and put the shopping cart back where it belongs in the grocery store parking lot.

How’s that for free thinking?


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Rewriting the 12 Steps for Atheists — 52 Comments

  1. Hi folks, I’d be most grateful for any advice. I recently decided to privately “out myself” as an atheist, outside of AA. I tortured myself, in an out of the rooms for the last 17 years, trying to believe that I’m an agnostic, not really convincing myself, but saying the words. I recently decided to quit AA for good, thinking that it could never work for me – the G-word simply was a step too far. I’m sure you can guess what happens next, and you’re right.

    I’m so glad I made the decision to research an alternative approach, and am grateful to you all for offering me a way out of my alcohol addiction.

    I intend going back to meetings, and applying the alternative steps.

    My question is, how do you guys handle the Serenity Prayer part? Would people object if I opted out of that?

    I’m in a strange situation, here in Dubai, because I’m not sure if, legally, I’d be regarded as an apostate if I stated publicly that I’m an atheist! However I’ll cross that bridge later.

    Thanks again to all, Roy.

    • I replace “god grant me” with “May I have”. This was suggested by my friend Neil F. Most of the time I ignore it because the actual body of the prayer is the essence of emotional well being. It is like the “St. Francis Prayer” (which it isn’t, just like the Herbert Spenser thing). If you remove the first and last phrases the body of it is a good way to deal with people. God is irrelevant. In Dubai, I should not have to warn you, you must exercise discretion with your personal views. Take Care; Dan L.

      • Yes, and I have heard of another meeting of our sort that uses the Serenity Affirmation, which I repeat under my breath at ‘traditional’ meetings and at times get to “lead us out with a prayer/or words of my choice”. (I also like the “we” version best: “We/I have the serenity to accept the things we/I cannot change, the courage…….”

        Why bother asking for something we already have as an ‘unsuspected inner resource’ or ‘deep down inside every man, woman and child is the Great Reality’ and so on? Why not just acknowledge it, affirm it, own it?

  2. I have been talked over in meetings. I have been cut off by the chairperson. I have been told that I can pick any higher power I want (which is ridiculous). I don’t believe and likely never will. AA has been patronizing to me. I finally realized that AA is not going to change and that the program has nothing for me. It is all about god doing for you that which you are too pitiful to do for yourself. I don’t see how so many atheists keep going. It reminds me of the battered wife syndrome, we just keep coming back and tell ourselves that it will be different this time.

    • Kerry,

      It sure is an enigma, but recent research is beginning to reveal that the opposite state of addiction is connection. The power of fellowship with a singular common bond is an antidote to suffering with an addiction. Yes there is bs, yes there are dogmatic bleeding deacons… yep, there are business meetings… but inside of that lays the core connection that we all share… a desire to stop drinking. Alone we struggle, together we succeed.

      • I like the connection with others, whom I pick and choose from the crowd, as Larry said. We now have an agnostics group, too, so I am connected to a lot of free thinking folk.

        Also, maybe, at this point we have a moral obligation to those who still suffer from active alcoholism and addiction to represent a sane, magic-free voice in the rooms. We could build a new boat, but we are already on the Titanic, and, for the sake of our fellow passengers now and in future, have a moral obligation to try and steer it away from the iceberg. If we are not there, all the newcomer will hear is the “god could and would if he were sought” faith healing crowd.

        In other words, I go as much to be of service as for my own personal needs.

    • Kerry T., thank you for speaking to “the rub.”

      Now that I am “in” AA, I agree with the valiant points made by Larry K. and Adam N. I want to remain a part of this (AA) recovery vessle for my own sake and those yet-sober atheists over the horizon (still in the drink).

      I do not know if my early sobriety could have endured the atheist battering if where I got sober (which was plenty gawd awful) had been even slightly less tolerant, or if I had not picked up “gravity” as a hp, just in case I ever did need one, even as I was drinking and trying to avoid AA.

      It is the tragi-drama of life stuff that I should be prescribed to be “a part of” a fellowship (or at least one with VERY vocal parts therein) that seems so bent on rejecting me, not for what I am (an alcoholic) but for who I am (an atheist).

      THAT is the reason “special interest” venues like this site; the googlegroups; skype (voice) and other online meetings; facebook cafe; rebellion dogs; etc. seem so critical. We each get our own path to walk. I don’t know a better way to walk it sober, than with your help. Thanks for participating in my recovery!

    • I agree with you on the “God will do for you what you…” opinion.

      “God”, the existence or non-existence of, should be left out of literature and meetings themselves. The serenity prayer, the holding hands at the end of the meeting. All of this stuff creeps me out.

      That being said, I do go to see the few people that I do learn a lot from and to whom I try to help.

      My opinion often changes on going to meetings. There are a lot of sick people there. Like the saying goes, “If you go to a barber shop often enough, you’re going to get a haircut.” My opinion is if you hang out with crazy people enough, you’re going turn crazy!” lol

  3. These 12 steps, despite the fact I don’t put a great deal of credence in “steps” (I believe in acknowledging stages in my development and in so doing continuing to evolve and contribute to all the communities I belong to), are by far the closest in spirit to my own feelings.

    But I do have a bit of a niggle, steps notwithstanding, that I’d like to bring up for everybody’s consideration. That is, as atheists and agnostics, why does God continue to be so central to our discussions?

    I’m not suggesting we consciously avoid talking about God or Higher Powers, but isn’t the great benefit of the whole WAAFT endeavour to be free of it? I guess what I keep thinking of is how little God or anything like that arises in my daily life and how unconscious I am of the subject. Yet much of what I read in relation to WAAFT starts with how intolerable regular AA meetings were, how people frequently felt oppressed and unable to share honestly because it was so taken for granted that everybody there had accepted God as their Higher Power.

    I believe the entire God thing stymied the growth of AA. It was the boulder that kept the door closed to the arrival of new information, new thoughts and materials that might help us in our evolution as knowledgeable, sober alcoholics.

    What the pioneers of this movement did was move the boulder from the door. In deference to their groundbreaking courage, we ought to be sucking up all the new scholarly and anecdotal materials that could not just drive our growth individually but communally as well.

    One final bit and then I’ll shut up. With respect to spirituality and risking sounding like a hypocrite, I listened on the radio one day to a Catholic Priest. The interviewer asked about the choice involved in living spiritually or not. His reply was something to the effect of, “as if”. His point being that we ARE spiritual beings, no choice involved. But he equated the human spirit with electricity. That is, electricity if it isn’t contained and shielded can be a very destructive force. But when it is shielded and contained it brings many comforts that we’ve come to rely on and accept. Imagine being without light, heat, hell, the computers that connect us to one another week after week.

    He continued to say Janis Joplin was as spiritual as Mother Teresa. The only difference being, Joplin’s spirit was wild and untamed, destructive, whereas Mother Teresa’s was clearly directed and under her control. All this to say, the idea of a “spiritual experience” is another boulder. As spiritual beings who are constantly experiencing things, don’t we confuse the issue when a single spiritual experience, an experience that occurs between a single man or woman and the mystical, is so often spoken of, so often treated as the goal? Seems limiting to me.

    • Marvelous observation, Brent! I every so often think and share at meetings that I am and have been having a spiritual experience for over 66 years now. Much of it I have been unconscious of. Most, if not all, has been of the educational variety. All in all it’s been a great ride and I hope it continues as long as possible. Total awareness? Enlightenment? No. Just enough for now.

    • Mother Teresa, hmmm. Caveat emptor. Read Christopher Hitchens on the saintly lady. BTW it was RC priest and environmentalist Teilhard de Chardin who said we are not human beings having a spiritual experience but spiritual beings having a human experience, which will give some AA Agnosticas a migraine I’m sure.

      • Yeah, I heard she was kinda crazy, as was Janis, of course. Neither saintly nor role models for me, personally. Nor Teilhard de Chardin, who missed the mark on a number of points. Although he was good for a few good “Deepisms”, as in claims devoid of actual content which sound profound. Kind of like the Grateful Dead…

    • Brent P. thanks for some poignant comments regarding the door boulders, the lack of choice with regard to the “spiritual” aspects or being human, and the question of tamed vs. untamed human energies.

      I don’t know enough about Janis Joplin’s life, but that it was powerful, beautiful, and somewhat tragic (in its (SELF?)) destructive energy. Though I did not grow up with religion, my world still “knew” Mother Teresa to be the embodiment of all that is good and sacrificing in humanity. It took the observations by Christopher Hitchens (a VERY human being in his own right) to pull back the frock, and label this anti-christ in sheeps clothing for what it was.

      Despite both the good and evil of religions and AA being what they are, my goal, my aim, my need is to walk MY (sober!) path within this world as it is. I want to continue to do that with the help of the similarly afflicted… and preferably (somewhat) like minded that I find in these freethinking AAish venues.

      Recently I’ve been listening to an audible of 30+ guru types talking about the meaning of “spiritual awakening.” One theme I hear there is the distinction between living as “awakened” and the “tastes” of spiritual experiences that people get along their journey… and then the natural mistake of trying to recreate that, now past, event (“chasing the dragon”?)… when perhaps life is meant to be lived in harmony with the past, forward leaning, but presently.

  4. Well said Tracy. Thanks for your service to us problem drinkers. Cheers from Nevada.

  5. Tracy thanks for sharing your 12 steps which I found right on with emotional sobriety. I find the growing pains that AA is experiencing is parallel to what is going on in the world today. Growth means change and change can be uncomfortable as we all know. Wouldn’t it be in the best interest of AA to grow and support all kinds of programs of sobriety? This is the best thing I’ve read on AA on a long time. Thanks for being courageous. We don’t have go along to get along. We can agree to disagree respectfully and our journeys are about us. Love to hear people challenge their journey of sobriety and work THEIR program!

  6. One of the easiest transformations for the God thing was a Buddhist AA meeting in Decatur, GA. The group just substituted the “Him” in the steps with the word “god.” It did not purport to be an official AA meeting.

    I can accept the god part (without the capital G) because I feel that a god like quality, like the buddha nature, is in me, as it is in all of us. Love this site in the morning. A breath of fresh air.

    Thanks all. Rob, St. Thomas, VI.

  7. Most of this is so far removed from AA I wonder why they let you converge under the name, or even why you’d want to.

    • Daniel, “they”, whomever they may be, don’t have the power to “let” us do or not do anything!

      Bill W. pushed this open door policy to the utmost limits of tolerance. In a 1946 essay in the AA Grapevine he wrote: “So long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral, the most anti-social, the most critical alcoholic may gather about him a few kindred spirits and announce to us that a new Alcoholics Anonymous group has been formed. Anti-God, anti-medicine, anti-our recovery program, even anti-each other – these rampant individuals are still an AA group if they think so!” Atlanta 2015 We Agnostics Talk

      It only appears to be “so far removed” from whatever “AA” you may be accustomed to.

      Tradition 3 (long form):

      Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought AA membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.

      Bill Wilson wrote in the July 1965 Grapevine:

      Newcomers are approaching AA at the rate of tens of thousands yearly. They represent almost every belief and attitude imaginable, we have atheists and agnostics, we have people of nearly every race, culture and religion. In AA we are supposed to be bound together in the kinship of a common suffering. Consequentially, the full individual liberty to practice any creed, or principle, or therapy, whatever, should be a first consideration for us all. Let us not therefore pressure anyone with our individual or even our collective views. Let us instead accord each other the respect and love that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way toward the light. Let us always try to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Let us remember that each alcoholic among us is a member of AA so long as he or she so declares.

      So, Daniel, who’s removed now?

      • Daniel, I feel I may have roughed you up a little bit with my own brand of soapbox preaching, quotations, and ‘rightness’; and I apologize if it was offensive. It takes a fair amount of courage to explore a site such as this and I commend you for that.

        “We are not saints”, even if there were such things, and I count myself among the intolerant and judgmental drunks that inhabit my world. Perhaps I misunderstood you.

    • Working the steps necessarily entails translating. Engaging in the process is a personalizing of them. The program is big enough for that. We are exhorted to come up with our own idea of a higher power. The goal is to make the tools work for you, to be real and engage on a level you can relate to.

      I personally love various translations, and see myself in lots of them. They are not sacrosanct. We do not even need 12. Twelve is almost random, based on the 12 apostles of Christianity. Why not the 7 chakras or the Eightfold Noble Path? One old timer went with 6. It’s right there in the big book! (p. 263; 4th ed)

      Our fellowship was created as is precisely so that there would be no problem with diverse personalities and perspectives. The third tradition answers part of your question: “Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought AA membership ever depend upon money or conformity…” This is why we are allowed to converge, because we fulfill all the requirements laid out by Alcoholics Anonymous itself.

      Why do we want to? I cannot speak for the author, but I had no options when I came in the 1980’s. It was the main game in town, and generally still is. Years later, after cultivating rigorous honesty, I realized that I was an atheist, and that it was ok. In fact, it enhanced my recovery because I made it personal. I had to work harder to relate. But this process made it all the more rich and meaningful and personal. Interpreting is engaging. Connecting for real, personalizing. Making it personal.

      Today I want to be with others who are dealing with this malady on some level. For many of us, interaction with others in recovery is a major component in recovery. We want to because AA is the biggest game in town, and much of it is very good stuff. But just because we like many aspects of the program, does not mean we buy it all hook, line and sinker. A good AA should not silently conform to the mainstream, but should be herself and engage genuinely.

      We should be ourselves, diverse and different and unique in some respects, but not in all. We are all alcoholics, and we all have a shared desire to stop drinking. The differences between us could and should make us stronger, not divide us.

      • Is this the Adam N who wrote the book Common Sense Recovery? If so, I have to ask you a question about the first paragraph, referencing the Virgin Islands.

        Can you send a private message? Loved the book. Got it with the Little Book which is also a god send… interesting term… for our group. I’ll need more of both.

    • Some words and practices in AA are so common that it’s easy to think they are official. I thought so in early recovery, because all the meetings in my town used the same format. But now I know that people are helping themselves and others get sober in AA despite their differences. What unites us is stated in the Preamble: We are a fellowship sharing experience, strength, and hope to get sober.

      AA has no rule or policy that a belief in the Steps, or in a God/Higher Power is required for membership. None.

      Of course, thousands (millions?) of people have gotten sober in AA using the original steps and belief in a God/Higher Power. However, an uncountable number of us have gotten just as sober in AA without those beliefs, including folks with 20, 30, 40 or more years of sobriety. That’s a fact.

      Some things to ponder:

      – Tradition Three.

      – “It is a tradition among us that the individual has the unlimited right to his own opinion on any subject under the sun. He is compelled to agree with no one; he can disagree with everyone.” Bill W., in Language of the Heart, 1944

      – “We must remember that AA’s Steps are suggestions only. A belief in them as they stand is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made AA available to thousands who would never have tried at all, had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written.”
      Bill W., in AA Comes of Age, 1957

      – “…it becomes quite easy to assume that we have all of the truth… we demand agreement with us. We play God… In AA we are supposed to be bound together in the kinship of common suffering…Let us remember that each alcoholic among us is a member of AA, so long as he or she so declares.” Bill W., speaking to the 1965 General Service Conference.

      Those of us who read or write on the pages of aaagnostica.org have no question that we are members of A.A. We remember the bad old days, and are grateful that we were given our lives back by the fellowship.

    • Daniel, agnostics and atheists were actually in AA at the very beginning and played a role in the birth of the fellowship. I am thinking of Hank P and Jim B. So, it’s not a matter of letting us in, we have always been here.

      Interpreting the steps is nothing new either. Everybody has to do that at at some level. That’s what is so great about AA, the rich diversity of our experience. There is no one “real AA”.

      If you went to some agnostic AA meetings, you would be surprised at how similar they are to any other AA meeting. We are alcoholics helping each other stay sober, and like all AA groups, we have a variety of experiences with recovery.

      This isn’t a narrow path we travel, it’s a broad highway.

  8. Wonderful, thoughtful article — Thank you, Tracy !~!~!

    When I was gifted by happenstance — my Karmic destiny? — with recovery in New York City in late 1972, the predominant formula in most AA meetings I attended was “Don’t pick up. Go to meetings. Help others.”

    Following this formula, which has successfully worked for me over 42.5 years, my version of the steps would essentially be the following:

    1. By myself, I cannot stay sober.
    2. Joining with you, we can help each other stay sober by sharing experience, strength and hope, both within AA meetings and outside of meetings.
    3. In addition, together we can help others who want to get sober, as well as those among us who relapse, a natural part of our malady for some of us.

    This is my version of the 12 steps. Indeed, inventory and amends and meditation are certainly admirable pursuits, but these are delicious icing on the cake of the essentially elements of my ongoing daily recovery process.

  9. I really enjoyed Tracy’s assertive stance re: atheism. I’ll be sober 42 years come August 25 and I have never found it necessary to become a theist or to get religion.

    I too have tried rewriting agnostic steps. AA is a great place to find people who value the sober life. Agnostic groups are, I think, wisest to go there only to body snatch. We need to talk about topics not based on religion-speak.

  10. I could see that the AA steps had helped many people so when I re-wrote the 12 steps my focus was to capture the function of the step.

    I tried to come as close as I could to the original language to show how beliefs can be removed without changing the step.

  11. I was an atheist when I entered AA. One of the first things I did was to re-write the steps for my own use. That worked. I am not in favor of reading alternate steps at our We Agnostics meeting since we like being listed in the central office’s directory.

    • So the only requirement for membership is not just a desire to stop drinking but the reading of unaltered holy 12 steps? Our Free Thinker meeting in Denver can’t even get recognized to speak at central office monthly meetings let alone get listed in the meeting directory.

      • Vancouver Intergroup took the same position as well with our Agnostic Groups; in spite of their close minded meanness we have prevailed and will continue to do so.

  12. Good essay. I too am an atheist member of AA, and I too reject the notion of a higher power of any kind. Tracy’s alternative steps are fine, and I also respect the AA slogans such as Live and Let Live, and Easy Does It. My favorite AA publication is Living Sober, which is filled with practical ideas on how to stay sober and achieve emotional balance. To me Living Sober is quite unlike all the other “spiritual” AA books and pamphlets, so different in fact that I wonder how the author was able to get the AA higher-ups to approve its publication. Above all, we agnostics and atheists need to feel free to bounce our ideas around on websites like this without fear of censorship so that we can read nice essays like Tracy’s – or even ones not so nice.

  13. Very good, Tracy! Thanks for such honest, straight-forward inspiration! I especially love the shopping cart suggestion! I am surrounded by WAY too many AAs with long-term, God-based sobriety who are quite unhealthy physically and emotionally, the people that I am supposed to look up to for inspiration and guidance. I suspect that many of them don’t put the shopping cart back where it belongs. I appreciate your encouragement to find the right path. Thanks!

  14. Thank you Tracy for your essay. I constantly shake my head at the assertion that the Back to Basic and Big Book whoring types that you cannot interpret the steps or “the program” and must practice it “precisely” how it is written. This is senseless on so many levels. The BB states that it sets out to show “precisely” how an exaggerated number of people “recovered” from alcoholism… and then does nothing of the sort. It is full of questionable claims and false assertions along with a large amount of “good living” advice, a few pounds of utter nonsense and a certain amount of bullshit. It is woefully short on medical and scientific information. Those who claim to understand it are delusional in my opinion. Delusion is, of course, one of the cornerstones of addictive thought.

    Every time someone writes their own interpretation of the steps it is, for me, a clarification of how another person sees a path to sobriety. I love The Little Book for this reason alone. Every time someone produces their own twelve steps I seize upon it and frequently modify my own. This is what I think is the purified essence of AA recovery, people sharing coping strategies in dealing with alcoholism positively. I would like to see the BB rewritten by a hundred different authors in a hundred different books (yeah I know). We learn from each other – not from that dusty and frequently abused pre-war artifact. The BB can stand on its own as an historical documentation of how we started but not, I hope, of where we finished.

    Thanks again.

  15. I wonder if anyone actually thinks Bill believed in a personalized diety? He was in the same position as the framers of the constitution who caved on the abolition of slavery to get it done. If he had lived longer, chances are much more would have been revealed. Bill was brilliant to be sure, but way more Coney Island than Wall Street and the blinding light thing is plain lame. I had half a dozen better ones before my forty years of sobriety but they were called ACID TRIPS! I know this. Bill would have laughed at all this crazy, god/no god horseshit going on today, as if any of it is relevant to anything. The thumpers are here to stay, as are the legion of Frasier’s insufferable little brothers who have risen to defend their non belief. I hope everybody remembers not to pick up a drink and maybe not to take ANY of this stuff so effing seriously. It’s another gorgeous Sunday here in the midwest.

  16. I’m a big fan of Tracy’s contribution to the addiction/recovery discussion. Bravo, Tracy. I think everyone ought to write their own Step (if they chose the Step/mutual aid approach). Authenticity is more important to my way of thinking than conformity. Make it your own, I say.

    I really like your 10, 11, 12. Your interpretation looks at the whole person and the whole world of fellows (in and out of the rooms). I think that for some of us, moving beyong regular meeting attendance can be a healthy sign of the recovery process. While the rooms benefit from experienced clean and sober members, what we learned in recovery can be applied to work, family and community, too.

    Well said, Tracy.

  17. Thanks, Tracy. I’m a clean, sober and atheist member of AA too. My own experience was that recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs did not result from adherence to any stepwise program at all. People have complete freedom to rewrite the steps in a way that is consistent with their own backgrounds, experiences and personal beliefs. We require neither permission nor approval from other AA members for any aspect of our own personal journey to recovery. I believe our obligation, if there is one at all, is to the new comers. They deserve to hear from us the truth (as best we understand it) about what it was like for us, what happened and what it’s like now. God, any special sequence of steps and the number 12 bear no significance to me.

  18. May 1,1970 is my AA birthday. I never could get the “god” thing. I went to meetings, conventions and 12 stepped sick alcoholics. I do not say the prayers at meetings and have just ignored the evangelical comments. I do try to tell the newcomer with god doubts that they can stay sober without the dogma!

  19. What a wonderful common-sense set of steps! I’ve already shared them with someone who desperately needs some common sense in her program. Perfect language for today.

  20. Thank you.

    Some days we just need to be jerked back to reality and reason.

    I have known that religion, as it is currently, is man made. Man has adapted the prevailing culture by adding a few beliefs at a time since the beginning of agriculture at least. I take the concept that, in the beginning, god was used as surrogate for nature which they did not understand, and man therefore created god, but nature exists, along with all the laws of nature and forces.

    Man created the steps, and as such these steps point crudely to an underlying principal. Step one points, I think, to the fact that some things are within our power, and some are not. Within our power are our opinions, motivation, desires, aversions, beliefs; those things totally within our minds, and all else is outside of our direct control. We only have influence at best. Our development can start once we have a clear mental separation between ourselves and our environment. We are in the process of learning all of our lives. It is just what we are learning that is up for debate.

  21. Tracy,

    Thank you, thank you and thank you.

    As a newbie who doesn’t do the god thing… nor can I make a tree my higher power… AA Agnostica has been a haven for me. I am not alone.

    I live in Norwalk, CT and would like to find local community. Anyone?

  22. I relate. In relation to your point on “powerlessness”, I was just saying to my wife yesterday that, to me at this time, I see myself as having a choice over whether or not I drink, while, when under the influence, I really don’t have a choice. I think its the same thing. Sober today, I have a choice over whether or not to drink. Today I choose sobriety.

    Also, as regards the Dawkins thing, if you haven’t already gone there, might I suggest Greta Cristina. She’s a fabulous atheist writer.

  23. Thanks for posting this. Watching all these people come together online and then f2f is a remarkable thing to observe. If it weren’t for alternate interpretations to the steps, I don’t believe my experience would be as enriched as it has become. I do however want to mention, within my waaft type home group meeting in Toronto, we have several believers in our rooms, some who have become great friends of mine. We discuss recovery options. Also, there are other intellectual atheists who continue to refer to the big book & it doesn’t bother me now. I believe there is power in developing an ability to take what works. I know that’s “oldtimer” language, one might hear in the rooms, & doesn’t seem to include current research and therapeutic foundations, however, I feel it’s part of being eclectic & that’s what I’ve found in the people I’m greatful for. Luv the white bison stuff too. With my métis cree background, I feel more at home.
    PS. When these people say we changed the steps, we certainly did not. We saw them as we understood them. ?

  24. I read this post because I am an atheist who has been happily sober 8 years. But I still don’t understand why you all have the need to go to meetings where you are obviously not wanted. I have tried because being around people with a similar problem is nice. But the whole AA thing just turns my stomach.

    • We start our own meetings, Bill. A community of support is a huge boost in sobriety. You can fill out the form below if you are interested in pursuing this option:
      Agnostic Group

      • I appreciate the information, Roger. I read this site so I obviously have some interest in connecting with some fellow alkies.

  25. As almost always… a great read for the weekend. It’s always nice to chew over interesting points of view and inspiring stories from the soup of life.