To thine own self be true

By Jennifer Benson

To thine own self be true. This is an important principle of my program. As a Jew and non-believer, I avoided AA for two years. I hadn’t met my bottom yet, but I knew I was powerless over alcohol. When alcohol-induced depression led to a drunken-induced suicide attempt, my lowest point had arrived. Something had to change. I wanted to get better. Fortunately, I knew about an agnostic AA approved meeting not far from where I live. No doubt, this group of drunks saved my life.

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Coming out as a gay has been an ongoing process throughout my life. In a sense, I have always been different.

It is the same with my Jewish identity, especially here in Florida. Originally from NYC, where the largest population of Jews live in this country, I have learned what it feels like to be a minority for the first time. As an atheist in AA, I have had to face yet another difference and yet another set of judgements.

I have heard comments that without God one cannot stay sober. I have been sober for over two years and maintain a strong program of recovery. I regularly attend traditional meetings and like to think I offer hope to those who share my non-beliefs.

Even Bill Wilson understood that he had overdone the “God bit” in the early years of AA. Two decades after the Big Book was published he wrote:

In AA’s first years I all but ruined the whole undertaking… God as I understood Him had to be for everybody. Sometimes my aggression was subtle and sometimes it was crude. But either way it was damaging – perhaps fatally so – to numbers of non-believers.” (The Grapevine, April 1961, Vol. 17, No. 11 “The Dilemma of No Faith” by Bill Wilson)

It is my hope that I and others like me will find wider acceptance in the rooms of AA. Our getting and staying sober may depend on it.


Jennifer Benson spent the first decades of her life in Queens, NYC. She has always been a non-theist although she embraces her Jewish history and culture.

Her home group and first ever meeting was OMAGOD, Our Mostly Agnostic Group of Drunks, in Orlando, FL. The group also hosts an online meeting on Tuesday nights at 9 PM. You can find it via the In The Rooms or OMAGOD websites.

Jennifer uses her full name because she feels more honest as a result. Alcoholism is not a moral failing – some sort of character defect – and she is glad to be an alcoholic in recovery, for it means she fully understands it is a disease that must be managed.


This is an excellent article for at least two reasons.

First, it speaks honestly and forthrightly about the experience of we agnostics in AA.

Second, it was originally published in a traditional AA newsletter. We encourage – no, we urge! – others to submit articles to their local Intergroups or Central Offices for publication in their newsletters. It is crucial that more traditional members begin to understand the critical need for more “open mindedness” towards we agnostics and atheists within AA.

That is the next step we need to take as a growing secular movement within a fellowship meant to be a helping hand whenever “anyone anywhere reaches out for help”.


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To thine own self be true — 13 Comments

  1. I am truly grateful for everybody’s positive comments. Today I had a very uplifting experience. A traditional meeting I attend twice a month had a group conscience devoted to the elimination of the LP. What was finally voted on was a silent closing prayer as each saw fit. No more LP! It was an amazing result. BTW, the challenge was made by Christians. One who has always believed it simply did not belong and the other felt uncomfortable for me because of my Jewish identity (and any other non-Christian that may walk in). This is progress, my friends.

  2. I do appreciate and I am humbled by all of the supportive comments. Thank you for taking the time and immense generosity. It means a lot to me. I am young in the program and I am uplifted by the community of AA and especially AAAA.

  3. Thank you, Jennifer. I like using full names. There is no shame in being born an alcoholic, and I take some pride in my recovery.

  4. What a wonderful message and so well written. Thank you for spreading this to traditional AA too. We may view things differently but we’re still members of the same club.

  5. Thanks, Jennifer – forthright & honest.

    Here’s my version of the “long form” of the original “Serenity Prayer”:

    Serenity Affirmation

    “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. Taking this imperfect world as it is, and not as I would have it. Trusting that all will be well if I but surrender to what is. That I may be reasonably happy in life, and increasingly serene as I practice acceptance.”

    Best,
    Gerry from New Orleans

  6. The original Serenity Prayer did not start with the word God. Asking for help doesnt specify WHO you ask, if anyone at all.

    The fellowship of AA, in and of itself, can and IS enough of a power-other-than-yourself, to keep you accountable for your own recovery.
    I have learned all of this and more, as I became true to myself, as an Atheist in AA*. It happened when I was 4 1/2 years into my 6 years of recovery. Self honesty is the first step, and the only step which actually has to be done thoroughly.

    *I have sponsored myself ever since. (Though that part is still taboo in the halls).

    Yvonne H.
    Portland, Maine

  7. Thanks, Jennifer. I just passed the 34 year mark of sobriety as an atheist. I went to standard meetings for the first 11 years of sobriety. I finally became beyond bored with the AA game of “I’m more sober, humble, and closer to god than you”, meetings. I announced that I was atheist, and, well… Still sober and content without them. Maybe we’ll find a freethinkers meeting or start one soon. Thanks again, my friend.

  8. I can’t find anyone at any of the meetings I go to that’s brave enough to say they don’t believe in god.They just stand and chant the prayers like scared little children. PLEASE HELP
    Dave in Parma.

    • So very happy for you Jennifer! I have sponsored over 100 men throughout the years including 13 Atheists, 4 Catholic Priests, 3 Methodist Clergy and 1 Rabbi. All except one of the Catholic Priests have found sobriety. One Need, One Heart, One Love.

      Much Love 2 U,
      Richard

    • Parma where? Parma Idaho is right down the road from Atheists, Agnostics & All Others in western Boise.

      Of course, Parma may be on the map in multiple states.

  9. A wonderful article and testimony. At 37 years sober, I am convinced that AA can (and must) open its doors wider to not only allow, but celebrate the membership of those of us who do not believe that there is a personal deity.

    I am not as enthusiastic about her decision to use her full name in her article, although I understand her reasoning. I am of the opinion, as many of my heroes in AA have been, that anonymity at the public level is not about shame, but about humility. There is much good “stuff” written in and out of AA about this philosophy, and, although I am open to being convinced otherwise I haven’t been, yet.

    Brava for the continued “outing” of we who believe humans are pretty terrific without divine guidance.

  10. Indeed, thank you, Jennifer.

    And thank you, Roger, for not only publishing Jennifer’s wonderful article, but for also recommending, no urging, that we non-traditional members of AA in recovery be true to ourselves by communicating our different or non-beliefs within traditional AA meetings.

    We have an obligation to speak our truth in AA meetings to let others know that we can stay sober and experience good recovery without god.