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.
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”.