To thine own self be true
By Jude Core
I’d like to let you all know that we have a fully formed agnostic AA group that meets every week on Sundays in South West London.
It has been an interesting journey for me. I started out in Putney & Chelsea about 12 years ago and moved to South America for five of those years. Upon my return to Purley in South London, I discovered that the face of recovery had changed entirely in my area. There seemed to be a growing influx of groups with circuit speakers imported from the US, a blind fanaticism towards Joe & Charlie and a dogmatic adherence to the Steps which I had never encountered before. The cult of sponsorship disturbed me – the message now was that the ONLY way to recover is to find the Higher Power – when my own experience as an atheist in AA is that it is entirely possible to live a fulfilled, happy and sober life without having to invoke any kind of Deity or supernatural power whatsoever. It was now to me an unrecognizable recovery environment.
I felt isolated within AA and found it hard to meet anyone who shared my lack of spiritual belief in my part of the world – I craved the fellowship, love and tolerance that I had found many years previously when I had first started on my journey.
To that end I started up a new agnostic AA group. “To thine own self be True” carried me during the difficult early days. I can now share that we have a small but thriving group of men and women, some who were already sober and found our meeting, and some who GOT sober in our meeting.
Our first meeting was on a Sunday in early February 2012 in Purley. Since then we have grown and moved out of the Church at Purley and into a YMCA in Surbiton, SW London. It’s a lovely space for us with less religious iconography and comfy leather sofas! It’s also nice to distance ourselves geographically from the more dogmatic meetings and enjoy a more relaxed and nurturing atmosphere.
The thing that thrills me most is that we can be of maximum service to our fellows, EVEN those of us who reject any kind of supernatural thinking, or those of us who just can’t seem to get the hang of having a God in their lives. The only requirement to come to the meeting is a desire to stop drinking, we don’t ask anyone to believe in anything at all. Everyone is welcome.
As a result of having our website, the BBC contacted me to add my thoughts to a religion and ethics programme about addiction and alcohol, orginally broadcast on March 18. The programme asked a very current question in AA: how do atheists or agnostics navigate their way through such a religious/spiritual programme? My part in this BBC radio show, which perhaps ironically is called Beyond Belief, can be accessed by clicking on the link on the right.
(You can listen to the entire programme on the BBC Radio 4 website here: Religion and Addiction.)
The support from that interview has been overwhelming, and it has made me feel like I did a good thing in setting up this meeting a year ago. Despite the name calling, the ostracism from other members and the like, I have been overwhelmed with messages of support from others who, like me, lack a belief in God but STILL value the great things that AA has to offer, including the 12 steps which can be accessible to us all with just a little bit of creativity. The BBC interview has galvanised me and brought me into contact with many, many AAs who are supportive and proud of our small, but growing voice as agnostics/atheists in AA.
I can’t explain sufficiently how grateful I am to have had the support each week from other atheists and agnostics that come along to share their experience, strength and hope – we are all sober without God and it is true freedom. Our meeting now has it’s own group conscience so it was wonderful to hand the group over to the group itself. The pioneering spark came from me, and it did take a lot of courage in the Primary Purpose heartland I found myself in, but I give thanks to all of the pioneers who came before, who had already done most of the work, and who showed me that a truly wonderful, sober God-less existence is possible.
I’ve met some inspirational people on my journey, both believers and non-believers, many that I now call friends from all over the world. Our online Facebook group has also been a lovely place to pop into to help support others and show that resoundingly YES! A life beyond our wildest dreams is possible, with no need for prayer or ritual. I feel positive about the future for atheists/agnostics in AA, there is so much GOOD in the Big Book and in our meetings that it is a wonderful thing to be able to be part of Alcoholics Anonymous but yet not be subjected to dogma and judgement.