My Last Traditional AA Meeting

Walking away

By Sher G.

This story actually starts a bit before my final traditional AA meeting. The single most compelling thing for me when I started going to AA was when faces started to look familiar, and even more compelling was when some of those faces recognized mine and greeted me with a smile, a raised hand, or even a hello. That’s how I chose my home group, the place where that happened first.

And when I came back to the rooms of AA after going out for six months that was the meeting I returned to and was welcomed back to. They were mostly men; I would have preferred more of a balance, but it was the comfort of familiarity that was so important to me, and if it came with mostly men, so be it.

When I shared with those individuals that I had realized I was an atheist, their responses were mixed. I was touched by the reaction of Big Book thumping, God praising Catholic Ron who told me that sounded like a very good thing for me. He didn’t amend it with “for now,” or, “until you learn to believe,” just that: it sounded like a good thing for me.

When I gained more courage and started to announce a new Beyond Belief meeting I initially described it in code: “For folks like me who’ve struggled with the Higher Power thing, and just want to get on with working the steps anyway.” Met predominantly with blank stares, over time I gained the courage to cut to the chase: “This is an open meeting, but it has been designed for folks who are atheists, agnostics, freethinkers etc.” Regardless of my description I was met with looks of confusion, disinterest, disapproval, or the look an indulgent parent gives a clueless child. And if I stayed behind meetings to visit with the folks I usually visited with, they were quick to explain why they weren’t available to attend the next Beyond Belief meeting – even though I hadn’t asked.

After one such meeting a fellow I’d seen many times, Henry came up to me and shared that for five years he didn’t have a belief in a Higher Power. His expression was friendly and engaging. He said he managed to keep coming and worked the steps anyway, and that was fine for him. I felt encouraged. I was pretty sure he was hitting on me, but that wasn’t the reason I interrupted him to get the phone number from a woman about to leave whom I hoped to befriend. After exchanging phone numbers with her I turned back, but Henry by then was talking to someone else, and I headed home.

* * *

Several days later I decided to go to a different meeting on a different night at the same location. Many familiar folks attended, but this meeting was much bigger. I exchanged nods with the folks I knew, including Henry. Henry, as it turned out, was chairing this meeting. Without missing a beat he announced the topic: how without finding and turning one’s life and will over to a Higher Power, there was no true sobriety. Ahhh. He hadn’t been hitting on me, he had been warming me up with sympathy before explaining to me how in time I would find my higher power.

I was irritated by his sneakiness even while being relieved that I wouldn’t have to fend off his flirtations.

We all know that many things can influence the overall tone of a meeting: the topic, how that topic is conveyed by the chair, the more vocal members present, how much people dare to cross-talk, influences of peer pressure, a full moon, traffic, who knows all the variables.

I’d been to plenty of meetings where the overall tone was one of God-talk, where it seems most of those sharing express how they simply would not be sober if it weren’t for their relationship with their Higher Power; they would not have anything without their HP; they would be dead without their HP. But in this meeting, every single share was of this variety, without exception. People were being called on and at this point in my atheism-awareness I typically was honest about it while being as succinct as possible. But I started feeling more and more uneasy, scared even. This did not feel like a safe place to share my lack of belief. Not that I thought they’d chase me to my house with burning torches, but rather that they might turn to me with a collective look of disapproval or even malice. At a certain point I decided resolutely that if called on, I would pass – something I had never done in a meeting before.

Jack was called on. He and I had started attending about the same time. I was always surprised when folks called on Jack to share, because for months he shared exactly the same thing. “I go to a meeting every night, because I used to drink every night; and it hasn’t hurt me one bit. I recommend it to everyone, especially those new to sobriety.” This was classic Jack. He looked around the room. Gaining momentum and volume he added a relatively new bit (to him), “By the grace of God and the power of this program, I am sober tonight!” (thunderclap). Picking up on the thread of the necessity of God in sobriety, Jack spoke about the absolute necessity of God in finding and maintaining sobriety. To prove it, he ended with a quote from How it Works: “Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was NIL until we let go absolutely.” He practically glared at all of us.

I held my breath and looked at my lap. Please don’t call on me, please don’t call on me.

Henry called on Oscar. Oscar and I also started attending about the same time, though unlike me he’d been attending straight through. He was probably in his 30’s, and had spent a good amount of time prior to sobering up alone in his apartment with a growing pile of pizza boxes and empty beer bottles. He always showed up with disheveled hair and tennis shoes with holes in them, more I think due to lack of interest than lack of funds – he was working again.

Oscar I knew also hadn’t been visited by his Higher Power, though he didn’t typically share that in a group setting. Oscar was always earnest, if a bit dry and meandering.

Oscar looked at his hands. “When I first came to these rooms I didn’t understand all this God talk. I told this one guy that if everyone would just drop all that Higher Power stuff, AA would probably be accessible to more folks – why didn’t they just do that?” Oscar laughed and looked cautiously around the room. He was rewarded with gentle laughs and knowing nods. The indulgent, condescending nods of the parent whose child has finally stopped resisting.

“I think I’m beginning to have what could be called a spiritual awakening of sorts, you know, of a mystical sort, and that is pretty exciting.”

I wondered if Oscar really was going through a spiritual awakening. I didn’t think he was lying; but any of us who at some time have believed in any group form of religion or spirituality know the powerful sway of others’ convictions.

* * *

Did I stay for The Lord’s Prayer? I don’t remember. I truly don’t remember. The blood was rushing through my head so loudly I couldn’t really hear or think at that point.

The meeting ended and I grabbed my purse with sweaty palms, eyes cast downward, and practically ran out of the room, spurred on with fears of being pursued by Body Snatchers or the Stepford Wives. I got to my car and drove safely home without incident.

I had considered many of those who spoke friends, compassionate and welcoming. But that meeting at worst felt like a cult’s hard sell; at best it felt judgmental, dogmatic and unwelcoming.

I keep telling myself I should go to different AA meetings; that really it’s about the fellowship and the sharing of stories; that I can replace the words “God” and “Higher Power” with the new ones you all have taught me, like “Higher Purpose” or “Inner Wisdom.” But every time I plan to, my stomach tightens up and I feel queasy.

Maybe I’ll just read the latest article on AA Agnostica  instead.

Sher G. moved around the U.S. growing up, then raised her son in Northern California. When he came of age she moved to the Pacific Northwest to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a park ranger. After a series of horrific and traumatizing job-related events she turned to alcohol to cope. She has since left park rangering and is focusing on recovery. Writing, time in nature, and her pets are sources of joy and comfort. This is Sher’s second article on AA Agnostica, where she is able to freely express the impacts of her alcoholism and share her path to recovery.

144 Responses

  1. Thomas B. says:

    Ah Sher, another 10-strike . . .

    Thanks so much for your cogent description of how perhaps the majority of AA meetings are throughout North America under the influence of the predominant, sometimes rabid, Christian ethic. What you describe demonstrates how vulnerable many of us alcoholics are in our need to adapt to group norms, which we interpret as necessary to gain acceptance and approval from other members. It’s sad, but I suppose it’s a common characteristic of we humans. since we are primarily social animals.It’s another reality to which I need to apply the Serenity Wish.

    I gain much strength and hope from your determination to be true to yourself by resisting “to drink the cool-aide” despite how frightening and uncomfortable it is for you. Your example helps me become more committed to live up to the dictum inscribed on each one of our sobriety medallions: “To Thy Own Self Be True”.

    And yes, we are most fortunate to have the vast compendium of WAFT-friendly articles here on AA Agnostica . . .

    • Sher says:

      Thank you, Thomas. And you’ve described it perfectly. We humans are social creatures; in our struggles with alcohol we find ourselves especially vulnerable, and it is tempting (can feel necessary) to conform in order to gain acceptance. It is a hard choice. If there weren’t places like this, knowledge of people who have stayed sober for decades without a higher power, I might despair. And I have no doubt there are those who do despair.

  2. JHG says:

    In my 26 years of experience with “regular” AA and in my recent experience in the chat room associated with this website, what seems most clear to me is that atheist/agnostic newcomers need to hear two things from those of us who have been around a while. First, their feelings about AA’s palpable messages of condescension and outright rejection need to be validated. But second, many of them need to know that if they do need what AA offers (in-depth identification, experiences that represent a tangible substitute for the drinking lifestyle, acceptance that may not be unconditional but is at least deeper than what can be found most other places, reinforcement of a sense of personal accountability, etc.), participation in AA is doable even if it requires thick skin. I never insist that AA is mandatory. There are many paths to recovery, and in fact, most people who find sobriety do it without AA. I fully understand why many people, and not just atheists and agnostics, find much about AA to be a deal breaker. By the same token, I also know how much I, even after 26 years of continuous abstinence, need AA. I’m certain that there are many like me.

    • Eric T says:

      I couldn’t agree more, I needed to stop leaving the fellowship of AA entirely only to return to my trusted relationship with my old friend the bottle. Having said that, knowing that WAFT AA members exist, meet, and stay sober for good has been of enormous help to me.

    • Sher says:

      JHG, I agree wholeheartedly. The question is, how? I know every effort is being made to put in place a brochure for non-believers, and that could certainly be the key. Instead of hearing, “fake it til you make it,” how much more validating it would be to hear, “no one else gets to tell you what you have to believe about god.” I wish you were at every meeting to greet newcomers! 🙂

  3. Eric T says:

    Yup, I sure know that scenario and the feelings that go with it. This post is a great reminder for me that the only behaviour I am responsible for is my own. You know the old saying – “keep my side of the street clean”. I’m not responsible for the rest of the street, but I am responsible for my reaction to it. I’ve come to prefer living in the WAFT neighbourhood these days, that’s for sure. Good to be sober today.

    • Sher says:

      Thanks, Eric. We are lucky to have a WAFT neighborhood. I too have been spending more time here.

      • Svukic says:

        Hey, I am a newcomer to this site and would like to know what is this “WAFT” which is mentioned so often in this thread – We Agnostics FootBall? Haha, only joking. No really, I’d like to know. 🙂 Regards, Suzy.

        • Roger says:

          The acronym is based on the following: We Agnostics and Free Thinkers International AA Convention. I blame Dorothy for it. 😉

    • Dorothy H. says:

      The question was asked:

      Where did the word, WAFT come from?

      What does WAFT mean?

      It is a wonderful story of collective/fellowship leadership actually. When Pam W. and I were sitting in her apartment in Hollywood, CA last year, and after we decided that we were going to go forward with the convention we needed a name for it. I turned on my computer and starting looking through the world agnostic meetings at I wanted a name that would speak to all of the international fellowship and a name that was easily identifiable to AAers. I also wanted a name that spoke to both secular believers and non-believers. A name that clearly identifies as AA and spoke to inclusiveness.

      I believe the international fellowship spoke its name when I ran up the count of names on the NYC list. The names that appeared the most on the NYC list were We Agnostics and Freethinkers. I found that there were 42 meetings world wide named We Agnostics and 24 meetings with the title Freethinkers. As a historian I liked the contiguity of the fact that my home group’s founder Charlie Polachek was the first to come up with the idea to name the group after chapter 4 of the Big Book. It pleased me to know that the first, We Agnostics and Freethinker INTERNATIONAL AA Convention, will be in Los Angeles where the name was born.

      I liked the name Freethinkers because I felt that was the simplest way to say that believers of all shades are welcomed! That we are about inclusion and we will not turn people away nor play into the absolutes that many traditional AAers do. That you have to believe like us or we want nothing to do with you. I understand Freethinkerism as the ability to think freely and to express oneself freely in any manner they wished. So, the name was born!

      Pam W. agreed that it was going to be our name but the issue it was sooooooo dam long! Being the business woman she is, Pam said we needed a branding for people could easily say who we are. So, she took all the first letters of the words and came up with, WAFT IAAC. Since, then we have used WAFT as a way to speak about the different groups worldwide and to address individuals who attend the WAFT meetings. Pam W.’s branding has had a wonderful success as can be witnessed on this site alone. I believe that the fellowship is to speaking its name for the first time and will collectivity define itself at WAFT IAAC this November 6, 7, 8, 2014 in Santa Monica, CA.

      Don’t forget to buy your tickets! If you would like to reach the steering committee directly you can either email us or leave a message on the WAFT hotline. We still have room for more panels, workshops and meetings to fill the marathon meeting slots. So, if you or your group is interested in being apart of this amazing historical event, let us know right away! 🙂

      I look forward to meeting everyone in November!

      Dorothy H.
      Chairwoman of WAFT IAAC

  4. Joe C says:

    Thank you for your candor Sher. I tend to want to explain away classist, divisive language. I find inspiring that you do no such thing. You tell us your experience in a way that, for me at least, I can identify with your feelings.

    • Sher says:

      Thank you, Joe. It’s what I try to do, write candidly about how things feel to me. My truth, my perception. And when it resonates with others, that makes me feel like I accomplished something helpful. 🙂

  5. John M. says:

    Thank you, Sher, for another genuine and heartfelt post — worrisome though it may be.

    It seems like Ron, the practicing Catholic, was one of the few who practices: Let go and let God.

    What part of “Let go and let God” do the rest of the Godly not understand? I wish the God-groups would either do away with this slogan or start to practice this principle in all their affairs. But, alas, they don’t seem to know of what they speak. The more I encounter them, no matter how well intentioned, the more I am forced to conclude that they don’t like the ways of God; they don’t like it that God moves in mysterious ways. In short, they don’t like God being God.

    So it appears, they will have to save God from being God — although they are probably not aware, or are not rigorously honest with themselves enough to know that this is what they are doing…and doing to you!

    I will never forget Father Ed Dowling’s observation to Bill Wilson: “God’s cause is often harmed by those who are trying to save God.” (The Soul of Sponsorship)

    Until the God-folks all around us likewise understand what your friend, Ron, or Father Dowling understand, they will continue to try to save us on their way to saving God.

    • Tommy H says:

      Sometimes it’s “Letting go of god” that is most freeing for us and I’m reminded of the notion that it’s wasted effort trying to live up to someone else’s idea of a HP.

      You can always as the question, “Why does a HP need to be supernatural?”

    • Sher says:

      Thanks, John. You’re right about Ron. I hadn’t known how he would respond to my “confession.” He was the first person in that group to learn my name and greet me by it when I first started attending. It is good that he provides the counter-balance, the reminder of what Christianity can be.

  6. Steve B. says:

    I’m the token non-believer in the area meetings. People do mean to be critical of me at these times. When I go to meetings and this condescending stuff is thrown out I’ll often respond. I’ll remind newcomers something along the lines of “You might get the impression at this meeting that sobriety is contingent on superstition and magical thinking. In reality there is no requirement that you believe anything to be in AA. If you think you can benefit from the fellowship don’t let the dogma drive you out.” Sure, I get ostracized by the majority of AA members but BFD.

    • Sher says:

      Steve, I am grateful to you and others like you. Newcomers benefit enormously from hearing that, I am certain. Thanks for being able to take on the criticism – not everyone can.

      • Steve B. says:

        I think it’s important to let newcomers know that there is a diversity of opinion. Often people come to me after the meetings and will thank me for my share and they’ll let me know they are agnostic but they don’t talk about it openly. I’ve even had people come to me for help saying they picked up an atheist sponsee and asking for advice. If my share is a little harsh it is in response to the not so subtle references to my opinions.

  7. david m says:

    Oh dear.

    I think lots of us here are probably familiar with the scenario described here.
    I cannot, nor do I feel any obligation to even try, excuse the actions of those who “close ranks” as it were to defend the overtly religions dynamics so often found in AA.

    It happens more often nowadays than 20 or more years ago, in my experience. It’s indefensible and repellant and thoroughly violates the traditions.

    That said, a big takeaway for me from this poignant tale is that what the author needs to work on most is her own fears.

    Maintaining one’s emotional balance in situations of this kind is difficult. It is in fact a skill, and like all skills it requires practice to master.

    If I am in a situation in which there is no real physical danger, but I suddenly have such a level of fear that my palms start to sweat?

    Well, that’s a problem which requires a solution. That’s not a symptom of the kind of recovery I’m interested in.

    What am I *really* afraid of?
    Why can’t I just say what’s on my mind and let the chips fall where they may?

    What’s really going on?

    Whatever it is, it’s more than the simple bad manners and closed-mindedness of the group participants, don’t you think?

    • Sher says:

      David, we all respond to life’s challenges in different ways. At this time in my life, I am not the activist, I am not the one to speak out at a meeting that feels so unwelcoming. I am, however, the one to write about it and in that way share with others how alienating and even threatening a meeting like this can feel.

      • david m says:

        Sher, if I gave the impression that I was counseling becoming a flamethrowing activist laying waste to all who acted with unwelcoming hostility, I apologize. That was not my intent.

        My point, such as it was, is simply that the hostile and unwelcoming attitudes are inexcusable and are 100% the responsibility of those who act that way.

        But my reaction to them—whether or not they make my palms sweat with anxiety and so on—is not their magic, it’s mine, and a big part of recovery for every alcoholic I know has been learning how not to give unpleasant people the power to decide what kind of day we’re going to have.

        I can confront them all I want, if that’s my style, or not confront them at all if it isn’t. That’s all perfectly fine.

        What matters is that I find out why they spook me so badly in the first place, and learn how not to let them do that.
        Simply staying away from them and avoiding all contact is not going to accomplish that. At least it never did for me.

        I do like your piece very much by the way. Your writing has a lovely quality to it.

  8. Dan L. says:

    Thank you Sher for that insightful story. Since reaching a state of more or less sobriety I have gone through a lot of thought and self questioning regarding all this god stuff and higher power, yadda, yadda. The program was initially designed to lead people to god and the “Big Book” reads like that. I realised early on there was no scriptural god for me and there hadn’t been since I was a small child. After some pondering I also realised I didn’t find any “Spirit of the Universe” kind of thing either. We are just people and we need the community of other people. This is something my drinking was rapidly divorcing me from. I knew I had to change and give up some things I “knew” to be true but I despaired of ever finding god and getting “full sobriety”. I love the way you expressed that condescending look of pity “they” give that poor atheist. But that really pissed me off and the more I saw it the more I resolved that I was going to show them that I could use their program without their theistic trappings. I am sure certain people were taking bets on how long it would be until I was gone. I stayed. I threw away all the god stuff and practiced the practical principles laid out (with alliteration too). I have stayed sober and never looked back. About a year and half in I rose out of my self absorption to realise that a couple of long term guys from my home group were in fact atheist or agnostic. One of them led me here and what a relief it was! Not alone. We have a little “Beyond Belief” group here and I use it in conjunction with my other resources to live life instead of drinking it away. Thank you.

    • Sher says:

      Dan, thank you. We all need validation. Some of us find it easily within (you became resolved, and that’s where you found your inner validation), some need to find it outside ourselves. But it is always a welcome thing to find outside ourselves, to know others accept us as we are.

  9. Andy R. says:

    Excellent description, Sher, as an AA atheist woman, of the double whammy: Is he hitting on me? and/or is he proselytizing? Neither feels safe, especially for a newcomer who may question the validity of her correct intuition that there’s SOME unspoken angle taking place.

    I got sober in MN and lived in CT, and the God problem didn’t come up very often. Then I moved to TX and Holy Shit! (Literally, a lot of shit spoken as if it were Holy).

    My fellow AAs went from liberal fun Northerners to literal fundamentalist Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy.

    The calling on people was cliquish and, as you found, were of those spewing the conventional Christian-based blessings of grace and dumb slogans meant to parrot the god-fearing party line.

    When I did not comply the one time I was called on and raised my atheism (and how it didn’t stop me from being sober for 24 years, which I wanted to stress since this was a newcomers’ meeting), the looks of the regulars went instantaneously from smiling “unconditional” love to facial contortions of utter disdain.

    I was cold-shouldered after and frozen out from sharing again the two times after I attended (in the delightful Christian tradition known as shunning).

    Fortunately, by the grace of the internet 🙂 found this site and a We Agnostics meeting here in Dallas, which I now attend, non-religiously.

    In a way, the religiosity IS keeping me sober – I know a slip would validate the faith-based AAs sobriety-only-through-god dogma, so I use spite for good. Unfortunately, it’s not just a regional problem – LA and NYC meetings I recently attended were also way more God-nonsense than the AA I knew, loved and got sober in back in 1989.

    So like you, I’m pretty much done going to traditional AA meetings – lest problems of resentment arise. Even though I’m not going to drink over it, why waste an hour that does nothing to help my sobriety. Would rather work on expanding WAFT AA meetings as an alternative to the increasingly Celebrate Recovery tone AA has been taking.

    Thanks for your well-written, honest assessment…

    • Sher says:

      Andy, you brought up so many good points! And thank you for your humor as well. Yes, cliquish calling on people – I never understood. The times I’ve chaired, I make it a point to encourage or call on newcomers: I don’t want to hear the same old stuff from the same old folks, I want to hear from the new folks who show up despite their fear, uncertainty and distrust. Thank you!

    • Thomas B. says:

      Geez, Andy, I got sober in NYC in the 70s and am forever grateful that like you there wasn’t much emphasis on “the god-bit”. Instead we focused the Fellowship of drunks relating with each other and helping each other stay sober. A lot of that has certainly changed. I’ll be going back to New York later in the summer and plan on going to a number of the meetings I used to attend — hopefully they haven’t changed that radically . . . 😉

  10. Mary R says:

    I feel pretty lucky that most of the meetings I attend are seemingly accepting of my non-believer status. But anytime there is an instance of too much god stuff, I make a point of letting newcomers know that joy in sobriety does not require a deity. However, the one instance that was most hurtful with the condescension and even some anger was an on-line professional group. It has been months, and yet I am still smarting from what I see as betrayal, and am trying to force myself to share there again.

    • Sher says:

      Thank you Mary. Curious where you most experienced condescension – a professional group. I truly believe that whether to be activists, or to what extent, is a personal choice that only we can make. That choice changes over time and due to the circumstances. You have to honor your own needs first.

  11. Christopher G says:

    Thanks for Sher-ing! I have felt this way, too. I sometimes wonder if I am not projecting my own fears though. The super-ego bullying inner parent of Freud or the internal parent of transactional analysis could be obstructing my true inner self from speaking up even with trembling voice. I get lots of good from traditional AA and even more lately from this site. They compliment my growth at this time. No telling how long this will last or in what proportions. I have a feeling I know inwardly that it’s not really dualistic and that I can grow anywhere from anything if principles are applied liberally. Thanks again for your courage in sharing.

    • Sher says:

      Christopher, no doubt we all are projecting our own stuff to some extent, all of the time. 🙂 As long as we keep questioning. Thank you for your thoughts!

  12. steve b says:

    I go to traditional meetings. I often feel alienated from many of the members because they seem so deluded. Once in a while, when the topic is “higher power,” or many people are laying the god thing on thick, I will get warmed up, and say that there is no god, that they are wasting their time in prayer, and that they are engaging in faith healing when they pray to their higher power for recovery. I used to be nervous about doing this, but now I kind of enjoy it. I get to attack superstition, and no one can throw me out. Imagine trying to do this in church!

    • Sher says:

      Thanks, Steve. Even though most of us firmly believe whatever it is we believe, none of us knows, not really. They don’t. We don’t.

      • steve b says:

        We might not know for sure what’s true, but if you look at what’s probably true, I think that the nonbeliever has an overwhelmingly stronger position than does the believer.

  13. JP says:

    Hi, Sher.
    I am so sorry that has happened to you. I still go to mainstream AA meetings and as of yet have not had to deal with something so horrible. For the most part now I don’t share that I am an atheist in these meetings but I have had that feeling that on a particular day in a particular meeting it would not be safe to share contrary to the popular belief. Whether that is my own fear or a vibe I am picking up doesn’t matter, that is how I feel.
    So glad that there are WAFT AA meetings in Toronto. I must say thought that at my own WAFT AA meeting last night (forgive me to the people that were there and have heard this) I realized that I am a traditionalist. I believe in the principles and the concepts in the steps and traditions even though I reject most of the language they are written in. I feel today that I am in a quandary but as a thinking person that is good.
    So thanks for your sharing and I hope you find exactly what you are looking for.

    • Sher says:

      Thank you, Jo-Anne! I too am in a quandary. For a long time I really struggled with wanting to work the program, work the steps, but absolutely unable to do them by simply replacing a word or two. So then the question, how much do I change the steps? So revised steps are lovely, but quite extraordinarily different than the original 12. I’d love to hear what you come up with!

      • JP says:

        Since you asked Sher:


        1. This shit is killing me and I cannot stop. (Honesty)
        2. Wow! Some of these people seem to be living clean and sober lives and seem happy. (Hope)
        3. I think I will try this deal. (Leap of Faith)
        4. Even though I am afraid I will find out I am really fucked, I had better find out why I would want to kill myself with drugs and alcohol. (Courage)
        5. Better tell someone what I have found and get some feedback. (Integrity)
        6. I don’t want to hurt myself or others anymore. (Self-acceptance)
        7. Made a conscious and deliberate effort to change and hang out with others who are doing the same so I can get some help. (humility)
        8. Didn’t want to live with guilt so made a list of people I had fucked over. (Willingness)
        9. Made amends where I could by changing how I treated someone, paying back money, staying out of their lives etc. Or, in the case of my grandmother who is diseased, started an Aging in Place Committee in my co-op to give support to seniors. (Justice)
        10. Try to be a conscious member of society and have enough self-reflection that I am usually aware of my motives. (Discipline)
        11. Spend time in nature. (Awareness that I am not the centre of the universe)
        12. Tell people how I am staying clean and sober and relatively sane, when they ask. Try to be a good example of a sober person. (Service)

        Do I practices these principle all the time and perfectly? Ask my group LOL.

      • John M. says:

        Hi Sher,

        Jo-Anne may have other suggestions but here is my input.

        I can think of no better book to go through the Steps than Marya Hornbacher’s, Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power, (and I am also thinking of Stephanie Covington’s, A Woman’s Way Through the Twelve Steps, which is very fine and could be read along side the Hornbacher).

        Horbacher has a chapter for each step (except steps 6 & 7 and 8 & 9 are combined in each of their own chapters) and she has a great Introduction and a nice little epilogue. She is always respectful of traditional AA but very sensitive to the needs of atheists, agnostics and free thinkers. She is a very gifted writer to boot.

      • Sher says:

        Thanks, Jo-Anne, Roger & John. Great resources!

      • Hilary J. says:

        Sher, I really appreciated your story. I can relate both as a woman and as an agnostic.
        JP, your version of the steps is awesome! Says it all in a way everyone can understand.
        Thanks so much!

      • Christopher G says:

        Hi Sher- I have read and refer to frequently an irreverent author, Edward Bear (a pseudonym), who has written several books on the steps, traditions, and principles of our program, beginning with The Dark Night of Recovery. It is very amusing and in the nature of eavesdropping on a sponsor/sponsee relationship. One of the best things I’ve gotten out of it is that when I’m asked to end a traditional meeting with the LP or Serenity Wish I start it with “Great Pumpkin, grant me the serenity……”. Rule 62, eh?! It has been well received in my little community for the most part but for obvious reasons may not elsewhere.

        • Marnin M. says:

          Hi Christopher, Alcoholism was not considered a disease when AA started. It was a moral failing.
          Only the churches took any interest in saving the souls of the fallen.

          The original AAers were all part of the Oxford Movement (a return to 1st century Christianity.)

          The 12 steps all owe their beginnings to this group.

          I was told early on that I did not have to practice AA in this manner. This advice from my agnostic sponsor freed me to take what I liked and leave the rest behind.

          Hope this simplifies the taking the steps. The ultimate purpose of the steps as I see it is to become the best human being we can.

    • Svukic says:

      Listened to the podcast and really enjoyed it!

  14. Richard H says:


    When I was a newcomer to AA, almost every meeting had me on edge. Everyone was talking about me and taking my inventory, although never mentioned my name directly, I knew it!! Much laughter! After a number of years sober, I look back with gratitude that I did not walk away.

    Today, I continue to hear many things in the course of a meeting that I do not personally agree with and yet have a peace and comfort that every individual needs to say whatever they say at that moment.

    If I were to limit my recovery and meeting attendance to the “perfect” meeting of like-minded individuals…there would be no meetings to attend. Listening to the stories in the rooms with an open mind (I am not talking about God) has led to an incredible personal journey on acceptance, empathy and humility.

    Much love 2 U

    • Sher says:

      Richard, thank you for your empathy. What I hear you saying is that the more I realize everyone is saying what THEY need to say, and listen to what I need to hear, the more at peace I will be. No argument there. What you are describing is of course a lifelong journey. I’ll let you know when I catch up! 🙂

  15. Pam W says:

    Dear Sher,
    What an honest, heartbreaking story. As a woman, I very much identified with the gnawing feeling of why is this man talking to me? And, to throw in the mix that subtle tone of here’s-how-you-SHOULD-do-it “suggestion” really irks me. I remember a heated text exchange with a guy who very heavy-handedly purported that HE had God and therefore… let’s just say you can deduce the rest. I’d rather not waste my time on it.

    I was lucky to walk into one of the We Agnostics meeting in Hollywood six years ago (exactly to the date this Tuesday) and knowing that I could have my own beliefs without having another fellow AA’er push their beliefs on me…well, what a relief that this was my FIRST experience in AA. I only hope that the growth of WAFT meetings around the world we’ve been hearing about through outreach on the convention will ensure other suffering alcoholics that same comfort and safety.

    Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to seeing you all in November.

    • Roger says:

      Pam is a member of the steering committee organizing the WAFT IAAC.

    • Sher says:

      Pam, being a woman at an AA meeting does have that entire other element to it. Not a welcome element, for me.

      I’ve only been in recovery and involved with AA for a few years, and aware of AA Agnostica (and thru it WAFT) for less than a year. But it seems there is a groundswell of need and support, I can only imagine meetings expanding exponentially.

      I don’t know where my recovery would be without having found this resource.

  16. Steve k says:

    I would describe myself as a Humanist/Agnostic and have had my struggles in AA with all the emphasis upon God. To stay in AA I realised I’d have to use my imagination and make full use of ‘God as you understand him.’ The liberal principles within the traditions allow me to believe what I want to and be a member of the fellowship, also security in my own understanding has made me be more accepting of others right to believe what suits them and of the Christian influence on the founders of AA and the 12 Steps. I don’t see the point in fighting this fact but don’t have to share the beliefs either. I’ve had some bad reactions to my beliefs in AA but only when I’ve reacted to others belief in God and attacked it in some way. People in AA are clear about my Humanistic understanding of the Program and fellowship and seem to accept me as long as I accept them. Maybe its easier in the UK where I attend meetings, however the fundamentalist influence is here as well and I tend to avoid meetings where that’s dominant. Be confidant in your Atheism, sound members of the fellowship who are practising spiritual principles will accept you as you are and detach from those that cannot.

    • Sher says:

      Hi Steve. I agree that if a person presents themselves confidently (as atheist etc.), others may be more likely to accept them as such. But if a person isn’t self-confident because they are newly sober, newly atheist, confused and raw and vulnerable, self-confidence can be unattainable. As unattainable at the time as a belief in a Higher Power. So while I understand and agree with you to an extent, I also ask that you have compassion for those of us who are NOT (yet) self-confident.

      • Steve K says:

        Hi Sher, fair comment and I definitely went through a process (still am) of developing my own understand re: God. My confidence in my own views is still growing. It’s helped me greatly to fully appreciate the Traditions, AA history and Ernest Kurtz’s books are invaluable. Also this site has been very helpful and I get inspiration from the many in AA that value the fellowship despite their lack of belief in God. Marya Hornbacher’s book ‘Waiting’ has been mentioned and I found this book very helpful as well. This is only me Sharing my Journey with you Sher to find my place in AA. I understand you have to find your own path in recovery and that may not be in mainstream AA. Best wishes wherever your journey takes you. Steve.

      • Sher says:

        Thank you, Steve. 🙂

  17. Sher says:

    I thoroughly enjoy all of the responses this article has elicited, and I welcome people sharing their experiences, struggles and successes. There is one theme I have heard several folks express that I would like to respond to. That theme, expressed in various ways, is that perhaps I might consider speaking out at meetings or at least not allow folks to get me rattled. Aren’t these suggestions in fact telling me how to walk my path? My healing centers around complete acceptance of who I am right now – including sweaty palms and a fear of disapproval. I accept myself and my own path, and I accept yours.

  18. Gwin says:

    My hackles rise as soon as I hear the phrase “God as you/we understand him”; the words alone imply a masculine entity based on a patriarchal social construct. And as much as I tried to overlook those rising hackles and “take what I like and leave the rest”, I have been unsuccessful in that attempt. My AA experiences for the most part reeked of dogma and platitudinal stench and almost always felt like I wasn’t ever “doing it right”. I have maintained sobriety for a little over 7 years, but no thanks to traditional AA.

    • Sher says:

      Gwin, I would agree – it feels to me too that I’m not “doing it right.” And maybe that blaming approach works for some folks, but I don’t want anything to do with it.

    • Lenny says:

      Love it. I may get up the nerve to say it and see what happens: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of a masculine entity based on a patriarchal social construct, as we understood him.”
      Then again, I may wait a while.

  19. Dan says:

    When the subject comes up, I simply state that I do not believe in god in the traditional sense, but that I have found what the book calls an unsuspected inner resource that has worked for me over the last 27 years. I believe I have some respect in my (fairly liberal California coastal) AA community, and I’m not very interested in whether or not the Christians are judging me.
    Incidentally, A Burning Desire: Dharma God and the Path of Recovery by Kevin Griffin is a great resource (for some, at least) and a refreshing translation of irritating terms from the AA book. I do not hold with revising the book, as the splintering by conflicting interests would probably yield unintended consequences.
    My best to all on this board.

    • Sher says:

      Thanks, Dan. An “unsuspected inner resource” and 27 years of sobriety is why I am so grateful for the resource of AA Agnostica, that I can hear of your success.

  20. Gerry R. says:

    Thanks so very much, Sher, and all those others who have commented. I must say that I truly love A.A. It’s been the best 26 year ride of my life, and has truly saved my life. As is the case any wife, husband or lover, however, its members can be maddeningly and frustratingly closed-minded, petty and even vindictive. And I’m afraid a new pamphlet wouldn’t really solve that problem. The “You Think You’re Different?” pamphlet makes clear that atheists and agnostics are fully welcome in A.A. (even “we need you!”). The all-too-vested-with-biblical-authority Big Book says that the steps are “suggested,” as is the entire book. Bill says in the 12 & 12 that A.A. doesn’t demand that you believe anything. But A.A. is made up of humans, inherently flawed and imperfect, who all-too-often see only what they want to see; from the “love and service” essence of the program they “take what they want and leave the rest.” But it was ever so! In discussing Tradition Three Bill says, when speaking of “Ed,” the outspoken atheist (likely Jim Burwell), that “A.A. was on the pious side,” and that despite his “blasphemy” Ed proceeded to stay sober at first, and all the other members hoped he’s get drunk and leave. (And, incidentally, despite Bill’s b.s. about Ed finding a Gideon bible and sobering up, Burwell remained an ardent and outspoken atheist all his life.)

    I would hope, but without great expectations, that enough of us could speak to the others calmly, persuasively and even lovingly about how many people we are chasing away from A.A. by our stridency and religious fervor, and thus achieve greater balance, acceptance and tolerance of differing beliefs and approaches to recovery. Until such time, each of us must stay, speaking up a little or a lot or not at all, or go, based on our own best judgment. But the necessity of such choices embarrasses, angers and saddens me. It is the tragic flaw of A.A.

    • Roger says:

      All well said, Gerry, and here is a wonderful bio of Ed/Burwell: Jim Burwell.

    • Sher says:

      Thank you, Gerry. And that’s exactly the point, the only one (I think) that matters: AA is turning away folks who truly need it. If it weren’t for those final experiences at my local meeting, I would have a resource the way AA is meant to be: local, frequent, whenever and wherever I need.

  21. Laurie A says:

    ‘(Here) our psyche is no longer engaged with the social domain but has engaged with the spiritual domain … here we are face to face with that which is unseeable, unhearable, unknowable and yet is that to which we hold ourselves accountable to … an internal dialogue between our conscious and unconscious selves.’ (Peter Bevan, in “The Friends Quarterly”, a British Quaker quarterly, issue two 2014). My understanding of Step 11; ‘conscious contact’ with an ‘unsuspected inner resource’.

    • Kathleen says:

      I would like to write my experience with AA as an Agnostic.

      I had an excellent sponsor in CA. I had given up on the God thing. In fact I was downright rebellious.
      One day when I was in a new women’s meeting she spoke of the “vibrations of the universe.” That was what I was looking for. I listened to her for a couple more meetings before asking her to sponsor me. We worked for 2 years going thru the steps again.

      She downloaded the info for Agnostic in AA off the internet. We worked from that.

      I moved to MT last fall. Cannot find a sponsor here. I do bring it up in women’s meetings. I have had the response that if I do not believe in God there is no way they can work with me.

      That is why I am writing on this site. I need people I can relate to. I still go to meetings, stand with the others at the end of the hour but do not participate. I am honoring their belief. Hopefully someday someone may respect mine.

      • Svukic says:

        I hear you Kathleen. I’ve had the same response too, and to this day I remain sponsorless.

      • Sher says:

        Kathleen, no sponsor here either. There is an online women’s meeting here, right Roger? I haven’t checked it out yet, but I plan to. I know online can initially seem a strange substitute, but it is so much better than insufficient or unhelpful face-to-face meetings.

    • Sher says:

      Laurie, that’s really powerful. Thank you for sharing. And pleasantly unexpected, actually. 🙂

      • Jaye says:

        Hi Sher,
        I’m one of the female moderators for the online chat room (Soda is the other). So far there isn’t a women’s meeting, but it had been discussed from the onset. You should be able to see that there is a “Women’s Meetup” room if you look above the list of people currently signed on (you may have to click the arrow to reveal all rooms).

        Currently, the room is not open because we don’t know if we have enough interest. I’ve asked a few ppl when I’ve been moderating and the response was more of a “maybe” than a “heck, yah!”

        Maybe women who are interested in such a meeting could sign up through the home page of Agnostica under “Want an agnostic meeting in your town or city?” and enter “ONLINE” for the city, put in whatever postal/zip code, and add a comment about it being a women’s meeting in the comment section.

        So if we hear that there is the definite interest, we’d love to have a women’s meeting.

      • Sher says:

        Thanks, Jaye. I’d say I’ve moved from the “maybe” to “heck, yah!” category. Just signed up for my interest in a women’s online meeting.

  22. daniel says:

    After being around for a little bit I seem to be getting messages from the younger people recently.A young woman of 2 years, in her talk shared about Tradition 2, it was wonderful, I could not do that until I was 10 years in the program.The quality always comes from the message not the messenger.AA will not be destroyed from outside only from the inside.For me the daily chore is letting go of my rigidity. Cheers Daniel

  23. Camille says:

    I can’t even remember the last F2F meeting I went to, other than a few weeks ago at a bonfire meeting at a friend’s house. Even that was uncomfortable to me. When I posted something on the locals club website about an Atheist meeting, this was the response from one of the people on the FB post said she was against it, she never heard of such a thing, how can we dare change the program, and this type of meeting disgusted her. I replied with dignity citing that I felt sorry for her fearfulness on this subject. One of the club members reached out to me a few months later when he read the post and apologized asking if I was interested in starting my meeting. I told him thanks, but no thanks. If they were going to allow people to bash other AA’s on their FB page, I wasn’t interested and good luck. The longer I am away from AA, the better I feel! I’ve heard that before and didn’t understand it while I was still in it, but boy do I now! AA itself is not a cult, but the people who screw with the words, the book and the ‘cana law’ of it all are. I’ll keep my 24+ years of sobriety and find my camaraderie some place else. I truly finally know Happy Joyous and Free!

    • Sher says:

      Camille, nice!! Sometimes we are trying so hard to find our place, we don’t realize how draining it is to try where we don’t belong.

  24. Brent P. says:

    It is evident to me, the more I read about AA and the more apparent is the cleave between “believers and non”, that the pressure on members in the US to accept God as their higher power is greater than it is in Canada. That notwithstanding, Bill Wilson’s great mistake in writing the Big Book was the free interchange of the words “higher power” with God. Had he stuck with higher power we wouldn’t be in this mess. God has no place in AA because AA is built to attract alcoholics of every description – Hindu, gay, ex-con, futurists, meditators and mediators, ad infinitum – to a place where they will find understanding, support and a path to contented sobriety.
    I read a book by a neuroscientist who did his schooling at the University of Toronto, Marc Lewis. The book was called Memoirs of an Addicted Brain. Subtitled: A Neuroscientist examines his former life on drugs.
    In other words Marc Lewis was, prior to being a professor, a drug addict. So he tells his story with the comprehensive scientific knowledge of an expert. And it’s fascinating right up to the part where, addicted to opiates, he is caught and arrested for stealing morphine from the facility he worked in at the time. He went to jail and when he got out he was lost. But he was determined never to return to the drugs that put his career on hold because of a detour to jail. He makes no mention of getting any sort of treatment. Intuitively he decided to pursue his doctorate in neuropsychology while volunteering at a facility that helped street kids who were addicted to drugs. Despite not going to NA or AA he recognized the need to explain what he believed was essential to staying sober. It was the pursuit of something more meaningful and greater than him. He never used the word God nor did he mention treatment methods other than what he devised for himself. So he stressed the idea that we needed something greater than us, something more important than drugs and alcohol. And for him that was completing his education right up to a Ph.D. so he could contribute to helping to explain the relationship between drugs and the brain, the evident differences in the neurology of addicts and non.
    I take from that, that Bill Wilson was much closer to understanding the fundamental need of the alcoholic/addict when he spoke of a higher power rather than God. In actual fact he completely destroyed the validity of a great insight when, more and more, God began to replace higher power.

    • Tommy H says:

      Well said.

      One of the first persons I met on my current go around in A.A. in ’91 was a fellow who sobered up in 1953.

      He almost invariably referred to “God” as “good, orderly direction.”

      We need more old timers like him.

    • JP says:

      I think you are right Brent. I have always thought that the BB could use a good edit.

    • Svukic says:

      Hi Brent,
      I’d say the pressure to “believe” is pretty strong everywhere, including here in Australia, but to recite “the Lord’s Prayer” instead of “the Serenity Prayer” at the end of meetings whilst insisting that the program is spiritual not religious is just over the top! How can people not see their own hypocritical double-think when it’s so obvious?

    • Sher says:

      Brent, really interesting. Not even higher power, but higher purpose (again). Doing something more important than yourself including education, research, improving human kind. What a concept, I love it! Wow, with just a slight refocus, AA could start changing the whole world!

    • kathleen says:

      Thank you. Your letter really helps me. I feel less alone.

      • Sher says:

        Kathleen, I’m not sure if your thank-you is intended for me or Brent. In any case, realizing we aren’t alone is the gift of this website. And thank you!

  25. Marnin M. says:

    Sher, thanks for this wonderful article.

    Quoting a speaker I heard on a CD, “miracle, schmerical”, “the coffees a miracle too”.

    I firmly believe we are all powerful examples of how a human being can “reboot” their lives.

    Whenever I read the BB or other AA literature I am reminded that when this all started alcoholism was a sin.

    If the BB were written today I think the steps might be different than when the Oxford Movement inspired steps were formulated.

    To use the word “miracle” in our recoveries is to deny what we have accomplished.

    My home group meetings in Florida have 70-90 attendees each week. I am basically alone but having attained 43 years of sobriety they respect my recovery.


    • Roger says:

      Marnin is the author of My Name is Marnin, posted on AA Agnostica in December, 2012.

    • Sher says:

      Marnin, I’m really curious about this, “To use the word “miracle” in our recoveries is to deny what we have accomplished.” Have you written anything that expounds on that?

      I loved the article My Name is Marnin.

      • Marnin M. says:

        I was in group therapy in NYC for many, many years.

        The first time I referred to my recovery as a miracle Dr. Murray list (my HP) pounced on me for minimizing my role. Now whenever I hear the word I introduce the idea that maybe, just maybe, the person rebooted themselves, not God.

        Everything cannot be a miracle.

        I live in the Bible Belt – Hobe Sound, Fla. – and have many opportunities.

        • Hilary J. says:

          Marnin, I totally agree with the idea that giving all the credit for our recovery to the “higher power” negates our own effort. This reinforces the idea of powerlessness, which keeps us in a passive role in our own lives. That idea kept me in my addiction for too many years. I am powerless over my addiction, not over my life and my choices!

          • JP says:

            Hi Hilary, well we are on the topic of philosophies. I decided a long time ago that I am not powerless over my addictions. There are certain practices that I can do so that I have the power to stay away from that first drink or drug. if I relapse tomorrow you and others have the right to ask me “What wasn’t I doing that I needed to in order to maintain my sobriety”. Working the program gives me power OVER my addictions. Jo-Anne.

      • Sher says:

        I really like this thread, miracles, being powerless, taking credit for our successes, etc. I guess if I don’t believe in a HP (and I don’t), I have to believe in something else to get me through … whether it is that inner resource, or the wisdom of others, or finding a higher purpose, or the combination of all those things.

        • Marnin M. says:


          I’m glad to hear from someone who has read my story.

          I’ve written to the Grapevine many times during my sobriety. One time about how I was proud to be so important to someone who followed me around and proclaimed AA was about “finding God, cleaning house and helping others.” Therefore it became his duty to expose me.

          The Grapevine did not publish this.

          The Grapevine also rejected my story when I celebrated 42 years of sobriety.

          That’s when Roger contacted me.

          I always say that if you can get along with the members of AA, you can get along with anyone.

          Being an active member of AA is not always easy.


          • Brent P. says:

            I think Roger, with his website here, may end up just as instrumental to AA’s growth and evolution as Bill & Bob were to its inception. For an organization like AA to stay relevant to the times and peoples it serves is not easy. Roger, with his optimism, open mindedness and tireless commitment to a cause greater than himself is, regardless, completely undeterred by the barriers that would prevent his, and really AA’s, stated objectives. That is what is so ironic, all he’s doing is holding certain AA’s feet to the fire in an effort to make us all responsible for enforcing AA’s guiding principles and mandate as stated in the traditions.
            New saying: If you can’t get along with Roger you’re pretty much fu¢ked.

    • Camille says:

      AA is not a hot bed of mental health. We always have to remember a lot of people in AA are dually addicted, and many times have undiagnosed mental illness. This is where the Bleeding Deacons are so dangerous in AA. They tell everyone that AA is a cure all for everything. IT IS NOT! They don’t want to read anything other than the Big Book which they continually misinterpret and declare it Cana Law. Reading all of Bill W’s speeches, letters and articles in The Grapevine will show how AA was supposed to grow and change. Alas, most of this falls on deaf ears. Being an Atheist in AA was not my 1st reason for leaving. The dangerous people were and there are many.

    • Sher says:

      Brent, hear, hear! Roger is instrumental to AAs growth and evolution in many ways. And he has created a safe haven for we dissidents.

  26. bob k says:

    Okay, I’ll play Devil’s Advocate.

    I’ve had a few hospital experiences that were less than stellar, BUT, for me to make the pronouncement, “I’m NEVER going to the hospital again,” would be foolishness on my part. I have some serious health issues.

    If alcoholism is also an issue of gravity, again it would be unwise for me to not treat it as such. It is the nature of alcoholics to desire to be “in charge,” even of the therapy. We heathens may be even more prone to this than is the general norm, but most of us are also aware that the “I’m just not going to drink any more – I’ve DECIDED!” is of little long-term efficacy.

    Why separate myself, especially at some early stage, from 98% of the available therapy?

    I am a big fan of the “Family Guy” TV show, so I was excited to see Seth McFarlane’s new film, “A Million Ways To Die In The West.” It was crap.

    I’m never going to the movies again!!!

    But, Bob, why not try some other films – there’s a 24plex near your home?

    Nope – never!!


    • Brent P. says:

      Hey Bob I absolutely agree which is why this can’t be about “believers vs non believers”. I know a lot of people who don’t believe in God in any traditional way but what they do believe involves a lot of tinfoil covering their windows.
      The point is, we need to recognize that people should have the right to determine who their higher power is or what their higher purpose is. Faith is meant to be a personal thing yet what’s become an issue is, higher power has become synonymous with God, at a time when more and more members are from different countries with entirely different cultural and spiritual sensibilities. AA’s primary purpose is to help suffering alcoholics. How religion crept into it in the insidious way it has is a type of tyranny over those of us who either don’t believe or believe otherwise. I still believe that “higher purpose” allows for people of traditional faith and those who aren’t. My fear is we’re tilting at windmills in the faith no faith debate. How about we leave the faith part of things to the individual and shift our focus to the suffering alcoholic. For a disorganization like AA that has no opinion on outside issues, doesn’t get involved in politics nor pronounces on our sexuality. To then insist that we make very overt references to a god of the early 20th century just seems misguided. The wider AA’s doors swing the more people can be relieved of the horrors of alcoholism. Thanks for your point of view because I think you’re right to the extent that something is better than nothing. But religion in and of itself is proving to be corrosive.

    • Sher says:

      I’m a newbie, in relation to all this sobriety here. And I so appreciate all the discussion and disagreement, frankly. In control of our addiction, not in control? I take all of your opinions and experiences seriously. Thanks, Bob.

  27. Pam L. says:

    I related to this article. I was bullied at a meeting last night. Told I was DANGEROUS and should be ashamed. I needed to be responsible and find out why I hated God so much. I told him. He even questioned my sobriety. I have HAD it with these folks. Usually I try to walk away, but this time I stood up for myself. As a woman in AA, some of the men seem to think we are open game for them to run us over. We started the first Freethinker meeting in the Inland Empire in Claremont five months ago. It is a night of refuge and happiness for this girl. Thank goodness for my friends in Santa Monica and Hollywood! I also just learned of a meeting in Hermosa Beach on Monday night. Our meeting in Claremont is on Thursdays at 7 on 211 Foothill Ave if anyone is interested. 🙂

    • Sher says:

      Pam, “dangerous” ?? Unbelievable! My first sponsor told me I shouldn’t be angry with God and I remember being puzzled because I didn’t believe in God, so why would I be angry with something I didn’t believe in? So glad we are finding ways to support and accept one another.

  28. Svukic says:

    I have heard talk on this thread of online AA Agnostic meetings and a chat site associated with the site? Am I dying to join? So much! Can anyone help with info? 🙂

  29. Mary R says:

    Thanks once again for all of your sharing here. It is such a real help for me to feel so validated. What is also helpful is that the posts are not filled with anger but with reasoned, caring reflections on the fundamental principles of AA and an appreciation for what the organization has done for us. I “take” a women’s meeting in a nearby rehab facility weekly. The sorrow and despair there helps me remember what a treasure my sobriety is. Other local women also attend to share their ESH. Recently, I could no longer stand my own hypocrisy, and stopped using the “How It Works”. I simply read the AA Preamble and the statement from page 15 of the 12 & 12 about the principles of the steps. If anyone has noticed, nothing has been said, and as a bonus, it leaves more time for sharing. But, I got a dose of humility last meeting when the subject was resentments: one of the women who comes in from the outside said that she has a resentment against those who refuse to use the term God for their higher power. I have never used any sort of derogatory terms about those who choose to believe in a deity when discussing my own atheism in the rooms. But, it made me realize just how much we are seen as a threat to those who can only be called fundamentalists. And it renews my feeling that I must stay in the rooms for now so that whenever newcomers get caught up in the higher power discussions, my voice can be heard.

    And, just a note, there was a typo a while back: It’s Canon Law, not Cana law. Reminds me that trying to discuss modifying the BB is akin to when the Protestants brought out the Revised Standard Version of the Bible last century. What a battle.

    • Sher says:

      Mary, for you to be willing to stay in the rooms is such a gift to others.

      At my (previous) home group, according to our guidelines one chair decided to forego the LP in favor of the serenity prayer and their was a mutiny. Jack in particular squirmed in his seat and insisted that saying the LP was this group’s tradition. For some folks, flexibility and tolerance are not welcome concepts. Their only comfort is in a rigidly interpreted and followed script, and that seems to include a fundamentalist God.

  30. Trix says:

    I can totally relate to this as I almost feel shunned now at the regular AA meetings. In this day and age, I find it shocking and totally unacceptable.

    One gentleman mentioned how as a Jew, he didn’t want someone ‘praying for him’ and that he felt the old guys didn’t want us upsetting the apple cart of their ‘god’ meetings.

    It is so true that you find most meetings similar to a born again Christian revival meeting.

    I do remember going to a meeting about 20 years ago and feeling just that and was in no shape to hear it so I kept drinking for another 20 years. I am not using it as an excuse for my weaknesses – but the ‘Christian AA’ isn’t behaving so ‘Christianly.’

    I am so thankful to the people who started their own agnostic meetings and that they had the strength and resourcefulness and will power to plow through such ridiculous, nonsensical, bureaucratic BS, red tape.

    There is actually a quote in the Big Book (p. 181):

    If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting who is in this book, I feel sorry for you. If you still think you are strong enough to beat the game alone, that is your affair. But if you really and truly want to quit drinking liquor for good and all, and sincerely feel that you must have some help, we know that we have an answer for you. It never fails, if you go about it with one half the zeal you have been in the habit of showing when you were getting another drink.

    Your heavenly father will never let you down!

    OMG- What is all the that crap??? When they profess to be NOT a religiously affiliated organization?

    I hadn’t read it when I first heard it. I saw it in an email from a woman and I was so startled and shocked that she would dare to say such a thing. I had had enough by this time so I let her have it – as nicely as I could, but I wanted to make a point. Well, I guess I did as I am not getting as many emails or Thank You’s for the ‘prayer’ I post every Monday.

    I had to apologize as it wasn’t her it was Dr. Bob’s quote and his nightmare.

    I was trying to go along with them by posting different non-Christian prayers/mediations, perhaps for their enlightenment, but since I just don’t believe I cant do it anymore.

    AA works and its got nothing to do with any GOD! the higher power comes from within each of us when we make a decision to not drink and go to meetings and change our attitudes and make new non-drinking friends.

    In my mind anyway…………….

  31. Denis K says:

    At my last traditional AA meeting a guy got up and said, “if you haven’t found god, don’t worry, god has found you and you are here as a result of gods will for you.”
    To close the meeting they read the promises. At the point of the reading where it asks “are these extravagant promises” a bunch of followers replied “we think not.”
    They then all held hands in a circle of about 40 sheeple, someone called out, “who’s the boss,” they all chanted “god” and the rest of the serenity prayer.
    That, folks, is the story of my LAST conventional AA meeting.

    • Marnin M. says:


      You describe the religious climate I experience every time I go to a meeting.

      My favorite is “Who’s is large and in charge?

      When they say the Our Father I think Our Mother”.

      It requires dedication to be one of the few Agnostics in my section of Florida.

      It is a lonely experience.


    • JHG says:

      There are many reasons to reject AA. Each of us has to make that choice based on our own personal circumstances or needs. Ridiculing the people who do choose AA is unbecoming and even destructive for two reasons. First, it might discourage someone from getting help from AA when that would have otherwise been their best chance to get sober. And second, it is more intolerant than the god pushers themselves. At least they are motivated by an actual, sincere desire (however misguided they might be) to help people get sober. People end up in AA not because it lends them social credit but instead because they need it desperately. Making fun of them requires about as much skill and imagination is shooting fish in a barrel.

      • Christopher G says:

        I have to realize and discern that what I am rejecting may or may not be AA. As in getting to declare on my own recognizance whether or not I am an alcoholic, I also get to decide what is or is not AA, and find out by trial and error what really works for me. Of course, it is all filtered through my own confirmation bias, but staying in contact with any and all kinds of fellowship tends to have a self-correcting effect, at least so far. A sober friend and I often begin the LP (when asked to do so) with, “Who sleeps with our mother…” and “lead me not into temptation I can find it myself”. I try to keep it light, (rule 62), use the Serenity Affirmation, or sometimes say, “I haven’t got a prayer, but I’ll say one of yours”, until I grow the balls to start my own agnostic meeting. What is interesting about the LP is that it’s supposed author pretty much taught that the “father, heaven, and kingdom” are all within, and most reciters are unaware of this. The rest is pretty much about a day at a time and forgiveness, which are AA principles anyway. I agree, however, that rejecting or ridiculing people is unkind and intolerant; definitely not AA principles.

      • Pam W says:

        Thank you JHG for your succinct comment. This is something I have been struggling with recently. Our shares sometimes border on more than a frustration of the dogma, but an outright bashing of others beliefs, which borders on if not mirrors exactly what we are criticizing them for doing. It feels counterproductive to the program of suggestion that I fell in love with.

      • Tommy H says:

        Well put, JHG.

        Thanks for saying it.

      • Roger says:

        I don’t think that Denis is so much “making fun” of others as he is accurately describing behaviour that we see in the rooms of AA, as others have noted. It is this kind of behaviour that is “unbecoming and even destructive” and will often “discourage someone from getting help from AA,” not, as far as I am concerned, the description of it.

        • JHG says:

          I think we can all agree that it is AA itself that stands in the way of a spirit of hospitality that could fulfill the imperative within the fifth tradition. The question is what do I actually have the ability to change and/or influence. I don’t have the ability to change the way every group operates. I do have the ability as well as the responsibility to carry a message of recovery to individuals. The fourth tradition tells me that it is not my job to tell any group how to act. I can participate in the group conscience (if it is my own home group) and I can hold out a more inclusive view of “AA as a whole” in the hope that doing so will enlarge the collective understanding of what it means to say that the group’s autonomy is restricted only “in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.” Even then, it is ultimately up to the collective conscience of each individual group to decide what it means for them. Thankfully, AA has no traditions police.

          • Roger says:

            Hi JHG. All well and good. I do think, however, that it is reasonable to want and to encourage all of AA to be less creedal and more inclusive and tolerant. At the core of Denis’ comment was a lamentation that too often it is just the opposite and drives people out. I know my heart pounds when I am in a traditional meeting such as the ones described by Denis and Sher and, because of my non-beliefs, I sometimes fear for my safety. That is something we should acknowledge – as Denis did – and make an effort to change, if we believe that AA should be a place for recovery for everybody.

            • JHG says:

              My most immediate concern is what to tell someone who has had negative experiences with traditional AA. Many of them find their way to the AA Agnostica chat room. I have to start with empathy. Sometimes the only thing I can do is validate their feelings and perceptions. Whether they choose to give AA another chance is strictly their choice. Many choose not to. I understand that. Whom I most feel for though are those who long for and perhaps desperately need what AA is supposed to be there to offer. What I and other veteran AA members in the chat room often say is that each meeting is different, and some are more friendlier to nonbelievers than others.

              • Brent P. says:

                This is becoming irritating. “Friendlier to non believers than others?”. Never once in over 30yrs. of coming and going out of AA have I had anything but a warm “welcome back”. I was at a meeting the other night where we read We Agnostics. I rolled my eyes but read when it was my turn knowing I would have a chance to take on the biggest baddest Christian in the bunch. Was looking forward to it. Then I thought better. And good that I did. I was asked to open the discussion and I simply said that I was the guy they were talking about and, frankly, I thought the entire chapter a mistake. We don’t pronounce on outside issues, the book tells us to come to our own terms with respect to our sexual conduct, yet for some reason there appeared to be a need to make a case for God, the God of the Bible, the Christian God. I further stated that I had done my homework reading St. Augustine and a variety of other scholars’ take on God and Christianity including Tom Harpur’s Pagan Christ. When finished I looked around the room. There were no glares but more than a few furrowed brows. As it turned out, the majority of the people in that AA discussion were doubters, atheists or agnostics. And there were a few for whom God was good enough. I have yet to meet these people who won’t put up with me and my opinions. In fact if anything, I intimidate them because they don’t have any influence over me and if they want an argument they’ve got the right guy. But it’s my experience, besides some prayers that are so righteously pious I can’t utter them – 3 & 7 – but otherwise it’s an AA meeting where for weeks on end any discussion of God is the exception rather than the rule.
                Ours is supposed to be a group that calls itself open minded and free thinking. That means being tolerant of others and their belief systems, in fact it means to really listen to them in an effort to understand. It means reading as much scholarly Christian literature you can get your hands on so that your uncertainty or outright rejection of God as Higher Power can be justified and supported by facts. I can tell you for a fact, if AA, which is what your quarrel is with, takes up the sword, WAFTA or whatever it is you call yourselves is hypocritical and shunned to the point that any meeting with AA and secular in the same statement will, by the force of the majority, not in any way be allowed to suggest any sort of connection to AA. So lets grow up. Lets demonstrate the open mind that defines you and let it carry the day. Open your hearts and minds to discover tolerance and compassion for others. And if you’re at a regular AA meeting don’t be afraid to speak your truth. Don’t do it with animosity, impatience or from the perspective of a victim. In the same way a devout Christian feels no compunction about praising his Lord for his sobriety, do like I do and praise Harvey, the guy who brought me to my first meeting.
                But I cannot broach these “horrible experiences” I read about, the ones where full patch Christians torture agnostics and atheists, driving them from the rooms believing that it was only a matter of minutes before the snakes came out and folks started speaking in tongues. There have been numerous outspoken atheists I’ve known over the thirty years I’ve been coming and going to AA, and, to the best of my knowledge, each died sober.
                My suggestion is make tolerance a test for you. Give every sectarian Christian all the rope he needs to hang himself. And when he does find himself swinging from that rope, be the one to cut that rope so that he is free to tell that story at his next meeting where he’ll say, “and suddenly God possessed the non believer, and that heathen cut me down saving my life”.

    • Tommy H says:

      They chant “We think not” here in the BlueGrass.

      In Baton Rouge, where I spent most of my sobriety to date, they chant, “God could and would if he were sought.”

  32. Adam N. says:

    I have been sober for most of my adult life, but have only recently discovered this amazing community of recovering alcoholic atheists. What a wonderful thing. I am overjoyed! I have so often felt alone, alienated, separate. Sometimes I wondered if I was crazy because, try as I might, I could never buy into the ‘God’ thing.
    One thing I have noticed is that some of we atheists seem to be making the mistake of conflating ‘powerlessness’ and religiosity. Might I suggest that one can admit powerlessness without buying into religion or superstitious thinking. I am an atheist, and do not believe in gods or supernatural stuff of any kind. Yet I do believe in the first step of AA. I believe that I am powerless over alcohol. The power I get from the fellowship, including you all, is what helps me stay sober and grow. The tribe empowers me.
    So, I ask: do you believe that admitting powerlessness entails belief in a necessarily theistic ‘higher power’?

    • JHG says:

      The question for me is not whether I experience powerlessness but is instead how I interpret that experience. Acknowledging powerlessness is surely a helpful part of recovery. The problem is how the concept functions in the Steps. First of all, the first step wants us to admit that we are powerless over alcohol. There is a sense in which that is based on an apt assessment of addiction, but at some point, we have to find the power to not take the first drink. Perhaps we will always be powerless over what happens after the first drink, but no one is going to turn down the first drink for us except ourselves, which brings up the second problem with how the concept of powerlessness functions in the Steps. The power to not take the first drink, according to the second step, can only come from a Power greater than ourselves. Thus the admission of powerlessness in the first step was but a set up for the second step.

      • Adam N. says:

        I guess I have no problem with the first three steps at all, so long as the relevant ‘higher power’ is human fellowship and the support of the tribe. In the Big Book chapter ‘We Agnostics’ Bill Wilson implies that the fellowship can serve as a temporary expedient until we finally “come to believe”. Of course his view predominates in the rooms of AA now. I believe that Bill and most AA members are mistaken. The fellowship is a complete and sufficient ‘higher power’ that I plug into regularly in order to become empowered and stay sober. I am an atheist who still believes in individual powerlessness. I also do believe I am often powerless over people, places and things. Remembering that and letting go helps me stay sane and serene.

        As an evolutionary biologist I like to consider the fact that our brains evolved to be what they are during the course of some 5 million years in small, family oriented tribes on the savannas of Africa. As such, we are incomplete when alone, as mere individuals. Our deeply social nature is hard wired into us. We gain strength from our tribe. This is why it pains me so that AA members, my tribe, hold ignorant, superstitious beliefs. It alienates me from my tribe. Conversely, this is why it pleases me so to discover this online community of like minded alcoholics!

        • Tommy H says:

          Your second paragraph really resonates with me. I saw not too long ago that peer pressure is often the key to staying sober, but that works both ways. How often have you seen several people who hang out together slip at the same time?

          If they used “lack of control” rather than powerless, things might be clearer.

    • Tommy H says:

      My favorite reply to this is a quote from the BB, “We have RECOVERED and been given the POWER to help others.” It aggravates those who insist we don’t recover. It also irritates those who insist “I am powerless over people, places, and things,” which isn’t in our literature.

      I have been given power over taking the first drink, but I am powerless over alcohol once it’s in my body. I notice no one prays for the effect of alcohol once ingested be taken away.

    • Brent P. says:

      I would suggest that it is alcohol that we are told, in the first step, that we are powerless over. In my world that is my problem in a nutshell and it has nothing to do with God, Higher Power, Voodoo or any other kind of mysticism. It’s important that we are clear and cognizant of what the issue between Atheists & Agnostics and, for want of simple terminology, the more traditional expression of Judaeo/Christian precepts.

  33. kevin b says:

    Thank you for this essay. This has been much my AA experience in many of the meetings that I’ve gone to when I say (for the most part, quite casually) that I am an agnostic.

    Comments and cross-talk where God is roughly every third or fourth word of the comment complete with head bobbing, applause, and dirty looks from others.

    And then at the end of such a meeting where (inevitably) I am angry about what was said, how it was said, and why it was said, I get told that a) that person was talking about his or her own experience when I know damn well that they weren’t and b) that irritating line out of Step 10 in the 12 & 12 where Bill W. writes, “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us,” which, while true enough, is one of the most abused texts in all of AA literature because it seems to give some people license to be a-holes.

    I still go to traditional AA meetings (for the most part) because I am now situated (in the Chicago area) where I don’t have to put up with a lot of the nonsense that you and I experienced but I have have been looking around for a Quad A meeting or two to go to and I have flat out stopped going to some meetings.

    • Marnin M. says:

      I’ve become used to all the God talk during my 44 years of sobriety. What drives me nuts is the refusal of many to personally take any credit for their accomplishments in AA.

      Everything, but everything that happens in AA is deemed a “miracle”! “Miracle” schmerical I say.

      Frequently I ask if it is just possible that our sobriety is a result of life & AA experience? That we have rebooted our lives and made a dramatic turnabout without divine intervention?

      I think it the height of hubris to think that we are so important that God (He, She or It) has nothing better to do while running or ruining the world than to intervene in each of our alcoholic lives? Talk about “alcoholic ego’s”!!!

      The Big Book is an Oxford Movement document and needs a huge rewrite. Can you imagine this happening?

      • Dan L says:

        I think they accidentally hit on it when they say “We are like men who have lost their legs…” It is kinda known that god doesn’t cure amputees and it is also known that while god purportedly leads people to sobriety she will never allow them to drink like normal people, which to my mind would make everybody happy. (No, I don’t want a drink anymore.)

        I have been accused of “taking credit for something I did not do by myself” and “that if you [me] didn’t need god then you weren’t an alcoholic.” I do find this kind of thinking to be so tiresome and so contrary to what I believe the program is that if I hadn’t been led to this site I might have given up on AA if not sobriety.

        • Marnin M. says:

          To Dan L,

          Thanks for your reply to my posting…

          Being told in AA that I am not really an alcoholic enrages me – It has happened frequently and I want to ##### them.

          Instead I show them my photo book of evidence and they usually retract their statement.

          My book has the cancelled checks from the liquor stores, dates coming closer and closer.

          Photo of my death bed looks like the Hudson river discharged on it during a bad day.

          In addition I photographed my future if I were to relapse. The most dramatic was shot at the Port Authority New York bus terminal.

          I hope some day I can post some of my pictures online.

          Thanks again – Marnin

      • Brent P. says:

        Marnin, keep an eye out for the November 16 article.

      • kevin b says:


        I think that the BB is interesing as a historical document of the AA movement at this point; nothing more and nothing less.But as a practical aid to helping alcoholics of the 21st century, it has limited value.

        And I too get a bit of a chuckle out of the hubris interventionist God that intervenes just at the time that someone needs a parking space.

        You did remind me of one person who would always that he was sober “through the Grace of God and my own efforts.” Which never failed to make me smile a little, even with the God part in there.

    • Sher says:

      I find the “interventionist God that intervenes just at the time that someone needs a parking space” offensive. Why would a benevolent higher power let children die, but keep me from taking a drink? I also agree that it is beneficial and correct for us to take credit for our efforts and successes. Becoming sober isn’t easy, and we’re the ones doing the hard work! Love this thread.

    • Suzanne T. says:

      I’m so relieved to read this thread! Fortunately I sobered up (17 years ago) in Sonoma County with a Buddhist sponsor and access to Spirit Rock, the Zen Center etc. I am a recovered alcoholic (my obsession to drink stopped the day I called the treatment hospital and turned myself in) although I didn’t know that at the time. I was terrified I would drink again, against my will, so I took a sabatical, got a sponsor and worked the steps as thoroughly as possible. The transformation I experienced was remarkable. My deep hatred and resentments broke up and went away as I worked 4 thru 9. What a joy to live in a resentment free body and know how to deal with serious anger and resentment in the future when it crops up.

      It was easy for me to slip into Buddhist instruction since it’s so similar to steps 4 thru 9. I am not a Buddhist but I take instruction and meditate each morning and try to incorporate the principles in my daily affairs.

      I left the US over 3 years ago and have just recently started attending one meeting a week (in a South American environment). I’m recoiling from the meeting like a hot flame! I’m shocked at all the God talk and when we read the Big Book I’m shocked at the reality that it makes finding God a requirement for sobriety. But the biggest part I’m sensing is the belief that God zapped them sober distracts from the power of steps 4 thru 9 as a transformational process for any human being willing to do this work.

      I remain grateful that 17 years ago my fear of drinking again was greater than my fear of doing steps 4 thru 9.

      Today, I’m struggling with the issue: should I force myself to go once a week, to offer an alternative way to work the steps?


      • Christopher G says:

        Nice comments. In response to you question: How do you like being forced?

      • John M. says:

        What a lovely post, Suzanne.

        You write: “I am a recovered alcoholic (my obsession to drink stopped the day I called the treatment hospital and turned myself in) although I didn’t know that at the time.” — Exactly the same with me.

      • Earl J. says:

        It might be fun to get and pass around a couple of copies of “Dharma God: A Burning Desire” (a Buddhist perspective on the steps and the god idea, with cogent translation of Big Book concepts into practical ideas that don’t antagonize a reasonable mind). I think the main thing is to be an atheist or agnostic of attraction rather than promotion.

  34. Mike H says:

    I’ve found Narcotics Anonymous is much more welcoming to atheists. It’s a theme throughout both of their texts (Basic, and Living Clean).

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