No Human Power


“No matter how outlandish the proposition, if it is supported by impeccable evidence and logic, it is most likely true, at least until even more impeccable evidence and logic refutes it and progress is made. Truth. Honesty. Reliable Information. Any promise of that should be taken seriously.”

Brent P. November 11, 2014.

By Brent P.

But first

Nearly five years ago, after a particularly harrowing two year binge with booze and crack, I was surrounded by the people who had, for a full two months, brought their collective expertise to bear on my health and well being. I was leaving the rehab I’d arrived at two months earlier, mid withdrawal; sweating, slobbering, nose gushing slime while devil dogs and serpent birds brayed at me unrelentingly.

Something like this almost always preceded a process I was quite familiar with, the “valium load”. I was taken to a darkened room where I climbed into a big comfortable bed where I continued to do the crack-head twitch and the hooch drinkers hokey pokey. The discomfort I was going through was worse than anything I’d experienced before. But I’d also never smoked crack and drank liquor every day for two years straight. I knew this wasn’t going to be pleasant. All I wanted was the valium. I had faith in the valium (in large quantities). The present state you were in and your history of seizures determined how much valium you got right away – 20 – 40 mg – then 10 more every hour until you were stabilized (or dead), whether that took 80 mg or 100. But all that was academic, they were moving in slo-mo and I was getting anxious. “Hey, if I don’t get some valium here, fast, I’m going to seize, I can feel it coming”. Honestly I could no more tell when a seizure was going to occur than I could predict win, place or show at the races. I eventually got ALL my valium and it was enough to pretty much knock me out for a couple of days. I’d get up to go to the bathroom. And I was disturbed for blood pressure and pulse measurements. But I was basically way down, way down in dreamy Chinatown.

No devil dogs or serpent birds

No longer plagued by devil dogs and serpent birds I was enjoying my last look at the facility’s quaint yet bright and cheerful dining room. As I said goodbye to the folks who’d frankly dedicated their lives to saving mine, I desperately wished that I could be confident I wouldn’t do the same thing all over again, despite the warning from my doctor who assured me my liver couldn’t handle even a one week episode like this last one.

“Oh and get your ass  to meetings”, I heard him say, his voice trailing off as I hustled out to the bus shelter where I could sit and read the book I’d stolen from them. Sitting in the bus shelter those last few words from the doctor echoed in my mind, the “get to a meeting” part. I was going to go to AA as I had a thousand times before, but I wondered how many times he’d said that as another reconstructed addict left to try and make it in the world. It sounded robotic rather than carefully thought out.

If he meant, get to AA to bond with your community of addicts and alcoholics, I had no quarrel, but if he meant, take seriously the considerable amount of crap in the Big Book I was gob-smacked. Here I was, clean and sober, in a revitalized body and mind. And it was thanks to the human power of trained professionals in this particular rehab: nurses who took care of me while I detoxed, doctors who examined me to see how damaged my liver was. Each patient was personally counseled by a doc in once-a-week meetings, and four docs cycled through daily education sessions. Highly trained group therapy coordinators also had a small group every day. I mean, take some credit all of you because you sure aren’t getting any in AA.

In fact in my 30 years of battling substance abuse, every time I needed some relief from a dumbass thing I’d done while stoned and/or drunk, it was people who came to the rescue. Never once did God make an appearance and I wasn’t the only one who’d attest to that. In fact He was a complete no-show, not that anybody was really expecting Him. The more I thought about God there were no experiences I could think of that made me reflect wistfully, “Gosh, this is amazing, not a soul in sight and yet here I sit doomed with my arm wedged deep into a rock crevice with no way to get it out, unless, unless I could summon the courage to hack it off with a Swiss Army Knife. Who else but God could inspire that kind of courage? Well, thank you Lord because I did it. And yes, the once prodigious career I’d been forging as a symphony percussionist was over, but God had the circus in mind for me. I’d never imagined how many people would pay money to see and meet Self Amputation Man.

Have you ever heard anything like that in an AA meeting? The no-matter-what-horror befalls you it’s God’s will and you should be grateful?

Remember the impeccable logic

I just want to remind you of my opening statement: Regardless of the proposition, if supported by impeccable evidence and logic it can’t be refuted unless by even more impeccable evidence and logic. Which is usually how our species makes progress.

For the sake of this discussion on treating alcoholism here is the most impeccable evidence and logic as presented in the Big Book’s chapter, “How It Works”. Here are the three pertinent ideas that emerge if we’ve read the description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic and our personal adventures before and after:

  1. That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives. (Can’t disagree with that.)
  2. That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism. (What!!! Didn’t I just show how human power relieved me of my alcoholism and drug addiction? It’s been five years since booze or coke have coursed through my bloodstream. And how in the hell did we get from admitting we were alcoholics to “no human power”?)
  3. That God could and would if He were sought. (Bullshit. Many a time I cried out to God and never once did he make an appearance even when I was having an alcoholic seizure, the kind that kills or so say those learned humans who I put my faith in.)

It’s worth noting that it’s about here in the Big Book where the Higher Power covertly gets killed off and God takes over.

Is that sensible? Let’s examine it allegorically

Wilson and Smith – a pair of paramedics – are rushing to the scene of a horrible accident. Upon arrival there are emergency crews from everywhere. Multi car pile up. As Wilson and Smith are loading one of the few survivors into their unit, Wilson is sizing up the man’s chances for survival when, God knows why, he goes rogue.

“Holy cats Smith, I’ve never seen a guy in worse shape than this one. If we take him to the hospital he won’t survive. I learned in AA that some people are beyond the aid of human power. God can save this guy. So Smith he’s going to church, stat”.

Careening recklessly through city traffic, Wilson explains to Smith that, “some people are beyond human aid or power” which is why this guy, is being taken to a church, “the house of God Smith, the house of God”. Smith will have nothing to do with it. Wilson is crazy.

Wilson carries on with his mission and pushes the man on a gurney into the church, then lays him at the foot of the altar where he’s bleeding like a son of a bitch. Wilson says a little prayer for him then hurries back to the ambulance. He can feel this is going to be a very big night and he has to remain sharp. A quick glance to the heavens then he’s off.

Smith looks at him incredulously.

“There’s a reason why people with serious injuries get taken to the hospital.”

Arching an eyebrow Wilson plays along with Smith.

“Oh, and why would that be Smith?”

“Because that’s where the surgeons and crack emergency medical teams are, you fool.”

Wilson shakes his head.

“You’ve got a lot to learn about healing Smith.”

“We’ll see because I’ve called the police.”

Wilson, sputtering like Sylvester the Cat, says, “The cops?! Why the hell would you call them?”

“…you just don’t understand, I’m an agent of God…” were the last words Smith heard from Wilson as he was cuffed and deposited in the back of the squad car.

At the station house he was booked for criminal negligence causing death. Why? The man died of injuries that, had he been taken to a hospital – where highly trained humans were prepared for such emergencies – instead of a church, he might have survived, or so said the Chief Emergency Surgeon.

With all the paperwork complete so Wilson could be arraigned in the morning, the Desk Sergeant, usually called Bull, stared deep into Wilson’s eyes.

“You, a paramedic, take a seriously injured man to a church? Where there’s nobody to attend to him. No life saving equipment, in fact, there was not a soul in the damn place and you leave him there to die.”

“No! No! Some people are beyond human aid…” stammered Wilson.

“You damn well made certain of that now didn’t ya?”

Wilson is taken away to the holding cells.

“Beyond human aid…” muttered the still discombobulated Bull, “he’s the guy beyond human aid.”

The Big Book is an anachronism and does new members a disservice

The Big Book was published in 1939. It was written by Bill Wilson, Co-Founder of AA. But it was also scrutinized by about 83 sober alcoholics. They made an impact on the Book but not much of one. The BB is often described as AA’s text which implies the content had been tried and proven. But that Book was written almost 80 years ago, by a guy who may have had 5 years sobriety. The 83 others had, on average 1.5 years of sobriety. And their solution to alcoholism was faith healing.

In the 80 years of AA’s existence in the 20th and 21st centuries, it has been written (on the BBC UK website): “During the 20th century the pace of change, which had quickened during the Industrial Revolution, speeded up even more. There was an ongoing explosion of invention and scientific discovery. Huge progress was made in curing disease and manipulating the body.” (Twentieth Century Civilization)

The evidence and logic that Bill Wilson used to develop the Big Book and the AA “program” was the best they had in 1935. But as the above quote reminds us, AA grew up in the most progressive era in history. And some of the greatest progress, “huge” according to the BBC, was made in medicine. Alcoholism is one of those disorders that has benefitted most. Yet we still cling to the program devised in 1935.

Having read considerable books about AA and Bill Wilson, I like to believe that, if Wilson were still alive, AA’s Big Book would in no way resemble what was written almost 80 years. Because he was a salesman too and there’s not a salesman alive who doesn’t know that the product has to become “new and improved” every so many years or people become indifferent which, incidentally, is the overriding response I got when I brought up “issues with the Big Book” at a closed meeting I recently attended.

To any and all who brush off the Big Book as a quaint relic of a different time, we are being irresponsible. Because that book is being handed out or sold every day to people who want to understand alcoholism and AA’s treatment modality. They get told they’re beyond human aid and that only God can relieve them of their alcoholism but you have to go find Him first. Are there no scientists, Medical Doctors or digital engineers in the program who couldn’t make the case for an updated Big Book, one that’s relevant because it reflects the “explosive” changes that have been made over the last 80 years?

Or is that beyond human power too?

Brent has written two other articles for AA Agnostica: The Church of the Divine Dipsomaniac and The Great Divide.

45 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    I agree with most of what you’re saying here, about the BB needing to evolve with the times, but I part ways with turning to the developments of the last 80 years in medicine as a solution to AA’s stagnation. AA stands out, and is embraced by much of the for profit, medical recovery industry, because it’s a free support group with no paid facilitation. Help is received by people who have actually experienced the journey. In my experience, this has been much more valuable than any MD or PhD, unless they too are recovering addicts. Many AA members went through treatment, receive help from doctors and therapists, AA encourages receiving outside help. My experience with therapists and medical doctors has been very persistent encouragement to medicate myself, not much help beyond that. This is where the last 80 years has taken us. Of course some people benefit from this type of therapy but I did not, I threw the pills out every time. Had I not had meetings to go to, I may not have had the strength and stability to do that. I hope to see AA evolve into a more secular environment but I want it to remain non-professional and non-medical.

  2. Katie says:

    Brent, wow I really loved this article, I felt it had a lot of depth and things I could relate to. After going to the convention and processing everything I heard it is my belief that until the Big Book is not adorned as the Bible and Bill W isn’t adorned as JC there will never be any movement in a forward direction for AA. I understand in my own way what both have contributed to AA but no literature will ever be approved by AA in the meetings unless these two things are accomplished. I can’t wait to continue to read your postings. Thank you for your time.
    Katie I

  3. Adam N. says:

    Thanks again for helping me to get through my thick head that I am not alone. I have sat in AA meetings for decades and heard that ABC thing recited. In my mind I think:

    A)I can get behind that pretty much 100 %
    B) Now, wait a minute: I tend to disagree with this, yet everyone is going along with it, so maybe I just don’t understand yet
    C) No, can’t buy this at all. Especially creeps me out when they chant in unison! I think of all the newcomers, all the people who are hearing this for the first time, and I think, “I’d be outta here like a bat outta hell!”

    Now, many years and experiences later, I get that most of us alcoholics are not nearly so ‘in need of repair’ as is much of our noble but outdated antiquarian literature.

    I don’t hear many people say it outright, but it really comes down to THESE ABC’s:

    A) The basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous is in need of some changes.
    B) Changing the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous is going to be a very slow, hard, long term battle/process.
    c) We are in for a SLOW, hard, long term battle/process.

    Actually, it’s kind of exciting, if you think about it!!!

    • Andy S says:

      Well said… I came out in a 12by12 meeting on Tuesday… I stated that I am now an atheist and actually the experience of going over the steps and focusing on myself and my supposed defects of character had made me more unwell over the years and led to me losing touch with who I was and that since I’d stopped working the steps and obsessing about myself I actually felt much better… People were genuinely shocked… I’m glad it was the last share lol ! 🙂

    • Jack says:

      I view this process as widening access to the alcoholic who wants to gain sobriety. Hopefully, AA can accept any alcoholic regardless of religious or anti religious beliefs. Furthermore, I feel that each of us with atheist views can support the newcomer who shares our beliefs! This may result in ridicule from the god people; but, it is a twelfth step for the non god newcomer. Our sobriety speaks for itself! It is my belief that AA will grow over the years.

  4. Jack says:

    When I came into AA (5/01/70) I just accepted the door knob higher power. The 4th and 5th steps helped me have an “attitude adjustment” in this business of living. Resentment, anger, self pity and other emotions were ruling my behavior. I pretty much ignored the god stuff. Lately, it seems that the god people are more insistent. I also feel that I should help the newcomer who is having trouble with the god stuff! I have decided to inform the doubter that it is not necessary to buy the god parts of the program. I view myself as a moderate voice with the goal of helping a fellow sufferer! I do speak up now!!

  5. Phil E. says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. My own understanding evolved over time, beginning with reading Desmond Morris’, “The Naked Ape” at an early age. I am comfortable in my atheism now, after nearly 32 years of sobriety, and 61 years of life.

  6. Jon S says:

    Thank you Brent, that is a wonderful article.

    “God either is or he isn’t” as it says in the book.

    Today, through science, we now know he isn’t.

    So, of course, it transpires that human power is the whole motivator behind even AA and the 12 steps too.

    Anachronistic is exactly the word for it and you capture that very well.

    I left AA after 14 years early in 2014. I compiled some resources to help those in the same situation, and blog about my experience “Leaving AA, Staying Sober“.

    Best wishes, JS

    • Dan L says:

      I went and checked out your site Jon, thanks for the link.
      I found your stuff very interesting but it looks a lot like what I do myself. My own program incorporates whatever I can get my hands on from AA, to SMART, to CBT, to conventional psychiatry, to MFS and other stuff. I really don’t use the Big Book or the 12 steps much although they do provide an easy framework for discussion since people know what they are. The religious/dogmatic approach to AA has been anathema to me from the start. I just don’t do faith healing (placebo, however, is another thing altogether) or faith at all except in the most miserly sense. I have found many agnostic and atheist friends in AA and since we are together we just don’t have to put up with this crap. I don’t see myself leaving AA I just don’t take what I don’t want. Sometimes I very aggressively and noisily don’t take it. I think we have enough free thinkers in this area that the overall tone, except for a couple of hardline fossil groups, is not too hard to take. BTW I personally found Dodes’ writing and thoughts to be almost as bad and offensive to my sensibilities as hard line AA. For me all hardliners are the same. I have no time for inflexible people. They are missing a big part of their humanity.

      • jack says:

        The doors to AA recovery have opened wider with acceptance of every suffering alcoholic! What can be controversial about that! I really like this web site! Thanks for the share!

  7. Andy S says:

    How it Works seems to imply that those who do not recover do so simply because they are incapable of being honest with themselves.. WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THE AA PROGRAM.. and that the only way to recover is in AA through a theistic belief? Indeed, when I mentioned to a couple of long term members that I had friends who were alcoholic and got and stayed happily sober without AA or God the response I got was “They can’t be proper alcoholics then” ? :-/

  8. Ed C. says:

    As an agnostic, I’ve always been at least somewhat uncomfortable with the “no human power” part of How It Works.

    But at least the word “probably” is in there. Still, it would be better if it read, “Probably no human power ALONE…”

    Or, even better, “We just don’t know for sure what help, human or otherwise, is needed for you to recover…”

    • Rick D. says:

      I wouldn’t even call myself an agnostic or atheist necessarily, but rather a free thinker who can acknowledge that I have no idea what type of intelligence is behind this whole mystery of life and universe. Regardless, addictions are behaviors and universally treating them with spiritual and god cures just does not make sense regardless of one’s theism. When I hear people say things like, “By the grace of god, I got sober,” I wonder if they realize that inherent in that statement is that most other people are then not graced by god. And, the idea or statement that “god works in mysterious ways” is just a cop out not to look at faulty and entitled reasoning.

      I have stayed sober on my own for months and years at a time. It’s no mystery to me why I have drank again (by choice) not because alcohol, the substance, is cunning, baffling and powerful. When I read the recent book, “The Sober Truth”, it just makes sense that I am feeling powerless in my life, bored, unfulfilled, whatever…and by drinking, I am actually taking maladaptive control of my “situation”, if only temporarily, in spite of the likely negative consequences of that choice.

      It makes sense that I have used alcohol as my prime method of escapism and through the years, the “positive” experiences are few and far between and the negative experiences (emotional and physical) have increased significantly. It’s also no mystery to me that I really don’t want to drink “normally” because that was never really any fun to me to begin with. Thus, trying to pretend that I just wanted one or two drinks to socialize was always a lie I told myself anyway. In truth, I don’t like the “buzz” of a couple of drinks in the company of others. I feel very self conscious and strange. It takes a few more to be able to “leave my authentic self” which is then no longer self conscious (and later conscious). So basically, the real me never had the experiences when drunk and did not actually develop real connections with others anyway. I think the only time it actually worked was in my 20s when most people tend to drink with a free pass. Perhaps that’s when we are biologically wired to explore things in our youth and thereafter, it just becomes a self-destructive means of coping with reality and life.

      I vehemently believe that most people who enter the rooms of AA know that they have problems with alcohol. I also believe that humans are able to help others, especially when they have been able to understand and move beyond addictions accepting that there is no option for moderation when it comes to alcohol in most cases. It’s just too bad that genuine people who enter the rooms of AA are forced to leave their reason and integrity at the door and enter the rabbit hole. This is why most people run screaming after a few meetings. And, it’s unfortunate that the separation of church and state is not honored and many predators and criminals are sent to AA by the courts when they don’t even want to be there. It’s just baffling to imagine that we can make so much progress in so many ways, yet traditional AA continues to run amok without updates that would reflect contemporary research and jettison all the superfluous nonsense that is actually harmful and repulsive, rather than innocuous, like so many would like to believe. In the beginning if one does stay in AA, it’s wonderful to get the addiction in check and get back to health and clarity. Unfortunately, once people have that clarity, what are they to do when they realize fully that they are now in a life time cult that is like Hotel California?


  9. Helen L says:

    By necessity I do a lot of translating in my head.

    God = lovingkindness

    No human power could have relieved our alcoholism = always an alcoholic – and – individuals by themselves are powerless over the disease in others

    God could & would if he were sought = the point is in the seeking, stay openminded to positive outcomes

  10. Thomas B. says:

    Thank you Brent . . .

    I loved your descriptive opening riff rife with “devil dogs and serpent birds.” I described my alcohol withdrawals as jaw dogs gnashing away deep within the root canals of my teeth.

    AA meetings are certainly a lot different today than when I was gifted with recovery in 1972 in New York City — there was no ritualistic reading of “How It Works” ending with it’s infamous (a), (b) and (c). Instead, the Preamble was read, a speaker qualified, and we had a hour discussion of how we stayed sober. However, most mainstream meetings I’ve attended in the last couple of decades all over the US, the reading of How It Works has become sacrosanct.

    After having heard it read thousands of time, daydreaming or twiddling my thumbs, it recently occurred to me that the faith-healing it implies is not actual fact. Despite the ardent belief of many mainstream members of AA in (c), “That God could and would if He were sought,” that’s not what (b) infers. Rather, it reads, “That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.” It does not say “definitely” or “absolutely” or “unreservedly” –> Doubt has been an essential element of AA’s faith healing from the very beginning !~!~!

    This pleases me immensely in my 43rd year of attending meetings, wherein I hear stories from people, who share their experience, strength and hope about staying sober because of the power we, other human beings, derive from each other.

    • Christopher G says:

      Well put, Brent and Thomas. Thanks. Also, Bob K., I agree that I still ponder quite a bit in the BB that is beneficial, albeit much translation is needed.

    • Tommy H says:

      Good points, Thomas.

      Thanks for bringing them up.

    • Jack says:

      It is often inferred that long term sobriety can only be achieved by accepting god. It is reassuring to find a fellow “old timer” with more than 40 years who is an agnostic. I too have 44 years and have never bought the god thing. It has always been “one drunk talking to another”!

  11. Andy S says:

    Hi Annie
    Good point !
    How it Works at the beginning of every meeting is an ordeal I have to endure too !

    • Annie says:

      Hi Andy,
      I just returned from a meeting, and the the topic was resentments. When it came to my turn to share, I told the group that my resentment was the AA ‘god-thing’.

      I went on to say that I’m coming to terms with things thanks to finding this AA Agnostica board. I also said I wanted new people to know AA is open to everyone.

      It was the first meeting that I left feeling good in a long time. Coming out is a great thing!


      • MarkInTexas says:

        Annie, I think you’ll find that being openly “honest” in meetings, and among your AA friends about who you really are, and what you think will bring new meaning to “To Thine Own Self Be True.” I’m happy to hear of you “coming out.” Can be a bit scary, eh?

        That simple act helps widen the gates for others.

        Very best regards!

      • Andy S says:

        Hi Annie,
        Yes I’ve started to be honest in meetings about what I think works about AA for me.. I’m learning to literally take what I find useful, offer some of my own thoughts, and leave the rest.. I know of 2 close friends who stopped drinking without AA and just got on with their lives.. one is 6 years sober and the other three.. this site is really helping me deal with AA and is a great place to explore and express myself 🙂

  12. Jack says:

    AA was the only proven recovery program around when I came in. (5/01/70) I was told that I could use the group as my “higher power”. I could never get the god thing. Much of the program helped me deal with “character defects” and taught me how to live a more serene life. I really like Agnosticas approach to the god thing. I do relate that I am an agnostic when a new comer questions the god approach. This has resulted in some resentment on the part of the gurus. It is a debt to my sobriety that I pay anyway. Love this on-line AA meeting!

  13. Annie says:

    Six years ago, I first chose to go into the AA rooms (unfortunately in a bible-belt community). When I told the members I was an agnostic/atheist, I was immediately directed to the chapter, WE AGNOSTICS.

    I am still sober, but to this day, that chapter still irritates me. The message I see is, until I find ‘God’, I won’t find a true sobriety. Yes, we’ll let you have a ‘higher power’ until you are able to grow up and fly right.

    My question is, when is AA going to grow up?


  14. David H. says:

    Thanks Brent. I’ve been sober and going to AA since 1988. Over the years, my thinking has evolved some. I don’t think I’ve ever used the phrase “faith healing” when thinking about AA, though that’s clearly what it is. I like that you pointed it out with that wording. Now I think of it as a sort of a do-it-yourself faith healing. A clearer perspective I hope.

  15. Andy S says:

    What a brilliant site.. it’s a great help to me to be able to read these posts.. I have been around AA for many years, always feeling uncomfortable with How it Works and the whole Higher Power/God thing.. I kept relapsing.. now I have been sober over 6 months and smoke and nicotine free too.. I had a break from AA and have made the decision not to drink on my own power and feel much better for it.. faking it to make it didn’t work for me.. I couldn’t be dishonest with myself.. I have returned to a few meetings recently.. I have got a lot more perspective now although I do feel really uncomfortable when they read How it Works.. a lot of the people who are real programme bashers also seem very unhappy to me.. not joyous and free.. am grateful to be sober today and looking forward to what’s left of my life sober and true to myself.. Andy

  16. Neil F says:

    Interesting article providing some great food for thought.


  17. Bob C says:

    I like the purpose of your piece. Of course you are drawing your own cause and effect relationship between the people that helped you and your staying sober five years. Unlike other illnesses, it is whatever the person seemed to be doing at the time they got sober that gets plugged in as the reason for sobriety. Also, your conflation of the detox from alcohol with overall long term recovery and abstinence is misleading.

  18. DonB says:

    OMG! Brent, where were you 45 years ago, when I really needed you. That poor guy peeing in his roomies drawer really brought back the memories. I was in a small hootch in Vietnam with seven other guys on a casualty team. It wasn’t much fun, but the one thing we did have was lots of booze and high test marijuana, laced with opium.

    After over-indulging one evening, I did just like the guy in the movie, got up, went to another room (not the john), and pissed all over some guys clothes he had laying on the floor. He did get a bit torqued and not so politely asked me to find another place to sleep. I did, but didn’t stop either the drinking or the drugs.

    Fast forward to 1981, I was shoved into AA against my will, and spent the next 21 years in and out – mostly out. Like Brent said, I did not hit bottom, I just reached a point where I couldn’t keep it up; I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror and pride myself for not losing a job or not getting a DUI anymore. As much as I wanted to continue, I just couldn’t. I just gave up, went back to AA and haven’t had a drink or a drug since. That was 12 years ago.

    BTW, I fought the god thing in 1981, and I still do. Only now I don’t hide my beliefs or my non-beliefs. I say what I believe and sometimes get criticized, but that’s OK. Thanks to folks like Roger and AA Agnostica, we started our own little group, and it’s doing fine. We are the “Freethinkers of the Low Country” and if any of you visit Charleston, SC, stop in for a visit – 6:30 pm every Monday.

    Thanks guys, for everything.


    • Roger says:

      Don is referring to the episode, If Stephen Ever Gets That Bad, in the web How Not 2 Guide to Getting Clean and Sober series produced by Brent. You can see it here:

      If Stephen

      You can see the other two episodes, Josie’s Marijuana Maintenance Plan and Eddie Gets Triggered in the March 24, 2013 post right here on AA Agnostica: How Not 2 Guide.

  19. Frank M. says:

    Thank you, Brent. That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism is THE central tenet of classical AA. It’s why we, as non-believers who reject that notion, so outrage the fundamentalists in our fellowship.

    And you put your finger quite rightly on the page 60 syllogism that anchors the whole idea. I now believe that if we even accept proposition (a), the premise that the problem is lack of “power,” we’re already past halfway to God being the only solution. All that’s left is ruling out human aid. Even if that means ignoring the most obvious truths in AA. As James Burwell put it:

    You see the real idea was that all you had to have was a spiritual experience. Get down on your knees, understand your problem, and no more booze. We had no more idea in the world, I give you my word on this, in ’38, that the reason we were staying sober was that we were holding on to each other.

    The truth is that lack of power never was my dilemma. What I had lost was the skill of making a wise choice regarding drinking and drugs. To counter that deficit, I leaned on the very human wisdom of my recovered fellows, reinforced in meetings. As an alcoholic/addict, I couldn’t take the first drink, shot, puff or pill. Though I couldn’t always see that for myself, I could always take your word for it.

    Eventually, my ability to make wise choices regarding drinking and drugging was restored. And through service and study and practice I started on the lifelong journey of becoming a man who didn’t need to drink and drug anymore.

    I don’t know that AA will ever get over this wrong-headed idea that recovery is a species of miraculous faith-healing. But maybe one day that antique notion will sit quietly in the corner where it belongs, while we humans get on with the real work of helping each other back to life.

    • Paul S. says:

      The first thing I read in the Big Book after finally crawling into an AA meeting at the conclusion of 40 years of drinking was the chapter called The Doctor’s Opinion. I learned three important things in that chapter:

      1. Alcoholism is a disease (still up for debate but it worked for me).
      2. The presence of alcohol in one’s body creates physical cravings.
      3. The mind will try and convince me that taking a drink will be fine.

      Takeaway – don’t drink and I’ll get over this.

      I did sometimes enjoy the meetings and the support, and attended by actual count over 1000 AA meetings. I half-heartedly did the steps – especially disliking the “god-steps.” My sponsor was smart enough to know I wasn’t buying the “get god or drink again” mantra that was pervasive in the meetings. I was curious and somewhat sad to see fellow alcoholics who really got the “god thing” continue to relapse.

      For almost nine years I’ve chosen not to drink. I’m ok. However there wasn’t one thing I learned at all those meetings that was remotely as valuable to me than that doctor’s opinion.

      No god got me sober – I did the work. The meeting was my “higher power”. I also realized after five years that I needed to tell a new story about myself – one that didn’t start with ownership of brokenness (“I’m an alcoholic”).

      I don’t drink. I don’t go to meetings. I do carry a sobriety chip in my pocket sometimes. It reminds me that when needed I can face my own problems – no matter how ominous – and usually prevail.

  20. bob k says:

    There is some great writing, especially in the early descriptives. Nice. Occasionally I’ll ask, in AA, if the nutbar religious groups don’t do a better job of our Steps 3 and 11 than our own spiritual giants. The ones that won’t seek medical attention, just leaving it all to the will of the Almighty, some poor 8 year old expiring next to an open bible.

    That matches our professed theory. Well, it does! That’s ACCEPTING God’s will, not battling it with doctors and serums.

    Of course, many of us are aware that there is ONLY human power. Collective human power surpasses the very limited power of my unaided will. I think that there is a lot the book gets right, in spite of the fundamental limited understanding of the powers lying in between self-propulsion and the intervention of supernatural forces.

    • MarkInTexas says:

      After your book project is completed, it would be interesting to see an essay on your take of what the Big Book does “get right.” That would be good cud for the chewing, is my guess.

      Thank you for all you do.

      • Bob C says:

        Hey Mark,

        Just to let you know, I have submitted an essay called “Recovery, Spirituality and Fundamentalism” which describes what in fact the big book actually says. I thought it was good because the people who preach good/ AA/ big book have only selectively interpreted the book. I thought it was a way of “winning back” some ground, even around the book that the god folks so covet.


  21. Rick D. says:

    Hi Brent. Thanks for writing a logical account of your take on AA. I entered the PROGRAM in 1996 and after 3 1/2 years of living in AA, I started to question the program and all of the nonsense in the big book. I was naive back then and did not realize the scorn and rejection I would encounter from supposed good friends when I started to think for myself. One day I just kind of snapped out of the trance when I realized that all of us were sitting around a table after a meeting talking in slogans and AA speak and it startled me. What was more shocking is that I lived in LA at the time and many of these friends were intelligent, successful people able to think outside of the box in all other areas of their life but were so frightened and downright nasty when I commenced picking apart the rhetoric parroted at every meeting (i.e. How it Works).

    I began to really pay attention to many of the “gurus” and how nuts they were. My sponsor, for example, was a major sex addict who spent weekends in the bath house but told me that when I had relapsed a couple of times, it was because I did not have a spiritual awakening. And he told me that he was a Buddhist and that this was his life and God wanted him to have as much sex as possible. He could not see the logic in trading one addiction for another. I started to see so much of this type of insanity among the “guru” members in AA who had numerous sponsors and speaking engagements.

    I eventually left traditional AA for many years and did indeed lose all of those friends. When I returned to AA this past year, I started going to Free Thinker meetings and Agnostic Meetings because I know that I have always kept myself sober and the community of people helps me do that. Not God. Not the bullshit steps and sicko sponsors. When I got sober, I never asked for a large side of religion, whoops, I means spirituality. Haha. When I recently attended a traditional AA meeting to remind myself of the God insanity, at least 6 people mentioned getting on their knees to pray and stated that if they did not, they were sure they would be in jails, an institution or the morgue. I told the truth that I did not believe in a higher power keeping me sober and of course the secretary condescendingly “not cross talking” but yes, cross talking, stated that she knew a lot of people that had trouble with a higher power and used a door knob. Anyone who is not part of AA can see just how insane that comment is but the group nodded in agreement and hoped that I would find my way to God.

    Thankfully, AA alternatives such as this group, are gaining momentum. It’s shocking how many physicians and psychiatrists will still recommend a religious treatment for a spurious disease that they even know is not a disease. It’s one of the sickest things I have ever seen once I opened my eyes.

    Lastly, I told an AA friend from Sacramento (we have been friends for 17 years) that I finally found meetings that I could relate to. His response via text was, “He was sick of co-signing my bullshit and the friendship had run its course.” 17 years. And this friend is an attorney. He has only seen me drink once. And, I am actually attending AA! Just not the right AA evidently.

    I am proud of myself for standing by my beliefs and I have been a pariah for those beliefs. I have drank through the years and am a binging periodic problem drinker. I take full responsibility for that. And, sitting in those sick religious meetings made it easy for me to pick drinking over that life style. The scale always tipped in favor of high functioning alcoholic over religious sell out. Today I want to be a non drinker. I want to relate to intelligent people that have had similar troubles with addictions. As for the religion, god, spirituality, higher power, steps, sponsors, big book, 12 and 12 – Ugh! If anything needs a good cleaning (not my brain), it’s the antiquated religious faith healing program that has spawned millions of lemmings that have given up thinking.

  22. kevin b says:

    Good post.

    I think that part of the reason that Bill W. wrote the 12&12 was exactly because he had learned more about himself and the disease of alcoholism in the 14 years that had passed since the beginning of the Big Book…and, in a way, some of the ways in which his thinking changed are even more clearly obvious in his Grapevine articles in the 1950’s and 60’s (although even in the 12 & 12 it’s still a little too heavy on the god stuff).

    I admire Bill W.’s achievements and his writings. Those who consider those writings to be holy writ and unchangable and pertinent…not so much.

  23. Tommy H says:

    Well put, Dan.

  24. Mimi says:

    “As I listen to the echoing drumrolls of false profundity I count the ceiling tiles and ponder the wonders (and terrors) of the human condition.” WOW I REALLY LIKE THAT SENTENCE!!! Dan TY.

    And TY Brent – couldn’t have said it better myself.

  25. Andy Mc says:

    Thank you Brent,

    Really enjoyed your contribution, some great analogies. Beautifully written.


  26. Tommy H says:

    Well put.

    Bill wanted to revise the book in the early fifties before the Second Edition came out, but you see what happened.

  27. Dan L says:

    Thank You for that Brent. It certainly sums up a lot of my feelings about that particular type of AA thinking.
    Personally (and spiritually) I immediately pushed back hard when “the a,b,c” got to “c”. I have reached no such conclusion whatsoever. Not then and not now. It always struck me as a rather strange and premeditated leap of logic. I was fortunate and went to a very good treatment center (yup, treatment centers “ruined everything”) where I was taught how to use AA.
    I have chosen to interpret the “a, b, c,” to mean that an end game addict has, in most cases, exhausted any chance he or she has of recovering on his own. If he could he would. Recovery without abstinence is not going to happen but PAWS will kill. Therefore external help is required. I don’t see any way that this has to be “god” but for those who like to believe in god it makes some kind of sense I suppose. More importantly skilled human help is required. Lifetime daily professional treatment is not realistic and this is where AA finds its place for me. Frequent meeting attendance helps me stay focused for reasons any psychiatrist would understand. After all psychiatrists liked the meeting model so much they stole it and called it “group therapy”. (I am not sure of the veracity of this but it sounds good to me). The service work genuinely makes me feel good. It is in AA that I learned the most about the psycho-emotional effects of my disease and the coping skills I needed to live long term without relapse. I threw the “god stuff” in file 13 after giving it long and careful consideration and finding it completely empty for me. Others may find a different conclusion but that is not my problem…it is their solution. If people believe god healed them, whatever. They feel better and who am I to pop that balloon?
    That would be unbecoming of a person in grateful recovery. Grateful to the people who helped me reach this point. Every so often one of the god people proclaims most emphtically “This is AA – not group therapy!”
    As I listen to the echoing drumrolls of false profundity I count the ceiling tiles and ponder the wonders (and terrors) of the human condition.

    Thank you;
    dan L.

    • Ian B says:

      “As I listen to the echoing drumrolls of false profundity I count the ceiling tiles and ponder the wonders (and terrors) of the human condition.”

      Thank you. This will help the next time I hear “Jesus Christ is my Higher Power!”

    • Aric says:

      Dan L,
      Thanks for your comment. I too spent a long time examining the “god thing” and found it completely lacking any meaning for me.
      I gave it a pretty honest try the first few years. I had a sponsor who I genuinely liked & related to as a person. After fully divulging my reservations & disagreements to him regarding what we were about to do, I agreed (for the sake of giving an honest effort) to do the “third step prayer” with him. He said he understood my objections, but said it helped him & therefore we should try it as well. After we got up from our knees, having recited the prayer, I told him that it sort of made my skin crawl to kneel down & recite the words to a prayer from a religion I wasn’t a practitoner of in worship of a conception of god that I was pretty sure was make-believe. I told my sponsor that to me, the idea that whatever force was responsible for the creation of the incomprehensibly vast universe we inhabit not only knows that I exist but is also deeply concerned about whether I drink or not seems like horseshit of the highest order. To his credit, my sponsor wasn’t offended by the thoughts I expressed, instead telling me that no matter what my beliefs on god might be, that if I ever get a real urge to drink, to call him before picking up that drink. He was my last AA sponsor, and it’s been around 11 years since I’ve called him that. We still consider each other friends, though.
      At some point a few years after my failed attempt at prayer, it dawned on me what exactly was bugging me about AA. The longer I went to meetings the more difficult it became to just set the spiritual stuff aside & focus on everyday matters. After a while I left most meetings I attended feeling very alienated, wondering whether the point of my originally seeking out AA was to find help getting and staying sober, or did I maybe have it wrong & the whole thing was about obtaining a relationship with either God, some nameless Higher Power, or a Doorknob.
      It seems to me that the genesis of AA, if you will, was two drunks talking to one another, helping each other not take that first drink. When it felt best to me, that’s what AA was, talking to & truly relating to people who have shared common experiences & problems & taking the encouragement that can offer out into the real world. At its worst, AA can amount to nothing more than an hour-long AA infomercial full of thoughtless slogan-repeating and empty, made-up religiosity.
      I’ve been sober almost fifteen years now, and have not attended meetings regularly for probably the last five. I often want to hit a meeting or two here & there, but when I really think about it I usually opt for staying home & doing the laundry or something. I don’t say all this as if my thoughts & experiences are proof that anyone else’s are bullshit, but rather to attest to the fact that blanket statements to the effect of “get god or die drunk” (to paraphrase what I’ve heard countless times at meetings) ARE bullshit. I feel great, can’t remember when my last serious urge to drink, and do not feel any regrets about cutting my attendance at AA meetings to almost zero. To thine own self be true.

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