Share is the official magazine of Alcoholics Anonymous in England and Wales, and is published monthly. Its thirty six pages are a source of sober views and ideas on the world-wide fellowship and its programme of recovery from alcoholism. Each edition focuses on a Step and Tradition as well as a special theme and is divided into articles reflecting experience, strength and hope. All content is written and edited by members of AA.
Here are two articles – friendly to the non-theist in Alcoholics Anonymous – from Share Magazine.
Nine Thousand Four Hundred And Eight Hours
Recovery from alcoholism has been definitely one of the best decisions I could have made. I believe it was my decision to get sober, not anyone else’s. It had been suggested by friends and well-meaning others that I perhaps should cut down or stop drinking altogether. I’m not saying I didn’t listen to the advice on offer but ultimately it was only when I wanted sobriety in my life that I got it.
I guess I was putting it off during my 30s as I felt I needed alcohol to have fun or to dampen out uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. For a while alcohol did just that and often I had lots of fun drinking. However, over time the fun stopped and the anaesthetic properties slowly began to dissipate. I was left with the rawness of those uncomfortable thoughts as well as a sore stomach. Alcoholism began making me very unwell, affecting me both physically and mentally. I also stopped socialising at drinking events as I became a liability to myself and those around me.
Deep down I knew I couldn’t do controlled drinking but defiantly I gave it a go; the last year of my controlled drinking was agonising. I just couldn’t stop, well at least I thought so. I had heard of Alcoholics Anonymous a few years before getting sober and had attended a few meetings. I instantly felt it wasn’t for me as there was much talk of Higher Powers and God. Not being a believer in God I was unable to take those meetings seriously and quickly decided AA was not where I needed to be. Sadly, this meant I headed for the familiar local off-licence, I knew them well and they always welcomed me; no talk of Higher Powers there.
August 2013 I woke up after a blackout drinking episode, scared and in pain, knowing I needed help. I self-referred to a local alcohol and drug service where I received invaluable support and help. After a year or so I managed to stop drinking! I think I got to the point of approaching 40 and I felt I had to stop drinking or else i would end up dying from alcohol-related illness, or succumb to a horrific accident. Either way I was very scared and didn’t want my life to end so prematurely, not if I could do something about it.
As with many free alcohol and drug services the help available is time limited. I needed to find support elsewhere. This is when I realised I could get support from AA so off I went in search of meetings where I felt comfortable. At first the meetings were very similar to those I had dismissed years before. Though, this time I did keep going back, as was suggested by those who had already managed to get sober. After a few meetings I realised I honestly couldn’t relate to all the talk of God or believe in a Higher Power, not as a supernatural entity.
I managed to seek out a local atheist and agnostic meeting and still attend these weekly meetings. I really feel that the understanding I receive at these AAAA meetings is helping me to remain sober. I can relate to other people who attend who also don’t have faith in a God and I am certainly encouraged by the fact that such members of AA have several years’ sobriety. At the time I write this I am fortunate to have 9,408 hours’ sobriety, with the support and fellowship I have found within AA. This time around I am sure I will keep coming back!
An Agnostic-Atheist View
By Nick C.
On the back of every chip that we receive for another year’s sobriety is that statement “to thine own self be true”. This is the guiding principle of my recovery.
My drinking past I guess is much the same as yours as otherwise we wouldn’t be in the same Fellowship so I think it’s best to spare you the details. I would prefer to talk about how I approach my recovery as I hope, in part, it will serve as a message of hope for others who are in the same position or feel the way I do.
When I came into recovery I was blessed with knowing other people for whom AA had worked. When I sat down in my first meeting I paid little attention to what was written on the scrolls as I knew the Steps were something that I had to do if I wanted what long term sober members had.
I threw myself in with great gusto, doing everything that was suggested without question. To be honest I was too broken to argue and too tired of my drinking thinking to get involved in mental debates about the nature of what I was doing. Some things frightened me from the outset but I pushed them out of my mind: “You won’t get sober or stay sober without a Higher Power in your life.” All too often it was clear to me that these words Higher Power were being used as a way of meaning a Judeo Christian concept in particular. Some meetings even featured the Lord’s Prayer, which further compounded this feeling.
Keep your head down, I thought, you need this to work. Don’t rock the boat. I tried to follow the suggestions and got on my knees and pray but didn’t feel the solace the others found from it. Quite the reverse, it just felt dishonest. Like I was doing something that I was meant to do because “that’s what you do”, not something that felt right for me. I became increasingly convinced that if there was a God or Gods my communication with them actually mattered very little. What did my prayers matter against the universe? I knew I wasn’t running the show but I felt trapped. This situation went on for four years.
Halfway through year four-five the feeling of lying and being trapped intensified to such an extent I realised my sobriety depended on my rigorous honesty. Just like when I came into recovery it had felt like the options before me were to get sober or die. I had to admit to myself and others that I felt that for me what others called “acting as if” had become lying.
I was sober, I attended meetings, I had a sponsor, and I had worked the Steps to the best of my ability. My life had changed for the better but a Higher Power of any sort was not a feature of my recovery neither was prayer. I knew I still had a place in recovery as it was working for me. But “to mine own self” I also knew I had to be true.
I came to a way of thinking that if I existed there must be others like me who felt the same. Moreover I felt a sense of duty to others in the same position as me to be rigorously honest about my position – maybe this would help others not feel as lonely as I had done or even prevent them from leaving. It was about this time that I found the agnostic and atheist rooms of AA. How had it taken me that long to realise there was a whole group of people who felt like me?
I was hesitant at first however. Were they secretly trying to bring down AA from the inside? Did they secretly hate us? I was and still am very grateful to AA and I didn’t want to be part of anything that compromised the Fellowship. Some of my friends warned me against going to agnostic-atheist meetings for this reason but I decided that I owed it to myself to find out for myself.
What I found there were people like me, long sober but who remained unsure about God’s existence or simply did not believe in any God concept. One thing that stood out for me about these meetings was just how helpful they were for newcomers who often, but not exclusively, had tried AA in the past and who had been put off by the God concept. Bluntly put, people who would otherwise be “out there” were attending meetings and finding sobriety.
These days I attend a variety of meetings both atheist and agnostic and more mainstream. I have no issue with anyone believing anything they like. It still puzzles and amuses me though that the same isn’t always the case for other members who find my atheism challenging. All I have is my truth. It is crazy pretending to be something I am not.
Coming up to eight years sober, I am living proof that long-term sobriety is possible for the agnostic-atheist member. I have seen no proof that the members of agnostic-atheist meetings are more likely to relapse or go back out there than those attending regular meetings. For me the key to my sobriety is an admission of my ongoing powerlessness against alcohol and the sense of humility in Steps Two and Three that I am not in charge (even if I don’t believe anything else is).
Our British friends have much less difficulty with religion in AA than we alcoholics do in North America. They often seem a bit perplexed by the problems we agnostics and atheists encounter in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous in Canada and the United States.
There is a reason for that. The British are in fact less prone to religiosity and this includes at AA meetings. A recent worldwide poll demonstrated this. Here is a link to a story published by The Telegraph: Britain one the “world’s least religious countries”, says poll.
Thanks to Laurie A. for all of the above.