Do Tell: Stories by Atheists and Agnostics in AA
My name is Marnin and I’m an alcoholic and an agnostic/atheist. Marnin is Hebrew for he who brings joy, a singer of songs. In my youth I was embarrassed to have such an unusual name.
I have been sober for 44 years, since my first AA meeting on October 27, 1970, in Brooklyn.
AA saved my life, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities it has provided me. Because of the AA program and therapy, I try to live as full and as emotionally satisfying a life as possible.
What It Was Like
I was born in 1935, the only child of parents with poor nurturing skills. I was nervous as a child and my parents sent me to a Jewish private school. I felt like a square peg forced into a round hole then, and for the rest of my life, before AA.
My father rarely ever spoke with me. When my mother divorced him, my father blamed me for the breakup. I felt abandoned by my parents. To this day I often feel like an orphan and find it hard to remember that I had parents.
I muddled through high school and college socially inept and feeling lost.
The first time I felt “normal,” like one of the boys, was in the Army. I liked that the army, my “Uncle Sam,” was taking care of me. For the first time someone cooked for me on a regular basis.
I found the perfect place to work when you have little self confidence and self esteem – the garment industry in downtown New York.
At the age of 28, I got my own apartment and sort of accidentally threw explosive floor shavings into the incinerator. As a result of the explosion, I was rushed to King County Hospital.
It was at this time that my doctor, who was familiar with my family history, got me into therapy. I was a very angry young man. The only emotions I was in touch with with were anger and fear. I went into therapy a college graduate, a virgin, non smoker, non drinker, and fearful that I might be gay.
And it was in therapy that I began to drink. I discovered how angry I was with both my parents, particularly my mother. In order to quell the anger I would go from the doctor’s office to a bar (Yaeger House) and meditate about what I was learning in therapy over a stiff martini.
I now had my magic solution to life’s problems – therapy and alcohol. Within a year I was in a relationship and, with enough alcohol in me, lost my fear of intimacy. No longer a virgin at age 28 I had to make up for lost time. In my mind I set out to be a Jewish James Bond of the garment industry.
After being in therapy for seven years, a serious relationship with a girl I wanted to marry ended suddenly. I was crushed and crashed. I experienced the feelings of abandonment from this relationship that were part of my life as a result of my parents.
I became a full blooded alcoholic, drinking 24 hours a day. I drank the way they describe in country music songs. I showed up for business trips without my air line tickets and all the other things that you hear in AA. Blackouts were frequent. I shudder at the thought of going through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel often in blackouts and getting up at 2 a.m. to look for my car and be sure that their was no blood or damage from an accident I did not remember.
In 1969 I met a Jewish young lady and married her in ten days. My orthodox Jewish family had considered me dead because I had been living with a Christian girl. So I was married to a Jewish woman by a Rabbi and I was now kosher in their terms. The marriage was a disaster. I was in a blackout at our wedding because I knew I had made a terrible error.
I had my first detox soon after at Freeport Hospital in Long Island. They used the 12-Step program of AA at Freeport. I heard the Steps for the first time and decided they were Christian in nature and not for me. Needless to say I continued drinking. My therapist says that if you can’t kill yourself, you marry someone who will do it for you. My wife literally tried to murder me and I went off to Mexico for a quickie divorce.
My end came in October 1970 as a result of a suicide attempt that involved drinking, marijuana and thorozine. The thorozine had been prescribed because I had developed alcoholic neuropathy. I was having trouble walking without alcohol in my blood stream.
I had a terrible drunk/trip which ended with a vivid hallucination and “spiritual experience.” I hallucinated Jesus on the cross bleeding all over me. Turns out it was my own blood. I heard Jewish music coming out of the walls. I lay there and realized that I was crucifying myself and that I did not want to die!
I called AA in New York. I told them AA wouldn’t work for me because “I’m Jewish and a college graduate.” The volunteer at Intergroup responded with “Maybe we can help you anyway.”
I joined AA on October 27, 1970. AA was only lifeboat around so I climbed aboard.
My first home group was the Brooklyn Heights group. Coming into the rooms of AA, I perceived it to be a religious program and that is still how I view it. I looked for answers in the 12 Step program and, not believing that God intervenes in human affairs, I put the whole God thing aside and followed my own secular version of the Steps.
AA was my “religion.” When I was two or three month’s sober an Episcopalian Minister in Brooklyn Heights defined religion as the three B’s and it saved my life: Believing that AA will help me stay sober; Behaving as a responsible person, going to any length to stay sober and Belonging to a fellowship that rooted for me to stay sober.
In the 1970s, it was thought that Jews couldn’t be alcoholics. The same Minister pulled out a Jewish copy of a Biblical proverb and I knew then I could be Jewish and have a disease from the Old Testament:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger long over wine.
Those who go to taste mixed wine.
Do not look on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly;
At the last it bites like a serpent
And stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things
And your mind will utter perverse things.
And you will be like one who lies down
In the midst of the sea, on top of a mast.
They struck me, you will say, and I was not hurt.
They beat me, you will say, but I did not feel it.
When will I awake?
So I can seek yet another drink.
AA was my home base for sobriety. Most of my life I’ve fought the feeling that I was not good enough. This feeling sometimes overwhelmed me and it is what precipitated my final drunk. I found in AA what I had been looking for in the bottle: I was welcomed by total strangers and experienced from them the warm feelings and concern that most children receive from loving parents. Nurturing: this was what I had been looking for in the bottle. I found it in AA.
The “B” of Belonging means to me being active in AA, sharing, attending and chairing meetings. Sometimes even going to a meeting when I don’t want to.
Because of how I work the program I have not always been the most popular person in AA, and some have told me that I am not doing it the “AA way.”
It’s not surprising to me then that when members first choose to come out of the closet about their real beliefs about GOD they whisper it to me like they are guilty of a great sin. I share this message today partly in the hope that other nonbelievers will find strength in knowing that they are not alone and can still, as I did, find sobriety in AA.
I went to any length to stay sober and immersed myself in AA. I was assured my life without alcohol would change dramatically and it did!
What It’s Like Today
It was only after joining AA that I started using my real name, Marnin. Having escaped death I felt free to use my real name. I was no longer embarrassed by a unique name. Sober in AA I felt I had earned the right to be me. For my first anniversary instead of a medallion I had an ID bracelet made with my name engraved on it in Hebrew.
Since sex without alcohol was new to me I acted like a tomcat. I had another spiritual awakening this first year and discovered I could no longer act like this and live with myself.
I met my wife Fran at Grossingers Resort singles week in the Catskill Mountains in my first year of sobriety. The previous year we had both been there but I was on a seven day drunk and met no one. We have a daughter Lisa who is still finding her self. Unfortunately she eats like I drank. Since I identify with her addiction I want to “fix” her. I am learning that we are powerless over her illness and all we can do is be there for her and be loving, nurturing and supportive parents.
My years of sobriety are the happiest I have ever had. AA’s 12 steps, as I have understood and worked them, have provided me with a tool box for living that allows me to try to be the best Marnin I am capable of being, one day at a time. When we left New York and moved to Florida in 2003, I had been very active in the Promises Group in Nyack, NY. I booked institution talks for my group and was very active getting members to speak. I still sponsor and correspond with my AA friends back in New York. I’ve also created an AA speakers CD library for the group and for Open Arms, the local half way house.
I am presently an active member of the Sunday morning Tequesta, Florida Beachcombers Group Meeting. I am known at the CD man, always pitching portable sobriety in the form of AA and Al-Anon speaker CDs. Some call this my “ministry.” I call it part of my twelfth Step.
During my years of sobriety I’ve tried to be open and honest and to practice the 12 Steps in all my affairs. Many have told me that I talk about things that should not be talked about. I say “malarkey.” If it is part of my story, I talk about it!
I have answered phones at Stuart Intergroup Office for almost ten years, since I first arrived in Florida. They know here that I am an agnostic and don’t care. I guess they must think I am doing something right.
From my first day of sobriety, Alcoholics Anonymous has been my loving, accepting family.
Thank you. My name is Marnin.
Editor’s Note: Thirty-five years ago an aspiring writer in group therapy with Marnin wrote this wonderful poem about him:
Like a sailor ashore after a long and stormy voyage,
Marnin walks with exaggerated care,
expecting the earth to roll and toss him off balance.
He scans the sky looking for thunderclouds to brighten his day,
and shivers in the sun.
Prepared for tempests, he stows his joy and battens down his life,
so he won’t be washed away.
But the sea change has rooted, the gales passed.
It is the calms Marnin must weather, to avoid drifting
into whirlpools of anticipation.
Fear-fogged, snug in his own cool shadow,
only the heat of his passions can melt the mists in which he hides.
This is a chapter from the book: Do Tell! Stories by Atheists and Agnostics in AA.
The paperback version of Do Tell! is available at Recovery 101 and at Amazon. It is also available via Amazon in Canada and the United Kingdom. If you live in the UK or Europe, please purchase the book your local Amazon. The result is much better shipping rates and a quicker delivery.