The Five Keys – 12 Step Recovery Without A God
This article is a question and answer session between Roger C. of AA Agnostica and Archer Voxx, author of The Five Keys – 12 Step Recovery Without A God and Alcoholics Anonymous – Universal Edition. The article focuses on Archer’s book The Five Keys.
A Discussion with Author Archer Voxx
Roger – Archer, can you provide us some background on yourself relative to your addiction and recovery?
Archer – I had a relatively ideal childhood until I was about eight years old. Then, things turned for the worse. My father, a successful business professional, lost his job due to alcoholism. At the same time, my mother succumbed to delusional paranoid schizophrenia and was institutionalized. My parents were smart, talented, and articulate people who were completely transformed into dark and troubled individuals by addiction and mental illness.
I spent the next ten years, until I went away to college, alternating living between my father, a struggling alcoholic, and my mother, a person seriously challenged by schizophrenia. There was no physical or sexual abuse; just a crazy, chaotic, emotionally-challenging lifestyle. I went to twelve schools between the 1st and the 12th grade; including three schools in the 7th grade. We moved twelve times during that period. Multiple divorces, evictions, relocations, police incidents, and other chaos were all a part of my experiences as a youth.
This dysfunctional lifestyle produced, in me, a self-centered, non-trusting individual (Yes! “The ego-maniac with an inferiority complex”). I didn’t know I was becoming this person. I can’t remember ever feeling disadvantaged or sad as a teenager. I just adapted and made it work. Looking back, I realize now that I went out into the world with my “dials all set wrong”. As a teenager and as an adult, I used mind-altering substances; unaware that I was using them as a coping mechanism.
Beginning at age thirteen, until I went away to college, I used hallucinogens, amphetamines, barbiturates, every form of smokable THC, freon, airplane glue, and many other mind-altering substances. I was introduced to alcohol in college and the alcohol, along with marijuana, became my “go-to” substances. These were easy to acquire and accepted in all my social circles.
During college, and then professionally, I worked very hard and was successful at my endeavors, but it was always accompanied by alcohol and drugs; in increasing quantities. Then, as they say, I “crossed the line” and lost all my decision making over my alcohol and drug use. Telling me to stop using was like telling me to stop breathing (there is science behind this statement). Then, I began to suffer very serious consequences from my addiction. I entered addiction treatment and began a recovery program following an intervention. I have been in recovery for 9 ½ years.
Roger – What were the experiences that led you to writing The Five Keys?
Archer – As a part of inpatient treatment and in my initial AA meetings, I was introduced to the 12 Steps, The “Big Book” and the other AA materials. I was very put-off by the Judeo-Christian sounding content of the AA program, but was very fortunate that I received some world-class coaching from my inpatient unit supervisor regarding how to deal with the religious-oriented content of the AA program.
Others are not so fortunate. Many people enter AA and are so “turned-off” by the content of the AA program that they abandon AA entirely. This is especially true for those individuals from the younger, and growing, secular segment of the population. After observing this, I decided to turn my professional research, analysis, and writing talents toward the development of materials for these people. The Five Keys is one of two books that resulted from this work.
Roger – There have been books published to help individuals who object to the “god” content of AA. What was the unique approach you took with The Five Keys?
Archer – My primary objective with the book was to provide information on AA that would help people to better appreciate the rich program of recovery that underlies the 12 Steps and fellowship. Armed with this additional information, a person who objects to the program based on personal beliefs might be capable of looking past the Judeo-Christian content and “work” the program effectively. It was also my hope that the same information could enhance the AA program for anyone with strong religious beliefs.
I had four major goals to support the broader objective:
Provide information that is rarely discussed during the typical introduction to AA. Simply speaking, I wanted to put some more “meat-on-the-bones” for the person entering AA.
Help the reader develop a better understanding of what the program is doing for you. For example, the concept of “spiritual transformation” is critical to understanding what is going on in AA, but there is very little discussion in the program about what a spiritual transformation actually represents, in easy-to-understand, secular terms.
Do not include any dialogue in the book about the pros and cons of “working the program” with one form of higher power or another; and no discussions about religion.
The book needed to be short, easy to read, and designed with the struggling addict in mind. When I first walked in the doors of AA, I did not have any propensity for reading a “novel” about looking past the god-stuff in AA. I should not expect anyone else to do that either.
In the end, I believe that I have achieved these goals based on the enthusiastic feedback I have received from the AA recovery community regarding The Five Keys.
Roger – Can you give us a summary of each of the five keys?
Archer – The term “key” is used to describe the list of items, below, because I view these items as being helpful to opening the door to AA recovery for the people who struggle with the god-content of the program. The five keys are:
- An Objective View of AA
- Major Program Influences
- The Spiritual Transformation
- Universal Spiritual Principals
- Neutral 12 Steps
An Objective View of AA – The first key provides an objective view of where AA fits into the history of addiction recovery in the United States (U.S.). There were 200 years of attempts at addiction treatment in the U.S. prior to AA. Many successful elements of those programs were carried forward into AA. As an example, and prior to AA, mutual support groups were used as part of addiction treatment. Some support groups went as far as having secret handshakes, passwords, and other things to maintain anonymity.
Major Program Influences – The second of the five keys is designed to give the reader more information on the people who had an influence on AA. As an example, Bill Wilson read Varieties of Religious Experiences (VRE) by William James while in treatment. As it turns out, William James is no lightweight. He was a world-renowned psychologist. “Religion” in William James framework is any source of inspiration and “goodness” in a person’s life. Organized “religion” is only one, of a lengthy list, of possible sources of inspiration. I have read VRE and believe that Bill Wilson was greatly influenced by it.
The Spiritual Transformation – Moving on to the third of the five keys, the terms “spiritual transformation”, and its sister term “spiritual awakening”, are tossed around AA liberally and without much consistency. The third ‘‘key” is designed to give the reader a deeper, objective, secular understanding of what, exactly, a spiritual transformation represents.
Universal Spiritual Principles – The fourth key provides the reader with a set of secular universal spiritual principles. These are principles a person can look to as goals for themselves and as reference points for their character development and guidance in their recovery. These universal principles can be the individual’s secular Higher Power if they like, or as I like to call them, their lower-case “higher power”.
Neutral 12 Steps – Last, the fifth key is designed to provide the reader with a belief-system neutral, secular version of the 12 Steps. This includes a brief history of the evolution of the 12 steps.
Following a discussion of the five keys, the reader is provided some tips for working an effective secular AA practice with others who hold to a different set of beliefs.
Roger -Thanks so much, Archer. I very much appreciate your efforts to help make AA the fellowship of inclusiveness that it ought to be, especially now in this, the twenty-first century.
If you want to reach Archer with questions or comments, contact him by clicking here: Archer.
Here are links to both of Archer’s books on Amazon.com: