Staying Sober Without God
Review by Heather C.
Staying Sober Without God is an exciting addition to the growing body of literature which approaches sobriety from a non-religious point of view. Author, therapist and former addict Jeffrey Munn states the book’s main purpose in its subtitle: The Practical 12 Steps to Long-Term Recovery from Alcoholism & Addictions. In the space of 160 pages, Munn offers a thorough, practical program, clearly and concisely presented, with touches of personal experience and humour.
The book begins by listing The 12 Practical Steps.
- Admitted we were caught in a self-destructive cycle and currently lacked the tools to stop it
- Trusted that a healthy lifestyle was attainable through social support and consistent self-improvement
- Committed to a lifestyle of recovery, focusing only on what we could control
- Made a comprehensive list of our resentments, fears, and harmful actions
- Shared our lists with a trustworthy person
- Made a list of our unhealthy character traits
- Began cultivating healthy character traits through consistent positive behavior
- Determined the best way to make amends to those we had harmed
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would cause harm
- Practiced daily self-reflection and continued making amends whenever necessary
- We started meditating
- Sought to retain our newfound recovery lifestyle by teaching it to those willing to learn and by surrounding ourselves with healthy people
The heart of the book elaborates on these steps, beginning at Chapter Four. The first three brief chapters lay out the groundwork.
Chapter One tells of the author’s experiences in 12 step programs and how “the persistent message that recovery was impossible without a supernatural, intervening God wore [him] down” to the point that he would stop going to meetings. While acknowledging that a faith-based approach to recovery works for many, he has written this book “for those who see the benefits of the 12 step meetings and programs, but don’t know how to reconcile their need for support with their lack of belief in God”.
Chapter Two – What is Addiction? begins with a clear definition of addiction as, “the experience of not being able to stop using a substance or engaging in a behavior despite a genuine desire to stop,” and concludes with a discussion of the question, “Will I Always Be an Addict?”.
Chapter Three – Recovering Without God looks at three questions: 1) What is Recovery? 2) Will I Fully Recover or Will I Always Be Recovering? and 3) Why the 12 Steps? The final paragraph introduces us to the program:
Staying Sober Without God is an approach to the 12 steps that empowers the individual, reframes spiritual changes as real-world psychological events, and adds a few concrete actions that can aid in the lifestyle and personality changes needed to bring about lasting recovery. They are devoid of anything outside the realm of the natural world. Rather than requiring the help of the supposed creator of the universe, we are building confidence in our own ability to rewire our brains, establish new behavior patterns, and make the choice to live a better life. (p. 24)
Chapter Four – The 12 Practical Steps is the heart of the book, where the program details are laid out. It starts with a brief look as some preliminary matters: When Am I Done with a Step?, Important Considerations Before Beginning the Steps, Mental Health, Stopping Your Addictive Behavior, and Attending Meetings.
Each step is introduced showing the AA version followed by the Practical version. For example, here’s Step One:
An explanation of the step follows, focusing on the Practical version, as well as giving the motivation for the changes from the AA version. These changes go beyond the mere removal of references to God, as explained on page 25:
My goal is to provide a comprehensive guide to working these steps that offers the same kind of growth and discovery that the traditional 12 steps offer to theistic members of the recovery world. It’s also important to note that not all steps mention God. Even so, I have still adapted them in order to create a fully revamped and thorough program. Some of the changes that I’ve made to the wording of the steps change core concepts, while other changes I’ve made are just for the sake of clarity and simplicity.
The second part of the presentation of each step deals with how to do the work. Here we find clear, logical, detailed and concrete ways of doing the step. In steps that require making a list, templates and examples are given to motivate and guide the reader through the step. Here is an excerpt from the section Working Step Four, an example of a couple of rows from a resentment list:
Step Seven is worthy of some exploration. This is the step where the Practical version seems most distinct from the AA version. Here are the two versions side-by-side:
The Practical version of this step is refreshingly positive. There is a focus on healthy traits rather than unhealthy ones. It is pointed out that, “unhealthy character traits will naturally diminish when you start practicing behaviors that nourish your goal traits.” For example, when we practice generosity, we are less selfish. After consistently practicing a positive behaviour it begins to become our norm, our go-to behaviour.
In the Working Step Seven section, we are given detailed descriptions of some of these goal traits and ideas on how to develop them. The traits presented are Honesty, Humility, Skepticism, Generosity, Assertiveness, Responsibility, Compassion and Self-Care. Each of these is clearly defined, its value is shown, examples are presented and ideas on how to cultivate it are given.
The presentation of the steps concludes on page 131 of the book. The remaining thirty pages or so deal with other relevant topics not covered in the steps. Most of us will nod our heads in recognition of their importance.
Chapter Five deals with Relapse and includes sections on How Relapse Happens; Relapse Prevention Tools; Accountability to Others; The Personal Craziness Index (PCI); and Cutting Out Toxic People, Places and Things.
The title of Chapter Six is, “What the Steps Miss”. The topics discussed are: Physical Health (including Exercise, Routine, Light, Relaxation, Keeping the bedroom sacred, Trying less, Avoid stimulants, and White noise), Communication and Fun, Hobbies and Communities.
The book concludes with an epilogue which recognizes the value of AA to the recovery of millions. Stating that, “Atheists and agnostics deserve just as much of a chance at recovery as believers do,” Jeffrey Munn provides this group with that chance. It is a chance for those of us who have been struggling to find a way to do the steps without compromising our beliefs to finally get busy on the work. It is a great resource for sponsors in both traditional and secular AA groups. It is a tool to help us live up to the Responsibility Pledge, part of extending the hand of AA to “anyone, anywhere.” And for that, we are responsible.
Heather C. is a member of a secular group in Ontario. At the age of 70, after multiple attempts to moderate her alcohol consumption, the Step 1 light bulb finally came on in May of 2018, even though she hadn’t ever been to an AA meeting. After a few weeks of driving a great distance to attend meetings with a Refuge Recovery group, the leader recommended the We Agnostics AA group she now attends. She is infinitely grateful for the support and friendship she finds there. She feels that ongoing sobriety would have been difficult, if not impossible, without the genuine caring, sound wisdom and positive example of the members of her group. Her aspiration now is to continue learning and to make others aware of the option of recovery in a secular group.
Staying Sober Without God – The Workbook
A psychology-based guide through the practical 12 steps of recovery for anyone struggling with alcohol, drugs or behavioral addictions
Review by Diane I.
If you have read the book Staying Sober without God, the Practical 12 Steps to Long-Term Recovery from Alcoholism & Addictions by Jeffrey Munn, you will know what an outstanding book it is on recovery and addiction! Jeffrey has now written a workbook that is for anyone struggling with any kind of addiction. It is written in the same clear, step-by-step manner and is just as excellent!
Part One: Introduction. Here he clearly states “Anyone can use this book, regardless of their beliefs or lack thereof.” People who have a belief in God can still use this book. “The reason this workbook is so “loud” about being free of faith-based approaches is because the traditional 12-step program’s insistence upon believing in God is something that has discouraged and driven away countless people looking for a common-sense way to achieve long-term sobriety”. He states that this workbook is for anyone with any kind of addiction or compulsive behavior. He explains how to use the workbook, defines addiction and recovery and explains what affirmations are and why they are important.
Part Two: Getting Started. He asks the reader to look at their reason for wanting to get sober and to use the The Zone Plan to define their sobriety.
The Red Zone “Represents the out-of-control behaviors that cause us and others physical, mental and emotional suffering. These are the behaviors you want to discontinue because of the consequences they are bringing about in your life.”
The Yellow Zone “is for behaviors that you would rather not engage in because they impair your recovery and tend to make you more prone to venture into the Red Zone.” Here also he talks about avoiding triggers.
The Green Zone “is home to the behaviors that lift you up, enhance your life and strengthen your recovery.”
He gives detailed explanations of each zone with lots of examples and asks the reader to make their own lists in each zone in the exercise called Your Zone Plan. He also goes on to explain in detail why social support, having a recovery vision, having a sponsor or mentor and having boundaries are so very important.
Part Three: The Practical 12 Steps. In this chapter he explains in great detail the working of the steps. The reader has a lot of work to do here as well. He defines the steps in terms of Pillars describing the pillar or pillars of each step. For example, in Step 1 there are two pillars. First we are admitting that we’re stuck in a self-destructive cycle and second, we are admitting that, while there is a way out, we don’t currently have access to it. After each step he gives examples of affirmations and the reader is asked to write their own. In part 3 there are lots of questions to answer and lots of room to write your answers although you may need more paper in some cases.
Part Four: Beyond the Steps. “In this chapter, we’ll look at some of the areas of recovery that are important but are not adequately addressed by the steps alone.” “These areas include exercise, sleep, nutrition, emotional regulation, communication, fun and addressing mental health conditions.” Here again he explains the importance of each area, gives examples and asks you to examine each of these areas in terms of where you need improvement and how to set realistic and attainable goals. He is very gentle about this and also states that he is not a doctor and that you should consult a physician, for example, regarding physical exercise, diet and mental health issues.
Part Five: Putting It All Together. In this chapter he asks you to make a Recovery Maintenance Routine. He states that “Having a structured routine not only simplifies your recovery maintenance, but helps you stay more consistent”. Here are the activities that the workbook has encouraged you to do on a regular basis: Self-reflection (step 10), Meditation (step 11), Teaching/mentoring others (step 12), getting proper sleep, physical fitness, fun and recreation. You are asked to write a doable schedule for each and also write your own maintenance affirmations.
Part Six: Relapse Prevention. Here he describes relapse, gives relapse warning signs and asks you to examine your own relapse warning signs and to make your own relapse prevention plan stating that the three main areas of a relapse prevention plan are safety, support and self-care. He also gives a very good example of a relapse prevention plan. Another important thing to consider in preventing relapse is learning from the past if you have had a relapse before. Again there are questions to be answered regarding your previous relapse.
There is no doubt that this comprehensive workbook is a lot of work! But if you are committed to recovery from an addiction, it is always a lot of work. But the rewards of recovery are immeasurable!! I strongly recommend it for anyone with any kind of addiction or compulsive behavior. I feel that this workbook is mainly to help people who are early in their recovery, but even I found this workbook to be very helpful. I particularly found the section on communication very interesting and helpful. We are hopefully always learning and growing. I wish it had been available when I first went into recovery but Jeffrey Munn wasn’t even born then!
Diane I. attended her first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Sudbury on February 16, 1977 at the age of 26. She was desperate to get and stay sober, which she has done since that first meeting. She was very active in traditional AA for many years, but with the change in her beliefs about God and her discontent with all of the dogma she heard around the tables, she found traditional AA meetings more and more unbearable. Years ago she discovered We Agnostics, a secular AA meeting in Hamilton, Ontario. Diane found secular AA to be a breath of fresh air and much more in line with her beliefs. She can finally voice her opinions without fear of being judged. She is of course grateful for traditional AA, but has found her new home in We Agnostics.