Working the Twelve Steps of NA… Without the “God Part”
By Don M
I have been an avid reader of AA Agnostica for several years now and even attended the Toronto ICSAA conference in 2018. Yet I have also been a committed member of Narcotics Anonymous for over 30 years, working the steps and recovering not because of, but in spite of the “God part.” I had been unable to contact or even identify any “secular” NA groups (I’m sure they must exist) in order to learn from their experience.
Several years ago, a dozen or so English-speaking Montréal NA members met to explore forming a “secular” group. However, we were unable to reach a consensus on an approach or format and this ad hoc group disintegrated. A couple of us soldiered on, concentrating on developing a pamphlet based on our experience of successfully working the steps “without the God part.”
When this was finally completed, we found a meeting space in a community centre in the Pointe-St-Charles neighbourhood, choosing the group name Get to the Point. Flyers were distributed to other groups in the area and our first meeting opened in October of last year. Then the shit hit the fan.
At the following Area Service Committee meeting, I presented a 3-page report which stated in part: “While we expected a few eyebrows to be raised when forming an ‘agnostic/atheist friendly’ group, it was somewhat disappointing to be denounced on Facebook by a member who attended the first third of our opening meeting and then left, slamming the door.” (In fact, this Facebook post had provoked a frenzy of rumours and outrage by dozens of members.) “Is this the NA way to resolve differences of opinion? … Diversity allows our groups to complement one another; it need not be a source of conflict.”
Attached to this report were excerpts from nine NA publications describing what group autonomy and other relevant Traditions really mean. It concluded with an offer to calmly discuss any concerns other groups might have: “However, our starting point should be actual NA principles and facts, mutual respect for group autonomy, and not superficial interpretations of our Traditions, rumours, gossip, speculation and fear.” At the end of the report there was a stunned silence…and then most of the participants burst into applause! Since then, we have heard nothing more about banning us from the meeting list and the hysteria has evaporated.
So what does Get to the Point actually do differently? And why? Firstly, there are no prayers. We open the meeting with the “We serenity statement”: “We seek the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.” We value the wisdom in this prayer, but simply acknowledge that this is something we strive for, rather than requesting that a deity grant it.
Secondly, in the How it works reading, we do not read the actual text of the Twelve Steps. We say simply, “The principles that made our recovery possible are the Twelve Steps of Narcotics Anonymous.”
Thirdly, in the Tradition Two reading, we say “For our group purpose, there is but one ultimate authority – a loving group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”
We have one other new feature: a 12-page pamphlet produced by the group called Working the Twelve Steps of NA…without the “God part”. It repeats each of the “official” Twelve Steps and suggests ways that agnostic and atheist members can understand, interpret and work the steps openly and honestly by identifying the key spiritual principles embodied in the steps that are useful in doing so. The booklet concludes with the Atheists Recover Too story from the NA Basic Text.
So that”s it in a nutshell. Get to the Point is not a special interest group for “non-believers”; it is simply “agnostic/atheist friendly”. The guiding spirit of the group is not “anti-God”. We make it clear that all addicts are welcome, regardless of their personal beliefs, and should feel free to share honestly and openly. We just don”t want “God” in our face as part of our regular meeting format and we don”t want to tell newcomers that their recovery necessarily depends on “God.” Rather, we concentrate on one addict helping another and learning to live clean by applying the “spiritual, not religious” principles of NA.
Ironically, several of our regular members are “believers” who were attracted to the group because of its warm and respectful atmosphere. We have also drawn the attention of several French-speaking NA members in the city who are interested in developing a similar project.
I appreciate this opportunity to share our experience on AA Agnostica. When Roger first invited me to submit an article, I was hesitant about the “other fellowship” barrier. Roger replied, “Addiction is addiction is addiction.”
Have a good twenty-four!
Don M. is a retired labour union organizer who was active in the Alcoholism and other addictions committee of the Québec Federation of Labour in his early recovery. He remains active in NA Hospitals and Institutions service in the Montréal area.
For a PDF of his article, click here: Working the 12 Steps of NA.