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15 March, 2011

Sobriety, 1 (Or perhaps, Came to Unbelieve Pt 3)

"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation." (Incorrectly attributed to Herbert Spencer in Alcoholics Anonymous, aka: The Big Book of AA).

I've already explained some of the events or realizations in my life that attributed to the back-and-forth between belief and non-belief, culminating in my realization that I was, in fact, an atheist. They can be revisited here and here. This time, I want to talk specifically about Alcoholics Anonymous and my six years as an active member and my last two as a sober atheist.

First, it's all true what people say about AA. They do tell you that you are powerless without a supernatural being. They do recommend reliance on the group and building a social network of like-minded sober people (the latter of which is excellent and I have no qualms with). Yes, they do tell new members that they have character flaws that cause them to drink and that doing the steps will allow them to stop altogether. They have books that they recommend reading, repeated slogans and catchphrases. They are often found in church buildings.

Whether anyone has a problem with what they do is up to them. To me, being in it, working the steps, having that support group-all of it, was the best thing that ever happened to me. Yes, I could have had the same thing without belief in a Higher Power. I realized later that believing helped salve the pain of my addiction while I worked through those character flaws I mentioned. I have no shame or guilt in regards to my time with AA, no regrets. In doing the steps I learned how to be a better person. I learned how to talk about my feelings, to be friends with people, to show up and be responsible. I learned to volunteer for a cause greater than my own selfish ends. I learned how to not run to alcohol or drugs when I was having problems. I make no excuses for my time there; I was addicted to alcohol and drugs and I have still been clean and sober since February 3, 2003.

That being said, I am still aware that I didn't need a Higher Power. There are secular recovery groups, but none are as widespread or well-known as AA. I wouldn't suggest an atheist who was having trouble with drugs or alcohol go to AA. In fact, I would point them to a group like LifeRing, which operates with the support group/commitment to abstinence principles of AA without steps or God, and suggest finding professional support for emotional issues.

My first experience with "God" in AA was a list of characteristics on a piece of paper that I would attribute to a Higher Power. It was God by design, basically, and I could discard the angry, jealous figure that had hung over my head during my upbringing as a Christian. I've found that many, many AA members have this same view of their own Higher Power and that even recovering Christians tend to discard the dogmatic, concretized God of their own Bible; they are the most open-minded theists I know.

There were many coincidences that led me to believe that God was "working in my life." I was hired by Starbuck's in August of 2003 and the next year I got a 200 dollar bonus for all baristas hired from that August on as a thank you for the great year Starbuck's had. It was enough to cover the rent that my live-in boyfriend had squandered going out to eat and movies with his AA sponsor. There was a time I was driving on the freeway and noticed two cars on the side of the road and glass and taillight plastic all over the road. The accident had been about five minutes ahead of me and I thought, "God kept my at my house looking for my keys longer so I wouldn't be in that accident." (Today, I realize that with a three-lane freeway in a pretty rural area at a time of the evening when there weren't very many cars on the road, the accident would have been pretty easy to avoid and, if by chance, I had been involved, I wouldn't have blamed God for making me on time for it). All it was was coincidences, though. I never got a "burning bush," (some members did have such strong religious experiences, but I can't base my own faith on someone else's word).

There were, however, problems. I was told that "In AA, families stay together because alcohol had been so good at ripping them apart," which contributed to my staying in a two-and-a-half year long abusive relationship with said live-in boyfriend who spent our rent on hanging out with the guys. I should have known better, as one of the people telling me this bad advice had been indicted for felony embezzlement the previous year. After I finally escaped from the relationship, my ex's sister, who worked for a rehab as a counselor, threatened my life while I was at work because her brother had threatened suicide if I left him.

Update: After posting this, I decided to make it into a two-part entry because of it's length. This is continued on the next blog here.

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