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29 March, 2013

More about "Recovery."

There's been a lot of chatter on some of my favorite blogs lately about Alcoholics Anonymous and how the organization is dealing with a growing number of groups that don't believe in God (mostly de-listing them from their registries, unfortunately). The problem is that AA groups are heavily laden with religious speech and ritual. Most meetings are closed with the Lord's Prayer. There's a chapter in their "Big Book" titled, "We Agnostics," but it simply describes people who don't believe in God getting drunk until they do and has some very flimsy apologetics-like arguments for the existence and reliance on a "Higher Power," including a description about how electricity turns the lights on despite the average man not understanding how it works. (Told you it was flimsy).

As an ex-AA, I can say that you can stay sober if you don't believe in God. I haven't gone to meetings since I was  six years sober and I celebrated ten in February with a 5k run and the Super Bowl (even though my team lost). I've talked to a friend who counsels addicted people with coocurring disorders and she had some interesting things to say about the twelve-step recovery model. Basically, it doesn't work. An addict or alcoholic is forced to throw away any work they did toward their recovery if they relapse even though it's starting to look like relapse is a natural part of the recovery process. I've talked to others who have found the reliance on God to be a crutch, the repeated phrases to be cult-like and the lack of clear leadership to cause some serious harm in people when groups start telling newcomers to throw away their psych meds and just rely on the Big Book. Families of addicts have long complained that the addicted person has replaced drugs and alcohol with meetings, going to three or four a day at times.

I've been there. It took me four months to get a job after I got sober. I went to meetings all the time to avoid the boredom and temptation to drink. I built my life around doing the steps, going to meetings and doing service work. It kept me sober, but at eighteen months I nearly killed myself and had to take prozac and go to counseling for nine months. I should have been doing that all along. I made it through without drinking, but when I finally stopped believing in God I realized that none of it had to do with a Higher Power. It was a sponsor who helped me through the steps and was there to answer my questions about life, coping with sobriety and learning to grow up. It was the groups that kept me from falling into an even deeper depression. Helping other young people get sober (none of them stayed sober) gave me a purpose. There are some things AA's do that could be very useful to people wanting to get sober, but the success rate is less than five percent and I think it's because it won't change it's outlook on addiction and relapse, their causes and treatment.

The Twelve Traditions of AA are a list of principles that are to guide groups in how they operate. While the fifth Tradition states that "each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers," and the third states that "the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking," atheist and agnostic groups are being forced out of the umbrella organization, AA World Services, Inc, for adopting a different form of the steps that call for reliance on a "Higher Power." In meetings, people often say this power doesn't have to be God, but AA's actions prove otherwise. The message is clear: Get God or Get Out.

How can atheists improve their chances of recovery? I would suggest we go about it as we would the God question or any other skeptical claim. Research and ask questions. Ask an addiction specialist. Find a counselor outside of the Twelve Step model recovery homes and start from there. There are a number of secular groups as well, though they are few and far between. Start your own. Grab a Big Book and adjust the steps if you want. You won't get support from AA Inc, but you might be on the forefront of a new approach to recovery, one that marries the best of AA with the best of science and throws out the nonsense. Whatever you do, find someone to talk to if you feel like using again.

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