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Alcoholics Anonymous and Atheism - genuine advice and help needed

  • 26-09-2022 5:26pm
    Registered Users Posts: 2,278 ✭✭✭

    Hi there

    Its taken me a few minutes to decide whether to post this anonymously - but i decided against that, so this is me. Im an atheist, and i am an Alcoholic. If you recognize my user name from around boards thats fine.

    IN BRIEF: Iv known for some time that i have a problem with Drink, but i managed to stay off it for years. Unfortunately i had a serious bad run of luck with Covid, losing my routine, losing my ability to workout. And i started drinking again, and very quickly it spiraled. I reached a point where i had to admit its not a drink problem. Its that i am an alcoholic. I decided to TRY AA. And i got something out of the meetings. I felt some connection, and that this program might remind me in future, that no matter what happens; i must NOT drink. (sober 6 days as of now)

    Unfortunately no sooner did i kinda get settled, that it struck me (rather starkly) that this program is entirely theistic. Some members refer to it as being a spiritual journey. While i acknowledge spirituality, as being separate from Religion, or theism. I can honestly say this program, and AA in general, feel more like Religion to yours truly. Granted there are some members who discuss God, or a 'higher power' in terms of it being the Universe (pantheistic in my opinion), or a person they love - or in fact humanity, etc etc etc. For me it sounds like Theism. Indeed, the steps themselves, frequently involve admitting certain truths about ones self to God/High-Power

    I am having real problems folks. And i dont mean with drink (that too, of course). Im an Atheist. I find my Atheism is important to me. It is a part of who i am. To be frank, long ago, i was quite beside myself. This is many years ago, but i lost someone very dear to me. And while drinking, i contemplated taking my life. I didnt do it, because i reasoned that, THIS, reality, is all that there is. I am an Atheist, to my core. There is no life after death. Following my friend to the grave, would do nothing for him. It would simply remove me from life. In effect my Atheism saved me. [I share this experience simply to demonstrate the my Atheism, i just wanna be clear i am not suicidal, and never have been since that day many years ago] - I suffer from bouts of depression too, even when not drinking, but never since that moment have i considered shuffling off the mortal coil

    So... back to the present....

    Listening to stories of people seeking sobriety, and achieving success is overwhelming for me. I hear MY STORY WITH ALCOHOL, over and over again, in the rooms. And it gives me something. I think to myself... THIS IS WHAT I WANT. I want to go back to how i was before the covid, and get my sober life back.

    Unfortunately many if not all of the stories involve God. Granted the language changes, and some define god differently. Higher Power is discussed quite a lot. Others less so. My reason for throwing this 'flare' out with you folks, relates to a conversation, i had with a member. Oddly enough, i did NOT meet this member in AA. I connected with him through an outreach program for those with substance abuse problems. As it turned out this person was in AA, and wanted to help me, and i gratefully accepted.

    This conversation has ROCKED ME TO MY CORE - Without breaking the trust of AA Rooms, i will not divulge personal information - but the general gist is as follows

    • Liam you need a higher power.
    • I believe and give thanks to my higher power every day, i could NOT have done this without them
    • You will NOT succeed unless you accept this power. You do not have control, he/she/they/it HAVE the power
    • The higher power must be sought. It is the foundation of Success

    Several interactions have occurred too with others

    • I must be open minded (I am, atheists tend to be)
    • There is fierce arrogance on some people (namely me- Of course! obviously someone claiming they are Atheistic is arrogant. Someone who has a personal relationship with the creator of the Universe, and receives his bespoke guidance daily. And interacts with them through prayer. thats not arrogant, no, perish the thought)
    • I need that power, and must find it

    Now i can only speak for myself. But My atheism is important to me. Dont get me wrong, i do not walk around giving people the bad news! When sober i am a very functional individual with dreams and aspirations, i am not a one trick atheist, who wants to constantly go on and on about it - I will discuss it with those who wish to debate me, and yes that can get tricky. But i am firm in my convictions, and one must be able to agree to disagree. And i am a respectful person. I respect peoples beliefs. I have always responded to discussion on this topic (in AA) with the words

    • 'Look i respect you, and i respect your belief'

    Unfortunately in this recent interaction - this was not sufficient


    This was over the phone, but i felt we were being hostile with one another, and i cant face that ATM. And the stark message, that its HIGHER POWER, or continued on/off struggle with Alcohol - terrified me. The fact this person is AA but also on the outreach program, also scared me half to death.

    The Analogy

    I feel that this is all rather intense, too intense for me now. I feel too that clashes may occur. I am not arrogant, or closed minded. I am simply an Atheist. Telling me to seek a higher power. To be frank you may as well tell me that invisible unicorns are the key to sobriety. I include this merely as an analogy, of hypothetical statements from an AA member, whom i will refer to as Hypothetical Joe - this person is made up for this post, and is not based on anyone.

    • Joe, Alcoholic, 30 years sober
    • [Joe discusses his drinking for a time]
    • Joe explains he was on the verge of losing everything, and had already lost quite a bit
    • Joe discovered AA
    • Joe discovered his relationship with Invisible Unicorns. It had always been there.
    • Joe wouldnt accept these Unicorns into his life. He refused to acknowledge there existence
    • The unicorns were actually looking out for Joe, and by contrivances (related to their invisibility), they guided Joe back to AA
    • Joe now welcomed the Unicorns into his life
    • The Unicorns have given Joe's life new meaning,
    • Joe can now ACTUALLY SENSE, AND SOMETIMES SEE the Unicorns acting around him
    • Their presence Fills Joe with Confidence and he continues remain sober, a day at a time, with there help

    I just cant make the leap that Hypothetical Joe has made. Some call it arrogance, some hubris, some closed mindedness. Some say that i will make the leap. Others that i will find them some how (the unicorns) - I cannot. It reminds me of Sam Harris's analogy of the friend in love with Angelina Jolie

    Granted Harris was ridiculing Religion in this case. I want to be clear that in the case of the above Hypothetical Joe

    • I am happy for JOE! I truly am
    • I would never attempt to change Joe's mind
    • Frankly i dont think Joe's mind would or could ever change
    • Joe, as i imagine him hypothetically, is a wonderful person. Most in AA are
    • But i cannot BE JOE - I cannot DO WHAT JOE DID.


    Its a rather long post, and i thank you for reading this far, assuming anyone has. I need some advice

    • Are there any true atheists who have Done AA and found Success - if there are please reply, and lets have an open chat
    • If you prefer to contact me privately, please do so
    • Post Anonymously if you wish - 100% i get it. I am honest, genuine and open. But i understand and respect anonymity
    • I welcome ANY AND ALL OPINIONS from Atheists - 100% fire away at me what ever you wish to say
    • I am 6 days sober, and i am trying hard. I am still going to meetings. I just dont think i can, for much longer. And it breaks my heart because these are WONDERFUL PEOPLE, one of them bought me a book, i have received so much love and support. Has anyone found away of sublimating the positives, from the negatives

    Thanks in advance,

    Sincerely and respectfully




    Sic semper tyrannis - thus always to Tyrants


  • Registered Users Posts: 2,278 ✭✭✭liamtech

    EXTRA NOTE -i searched and found an old thread on AA and Atheism. I wished to start my own here, as i found a general discussion on the topic difficult. I felt i needed to post too - so, thanks :)

    Sic semper tyrannis - thus always to Tyrants

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,172 ✭✭✭apache

    Have you ever tried Lifering? They are non religious and a good alternative.

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,278 ✭✭✭liamtech

    I should have mentioned in the OP

    • I knew there are more Secular versions of AA and other 12 step programs
    • I live quite rural and it would be nearly impossible for me to get to these
    • i think i need the face to face - that seems to be a key. I flirted with LifeRing live chats previously - but it felt empty, nameless - frankly it felt like a chat aplet for people with Addiction problems
    • I feel the support from members, visibly moved by my story - its helping me

    But its building up in side me. I have tried various avenues

    • Reasoning my way with Logic - I have sat down and imagined the situation on a basic level. These people think a higher power saved them. The act of believing is a Macguffin - just pretend
    • If they believe god saved them - and god doesnt exist - if follows that something else saved them. They saved themselves
    • The act of sitting with strangers and discussing the problems may be enough to keep me in check -
    • Refuse when asked to do the steps - claim the meetings are enough (this is getting tricky as people have already begun making a point of highlighting the steps.. 'Liam when you start the steps and admit to God/HP you will feel such a release)

    Anyway, sorry i should have stated but my OP is VERY LONG so

    Sic semper tyrannis - thus always to Tyrants

  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 15,590 Mod ✭✭✭✭smacl

    Firstly, kudos for posting, it takes no small amount of bravery. Very little knowledge of AA or its alternatives but have had a few people very close to me with serious drink problems who didn't deal with them and ended up badly. Just a thought, but have you tried contacting an addiction counsellor? They may be more likely to approach the problem from a more scientifically informed point of view. I do have a friend in the states who's not religious and been attending AA for years and seems to get on ok with them, probably comes down to the group to some degree. I suspect, and it is no more than a guess based on others that I've met, that some alcoholics become addicted to religion in place of booze. Anyway, very best of luck with it going forward.

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,351 ✭✭✭growleaves

    I wish you well with your struggles Liam. I am cheering for you.

    'Are there any true atheists who have Done AA and found Success - if there are please reply, and lets have an open chat

    Shaun Ryder (pop singer) used his dog as his 'higher power' since he was an atheist and an animal lover. Can you do something like that - use a focus of deep affection and place it 'higher' in an act of emotional transference?

    Sam Goldwyn: "I'm tired of the old clichés. Bring me some new ones."

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  • Registered Users Posts: 2,278 ✭✭✭liamtech

    Hey. Yea i have spoken to several addiction Councillors in the past. I have had limited success, i suspect the counselling may have helped me gain nearly 3 years sobriety. The problem is that it fell apart like a cheap suit as they say. TBH i am kinda still in shock as to the speed at which everything came crumbling down. I have reached out for support and i spoke to someone tonight about it. I need the assistance. I am trying very hard - i see the value in AA, and i reiterate - these people are wonderful - I take my hat off to them. They CARE about this program and want it to succeed for us. for ALL of us. They are a credit to themselves.

    The religious/theistic component - its a problem for me. I cannot reconcile it with my view of the universe, and reality. And i do not consider myself close-minded. I am open, and tolerant. I want to keep going. But again. The Steps, the traditions - they just dont click for me, given my position on theism. I have heard a number of people discuss the steps, and their importance. Tonight i did an online meeting, and someone addressed this. Saying that doing AA meetings alone, was insufficient. They needed the program, and the steps.

    Iv been reading the 12 step program for secular AA and it helps me to see it. To see that they have toned it down, which they have.

    I had a wonderful meeting today. It was the phone call after it that really soured me. I wish i had not taken it, but i am following a mantra of taking any help i can get with open arms. The fact the caller was AA, was initially a source of optimism for me. Then, the disagreement, and the attitude of 'my way or the high way' - that stung - hard

    Again i am open to discussing with anyone who has thoughts on this

    Thanks pal, like i said im still at it so. Really appreciate the support

    Im still going, im not going to give up so. Just have to try and take what i can get

    Sic semper tyrannis - thus always to Tyrants

  • Registered Users Posts: 357 ✭✭Dublinandy3

    I think depending on who you come across will depend on how they interpret it but usually the rule of thumb is that the higher power can be anything (as long as it's not you).

    I've met plenty of atheists in AA who all say the same thing as the people who believe in God, as long as you accept you can't control everything yourself and you're willing to give up that control and hand it over, it doesn't really matter what it is. It's just the act of surrendering that's important, realising you can't do it yourself.

  • Registered Users Posts: 838 ✭✭✭byrnem31

    AA member here clean and sober nearly 14 years who follows no religion or God's so to speak. God to me is Good Orderly Direction. My higher power would be the group itself.

    Post edited by byrnem31 on

  • Registered Users Posts: 776 ✭✭✭Everlong1

    There's an atheist meeting in Molesworth Street - I think every Sunday at 12. You might be able to find a sponsor there or someone that could help you with this aspect of the programme.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 2,551 ✭✭✭roosh

    @liamtech I had a similar issue when attending AA, I really struggled with the "God-talk". It all sounded so hollow and something I had rejected. While I was more agnostic than atheist, I certainly wasn't Christian, but I needed to get sober and AA was the most accessible avenue. I was determined not to get brainwashed into the "AA cult" (that's how it felt at the time), so I decided to read the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. In that I got a better understanding of the theory of evolution and that is what became my higher power.

    Through the process of evolution, the nature of the brain/mind was such that, if I did the things in the 12 steps such as:

    • admit I had a drinking problem
    • did an inventory of my life to see where I had wronged others
    • made an intention to make amends
    • carried out those amends
    • practiced meditation (Buddhist in my case)

    this would have an affect on my psychology which would help me to quit drinking.

    I personally don't go to AA any more because I found Buddhist meditation to be more beneficial in the long-term, but the more practical steps in the 12-steps are very powerful in terms of the effect they can have on a persons psychology and trauma - they are not exclusive to Christainity or the 12 steps.

    I also think AA was massively beneficial to me, when I was going.

    I published a book last December which, in no small way, covers my own struggle with those concepts and the conclusions I came to. It's available free to download on Amazon. If you'd be interested in reading it you can DM me and I'll send you a link. Or, if you just need someone to chat to.

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,102 ✭✭✭greencap

    Here are some of my favorite comics/alcoholics debating aa.

    From ~23:00