If people start to watch my YouTube channel more or read my blog, they may have questions about the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Although it is not the main point of my channel/blog, it is one of the main sources.
It’s important for me to emphasize why I think it’s possible to not have a belief in a god and still get something positive and productive out of AA, recovery from substance abuse and emotional health overall.
Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable.
There is no question that, when we (addicts) have delved into the depths of addiction, our lives become unmanageable. We begin to disrupt a quality of life we may have once had. If we are young, our grades drop, we piss off our friends, we trouble our parents and siblings. When we are older, we might lose a job, lose our driver’s license, lose our spouse or significant other. Once we lose a spouse due to substance abuse via separation or divorce, we are likely to lose full custody of our children and, ultimately, our freedom.
However, the biggest problem most people have with this step is the admission one is powerless. I am torn about that phrasing. On the one hand, I don’t think there is anything wrong with admitting defeat about addiction and our inability to use substances in a healthy way. On the other hand, the desire to empower one’s self to get sober is strong and if we’re told we can’t (due to needing a god) it can crush our motivation.
Step 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
From a secular standpoint, this step is entirely unnecessary. There are no substitutions, either. As difficult as it is to gain the motivation to change and create new, healthy habits, it is possible and the only way, from my atheist standpoint, to do it. If you go to jail and stay dry for a while as a result, you still haven’t addressed the real problem. If you go to rehab and stay dry for a while, most will fill you with the 12-step method. But you are still going of your own free will.
A freethinker who is a freethinker for the right reasons knows there is no magic or supernatural power at play in our lives. Therefore, all the work done in sobriety is done by the individual, even if he/she thinks a god helped. You may get help from others and you can take or leave that help but ultimately, you’ve made the choice that you are worth recovery. You must make the choice you are worth it.
Step 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Again, this is a step I believe is unnecessary. YOU are the one who must take the strides to seek help. Not only does an addict need to seek help getting clean, but also getting emotionally healthy. You can’t give up your determination. If you do, you not only risk getting and staying clean/sober but you also abdicate your self-advocacy.
Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
I like this step. Although the word “moral” is loaded for skeptics and atheists, many thinking atheists agree with tenants of Humanism. Once we, as addicts, have searched our backgrounds, we notice two main things- One: ways in which we think people have hurt us and Two: ways in which we know we have hurt others, especially during the depths of our addiction. Once we take this inventory and see patterns, our lives become more clear.
Step 5. Admitted
to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
This step is an extension of Step 4. Once we have made a list of all the shitty things we’ve done (and the things we perceive have been shitty things done to us) then we talk about it to someone else who understands, usually our sponsor. I am in a unique situation where I’ve been in AA for over 2 years and recently became atheist so I already have a sponsor with whom I still communicate. It’s nice to have one dedicated person who understands me and talk these things out.
Even when I was a theist, I didn’t know how to “admit” this to my god except to speak it or pray it into the ether. Either way, the integral part is admitting wrong-doing to one’s self and talking it out with a human partner.
Step 6. Were entirely ready to have
God remove all these defects of character.
Some steps can be modified and some can’t, from my perspective. Keep in mind how specific the language is. This step is merely being ready. Some people like some of their character defects and aren’t ready to let go of them. When they/we are ready, “we pump ourselves up” to let them go.
Step 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Again, the language here is so subtle. Since I don’t believe in a god, that part is out and since I already feel like I’ve “pumped myself up” to work on getting rid of my character defects, this step is redundant and/or superfluous to me.
Step 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
So this step…. We’ve already made an inventory. In the inventory, we tend to see patterns. In my case, for example, I tend to have high expectations of others that are dashed time and time again. I need to work on that and not have such high expectations of others. When I see that pattern played out, I see I’ve hurt others along the way.
So when I blatantly hurt others by cheating on my husband, for example, I also notice situations where I thought I was the victim but in reality, I was the perpetrator of the pain. Sometimes my victims felt the pain and knew I was an asshole and sometimes, the crime lived only in my mind. Either way, it’s time to exorcise that shit and make a list.
In some cases, my sponsor didn’t think I owed an amends to certain individuals. So the list may or may not stay the same once it’s made. But again, the operative word here is being willing.
Step 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
So now the list is made and it’s time to go down the list and get together with these people. In some cases, it’s not appropriate to make direct amends. Theist or not, addict or not, it’s a good way to apologize for the wreckage of the past and move forward with a clean slate.
In some cases, a recipient may not accept an amends. That’s OK. As long as your amends was sincere, you move on. They can wallow in their self pity and they will. You are not the only imperfect one. Don’t let others get in your head once you’ve relieved yourself of the guilt. If they want to remain in the pain, that’s on them. They have their own baggage to deal with. Once you’ve let go of your baggage, it’s time to focus on healthier things and if that doesn’t include your amendee, so be it.
Step 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Once we’ve made the master list of the people we’ve hurt, we’re not done. Sometimes, old memories come up we hadn’t considered at first (especially those of us who were in a drug or alcohol fog) OR we continue to have our old character defects pop up so we need to hold them at bay/get rid of them/replace them. We change our behavior and in doing so, prove to people we are sorry for the shitty things we’ve done OR continue to apologize for shitty things we do when we realize we do them.
Step 11. Sought through
prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of (???) His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Lots of baggage on this one. So, I don’t want to throw this step out completely as I think it is valuable to keep ourselves motivated, but what exactly can we say here on a secular level? Seeking meditation is great- it teaches us how to mellow and stay in the “adult” instead of parent or child (see Transactional Analysis via anyone but particularly TheraminTrees). There is also value in not thinking. Sometimes we over-think things and letting ourselves relax can help. I don’t know the science behind it but I am convinced that is why some people get ideas in the shower or car. We are possibly using a different side of our brains and it helps with the flow. Just guessing.
There is no destiny. There are no things that are “meant to be.” There is no such thing as fate or karma. Many AAs and other theists will say we each have a purpose. Maybe. It depends. Are we each cogs in a wheel? Perhaps that suits. Does it take time to figure out how we can fit in? Yes. Some of us, myself included, are late bloomers.
We can hype ourselves up, try to stay sober, try to not be an asshole and try to do some good.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Sharing what we know about recovery can be a kind thing. Getting out of our head, getting out of selfishness and giving to others who need help is a good thing. Sharing what we know of recovery, being as kind as we can too all people, being grateful for what we have, treating our loved-ones with respect- these are things we can do from a secular perspective. No god required.
No addiction required either. We can all use help in this area.