Atheistic Stepper
Encounters Exactly What
One Might Expect

Lisa Wallace

From: “Lisa Wallace”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Sent: October 13, 2004
Subject: Attempting to deal with AA as an atheist

Okay, I am almost two years clean and sober now, and I have been a good member of AA by “taking the cotton out of my ears and putting it in my mouth”, as they love to say, for all this time. I think the greatest help I get from AA is that I have basically free group therapy with people in the same boat I’m in, and AA is so available where I live that I can count on finding a group meeting generally when it fits my schedule.

That being said, I am an atheist.

God this and God that is all over the literature and all over the place in the meetings. Oh, and of course we must end with the Lord’s Prayer (if you choose to say it, they say, but you still have to stand there holding hands being subjected to it). But God is a suggestion, they tell me. Your Higher Power can be whatever you want it to be. Higher Power? What’s that? I know of many things that have far more power over me than I could ever as a puny human have over anything else — disease, storms, the climate, violence, the economy, death, and taxes — but “Higher Power”? Hmmm. What is that? Isn’t that just another way to picture a deity? So they say the AA group can be my Higher Power. Well, I do extract some warmth and strength from what I hear in the rooms and the sincere people (the few of them) who offer me encouragement. But to me, we guide our own morals and virtues and character and humility and selflessness because we think and know that is a good way to live. We as humans feel more serene and uplifted by acting kindly toward our earth and fellow beings and taking decent care of ourselves. See, I don’t look to a Higher Power to guide me on that. I know to do that, and if I feel off course, I talk to wise people about it, or read about it, or watch a good documentary on it. I don’t feel that a Higher Power puts those things in my spiritual path. I search those things out consciously as I choose to live my life in a certain, fulfilling way, trying my best to not harm anyone.

I am fairly comfortable hanging out with Pagans because they have so many definitions of what they are and they throw every kind of belief, or lack of belief, into the mix. They also revere the Earth and try to respect one another, and they like to have fun. Often they make fun of their own rituals, or present them in a tongue-in-cheek manner, but they can also pull off a solemn ceremony in a beautiful way, with poetry and singing and drumming. Pagans never really challenge what I choose to believe at a given time.

Now that I have ranted about the God thing, I want to rant about the sponsorship thing in 12-step Programming. I have spent nearly two years sponsor-free and healthy (yes, I have tried three sponsors who messed me up — the first was good at spitting up Program stuff at me and not realizing I wasn’t swallowing any of it, the second was a negative Nancy who needed my help more than I needed hers, and the third was so self-consumed with her own crises that she never had time for me). My AA friends insisted I must try again or my sobriety and life as I had come to know it were in grave danger, so I chose someone I already like pretty well and know I can talk to. She is a fine person and I may talk to her from time to time, but here is my dilemma. I have an excellent therapist who accepts any way I choose to be and helps me through my depression and self-harming issues. I have always felt I was doing parts of the step work with her, just not in the exact order dictated by the “Big Book.” I have also always felt that another person interfering with my psyche, which my therapist is so expertly handling, would just throw a wrench in the works. And I was right. My new sponsor has made suggestions about what issues I need to work on resolving, and lo and behold! my therapist and I are already working in those areas. Not only that, just having this “sponsor to report to” idea in my head has caused some nasty unhealthy behaviors to pop up already.

I don’t need to do a formal Fourth Step confessional of the sins, which I am told is not a confessional but a way to rid myself of guilt-producing secrets and identify behavioral patterns. Okay — got a therapist for that who can pace me on that, and not make it such a big deal. In AA you are supposed to write out all your naughty, secretive past and character defects, then present them in this hours-long meeting to your sponsor, and then feel cleansed and renewed, and then ask God to remove all this crap out of you. I don’t agree with that method for myself. That would totally freak me out.

Moving on — so how am I handling the God thing and still attending 12-step? Well, I am clear with myself that I go to meetings for the reason of a group therapy experience. I have also started going to NA because the literature is easier to understand, the people are a little more real and sincere, and the Lord’s Prayer isn’t chanted at the end.

Will I go to 12-step for the rest of my life because I have an incurable disease of addiction that will only stay in remission so long as I attend 12-step meetings? I don’t have a definitive answer on that right now. People handle their addictions and sobriety in so many ways. AA and NA meetings help me right now to stay grounded as long as I relieve myself of the belief that I must follow the dogma.

I certainly do not believe that 12-step recovery is the only way. I don’t believe in turning it all over to a Higher Power. I do believe that I can think for myself and find my way as I go along in life.

As far as my deconversion from religion, well, it never happened. It didn’t have to because I never bought any of that religion crap. I came into this world as an atheist.

Sincerely,
Lisa Wallace
Northern Virginia

  

Man is a marvelous curiosity ... he thinks he is the Creator’s pet ... he even believes the Creator loves him; has a passion for him; sits up nights to admire him; yes and watch over him and keep him out of trouble. He prays to him and thinks He listens. Isn’t it a quaint idea.
— Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth (1909?; published in 1962)

  
  

I’ve heard the call. I believe God wants me to run for president.
— George W. Bush, quoted from Aaron Latham, “How George W Found God,” George Magazine, September, 2000

  

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From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Lisa Wallace”
Subject: Attempting to deal with AA as an atheist
Date: October 26, 2004

My newest friend, a very reluctant Stepper (among a few other very healthy varieties of stubbornness), likes to say, “I’ll thank you for not calling my higher power ‘God,’ and I’ll return the favor by making sure not to call your higher power ‘God,’ either!” 

I have been a good member of AA by “taking the cotton out of my ears and putting it in my mouth”, as they love to say, for all this time.

Yes, if you keep your mouth shut, then you won’t anger the powermongers* by showing everybody that you’re a lot smarter than these clowns could ever hope to be.

*Note: This might be the guy who uses the name of a weapon as part of his nickname. In other words, male or female, you never wanna mess with a guy who introduces himself as “Baseball Bat” Bob!

if you choose to say it, they say, but you still have to stand there holding hands being subjected to it

Yes, if you want to experience undiluted bigotry, that is, if you’re curious and want to see what that is like, then develop the practice of politely standing outside of the prayer circle while the others pray. Answer candidly to anyone who inquires (as if it’s any of their business!). Do this for six months. Don’t quietly duck out of the room, but simply stand over by the wall or, worse, sit down in a chair. (Don’t disrupt their ceremony by sitting inside the circle or by making a vocal scene! You won’t have to make a scene, because enough of them will do that for you: “Hey! C’mon in the circle!” “Uh, why not, man?” And similarly.
 

Your Higher Power can be whatever you want it to be.

As long as it’s a Higher Power (that is, a “God”).

At least that’s the clear, very stern message I got from numerous of my fellow Steppers when I was there. They say that in meetings, but that’s not what they practice in their everyday Program lives.

In order to avail yourself of the most powerful tool that the Program has (the mutual support both received from andgiven to other Steppers) you must be accepted by those other steppers. If you are rejected, you might as well pray to a fence post for all the good you’ll get out of the Program — to say nothing of the harm rejection such as this must surely have caused to tens of thousands of atheistic addicted people over the years.
 

Will I go to 12-step for the rest of my life because I have an incurable disease of addiction that will only stay in remission so long as I attend 12-step meetings?

This, as I have stated many times, is the true poison of the Twelve Step programs. I readily admit that I have taught myself what a Stepper would call “asymptomatic drinking.” (This language describes, very succinctly, what I’m talking about; however, I don’t like the term asymptomatic because talk of problem drinking as a symptom of something else seems to validate that wholly false and patently destructive disease concept.) In fact, I had a pound of ale tonight. Well, I ordered a pound of ale: actually, I drank only about half of it, letting the thing go flat over the course of three hours or so. Since I seem to be able to keep doing this with no hint of a problem, it sure looks as if I don’t have a problem any more. Most people, the vast majority, actually, outgrow any problems they might have had when they were younger. I’ve also managed a chronic prescription for narcotic pain medication for several years with no mistakes whatsoever. At one point, this prescription allowed me to even locomote at all. I was very fortunate in that I responded marvelously to this particular treatment and it was available when I needed it! Until recently, doctors have been skittish to prescribe. But a case in Oregon a few years ago ruled that doctors must treat pain. It’s also come out that a lot of what many of them thought about addiction (a lot of what they learned from the AA program’s PR arm, the National Council on Alcoholism and its side-shows), has been purely bogus.

Sadly, I know several others who have pain problems that must be at least as debilitating as mine, even more so, in some cases. However, because they are devout Twelve Steppers (read: “thoroughly programmed”), they stubbornly refuse to relieve themselves of this debilitating pain and get on with their lives. These folks are being snookered by the disease model.
 

I have always felt I was doing parts of the step work with her, just not in the exact order dictated by the Big Book.

I never could understand what “Step-work” has to do with not drinking.

Okay, that’s pure bullshit: I know full well that “Step-work” has absolutely nothing, whatsoever, to do with not drinking. You drink because you want to have fun, not because you’re sick or helpless or any other reason (you’re not sick and you’d need to be locked up if you were truly powerless). If you have THIQ-type alcoholism, then there is a little pill you can take that will allow you to drink normally — if that’s what you want to do. It’s not been approved in America, yet, but it’s been in testing for ten years, now, with excellent results.

I know about this because I came to this solution (the pill) on my own, as a result of examining my own drinking behavior both under and free from the influence of narcotics (and that’s what THIQ happens to be, a narcotic). Narcotics abolish your ability to tell, experientially, how much you’ve had to drink; that is, when it is time to stop. No tried-and-true test worked for me while drinking behind prescription narcotics! THIQ is a narcotic and the thinking is that this is why THIQ-type alcoholics do not stop when they’ve had enough — like the rest of us do. Naltraxone is such a precise antidote to the effects of narcotics that emergency technicians carry it with them to deal with heroin overdoses. It works so well that if the patient took enough heroin, then she or he could die of the original overdose after the Naltrexone wears off: this is why overdose patients need to be held for observation for a few days. In European clinical studies, this method has shown itself to be quite effective in allowing THIQ-type alcoholics to determine when they’ve had enough.

Ah, but the THIQ-type alcoholics don’t even need Naltrexone! At all! This is because THIQ Alcoholics do not experience a “craving” (simply because of the THIQ); rather, they simply cannot tell when it’s time to stop. Such people can easily learn how to count their drinks — like I do. If I don’t count my drinks when I’m drinking on pain medication, then I could be in big trouble! With that combination, I cannot tell how much I’ve had to drink unless I’ve kept track: I cannot “feel” how inebriated I am. Not even the “numb cheeks” trick works for me (any more) — and that’s my classic, tried-and-true, guaranteed way to tell how much I’ve had to drink. (Place your palm against your cheek and if it feels numb, you’re done drinking for the night!)
 

I have also started going to NA because the literature is easier to understand

That’s because I was involved in their writing process for numerous years.

(Hee, hee, hee!)

Seriously, their admission that my rants made a significant impact extends much further than this one mention in their world-level magazine.
 

I do believe that I can think for myself and find my way as I go along in life.

That is the bottom line, really.
 

As far as my deconversion from religion, well, it never happened. It didn’t have to because I never bought any of that religion crap. I came into this world as an atheist.

We’ll post it anyway — not as a “De-Conversion Story,” but in its own right. I realize that we barred letters from Steppers a couple of years ago. However, I’m the one who made that rule, and that means I’m the one who gets to break it if I want to, okay?

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine
Entering our 10th year of service
   to people with no reason to believe

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