Posted by: innerpilgrimage | August 22, 2012

The Journey Continues: I Found a Trailhead at the Heart of These Dark Woods

Agnostic AA 12 Steps (modified for Overeaters Anonymous)

1. We admitted we were powerless over food—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe and to accept that we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to entrust our will and our lives to the care of the collective wisdom and resources of those who have searched before us.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to ourselves without reservation, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were ready to accept help in letting go of all our defects of character.
7. With humility and openness sought to eliminate our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through meditation to improve our spiritual awareness and our understanding of the Overeaters Anonymous (OA) way of life and to discover the power to carry out that way of life.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive overeaters, bulimics, and anorexics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

(excerpted and modified from AA Agnostics of the San Francisco Bay Area. Thank you to the agnostic/atheist AA programs for taking the time to meditate over this.)

      I am having the best time reading Ronald Aronson’s Living Without God: New Directions for Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists, and the Undecided. I appreciate the peace of heart-mind-body-self (as opposed to ego) I am getting being introduced to a new knowledge base about atheism. I also am seeing the challenges of choosing a life without an externally-willed power with an intellect. I lived in fear as a child in a house where “Guess what I’m thinking?” was how the game of life was played. Arbitrary rules by an authority I was not allowed to question. I had no security or peace of mind on a consistent basis. Food was the only constant, and I ate sweetness into my life, the salt of the Earth as a foundation to stand on, and the fat to slide the contradictions down with a smile.
      My body definitely began to rebel against the sweet and fat (and probably the salt, though doctor’s visits showed no negative side effects–I expect those will be showing up sooner than later). The sugar made me feel confused, though I thought I was thinking clearly. Dazed when my blood sugar was too low or too high. So grateful for not getting diabetes. Definitely grateful that “Correlation is not Causality” was proved by that. Now, I still could get diabetes. I could get anything. But at least I have peace knowing that after fighting to make God happy with me in order to earn a good life in this world (seeing as the afterlife really isn’t known but assumed), I can open my eyes to what is and not blame anyone else’s God for what’s happening in the world today.
      So, the two warzones I was battling in (and I was blind to seeing) were gratitude and hope. Those are part of the human condition I have experienced so far. Grateful I didn’t react to the painful experiences as I lived them and pulled that emergency stop on the journey of my life. Why I didn’t? No idea. Perhaps I will learn what was so deeply embedded in me that allowed me not to react to the desire to stop. Was it knowing all things changed? Was it hope the bad times would pass? Was it even believing that if I suffered and endured, I would have an eternal reward? I was deep in the food addiction (and the love addiction, for which the food was used to numb me out from the martyrdom not correlating to how people treated me). I am not sure it matters that I survived. I am grateful for the people around me–those who supported me, those who challenged me–and their emotional reactions to my desire to end. But I did not end. The choice was in my hands, and I know I passively rejected it. But I do remember those days clearly. Times where I would lay in bed in a dim room while a beautiful day passed all around me. Where birds sang and children laughed and babies were born and people died surrounded by loved ones who were able to say, “I love you,” before their lives ended. It’s amazing to think it’s been two decades since those bleak times. And, oddly enough, the prediction of a psychiatrist when I was 18 or 19 came true–if I survived to 30, I would be okay.
      So, the question is, now: Why am I sharing this despair-filled history? Is it to attack God?
      I realize that this is about my journey as an individual. If I don’t believe in God, it shouldn’t harm another who does. And, well, I still react negatively (read: way outside of acceptance) to people who proselytize. Hate it, no matter what belief system a person has–religious, spiritually-driven, agnostic, or atheist. Character-defective levels of reaction. Binge cravings triggered. Anorexia triggered. Yeah, I hate proselytizing that much, because (to me) it takes a belief and uses manipulation to batter a person into accepting it as Truth just to get the proselytizer off one’s back. The only truth I trust is “I don’t know.” Why? Because I don’t. How could I know? In the grand scheme of time and space? I am less than a grain of sand on all of the world’s oceanfront beaches. Yet every grain of sand present from the beginning of time to the end of time made up reality. Does it matter if God set it there carefully or time and natural forces made it happen? No. I don’t know. What I do know is that it exists in the here and now–just like I do. And since I am hours away from even the nearest ocean beach? It doesn’t stop existing because I’m not local to it.
      So, my despair-filled history is to point out that it’s okay to be a grain of sand shaped like me. It’s okay to have been tumbled for God’s purpose–if one believes that–or tumbled by the natural forces which spread out beyond my comprehension in every direction. I have seen rock tumblers. I have seen beach glass. I have seen sand. And I have seen the effects of time, erosion, water, wind, and even human intervention as forces on it. That is what I believe–that physics made that grain of sand. And I was made through physics, biology, chemistry and any number of social sciences which place pressures upon us daily. And I believe in any person who faced and survived that pressure to stop the torturous emotional pain (for whatever reason–biological, chemical, societal–I certainly am not sure which or all connect to it) which translated into physical pain (the aching chest which vacillated between searing acidic burning and ice-chilled emptiness, the aches in limbs, in my digestive system, in my head, at the roots of my hair, and even in filling my lungs with air). How we leave that self-inflicted torture chamber is unimportant. To choose life, to consciously choose to wake up one more day, to hope that it won’t last forever . . . those things are what I want to express to anyone who has felt so utterly disconnected from everything as to seriously weigh abruptly stopping one’s own life.
      I am grateful for the hotlines I reached out to when I felt the people around me had abandoned me. It didn’t matter if they had–my muddled brain filtered it and surmised that was truth. I believed it. I made it fact. And I reached out to an anonymous person and exposed my vulnerability and dependence on them. “Care about me, even as a human life,” I begged between the lines of my sobbing storytelling. “Please tell me this life has some value at all.” And they did, and I survived another day.
      Enter the family of twelve-step programs for recovery from addiction. I gathered information over decades. Learned about AA. Learned about ACOA and Al-Anon. Reached out to people, showed my vulnerability–even as I also exposed my love addiction and food addiction in practice. Those worst times are the greatest ones for me in recovery. They are the moments in my life which propel the greatest learning opportunities. I enter the rooms, and I am anonymous even as I am not anonymous. I am dependent on the people surrounding me, reaching out my hand to lift them to their feet as they do the same for me. We are all together imperfectly–some religious, some spiritual, some agnostic, some atheist. We are all looking for a simple solution, not easy answers. Well, okay. I certainly walked in the room looking for a diet and some therapy to make me stick to said diet. The “Invitation to You” struck me hard when I realized that our primary goal in OA is not to lose weight but to gain clarity. Yes, it is a spiritual clarity by the words of the invitation. To be honest, the program is as affected by the culture of American religiosity as Americans are. We, and it, are a product of a culture which was founded on freedom to practice religions without persecution–which I believe (opinion, not fact–not sure if it’s fact) is why we have a secular Constitution. No religion is favored over another. The easiest way to do that seems to have been to remove the question of religion from the documents altogether to respect all (and to acknowledge the Secular Enlightenment which was gaining strength over time).
      So, here I am, learning a new way of acting on life without God. Being willing to do anything–especially respecting what I consider most valuable in program: the free will choice to live in recovery instead of flounder as a slave to addiction–is trusting that program is about living, not about making the Big Book the Bible as written by Bill W. and Dr. Bob and the other founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Big Book broke from the Oxford Group and created a new path of self-determination through turning to self-care and self-responsibility despite the vast absurdity of the unmanageability of life as a whole. God is written into it, but God is not the program (just like the founding documents of the United States of America). Adaptation of the twelve steps is not unheard of. SLAA modified the steps and is still part of the Twelve Step Family officially (Thanks to the Northern Ohio Intergroup for having the 12 steps online, the national site has it as a downloadable PDF).
      So, step modification is not unheard of, even in the greater 12-Step fellowship. And to have what people who have God have achieved in program? The agnostic steps lead me to a Higher Power I can believe in and not personify as a will-driven and intellectual being . . . as I began to treat the Universe then reality, itself. That’s where relapse began for me, reaching out beyond where I could physically and mentally touch to be saved. This is a journey within, through us to the truth that we are fully interdependent on everything–whether or not we believe God willed it or not.
      My name is Jess. I am a compulsive overeater and anorexic. Just like my food plan is not considered abstinence by hardliners, I am pretty sure being good without God will get some people upset. And it’s okay, because acceptance is the answer to that problem today.



  1. I think it is a wonderful idea of rewriting the steps to better fit us. I attend regular meetings with the “original” steps. They do not accept evolution of knowledge yet, but I must.

    Those of us that do not hang together will hang separately. keep your chin up.

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