Posted by: innerpilgrimage | October 28, 2012

Imagine All The People Living For Today: 12-Step Atheism

      “If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it – then you are ready to take certain steps.” Step Zero, Big Book, p. 58

      First of all, I am not an authority. I am an equal in the fellowship; I am an equal in reality to every human being out there. What I write here is not intended for anything but hopefully a resource for anyone questioning the use of a transcendent being as a Higher Power and for potential non-theist actions as a temporary “act as if” solution. Especially me.
      I entered program looking for God. I freely admit this. I clung to the scripture of program literature and adopted a Higher Power of transcendence in order to be part of the crowd. Over time, I returned to the God of my childhood. Now, the God of my childhood is my father made transcendent. Not a particularly good image, even if that deity is the Blind Watchmaker. A product of a Christian upbringing and all of the accoutrements that come along with said dogmatic theism, I was left to either question the contradictions within the system or ignore those questions and be judged faithful. I can be dogmatic about anything, program included. Part of the character defective behavior of codependency–I surrender authority to anything and anyone because I trust myself less than I trust others . . . especially the untrustworthy. They are exciting, candles burning bright and fast. They grab my attention, and I think they’ve grabbed the cure to every problem I ever had.
      Is God untrustworthy? Well, if I believed God existed? No, God is not untrustworthy. The people who supposedly put down God’s will for us in writing? They are human, and as the saying goes: “To err is human.” For those people who turn to a transcendent (and even transsubstantiating) savior deity? That is a relationship I accept and respect. I trust in a lot of things I cannot see–gravity included. It’s part of human nature to want to have something to look forward to when we come face-to-face with the reality that life is hard and none of us gets out alive. A transcendent power that gives us the motivation to take action in our own lives is part of the human experience. People who gain serenity and hope from that belief often make me jealous; I would love to be able to work within those boundaries and enjoy the benefits of having a deity to turn to so Steps Two and Three don’t keep me up at night. I would enjoy having an answer besides, “causa sui.” When things progress logically (I pray to God; I receive miracles), life seems so ordered and pleasant. Unfortunately, when I do it counter to my authentic self? I feel the brewing rebellion, and I turn toward my addictions for relief from this constant agitation that something is just not right.
      I began to become obsessed with post-life consciousness. With finding a reason for why I would be so hypersensitive to the experiences in my life. There’s nothing more than, “I had a difficult childhood.” I did, which I should accept fully as something most people can empathize with. I had abuse experiences, and I turned to God when I was a child in order to escape. You know what happened?
      And I am rambling, so I will endeavor to make this to-the-point. I began with religion, to save me from a terrifying childhood. I learned to survive, and when it was time to thrive? All I had was survival. I turned to authority everywhere–people, places, things, deities, dogmas. Everyone knew better than me, I had learned I could not be trusted to know what I wanted, needed, or was inspired by. Years pass, and I keep seeking community under the umbrella of a transcendent being. No dice. I indulge my addictions, and I spiral down as I survive instead of thrive–which I feel at the core of me. The emptiness, the intense feeling of lack, of losing time. Of being powerless over it and not having an alternative.
      Enter OA. I struggle with the language, because the religious experiences I have had were negative. I believe I am one of the rebellious against God. It’s not God’s fault, after all. God was trying to find me, but I was the one turning away. This is an act of pure faith, I think, to consider that an omniscient and omnipotent being which loves me and has a plan for me would set me up like this to fail so completely in life. God’s purpose for me was to become an addict? The example of what not to do?
      Being an obsessive, I obsessively sought rationalizations for something I could not understand. I was counseled to believe in God, to follow the Big Book as scripture. To not deviate. And I hit the same walls I did when I was told the same thing about the Bible. Do not question the inconsistencies. “Act as if.” Drink the sugar-free Kool-Aid and STFU and get humble and grateful that God cares for me. Don’t rebel. Surrender.
      The problem made itself known: Surrender to God felt precisely like enslavement to addiction. Addicted to program; addicted to a toxic God–even that loving, omnipotent, omniscient being I professed was out there watching over me. So, I slid backward down the steps until I was back at Step Zero. And I questioned why I would lose belief in God. I got angry at me for not being faithful enough. For not surrendering enough. For being a bad, bad girl. And my food sobriety? Got freaking messy. Despite the messiness, I still held to the reality that abstinence works when worked daily. That helped me retain my faith in recovery and program.
      What length did I go, then? I went so far as to question what I believed. I wanted recovery. I want recovery, still. I find despair in an uncontrolled life as a survivor, when I brush my fingertips against the opportunity to thrive. It’s not out of reach, but I couldn’t (and sometimes can’t) grip it. I feel it. I know it’s there. I just can’t get a good hold on it to lift myself upwards from the rock face of survival to the apex and vista of thriving. Step Zero, for me, was finally surrendering to self-care to question why I was rebelling against God. When I questioned it, I learned that I wasn’t rebelling. I am what I was when I was born–an atheist. Everything about God was taught to me. As I journeyed into atheism, I hit walls there, too. I am not a “New Atheist”. I don’t feel the need to proselytize for reality. God works for some. That’s groovy. However, I don’t believe in transcendence, even as I believe in atheist spirituality. That said, I don’t disbelieve entirely in God, either. There’s no proof either way for me. So this I surrender.
      I find comfort in atheism. When my (Christian) fellowship friend who died three days after I finally accepted him as a trustworthy person to help me through the 12 steps without risk of Thirteenth Stepping, I did not question God’s purpose for removing a person who contributed so much to the well-being of the world. He served humanity, lived to ease people’s pain. I am still anxious about what to think about how he gave and gave yet apparently didn’t self-care or accept help when he needed it. Outside of the conflicted emotions that I didn’t try hard enough to force myself into his life to show I cared about his well-being even after he said he would be okay (huh-lo seeds of enmeshment), I accepted that he died. I accepted it was a tragedy for the people whose lives he touched. I accepted that those of us who he committed to are left in a state of lacking. I was not raging at God this time because I needed this particular person’s fellowship to recover. I wasn’t rebelling and calling God any number of bad names for being a total jerk for taking a person only three years older than me from the world. Someone who did God’s will. Who lived that Christian life many profess yet few follow-through with. I achieved acceptance pretty quick in the grieving process. I am churning the anger, still, and I am using survival coping mechanisms to punish myself for saying, “What about me? I needed him!” Did I need him more than others? Having listened to others’ stories, I realize that’s a clear and firm no. I still feel the lack, the opportunity lost.
      Yet I am not lacking. His lessons are many. Service in program is needed, and we need to shoulder it together. Service to the community is needed, and we all make a difference. Because of him, I was open to CoDA. I was open to facing the Mother of All Monsters, to seek the Fountain of Recovery in order to drink of it from the source. And it kinda sucks, because I am at the heart of darkness even as I bring in the candle of honesty, openness, and willingness to light my way.
      But yeah, it sucks.
      So, I did Step Zero and I found atheism in program. Atheism brings me serenity, when I’m not worried what others think of me. I don’t surrender to a transcendent being because I consider anything defined as “being” is part of non-transcendent reality (Thank you Andre Comte-Sponville!) and by definition God is just like every human out there. Well, except it’s invisible and unprovable one way or another. On consideration of the lack of proof one way or another, God is the conundrum of Schrodinger’s Cat. Therefore, until the box is opened and God is determined to be either dead, alive, or not even in the damned box? I get to let it go and appreciate that some are firm believers that God is alive in the box; I appreciate some are firm believers that God is dead in the box; I join those who believe God isn’t in the box and never was–that it was something told to me that is simply not true.
      That was what the willingness to surrender to Step Zero brought me: I want what others have, and the length I went brought me to the authentic-self truth that I do not believe in transcendence. Because God of the culture I was raised in is a transcendent being? I am not rebelling against God because God does not exist until Schrodinger’s Big Box of Religion is opened to reveal what is and is not. That brings a big flipping conundrum home: Program led me to atheism, yet program relies on a transcendent being to provide recovery through micromanagement of a doting transcendent deity.
      This is where I rebel.
      Oh, the number of atheist and agnostic and non-theist revised steps out there! I have been told by literature in all three of my programs that I don’t need to believe in God to recover. The struggle begins when religion is brought in–and it is deeply rooted in the Prostestant God of Bill Wilson. For the 12-Step Program Conspiracists, angry rebuttals are available. We who accept the twelve steps as a means to rationally choose a life out of addiction are cultists to these people. As a codependent? This shakes me when I submit to addiction; it’s just an opinion when I use recovery. I appreciate the opinion, but I and other atheists who find recovery without a transcendent Higher Power (because we accept we are all kinds of messed up and transference may be a crutch, but why the farhrvergnugen do you care, A. Orange?) are here to stand and be counted. Atheists can recover without God. Period.
      So, the first question I suppose is, “What would possess me (Hah! Demonology reference–I am a product of my culture) to use the 12 Steps at all?” In my experience, I give authority over my life to everything but me. The one true authority over my life is Reality. There it is. I am a being, therefore I am part of reality. My actions change reality, as all people’s actions do. We set in motion a future based on our active or passive actions. If I leave the house and talk to a person? I change that person’s life simply by being part of an event there. If I do not leave the house, I am removing myself from the process and basically choose to be in Schrodinger’s Box, myself.
      The twelve steps is a logical path to changing how one acts on life. I’ve written here many times about the logic path that is a rational therapy. Admit I have a problem. Accept help. Look into my past for examples of repeated behaviors I want to stop (instead of denying their influence in my life today). Share it honestly and accept my place as just another fallible human being. Choose to change. Take action on that change (is not Step Seven an action step, where I choose to release what was and opt to thrive instead of survive?) Think of the people I harmed. Show them I am changing by bringing up my awareness of my unpleasant survival behaviors and show them that the pain I caused them has created an awareness that I never want to do it again to them, myself, or others. Be vigilant every day about thriving, as not to return to default survivor mode. Be aware of the world around me and take opportunities to thrive. Enjoy the peace of knowing that I can thrive and still be imperfect–and be willing to share the option of 12-Step recovery with others.
      Yes, the option. Twelve Step programs are not for everyone, and there are many, many treatment modalities for those who seek external cures for an internal problem.
      I tried therapy, and I submitted to the authority of the education therapists go through to become therapists. The problem is that a lot of therapists take that authority willingly and wield it as a club at times. So, one-on-one therapy indulges my codependency and social anorexia (one person in authority instead of a bunch of equals). Therapist-led groups probably would work, but I didn’t have the option. Again, however, I would transfer authority to the therapist, and that could go wrong, too. Medication has historically made me insane, and I have false memories; psychiatric medication is like a game of darts to me: The authoritarian throws darts at the board that is my brain and hopes to hit. Having become a zombie on Paxil and something akin to a Tourette’s Syndrome sufferer on Wellbutrin? I opt for a more natural path using diet. I want to say, “And exercise,” but I don’t exercise. That’s something I admit fully would change my life, because of the medical research which shows that exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety and will keep me at maximum health for my age. But I don’t.
      This weekend, I wrote all over my CoDA book, crossing out the word “God” and other sentient and willful uber-being statements associated with God. Why? I feel despair when I am told, “You can do it without God,” then I am inundated with “You can’t do it without God.” This is where I agree with A. Orange about program. The mention that I can do it as an atheist feels like a welcome-in, but when I enter farther, it feels like a cult.
      Alternatives are the foundation of program to me. Program is about opening us up to free will choice by showing me I have options outside of external snake-oil cures like food. I have options besides self-imprisonment in my home to avoid harming other people by enmeshing with them–criticizing them or “fixing” them. I exhausted myself trying to think my way to a spiritual solution where I can thrive in program instead of drop out and return to a life of sad, lonely, addicted despair. I know what comes next, and that is not an option.
      Injecting secularism into program may be heresy, but to those people who have turned 12-Stepping into religion? I am going with the NA concept that I use what I need in order to thrive and discard the rest. And yes, in program people get pissy because those wacky NAs dare to maintain sobriety by not accepting the Big Book as the Addict’s Bible.
      What am I discarding that doesn’t work? Transcendent God. That’s a pretty big discard, and it is quite a risk to say, “Okay, Steps Three, Five, Six, Seven, and Eleven as written trigger my codependency and bar me from recovery.” The program works as written for those who came pre-loaded with Prostestantism or even Catholicism. To them, I say Mazel Tov, and I appreciate your experience, strength, and hope and will be listening for your awarenesses which will help me on my own recovery journey. I respect that your spirituality has the religious framework around it–but I opt out.
      From my CoDA Book and the cutting I did, comes the steps as I understand them. This IS God as I understand Him, and I’m not going to indulge my codependence by wringing my hands and accepting something that makes my authentic self rebel against real and lasting change in my life:
      Step One: We admitted we were powerless over others [addict substance]–that our lives had become unmanageable.
      Step Two: Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
      * Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to reality.
      Step Four: Made a fearless and searching moral [ethical] inventory of ourselves.
      * Step Five: Admitted to ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. [Note: Um, this is silly to me, since even by doing Step Four, that’s “admission to God”. If God doesn’t know when a Step Four is being done and must be told about it in Step Five? That’s a pretty useless benevolent transcendent deity.]
      * Step Six: Were entirely ready to surrender all these defects of character.
      * Step Seven: Humbly surrendered our shortcomings.
      Step Eight: Made a list of persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
      Step Nine: Made amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
      Step Ten: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
      *Step Eleven: Sought through affirmation [I explain this later] and meditation to improve our conscious contact with reality [aka mindfulness], seeking only knowledge of reality and the power to carry reality-based actions out.
      * Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we share this message with other codependents who ask us about it and practice these principles in all our affairs [or areas of our lives, for those SLAA folks who have trouble with affairs being an acting-out modality].
      Okay, so the most blatant change is the removal of God-the-transcendent-being. Reality and sanity go hand-in-hand, so that’s not really a problem from an atheist perspective. Or, to be honest, a therapeutic perspective. Reality is a power greater than us, so Step Two stands as written. Step Five? Well I explained it above. Steps Six and Seven probably are confusing, because there can be an unsaid question, “Surrender to what?” Surrender to anything or nothing. Right now, I surrender this stuff to a Higher Oatmeal Box. When I feel more comfortable? I will surrender it to nothing. Step Eleven has the biggest change, for me, the thorn in my side about prayer. I have, for a long time, sought an alternative to prayer and finally got awareness last night to try a non-theistic prayer equivalent. Consider affirmations hippie-dippy New Agey crap? Well, I will explain below. The submission to God to get mindful is unnecessary. Ask any Therevada Buddhist (if you can find one). I realized that when I cut “God’s will for us” (This is a trigger for my codependence, surrendering to any being’s will for me in order to not take responsibility for my actions–not recovered, so it got cut) the part about having power to carry that out had no “that” to carry out. So, I had to think of something on the fly, and reality-based actions (as opposed to delusional addicted ones) seemed a sensible and sane alternative. In Step Twelve, I realized that enmeshing myself in other addicts’ lives is yet another codependent character defect. To try to carry this message to the addict who still suffers is a blatant rejection of Tradition Eleven, which states we are a program of attraction, NOT PROMOTION. I am not here to proselytize that salvation comes through the 12 Steps. It is a treatment option that works for some but not all. I choose Tradition Eleven over Step Twelve as written, so instead of inserting and enmeshing with people who do not want to hear what I have to say? I offer the option to interested parties and make it clear the Twelve Steps is not for everyone. I will not change that stance because Step Twelve as written makes the fellowship an organized and dogmatic religion. Attraction, rather than promotion works for the last part of Step Twelve, where the appearance of having one’s act together attracts people to find out how we figured out how to thrive instead of survive.
      As an atheist, program does require a bit of find-and-replace. I resent religion, especially when I am told that it’s not necessary yet becomes the core value system on the next page and every last page after in program-approved texts. I’ve done okay so far, and in my lexicon, I’ve come up with these replacements:
      God/God as we understood God — Reality, nature, the life-affirming force of nature/reality, surrender.
      the care of God –life-affirming nature/reality.
      the will of God — just redacted for personal sanity.
      knowledge of God’s will for us — mindfulness, awareness.
      miracle — opportunities to act in recovery/sanity
      soul — authentic self
      prayer — affirmation
      First of all, I am not an authority, and I consider it’s important a person questions beliefs which cause friction in personal evolution from survival-mode addiction to thriving-mode recovery. If it makes sense, then adopt it. If it angers, question why. If it brings serenity, adopt what brings peace and let the rest go. The replacement of “soul” happened this morning, and it could change. I am an evolving being after all, and change is the point of program and recovery for me.
      So, affirmations. I have spent a long time trying to find a replacement for prayer, and I apparently had the affirmation tool for a while yet did not recognize it as a potential alternative to prayer. In thinking about what prayer and affirmation do? I realized this was an alternative to at least explore. I’m not going to say that affirmations will be the permanent and dogmatic replacement. This is just a place to start from, so I can begin working the steps instead of slam into the language and rebel.
      So, what do prayer and affirmations have in common? Well, I believe (but don’t take my word for it!) that both use action today to change our thinking in order to attract growth and sanity opportunities (miracles) tomorrow by turning focus toward seeking those opportunities. I believe that both help us focus on a new and creative (or life-affirming) thought or on changing a destructive thought. I believe that both encourage surrender to change–which is part of reality and the natural order of all things. I’m sure there are more commonalities, but these are enough for me to say, “Okay, I’m going to try affirmations instead of prayer.”
      So, what do prayer and affirmation do differently? Prayer, by its definition, is a petition to an authority to be granted a boon. Affirmation requires no authority; it’s just a statement of acceptance that change is inevitable. Affirmation is life-affirming and is realistic. I’m not going to affirm something nutty like, “I will go live on Mars.” Affirmation accepts that I am a relativistic, finite, and transitory (limited) being. Prayer makes me a slave to an authority which I can only hope is benevolent. Prayer demands I submit to the will of a being which can take away what I need without explanation. Prayer is begging from a place of lack; affirmation is asserting one’s willingness to act on the abundance all around.
      The best part? There’s no one to blame if my affirmation doesn’t work out. Reality is affected by all things it encompasses. All I am doing with affirmation is speaking or writing aloud what I am willing to positively act on in my life. Prayer demands I wait for another to act in my best interest; affirmation encourages me to act in my best interest.
      Seeing as my best interest is currently (1) participating in my own life by seeking a rich and fully-lived life through honesty, openness, willingness, experience, strength, and hope, (2) serenity and an accepting attitude toward every person, place, or situation I am exposed to, and (3) authenticity as a creative and appreciative human being? I consider that prayer or affirmation could work equally well as a means to open myself up to the opportunities to act in recovery–or learn what triggers me to act in addiction and codependency. There are truly no bad experiences. Uncomfortable? Painful? Terrifying? Yes, of course! Real life isn’t about having a happily-ever-after where the birds are singing and the mice are sewing me a ball gown. Real life is about evolution, change, and growth. Real life has loss. Real life is messy, but with a recovered mentality? That messiness can become better than the happy times–if only because we are given the opportunity to rise to challenges and find lessons in our failures or find gratitude in our victories. Authenticity is the number-one goal for me in recovery. I want to feel real feelings. I want to experience real challenges. I want to re-learn what inspires me, what fulfills me, what makes me a living and thriving human being. I want to come to the end of my days able to say no when I consider: “Do I fear death?” A life fully lived is the life of a person who does not fear death. A life half-lived is the life of a person who always, always needs more time.
      I want to live causa sui, the self-evident Jess. I want to trust myself enough to say no and not fear punishment or rejection. I want others’ actions to be about them, not me. I want freedom from the self-loathing and self-punishing and the self-humiliation. I want humbly and gratefully to opt out from being a slave to any sentient, self-willed authority figure out there–be it human or transcendent by definition. I want to be a recovered atheist who works the 12 Steps to the best of my ability, even if it means I change a few words to not trigger as I work program. I appreciate it is even there, and I am not reinventing any wheels. I am translating it for myself, and I am putting it out here in this journal as a record of the imperfectly worked recovery I experience. Do I fear that the fellowship will reject me because I am unapologetically atheist and I choose the message in every bit of program literature that I am welcome with the Higher Power of my own understanding? Yes. I am still deeply codependent, and I will revert to passive-aggressive survival mode when threatened. I will get self-abusive, depressed, and despairing. Then again, I am already here writing about atheist recovery without even speaking out in group about what I fear and believe. I’m just not ready yet to do it in meeting with the respect I want to give others in group.
      However, I am going to work on affirming and meditating on how to present it, so I can find a recovery buddy or sponsor who won’t enmesh and try to “fix” or “save” me.
      I miss M—. He encouraged my spiritual growth by accepting me as a troubled atheist who kept trying to go back into the religion box but simply couldn’t. Because of M—, I can see that recovery through God can be positive and beautiful and a means to find one’s authentic and life-affirming creative self. Does it matter he believed he had a transcendent soul within him and I believe I have an authentic self in me? No. Part of me accepting the unity with diversity policy that OA adopted, I suppose. I am grateful for the years I spent in the OA rooms, because what I learned in recovery there led me to SLAA. I am grateful for the years I spent in SLAA, because what I learned in recovery there led me to CoDA. I am grateful for the program as written, the program as I work to understand it (even if Big Book zealots will condemn me and challenge me to turn toward Acceptance is the Answer and the two-week forgiveness practice in the Big Book). I am being challenged to grow and to accept that I can choose to thrive in reality. I am tired of just surviving, and I see the countdown timer on my life clearly. This does make me impatient, and I become my own obstacle to recovery. Like a member of the fellowship reminds me so often in shares in the rooms we cross paths: “Effort plus surrender.”
      I like that. Effort plus surrender equals recovery. I bet I can make that into a pretty good affirmation for myself, to use as a repeated mantra as I prepare myself for quiet meditation.
      My name is Jess, and I am a layered addict. I binge and restrict food, social and emotional relationships with others, and my self-esteem (grandiosity or martrydom). Between these extremes lies the wide and swinging arc of the standing clock pendulum ticking away the seconds between extremes. Recovery is life in those split seconds, in the silence between the Ecstasy/Excitement Tick and the Despair/Self-Abuse Tick. It is exhausting to control everything between those ticks from a distance. I gotta be in it to win it, and I choose to live in split seconds–where real life happens between the plans I make and either overcommit to or procrastinate over.



  1. Please keep coming back to the rooms.

    • I made it to CoDA meetings on Monday and Saturday, an SLAA meeting on Thursday night, and I drove to an OA meeting on Friday–but it apparently was closed. So, I am getting to rooms, and I am getting fellowship Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: