Posted by: innerpilgrimage | January 17, 2014

Atheism in Overeaters Anonymous

      I particularly enjoy visiting the website, to get insight into the journey from addiction. Though it is focused on the alcoholic’s journey out of bondage from addiction, it still applies to all 12 step groups.

      When I feel like I have little direction, Frank M.s article from August 12, 2012, “An Atheist’s Guide to 12 Step Recovery” offers me guidance and program hope. From the article, I drew this bit of wisdom to address today:

“For the atheist, those twelve steps on the wall and in the book represent four things in essence:

      A recognition that you haven’t been able get loaded in anything approaching moderation and without consistently creating havoc.
      A surrender to the fact that this is a kind of law of nature for you, and that fighting it has been insane.
      A willingness to let reality be the guide of your actions henceforth in this and in everything else.
      A commitment to try and stop hurting yourself or others, and to help where you can.”

      So, I guess the question is: “How does this apply to my OA recovery?”
      Well, I can’t eat or restrict in moderation. It creates havoc in my life and in the lives of people around me. Knowing this, my generally understood Higher Power–reality–exposes the truth that I cannot choose moderation through sheer force of personal will. I only found relief from the compulsive eating and compulsive restricting in abstinence through the OA program. Understanding that I can’t eat moderately, I can let the reality that I need abstinence to eat moderately guide me. My will, and my life, is turned over to this truth: When I try to control my eating without a food plan, I have no boundaries. This applies to all of my co-addictions, as well. In SLAA, I have lax or non-existent social boundaries and will try to use sexuality to get a power-high. In CoDA, that same lack of social boundaries leads me to use enmeshment in order to get a sense of power and control over the world around me. In ACA, I have not grieved my childhood and will try to gain a sense of safety and security and serenity by avoiding the grieving process (because it hurts) and seeking to use other means outside myself to heal the childhood traumas. In reality, sex is not power. In reality, enmeshment is not safe or secure. In reality, grieving clears the way for personal evolution. This brings me to the fourth understanding which Frank M. proposes, that I can realistically commit to evolve thoughts, beliefs, and actions which guide me to stop doing harm to myself and others and commit to help myself and others.
      Well, then, “How do I do that?”
      In OA, I can work the steps and practice daily surrender to the reality that I cannot eat in moderation. The difficulty with working the steps is that I want to work them as written. I want to be codependently attached to program as a source outside of me which will fix me without too much effort on my part. I have before, and I am pretty sure I can again. When I do that, however, I lose sight of the primary purpose of program for me, which is to live moderately. I can easily slip into the romantic obsession to gain approval and power. I can easily slip into enmeshing with another person in group, seeking either to be an egotistical teacher or a worshipful student of an individual. I definitely can easily slip into refusing to grieve the source of my compulsive food behavior by focusing on everything but grieving in order to generate acceptance. Footwork is commitment to choose actions, thoughts, and behaviors on a day-to-day basis which encourage a celebratory life instead of one with more and more reasons to grieve. The footwork, I suppose, is inherent in the basic truth that I want to celebrate my decisions today instead of carry forward the desire or need to mourn my actions yesterday and today.
      Okay, so I understand two important things:
      1) I have to do daily footwork as an atheist in recovery, and
      2) I want a recovery which focuses on living a celebratory life instead of a regrettable one.
      Hm. A celebratory life. What about the times when nothing’s going well?
      I can turn toward “Thank God for the seemingly bad,” which I’ve modified to “I’m grateful for the seemingly bad.” I’ve learned in recovery that those worst-of-the-worst times can shake the foundations of what I assume is right or real or both. The worst times I experience are the ones which expose the chasm between reality and personal illusions. The illusions I hold most dear have to fall aside if I’m going to live fully and thrive instead of survive. I don’t know all of my illusions. Many are deep-seated and well-hidden from myself, the source traumas kept secret because I don’t want to despair life. So, I am aware that to change how I think is to change how I believe is to change how I act. Those actions are what I take forward with me, along with the lessons of recovery–my personal ethical understanding of what it is to live in reality.
      During the good times, I can be humbly grateful of being aware that although I may be just part of a greater family of animals known as primates, I am part of an amazing evolutionary story for my own species. The human animal has advanced so much that we can question anything the mind can imagine, and we seek answers to those imagination-sourced questions. We’ve advanced so much that we don’t have to answer those questions but appreciate that we have a mind which can generate then ask them. We can exist causa sui, or self-caused, as individuals. That, of course, denies a Creator, but since I do exist in nature? That creator-being can be simply Nature or Reality or even Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (from which we are all beings made of “star stuff”). Being self-caused, however, doesn’t mean we have to be self-willed. I can’t control reality; I am simply a small part of reality for a very small amount of time, which is humbling. Despite being pretty-much non-existent in the greater picture of reality, I am grateful that I can still question why and how. Simply by existing, I am part of the giant tapestry of being that is reality. I can be humbled at how unimportant I appear in comparison to all of reality and I can be grateful that reality could exist without me but doesn’t. That I exist means I am necessary to reality, itself. I can use those evolved human gifts (like a mind, a body, and emotions) to create, to consider, and to wonder about things beyond my immediate experience. I can have a spiritual journey with or without a discrete entity providing a divine spark within. I cannot answer to whether the divine spark exists, not even to myself. I find that saying, “No” immediately brings me to a nihilistic mental state. I may not personally believe in a transcendent being or a pantheon of transcendent beings, but I cannot say with certainty that none exists. I’m atheist when it comes to God, agnostic when it comes to the energy of spirit. I just don’t know, because my personal experience so far has made it clear that my beliefs currently lie somewhere between “I am an evolved primate alone” and “I am a divine being having human experiences”. Though it may not be popular among atheist groups to consider anything but the mind as the source and secret identity of the soul, I do agree that I don’t believe in the duality of soul and self. Is that “evolved primate” or is that “divine being infused in form”? No one knows for sure. What I do know is that the iteration of being called “Jess” is unique, and I acknowledge that this iteration of being called “Jess” is desperately trying to control reality from a minute pinpoint of powerlessness in both time and space. My life is unmangeable because I am trying to command reality to change instead of follow the natural world to which I belong. I am powerless over reality even as I am powerless over my narcissistic longing to reboot reality to be unfair in my favor. I begin, I evolve, I end. Right now, I’m in the evolving portion of this unique existence.
      Enough distracting myself with philosophy. I personally disbelieve transcendent creator beings; I personally am not ready to disbelieve in spirit. Some day, perhaps, but I’m not ready to leave that behind. It does seem silly to disbelieve in one invisible energy and believe in another, but like I was not quite ready to walk away from a parental-figure Higher Power once-upon-a-time, I am just not ready to walk away from the idea of a humanity infused with star stuff which connects us to the Cosmos and which simply is released when the body dies. I do believe, however, that whatever’s happening in this lifetime (me-as-Jess) begins and ends with me–whether or not there’s a consciousness energy which travels from this form taking the lessons of this lifetime forward.
      The idea that my consciousness won’t end when my physical life ends is a very comforting story, even if it’s just a story. To believe, at this point, that I’ve spent most of my life focused on a devastating decade or so and have acted based on that decade and will continue to do so . . . well, I need my bedtime story for now, so I can sleep better at night with the Cosmos all around me expanding infinitely in every direction. That does lend to the self-delusion that I am the center of the Universe, though in consideration? We all are the center of the Universe, which means not one of us is the center of the Universe.
      I’m definitely at the center of my expanding imagination, though.
      Um, so back to footwork.
      How do I use the twelve steps, if I look at the word, “God” and immediately think “Myth: Busted”?
      Well, that’s a twofold process, I guess. First, I choose an atheist/agnostic version of the twelve steps and read it daily. I contemplate and consider it, think of how I can use it as a framework. Second, I stop being so touchy about the language of the program as written and work through my resentment of organized monotheism. I don’t think I hate it as much as I’m hurt that when I put the full faith of a child into it, I was not rescued from a long-term physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive environment. I want to forgive everyone in my childhood, but I keep thinking about what I could have done in my life had I been encouraged instead of what did happen to me. I want to forgive my parents for doing it; I want to forgive my extended family for not having the courage to end it; I want to forgive the church for promising me salvation then not delivering it when I needed it most. I won’t forget the lessons, and I want to be strong enough to have the courage to do for others what I couldn’t do for myself when I was small.
      I have a lot of grief to manage, I suppose. I guess it’s time to be grateful for the seemingly bad, because once that resentment has been cleared away, a whole bunch of energy will be freed up in its place to create. I’m meandering, which means I’m denying something important in my life, an illusion which is going to manifest as illusion in the harsh light of reality. More grieving. Well, I am grateful for the seemingly bad.
      So, footwork I can manage:
      (1) Read more from to get experience, strength, and hope from other atheists in program;
      (2) Find an atheist/agnostic 12-step list and read it daily;
      (3) Contemplate and journal;
      (4) Read the Promises of Recovery, to remember why I am doing this in the first place.
      Though the summary of it all is: I want to be sane–defined as accepting reality as it comes–and I want to thrive instead of survive.



  1. I am so delighted to find your blog. As an agnostic in a 12-step food program, I so often get lost in the semantics of the language, losing the focus on the recovery. I think I use the god stuff as my trump card to leave program, even though, nearly three years later, my life (and body) has transformed. Glad to find some like-minded people out here in cyberland.

    A fellow 40-something food addict.
    Karen in SF

    • It’s definitely a journey, Karen, to come to an awareness that doesn’t quite fit the wording of program. I flow in and out of the rooms, though I know program works. I just haven’t entirely hit on a twelve steps that reaches in and really grabs my spiritual atheist journey. Still trying to let go of the strongly-held belief that only people with a deity can take a spiritual journey.

      One day at a time, right? Thanks for commenting, Karen!

  2. I was very pleased to find your blog. I am a long time follower of AA Agnostica and many related sights. Do you have a copy of Beyond Belief:agnostic musings for 12 step life? I was given the book as a gift and have found it very helpful and valuable.
    I would love to start a telephone or email group of OA agnostics/atheists as there are no such groups here in Mass or NH. I am a member of OA.

    • Hiya Effie!

      I do have a copy of Beyond Belief, which I bought for my Nook reader. I agree it is very helpful and valuable.

      Let me know how the online or telephone agnostic/atheist OA group evolves, please. There are no atheist or agnostic OA groups that I know of, and I would love to participate in one.

    • Did you ever find this?

  3. I just started OA, like, a week ago. I’m atheist and am struggling from the getgo, even though I haven’t got a food plan yet or event tried to stop binging. I don’t live in an English speaking country and there are challenges due to the fact that the earliest online meeting I can attend is at 8pm, which is 4-6 hours after the most dangerous binge time for me.

    The existing OA email loops I’ve found tend to be on yahoo groups, the groups seems to offer an appropriate functionality for this kind of thing.

    I’ve found 2 yahoo groups for AA members that could possibly help us:

    I’m also willing to SET UP A NEW GROUP if people want one that is more open to all 12 steppers, regardless of addiction.

    If anyone has any advice, would like to connect by email, or even chat online to offer support to others in 12 step programs who are atheist/agnostic. If we start small email loop, or join these 2 above then we can connect and share resources etc. Maybe there will only be a couple of us to start but I think it could grow into a really helpful community. There are only 5 people on one of the OA loops for survivors of abuse, but it’s still really valuable to know those people are within reach.

    I’ve joined these groups myself, so if you join them & put a shout out for Jen I’ll find you and get in touch.

  4. I’m thrilled to find this blog! I went to my first OA mtg last night. The people were so nice but the religion part made me want to run for the door. Obviously, no one was trying to convert me, but I’m not giving it all up to a higher power. I’m trying to figure out how to continue attending as an atheist.

    I’m going to check out the links provided for atheist AA and go from there. Any kind of online or telephone group for us sounds good to me.

  5. […] Atheism in Overeaters Anonymous | A 40-Something Fool's … […]

  6. Thank you SO much! I was told by several people in OA that “higher power” can mean whatever you want it to, but I was struggling with this because it seems there is a lot about God and “surrendering to your higher power”. It makes me uncomfortable and I find it hard to relate. BUT thinking about it the way you’ve outlined it makes it so much easier to assimilate into my thinking. I was looking for information online to help me with this and you put it really well. Thank you again! Good luck on your journey. 🙂

  7. UPDATE:
    I hope some commenters are following this thread and can read this; I am now co-ordinating the Recovery Group’s online Freethinker’s email loop. (Search Yahoo Groups for ’12 Step Freethinkers Anonymous’ to find us). There is a community, albeit a small one. I’d love to see it grow and to help other atheists, agnostics and freethinkers find the support and ESH they need to work their steps and live an abstinent life in OA.
    Please respond to this comment if you have any questions, thanks.

    • Fantastic, Jen! I will definitely look for it. I don’t recall if I have a Yahoo! account; it’s been years and years since I even used it. However, I definitely want to look, because Freethinker 12-Step groups are needed.

      So, atheists and agnostic food addicts–anorexics, bulimics, and compulsive overeaters: Let’s represent! 🙂

      • I’m hosting an OA Freethinkers meeting on Skype tomorrow and hope to make it a regular thing. it’ll be at 9AM Japan Standard Time on 26th May 2015. Please note that if you are in the USA this meeting will take place in the evening of Monday 25th.

        If you’d like to join this or any other meeting please add the Skype contact ‘OAfreethinkers’ and get in touch. This is the first meeting I’ve done, but if there’s enough interest I’ll try to get a regular thing going and in the summer, when I’m on vacation, plan to try to do some that’ll suit those in the UK and Europe time-wise).

  8. Here is the link to 12 Step Freethinkers Anonymous page, which Jen has done a great job putting together:

    I encourage atheists and agnostics in the OA program to take a look at this wonderful resource.

    Thanks, Jen, for all your hard work!

    • Thanks for the signal boost!

  9. I’m a new person to OA, starting my journey for the first time, and I’ve been reading the blogs/stories of fellow atheists/agnostics who have taken the path before me. I’m really struggling with the concept of a higher power. I fully admit that I am not in control of my own eating habits; I want to change, and if I could have done so by myself, I would have. I acknowledge the need for a “higher power” but have not yet found one I can believe in that exists for me in a suitable manner; the closest I have come is the “knowledge and experience of a fellowship who has journeyed before me.”…

    I went to my first meeting this week, and was in tears. I don’t think I really knew just how much I am struggling, and need both support, and success. Many elements of the program ring more true than I could ever fathom… “I put my hand in yours…”

    To the original poster, and to anyone else who feels the same, I could use your support and am more than willing to offer the same. email or text me (253) 652-8502.

    Stay as strong as you can, do not berate yourself over your mistakes, and if you need help, support can be found.

  10. Hello, Are you still active on this site? I see the last comment is from May of 2015. I would love to connect. I am an atheist who just recently started attending OA. I think the program is what I need but minus the “god” part.

    • Not really active here. I’ve been focused with my work stuff, and it’s been a bear. Which would make it a perfect time to get back into program and work with other atheists on this stuff.

      I’m sort of avoiding the rooms because I get really depressed after and binge. So, I’ll do my best to keep an eye out for folks looking for support. And Jo just started a Wednesday meeting, so that’s awesome. 🙂

  11. Hi all, I have started an agnostic/atheist oa meeting on Wednesday and a newcomers oa agnostic/atheist meeting on Saturday. Both are at 6pm eastern. You can reach the meetings through the website. These are both registered with

    • Are these meetings online, telephone or face to face? I’d like to join if possible, but can’t find them on the OA website as I don’t know what type they are. I’ve looked at phone and online meetings on the OA website but nothing that says atheist or agnostic is coming up unfortunately.

  12. Hello my fellow travelers… there is a secular OA meeting phone meeting We Agnostics in OA which is on Wednesdays 8pm EST. Check the website under phone meetings.

    There is also a Sunday 10am unconventional spirituality phone meeting on the same number/bridge.

    • Thanks for the info, chelsea… I will check out the Wednesday meeting!

    • Chelsea — Can you specify which meeting it is? I am reviewing the listing for phone meetings on Wednesdays and cannot see which one is for We Agnostics. Thanks so much!

    • Found it! Hope to jump on this week. Thanks for your service, Chelsea.

  13. There is an oa agnostic phone meeting Wednesday night at 8:00 EST ……go to and look up the phone number and pin

  14. Chlsea,
    You seem to be a wealth of info.. I once saw a map or something like that offering Atheism/Agnostic meetings all over the country. Sparc as they were.
    Is there such a thing that you know of,as I can’t remember how or where I saw that

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