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There's been some discussion of 12-step groups here but I don't think there's been a general discussion of them in one place. I have been working a 12-step program for 6+ yrs. I would've gone sooner but it took me awhile to figure out what to do with all the 'god-stuff'. I had to create my own higher power, rewrite the serenity prayer, substitute 'connection' for 'spiritual' and figure out how to respond to any possible theistic bullying. Any other non-believing 12-steppers out there?

kmdskit3 8 Jan 8

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I'm going to be honest, at the moment I'm too lazy to read all the comments. That being said, I've been doing AODA counseling for about ten years. I've been in the mental health field for about 30. I've seen twelve step programs help some people, and I've been a little uncomfortable with the amount of 12 step bashing on the site.


There are many good skeptical critiques of twelve-step stuff. I recommend the books of Stanton Peele ( ), and Ken Ragge's "The Real AA" ( ). Online, read the more recent "Surprising Failures of 12 Steps" in the Atlantic magazine ( ).

I was lucky to have big-city Al-Anon meetings where not even the Lord's Prayer was said. Yet even nonreligious members thought of an HP as a omniscient, omnipresent deity that rewarded sober thinking, or a pantheistic force that supported "synchronicity." I was learning so much good stuff about self-care, and about how my addiction-related burdens were anything but unique. But I wasn't going to try opening myself up to a "doorknob."

After a few awkward months, I decided my HP would be "opening my mind to new possibilities." THAT inspired me: giving myself the chance to brainstorm about other, more radical paths besides the safe, often hopeless one that lay right in front of me.

Ironically, I became an atheist activist thanks to the "spiritual" rooms. I overcame a fear of public speaking by sharing my experience, strength and hope; I got used to the responsibilities of service; and then I used those new skills, and the examples of program's minimalist, classically anarchic organization, to create from scratch a local atheist community, something I'd always wanted to do, but hadn't had the tools for before.

I benefited greatly from my years in Al-Anon (my alcoholic mother being my qualifier; and my lifelong habit of taking care of others, instead of myself, being why I joined). But the limits of program became frustrating.

The antiprofessional exclusion of any kind of psychology besides the pop psych in program literature was too extreme. Step nazis' work to keep program pure also kept it from maturing. Without greater challenges, many members had little incentive to stop their addictive or codependent behavior. Like a clique of friends who fall into routine, or a religion that discourages learning anything new or contradictory, my twelve-step meetings seemed to favor the lowest common denominator of recovery, and to reward hypocritical humblebragging.

"Get off your crosses," I wanted to shout, "you need the wood!" Since program had taught me to keep the focus on myself, I quit it.

@josh_karpf Thank you for the two excellent comments on my post. I'm not at to the point of not needing the program yet but I definitely understand your critiques of it. Everytime I share in a meeting I try to relate what I'm going thru to the step just read and to not 'humblebrag' or get stuck in reciting my litany of woes. It's not easy for this control freak but that's why I keep coming back. I need it. I'm in EA because my fucked-upidness comes from being raised by parents who grew up in fucked up families and no one ever dealt with their shit and of course they passed it on to me. I talked about how I figured out my higher powers on @MichaelSpinler 's comment a little farther down. I would be interested in your perspective.


Before I answer for myself, let me quote the late Irving Yablon, who as "John" was in the rooms for forty years, and was a leading member, and possibly a founder of, Agnostics AA NYC ( ). He was also a cofounder of the Secular Humanist Society of NYC, and a member of every regional and national freethought group under the sun.

“It’s amazing how many nonbelievers are present in our society,” he once wrote. “Most of them are bound to family, career, neighbors, tenure, and discretion. By presenting myself as a living, day-by-day, godless person, I pinprick the protective bubble these people hide. As an atheist in Alcoholics Anonymous, with a record of over three decades of continuous sobriety, I talk about atheism in a light atmosphere and, with jokes and laughter, perhaps I encourage a few to emerge.”

Warren Allen Smith told me, after attending his memorial, "What amazed me was that people just kept arriving, all from groups representing ex-alcoholics (even a Christian group): sober agnostics, agnostics at noon, Village agnostics, We Humanists, We Agnostics of the Bronx, We Agnostics of The Bronx. The chap from Atheists United was on hand to tape the eulogies, almost all of which were about John’s devotion to anyone with an alcohol problem. It was clear that John was viewed as an atheist, including by the person John had chosen to lead the memorial (a tall black atheist gay ex-alcoholic and ex-Christian minister!). But one of the people in his eulogy was certain John was looking down upon us as we were assembled. I literally counted over 100 individuals, and many remarked they’d never seen so many at a wake. I am not a fan of open caskets and will try to remember Irving (as most of the non-alcoholics called him) as the person in the photo rather than as the wax-like T-shirted figure in the casket. What I did appreciate was the combination of sincere tears and laughter. Irving’s language could be salty, but his devotion (even to sweeping floors and arranging small tasks and treating hopeless alcoholics as loveable) came through clearly."

Thank you. That was wonderful! @josh_karpf


I had to go to AA because of a court order; The Jesus freaks didn't really care for my comparing Peter Pan come flying out of the sky to their Jesus! They also didn't like it much when I called him a glorified primate!! Oh well!!

The god-stuff can be difficult for us but you can find your way around it. I also found I did better when I just let the jesus freaks be. If they would leave me alone in my non-beliefs then I would leave them alone in theirs. @WarrenPerry


One here, sober since '05, though not been to the meetings in a few years after getting chewed out a few times about prayer and some general shots about disbelief.

Zster Level 8 Jan 8, 2018

Yeah, I've had to stand up for my non-beliefs a few times in meetings. Sounds like it's been worse for you though. Have you thought about going back? @Zster

Oh yes, I plan to attend my fave noon meeting once I retire and can be away from work. I am not sure I had it any worse than others, BUT was pretty upset knowing that the drinking kills and that no one should run any desiring to stop off.

@Zster Don't know if EA's 12 Traditions are the same as AA's but if anybody gets too holier than thou to me or to someone else in a meeting I just quote #3 from The Twelve Traditions: "The only requirement for EA membership is a desire to become well emotionally." Good luck.

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