I've taken the first step to become a member of the AA. Will the 'spirituality' be a problem?

I think I’d be a fool to pretend not to still have a drink problem here on the dope. I think those of you (few I am sure) that know me a bit can probably work out that I am not on the wagon as it were… so I won’t.

Anyway. The problem has become bad enough that I have taken the first step to join the AA. I rang the number I found online for the AA and spoke to a very pleasant woman for longer than I intended to about me becoming one of them.

Overall the conversation was positive, but I had to ask about the religion thing and she (probably equally compelled by her natural human need to stick by her beleif system) had to mention that I may find the word ‘spirituality’ and ‘God’ used. (But she did qualify that AA is not about religion etc etc…) She also admitted that she liked to prove the non-existence of God in pubs before she became a member of the AA, but that since she joined she beleives there is a higher power. I normally don’t stray this far into politeness-risking frankness in introductory conversation but at that point I said almost word for word “The thing is, That is something I don’t want to happen to me” (Because one thing that holds me together if anything is my confidence in my beliefs [there is no God and there is no evidence that there is, plenty of evidence that there isn’t, and plenty of reasons to understand why it is human nature to vehemently believe there is] and I don’t want to be brainwashed)

My atheism has actually been detrimental to my efforts to stop drinking. I read the quit drinking book by Alan Carr (not the Gay ugly-toothed TV presenter. A different namesake) and it worked like a charm for a while. For some reason (after many months of not drinking) I started again. So I read the book again. And the second time I found a bit (second time reading improves clarity of what is being read) that destroyed my trust in Alan Carr. Basically he attributes the design of human beings to a higher power. He goes on to explain that squirells are ‘designed’ to store nuts for the winter rather than devour them, pointing out that ‘only a higher power could account for that kind of logical behavior’. His book-point being that humans were not ‘designed’ to drink alcohol, or rather ‘designed’ to exist without it. Well I could not help wanting to confront the guy (at this point he is deceased) and try to explain the concept of evolution/natural selection to him, and how it is perfectly possible to explain why those squirrells store their nuts for winter and why we humans were not evolved to desire alcohol. but counter-point why the fact that we humans were evolved and not designed has indirectly led to our horrible tendency to become dependant on substances such as alcohol.

Anyway, waffling over. Should I hold my tongue if/when the other members try to invoke a ‘higher power’ (not necesarily the christian/Jewish/Muslim one) during meetings or will I find it difficult to do so?

Bearing in mind that I live in a ‘secular [british crown dependency of a] country’? (In other words I am fairly confident I will not be the only atheist in the meetings, and there’s a chance there won’t be many bible nut-jobs)

I wish you luck in your recovery. You’ve made an important first step. Out of ignorance, is there any AA-like organization that doesn’t include any belief in a higher power? I ask only because you have made it *extremely *clear over the last months that you have a great deal of disdain for any believers. Not having been in AA, I have to wonder (1) if you will be comfortable surrounded by people who profess to believe in a higher power and (2) if your disdain will actually hurt other people who are in at a very sensitive and delicate point in their lives. If there is a non-spiritual alternative, it might be worth exploring.

Believe me I have considered the idea that my lack of faith could be a problem for those in the group who posess it. And I tell myself to try and keep it from becoming a problem. But I’m not very good at obeying my commands to myself (alcoholism being the perfect example of that)

But as I have said: Things have got bad enough that I have to try this, where in the past the very reasons you have mentioned have kept me from doing it.
On previous occasions people have suggested that there are options for Atheists (and there might even be ones or one that are available locally) but on this occasion I have, in desperation, grabbed at the ‘nearest’ option in reach.

If it doesn’t work out I will pursue other options. but I genuinelly want to see past the unfortunate fact that there might be religion involved and grasp the positives: Being able to talk to other sufferers. Being able to add more numbers to the number of people that know I have a problem (before tonight - me and my mother. Tonight me, my mother, and the woman who answered the phone)
Edit: If it seems like I have made it clear that I have distain for beleivers: I apologise for that and I did not mean to. My philosophy is to accept that people believe in something that I do not, and that it gives them comfort, therefore the nicest thing I could (and should) do is let them do so. Sometimes I fail to live by that philosophy. I am far from perfect but I strive to be.

You seem self-aware enough to try to avoid any problems. As long as you can keep in mind that spiritual doesn’t equal stupid, you have a good shot.

On seeing your edit, I think that your philosophy will work well for you. Just remember that for some, their faith is as much a part of them as your atheism is a part of you.

Again, best of luck to you. I think you are a nice guy (as opposed to a Nice Guy), and I really hope things work out for you.

No advice, Lobsang, just wanted to wish you good luck. Hang in there.

Perhaps what might make the bit about the Higher Power is that trust in yourself has brought you to where you are now. You have acknowledged that you have a problem controlling your drinking, and you are to commended for that step. That is perhaps the hardest and one that not many make.

However, there is one last step to take: surrendering your will (to drink to excess) to someone else. Surrendering your will is very scary, because it represents a loss of control, and no one wants to give over control of their lives to someone else. But in many cases, it is necessary. You have recognized that necessity.

So, whether you surrender your will to AA, to your sponsor, a Higher Power, a Creator or to a transcendent concept, the end result is the same: you let go of the habits, desires and drives that you recognize hurt you and that you don’t want, and accept the desire of someone other than you to not do those things. You accept the decisions of someone else that do not include the harmful behaviors you have recognized. At that point, it doesn’t matter what the identity of that someone else is. The important thing is that you surrender your more destructive will to the more constructive will of that other entity.

The best of luck to you. You have done more for yourself than you realize.

A supportive AA peer does not espouse religion, or atheism, or which way to hang the toilet paper. They support you by listening to you. A big part of recovery involves talking, and the lion’s share of that talking is your job, not theirs. If they’re not listening for whatever reason, due to religion or egotism or simple inability to relate, find another member.

I don’t know if the overall culture of the Isle of Man means that the AA groups available to you are heavily religious. Me, I’m in Georgia, USA, so it goes without saying that whenever a member at any group I attend starts to share, there’s a good chance he or she will start talking about how God helped. I listen to them, and then they listen to me. If they come back later and remark on how “God-lacking” my sharing was or my program seems to be, that’s not just witnessing, that’s taking another member’s inventory. A big no-no

I hope it’s Ok for me to give a plug to mysobrietyspace.com here. It’s allowed me to connect to members outside of the norms of my own cultural geography.

Others can give you better and more personal insight, I’m sure, because I’ve never had direct experience with AA myself, but my understanding is that the Higher Power involved there is entirely subject to definition by you in whatever terms you can best relate to it.

It’s been my experience that this eventually makes sense, but again, this is indirect experience.

Actually, even though I’m afraid I’m becoming a sort of David Foster Wallace evangelical these last couple of years, here is a quote from Infinite Jest discussing this very point. A character is speaking to an AA group very early in his attempt toward sobriety about his spirituality:

That character, who I have every reason to believe was speaking for the author on that point, comes to terms with this eventually. Which is to say, you’re not alone; others have gone through the experience feeling as you do, and still gotten something out of the bargain. Good luck.

Best wishes, Lobsang.

When my firmly non-believing brother E. attended AA, he chose to interpret his higher power as our deceased brother, K. It worked for him.

I get the impression that you will be told that “Your higher power doesn’t necessarily have to be God”, and then you will shortly realize you are in a roomful of people for whom their higher power is God, and you will have to work that out in your own head.

Good luck, Lobsang. As others have said, your Higher Power can take whatever form it needs to be for you. The basic thought is that if we could be free of whatever it is that enslaves us on our own power, then we wouldn’t be enslaved. Thus, the need to acknowledge that we need the help of something greater than ourselves.

And, as Ms. Meta said, many people in your group will believe that God is their higher power. Part of the recovery process will be allowing them to have those beliefs, accepting them as someone who is on the same journey as you. Their path will be similar to, but not exactly the same path, as yours. You are not in a race, and nobody’s path is better than anyone else’s path. It is just different.

And, there may be some who may choose to invoke their belief in God by either praying for you, or by telling you they will be praying for you. Even though you may not believe in their religion, their beliefs, or their God, you may just want to let them have their beliefs. After all, what possible harm can it do to you if others want to have some sort of belief?

This journey we are on takes every bit of help we can get, and from all quarters.

May your journey bring you to a place of inner peace.

There’s Rational Recovery- a secular recovery program.

Lobsang-
I am a member of NA but I think I might be able to help you with this. Step Two states that “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”. I recently completed this step and if I had to phrase it in my own words, it would be “We can change our way of thinking, but we need help to do it”. In my view, the focus is recognizing that we are not infallible and that some of our thought-patterns need to be reconsidered. Accordingly, we are not the be-all end-all and we must open our minds to foreign ideas.

Our literature states that a higher power may be anything that is loving, caring and greater than ourselves. I personally do not believe in the supernatural (including gods) and so I have designated the fellowship (the group as a whole) as my higher power. Many atheistic and agnostic members do this. I could not quit on my own willpower, but the fellowship has given me the tools I need to remain clean and sober. I therefore conclude that it is something greater than myself.

As for having a “God of my understanding”, my sponsor (an atheist) uses the “spiritual principles” outlined in the literature (honesty, open-mindedness, willingness) as the god of his understanding. I’m not certain how well this holds water technically and philosophically, but it has worked for him for at least the 5 years he has been clean.

There are many things in the literature that I found repugnant upon first reading, but I stuck around long enough to gain my own interpretation and I am glad that I did.

I hope this helps you.

Couple of points:

  1. First of all, you appear to have a very strong stubborn streak.

  2. I’ve been to AA meetings and all I see are a room full of stubborn people trying not to drink, all 100% convinced it’s the alcohol that’s the problem, not themselves.

  3. If I told you addressing the stubborness would cure the drinking, would you believe me?

Alcoholism is not cured simply by not drinking. There are underlying psychological issues that need to be addressed that have little or nothing to do with God, spirituality, a higher power, etc.

First off best of luck in your recovery.

My best friend is in AA (five years sober last October!) and I’ve asked her this question as I’m not particularly religious and wondered what someone in my position would do. She said she counseled a sponsee once who was atheist/agnostic and she told her to go out and just find something - anything - that she could acknowledge was greater then her. Something she had no power over and couldn’t change. And she came back with “the ocean” which she eventually modified to “nature.” Nature was her higher power. She could be as stubborn and self centered as she wanted, but she wasn’t going to change the tide or move a mountain.

She said she’d also heard of people thinking of it as the universe, mankind as a whole or the memory/spirits of deceased loved ones. I imagine if you wanted to be really scientific you could think of it as the laws of physics, or other scientific facts. So there are options other then God. Here’s hoping you find one that works for you and a supportive sponsor to help you along the way.

Again, best of luck.

I can understand you having serious issues about being pressured to make your own professions of faith. I would find that a major problem too, and because of that I would look very hard for some other organization that is not faith-based in any way. Personally, I think you’re dismissing this possibility too quickly.

If I were in your shoes, I would do a couple of things, based on what I’ve heard about AA. I have no personal experience with it, however. I would call that friendly woman back and ask her some more questions. One would be whther she knows of any non-spiritual alternatives in your area.

Another would be to ask her if she knows any details about the groups in your area. I have heard that different groups have different… personalities, for lack of a better term. There might be groups that emphasize different aspects of the program to different degrees, and you might fit into some better than others. So even within AA there are differing options.

Ok, this sentence in your OP is a big concern:

Are you seriously concerned that you may be unable to keep your mouth shut when people are testifying about their own issues and beliefs and not even addressing you? Do you really believe you might be unable to let someone else’s profession of their own faith go unchallenged? Especially if you have an option of just sitting silently through it?

IMO, it would be better to get up and leave rather than disrupt a meeting like that. OTOH, you might find it worthwhile to make these doubts part of your own testimony, and invite comment from the others. But not in a way that singles out someone else and suggests that their own testimony is bullshit. I suppose those are some more questions to ask that woman – what are the protocols, are there any subjects off limits, etc.

Best of luck finding your way through this.

I think that, generally, it depends on your local AA group and how religious the members are.

I know quite a few people who’ve tried both NA and AA; some have quit because a few other members would do things like telling them to put their trust in God and berating them npt for doing so, or because they simply didn’t feel part of the group when the others were all banging on about higher powers and God all the time. However, some have had no problems like that at all. so it’s difficult to say if your local group will be religious enough to make your progress more difficult.

Depending on where you live you might be able to find a local secular quitting alcohol group, and your doctor will likely be able to refer you on to one. He should also be able to refer you for counselling, but you will have to wait a while.

I’m 100% atheist and I’ve been in (mandatory) AA and NA and although they do keep reiterating that their support is not religious or spiritual and that you don’t need to believe in God, most of the ‘helpful’ steps involve the magical higher power.
I was also in a sort of NA support group where I challenged this higher power notion, because I was tired of being told it can be anything. I asked if it could be a marijuana plant (in my case I think it’s about the closest thing I have) but apparently that’s one thing not on the list of higher power possibilities. I suspect poppy and coca plants are also not higher powers.
But I really did want an answer as to how the higher power can be anything and still be a higher power. It’s an unfortunate paradox I could not resolve.

Good luck to you.

My sister had some issues many years ago, and I went with her to several meetings. I don’t remember it being particularly religious, but the AA prayer does mention God.

I’m guessing it depends upon where you attend meetings.

This is why I joined the RAC instead.

I wish you all the best with it Lobsang - that is, with your own problems and with the problem of dealing with assholes.

The higher power can be anything in your mind, but I suspect most members believe god is you higher power no matter what term you use for it.