When it comes to alcoholism and drug addiction the 12 steps are one of the most widely accepted and most successful treatment plans for getting better. However, if you’re an atheist with a serious addiction problem, diving into these steps can seem near impossible when the second and third steps go against everything you’ve ever believed in. And steps two and three are just the beginning of the God steps.
I do not believe that God created man in his own image. I believe the exact opposite. I believe that man (humans) created a God in our own image. The idea of a supreme being that created us goes against everything I’ve held so close for most of my life. And yet, at the same time I can tell you that God saved me from alcoholism, and I was able to get through the 12 steps. God was looking out for me during my recovery.
Full disclosure here. I have never really been an atheist. I have always been an agnostic. And being that I have always had some spiritual aspects to my belief system, perhaps it was not as difficult for me as it may be for a complete atheist who only accepts scientific proof. In any event, I hope this information is helpful for those godless folks who are trying to find a path forward with the 12 steps.
The first thing you should do is truthfully ask yourself if you hold anger or animosity toward the idea of a god. For me, I most definitely held such attitudes toward religion and God. In Hollywood, there is this huge white cross at the top of a hill just north of town. I recall saying out loud to my best friend once, “We should climb that hill and tear that cross down”. This was sometime before 1995 when that comment slipped from my mouth. It never really occurred to me how much anger I held for organized religion until that moment when my friend was dumbfounded. He very politely, yet in a shocked tone, asked what had happened to me to make me have so much hostility. And I was forced into silence because I didn’t have an answer for him. I was kind of dumbfounded at myself for having said it. I took years to figure that out. Sure, I could point to events where religious leaders did evil things, especially in the case of Catholic priests sexually abusing children. But this is absolutely no excuse for being hostile toward the entire institution. The actions of a few individuals should not taint the reputation of the entire collective/group. I’ve met many good Catholics who press for positive change in their institution. And I’ve looked upon some very religious people with great respect for their loving, caring, and giving nature. My anger was formed out of a classic logic fallacy that I was guilty of committing when nurturing that anger inside myself.
If you find that you hold such animosity, perhaps it would be a good idea to address that before continuing this read. 🙂 It is possible that this will do nothing for you if you’re in that place where I was prior to 1995.
Some might say that I live in a state of paradox when it comes to God. I am entirely at peace with that. And so I want to share with you God as I understand her. I use the word her, because if there is a god, it makes sense that she is female. Women are the ones that give birth, not men. It just seems more elegant to me that way. That is my choice to make that distinction, and I don’t believe it makes much difference what gender you decide your god is.
Five years ago, in November 2008, I wanted to die. I was seriously depressed. I was drinking heavily at least three or four times per week. On average, every other evening when I would get my three-year-old son to bed at 8pm, I would go from sober to passed out drunk in just three hours. I was drinking 8%-12% alcoholic beers, followed by screwdrivers and martinis. I had to mix it up with different kinds of alcohol because my body seemed able to get more into it that way. I was doing this privately so none of my friends or family really knew about it.
I was drinking so heavily that I was having chest pains. I would wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, wondering if this was the night I was going to have a heart attack. The thought that my son in the next room could wake up to find his dad dead was not enough to stop the madness.
Then, on the morning of January 7th 2009, I woke with the profound sense that I was done. I got online and downloaded the big blue book in PDF format and found out where the nearest and soonest AA meeting was. I knew full well the problems I would have with the steps, but I proceeded anyway. I was inspired. It didn’t seem to bother me that I took a hug from the AA volunteer/coordinator when my body was probably perspiring with alcohol.
Where did this profound sense of purpose come from? To this day I can’t say for certain. But I suspect it was God as I understand her. She must have come to me in my dreams.
Finding the strength and inspiration to get through the God steps probably started back in the late 1980’s when I was about 21 years old. I was getting into lucid dreaming, and I was journaling in a dream log nearly every morning. At one point I was having lucid dreams nearly every single night.
One dream in particular was really powerful to me. It was a dream where I was with my dad at a car show in Reno, Nevada. Understand that I had not spoke to my dad for entire year when I had this dream. It turned out that my dad was at a car show (Hot August Nights) in Reno on the same exact weekend that I had the dream. I interpreted the dream as an out-of-body experience, or more accurately as an astral projection. There was no way that dream was a coincidence. I had actually traveled to another level of existence, the astral plane, in my dream. For those atheists that require proof of OBE, there is tons of research on the subject with plenty of case studies that indicate out-of-body experiences are a real thing. I suppose that it’s not hard proof, but it is strongly indicative.
What does this have to do with God? Well, the dream planted a powerful seed. The idea that perhaps my consciousness could exist outside of my physical body. Some would call this your spirit or soul. And today I can agree with calling it that. But the even more powerful seed that grew from this dream was the concept of a universal consciousness. The idea that each and every one of us is connected in a deep way on a non-physical level.
About 30 days after I quit drinking, I did something that would probably be frowned upon by those who understood just how deeply my problem with alcohol ran. If there was any such person. I went to Hawaii on a ten-day vacation with three friends who still drank alcohol. This was at a time when I was still living one day at a time.
On night two of our trip we were all out by the pool of our hotel with a couple of local women we had invited over. Everyone was drinking alcohol except me. And the night was not without pressure to have just one drink. I remember telling one of my friends that I was just not going to drink that night. I said that I was most likely going to partake in alcohol the next night, though. And when I said those words it made it real. I knew with every bone in my body that I was going to drink alcohol the next night. I had set my course.
The next morning I woke up before everyone else, probably because I was sober and went to bed before everyone else. I quietly got up and got on my rented bike and started down the road to return my snorkel gear from the day before. I was thinking about how I was probably going to drink that night. I was seriously conflicted about it and I was going back and forth in my head. It was a heavy burden sitting on my shoulders. I could feel it dragging me down.
As I pulled up to the snorkel rental shop in this frustrated and confused state, there among the palm trees was a group of about 35 people sitting in a close circle and taking turns speaking. I knew right away that it was an AA meeting. Still, I asked the guy at the shop for confirmation before I joined the meeting, a little late.
As I approached the group, the weight on my shoulders started to lift immediately. Before I even sat down I had already decided that I was just not going to drink again that night. And by the time the meeting was over, I was entirely convinced that I was going to make it through the vacation without drinking. — no amount of pressure or inquiries from my friends would convince me otherwise. Though, to be clear, my friends were completely supportive of my decision. The only pressure was quite likely in my own mind, the desire to fit in with the group.
When I say that God had intervened while I was in Hawaii, it should not be interpreted that I believe there was a supreme being that stepped in and put that AA meeting on my path. What I mean when I say that God intervened is that the universal consciousness, which is full of love, compassion, and empathy from the collective/everyone conspired to make sure that I returned my snorkel gear in time to make it to that AA meeting. As we are all connected in that non-physical realm, enough souls knew that I was in trouble and they answered my plea for help by waking me up and compelling me to return my gear extra early, even though it was not due back for several more hours.
If you’ve never seen the indie film Ink, I encourage you to watch it. That is, of course, assuming that you find my story remotely interesting. If you’re entirely atheist with no openness to spirituality it may not be something you would enjoy. This movie reflected my thoughts on my own journey so closely that I was crying at several points. Keep in mind that the special effects are low budget.
When I say that I will pray for you, I’m not saying that I will ask the supreme being to intervene in your particular situation to make things better or to heal you or your family. When I say that I will pray for you, I’m saying that I will meditate and connect with other souls on the astral plane and ask them to join me in a collective embrace. To give you a great big astral hug and to send healing thoughts and energy your way.
If you require some physical proof of this collective consciousness, think about it in terms of quantum mechanics. Think about the fact that two particles can share the same quantum state (entangled), even though they are separated by great distances. If one particle changes state, the other particle is also immediately changed. While much is unknown about this phenomenon, I encourage you to speculate and brainstorm and keep an open mind about the field. Who’s to say if this very real science is not also part of what enables this communication within our dreams and with practiced meditation for some. I suspect that when people pray, they are connecting to this quantum network, or astral plane as I call it. I’m not suggesting that quantum entanglement is any kind of proof at all. I’m only saying that you should not discount it as something you can spiritually identify with. And in the spirit of trying to get through the steps, perhaps this will allow you to bend the definition of God, just enough, to move forward with your healing.
When I sit in a room full of alcoholics and say that God is present in this room, I’m not suggesting that there is this supreme being present and guiding our group to recovery. What I’m saying is that I can sense this tremendous love and empathy the group has toward one another. This collective desire to guide as many people as possible to a healthy and happy life away from addiction and alcohol. I imagine that it feels much the same way to me as it would feel to someone who truly believes there is a supreme being present in the room guiding the group to recovery.
This universal consciousness or collective that I’ve come to believe in is God as I understand her. And in my opinion, it seems to be a far distance from the traditional God that I grew up learning about — that traditional God that sets rules for us and enforces those rules with the threat of eternal suffering in Hell. God as I understand her has no such definitive rules. She is constantly evolving and changing with us, because she is us. She is inside each and every one of our hearts.
I would like to encourage those atheists seeking to get sober or fight addiction to consider stretching your definition of God. That power that is greater than yourself may simply be Mother Earth or Mother Nature (Gaia). One cannot deny that the powerful rotation of the Earth on its axis and around the sun and around the galaxy is a power that is greater than oneself. It is something that is entirely out of your control. In this sense, you are not in control of your life at all. This is just an example, of course. Choose whatever analogy or metaphor you want for God as you understand him or her or it — whatever works to get you through the steps. I’m certain that you will not regret it.
Peace and love,