One topic that has interested me since becoming an atheist is how to stay sober without the 12 Steps. I was in AA when I became an atheist and have found that I don’t feel I belong there anymore. Todd B, whose twitter handle is @addictionguy shares his experience with secular recovery:
Sobriety is an interesting thing, especially as most people initially attempt to find recovery under the banner of religion at a 12-step meeting. If you follow me on Twitter you know that I am not a fan of the 12-step program. The focus of this post is to discuss a different way of staying sober that is outside the confines of a traditional approach and totally unrelated to any religious doctrine.
I used alcohol and drugs for a period of 10 years. After significant social and health problems I was faced with a decision after being in a coma for nearly a month. My experience as a clinician is that everybody who makes a decision to quit using needs to find their own motivation to quit and remain chemical-free. My motivation came from my grandmother when she said “I was very concerned that you wouldn’t make it”. This is significant to me because both of my grandparents survived Auschwitz. They spent every day not knowing if they would be alive for the next 24 hours. My grandmother is my moral compass and I remember thinking that if she was able to find a way to stay alive for four years in horrific conditions, I could find a way to stay sober.
When I got sober my grandparents asked me to try 12-step meetings. I attended for some time but as an Atheist I disliked the reliance on god. I found that many people essentially traded religion for their chemical use. I also found that the “program” essentially reinforces helplessness and powerlessness and fosters a reliance on the program. I continue to hear about the success of the program, but my experience is that many people often confuse most successful with most popular.
I think about my recovery in the following ways:
I attach a tremendous amount of emotional pain to the idea or thought of using and a tremendous amount of pleasure to the thought of remaining chemical free. Not only do I stay sober because I made a commitment to my grandmother (pleasure) I don’t use chemicals because it creates more problems than it solves (pain).
I was able to quit as the people I knew who used alcohol and drugs had different goals than did. I wanted more from my life than I was currently getting. I no longer saw drug use as fun, and everything I wanted in my life conflicted with using chemicals.
I didn’t want to be asleep on my life. It seems to me that running around being checked out all of the time because I was loaded or drunk meant that I was missing out on what I wanted to do. I have been able to maintain recovery because the things I want to do in my life and the relationships I have created are vastly more important than any chemicals I’ve used.
There are many paths to sobriety that do not require god or a need to attend meetings. I’d like to offer five ideas to enhance your recovery:
- If you want to build accountability in your recovery you can create an accountability contract. This is essentially a written document where you give permission for people to help you in certain ways if your recovery is in trouble. This also requires honesty on your part to outline what a recovery emergency looks like for you.
- I would invite you to talk to a mental health professional to get a temperature check’ on any manifestations which may be distressing to you. The National Institute of Drug Abuse suggests that at least 50% of people who get sober have a co-occurring disorder. The most prominent mental health issue is depression.
- Consider revisiting your diet and try to incorporate exercise into your life.
- I have been a fan of the martial arts long before I got sober. I am not sure I can separate where my recovery ends and where my practice of the martial arts begins.
- My entire life is focused on contribution. I can’t imagine not giving back in some way. I don’t think it matters what you do to volunteer as long as you do something. This ‘something’ could be animal rescue efforts, starting a blog, online volunteering, adopting a street where you take responsibility to pick up trash, or you find comfort working with older adults. Point your browser to http://www.serviceleader.org or http://www.volunteermatch.org for a place to start.
- Get your butt to a doctor. I’ve lost count of how many people told me they never got sick when they were using nor did they ever break a bone. The reality is that chemical use masks all kinds of physical health problems, and it tends to create problems you’re likely to dismiss. Having a physical and getting regular blood work can be a great way to begin to feel better.
Whatever you begin to do to work towards your recovery, I hope you begin today.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @addictionguy or checkout my blog: http://www.askanaddictioncounselor.com
Good luck on your path.