Science vs. Wisdom in Recovery


I bought Julia Sweeny’s cd of her show, Letting Go of God. Her story is different from mine, but just like the stories in a 12-step meeting, there were things that I could really relate to. Having to say good-bye all over again to the people I loved that have died. I didn’t have the words for this grief (and fear) before listening to her monologue. It sounds like her path to atheism was similar to mine in that it wasn’t easy; definitely not a flip decision. Like Julia, I was trying hard to find God and this is not the way I had hoped things would turn out. Surrendering to this has been difficult and I get so frustrated when people assume that I just “decided” to turn my back on God’s love and Christ’s redemption. That’s not the way it was.

Since I’m in recovery, I also get grief from atheists who believe that 12-step programs require belief in a supernatural higher power. My assertion is to them is that I’m an atheist and that in recovery you turn your brain on not off. You stop living according to your own version of reality and start conforming to (how do I say this?) the real reality. But for an atheist coming into a 12-step meeting, all the god-talk sounds whacked. It probably doesn’t sound all that great to people who’ve been traumatized by religion either.

But the thing is, I have had a spiritual awakening to atheism. And that’s made trudging this part of the path more difficult than it was when I was a believer. It’s lonely.

Today I opened a letter from my treatment facility. I can’t tell you the gratitude I feel for the counselors and staff there. I arrived a complete wreck of a human being and they gave me a safe place to begin healing — from my childhood, from an abusive relationship with a psycotherapist , and from my addiction. Well, the psychotherapist was the crisis that nearly did me in, but the other stuff was there too. A lovely mess. Along with the other patients, everyone from the aids to the clinical director helped me get better. Even the kitchen staff was kind. In my case, it was life-saving.

So I like getting mail from them. Knowing that they still care about how I’m doing is heart-warming.

Right at the top of the letter was a quote from Deepak Chopra. The first though that popped into my head was direct from Julia Sweeney’s cd: “Deepak is full of shit!” The second thought was that there’s no place for me there now that I’m an atheist.

I’m kind of stuck there: no place for me. I feel… sad. Lonely. Sometimes I miss being a believer. I wish there was a bigger place for atheists in recovery.

I am so quickly ambushed by my tears. Sheesh. And it’s hard to tell the difference between feeling sorry for myself and feeling sad. Crying is still difficult for me.

This feeling your feelings stuff is a real pain. Too bad we can’t just feel the happy feelings.



  1. I’ve heard that some groups are hostile to atheists, but I haven’t experienced that at all. I don’t talk about my atheism often, but I do mention it when there’s a newcomer, just so they’ll know that they don’t have to believe in a god.

    It just feels lonely sometimes.

  2. I think it depends on the group, doesn’t it? The city AA people I see aren’t at all sure about the higher power thing, but put their faith in AA and having friends, community, giving. Seems to work.

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