Step Eleven

Life is good!

This morning someone asked me how an atheist does step eleven. This person seemed a little incredulous, perhaps even angry, pointing out that the original authors intended this as a spiritual program, helpfully pointing out that it was “God” in the book, not “higher power.” So I wonder if this person really wants to know how I work step 11 or if they want to argue about whether someone like me belongs in the rooms.

If it was a rule that I had to profess a belief in God I’d have to leave since that would put me in the untenable position of having to practice a program of rigorous honesty while lying. I’m not leaving and I’m not going to lie either. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop lusting (SA), or to stop addictive sexual behavior (SAA). I qualify. I’ve earned my chair and have an absolute right to participate fully. My life depends on staying sober so perhaps I’m overly sensitive to the suggestion that I can’t be a part of unless I profess a willingness to believe in a deity. That’s bullshit. I belong.

Most people in the rooms are not atheists and just like I learn from how believers work their program (obviously since I’m the only atheist in recovery I know) they can learn something from hearing how I work my program. So although I do mind the insinuation that I don’t belong, I don’t mind explaining how I work my program.

Here’s how I do step eleven:

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.


Prayer is an expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship. Worship is reverence, adoration, or devotion show toward a person or principle. I guess reality is the best name for the principle I am devoted to. I am grateful that I exist, that the universe exists. I consciously revere and adore existence. I crave an increase in my knowledge of everything, but most especially how I can better align myself with reality. To work step eleven, I think deeply about this.

To keep from becoming overwhelmed by my feelings, I pick one thing to think about. Yesterday it was cars. It’s a little embarrassing to share because I felt rapturous when I wrote it. It’s always a risk to expose a very private part of myself. But it’s pretty safe here; after all, I’m the absolute dictator of my delete button.

How amazing it is that life exists. This planet is just such an amazing place – and human beings are truly amazing animals! And I’m one, I’m here, and I know I’m here. I exist in such a wonderful manner, we all exist in an complicated social network that’s become global. And I’m here to witness that. Someone had the idea of little explosions driving a piston and now all of us can drive. I drive and I don’t have the first clue about how to extract metal from the earth and shape it into all the different parts of an engine. And then we have gas, oil, rubber —

I went on and on but I’m sure you get the idea. In a nutshell, I work the 11th step by thinking about my place in the universe and how wonderfully amazing everything is. Numinous awe strengthens my recovery.



  1. A.A. (and N.A.) is a religious body for purposes of 1st Amendment Analysis

    Please don’t get me wrong. AA saved and gave me a life. NA saved and changed my life.

    For most of my adult life I’ve thought “how are we not a religious program?” First the Prayer, then the Commandments (Steps), then pass the baskets, and say another Prayer.

    Oh, the qualifying – just a “Spiritual” program. Cough, Cough, BULLSH@T!

    It seems that of few of the baby killers and assorted Group W bench guys being court ordered to meetings have challenged the courts under the grounds that AA and NA are religious. They won too.

    Violates something called the “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment. It also sort of points out a fly in our ointment. Turns out at least legally we are a religious program. I feel vindicated in my (not so) quiet umbrage.

    I’m going to suggest at my groups next business meeting that we make this daily announcement: “For those attending this meeting under Court Order be advised N.A.(and A.A.) is a religious body for purposes of 1st Amendment Analysis”.

    It should go over, well, like a fart in church!


    “There is a substantial body of case law recognizing that A.A. (and N.A.) is a religious body for purposes of 1st Amendment Analysis. See Cox v. United States, 296 F.3d 89, 108 n.11 (2nd Cir. 2002) (finding that A.A. is a religious organization under the Establishment clause and stating: “To the best of our knowledge, no court presented with an Establishment Clause claim implicating A.A. or a comparable therapy program incorporating religious concepts has reached a contrary [conclusion]”).

  2. Many thanks for this post, I’m also an atheist in recovery and have been a member of AA for the last 3 years.
    I go to a group called We Agnostics group which are all aver the country, I attend one here in San Diego.
    Go to and check if your close to any of this groups.
    Sadly there are not that many but they are working on forming more groups wherever they are needed.

  3. Interesting post, and I really appreciate reading an atheists point of view on this issue. Personally I am christian-orthodox but I am not very religious, and I have a somewhat distrust towards the church and religion in general. I chose not to turn to religion in my quest for recovery.
    I agree with you that whom we define as “spiritual power” is entirely subjective and it is up to each one of us in recovery to define our “god”

  4. The program is spiritual. People who have problems with the “spiritual part of the program” have a problem with the program. Period. The entire program is spiritual. AA spirituality, though, is about action, not about blathering about God or meditating and praying all the time. It’s like Mother Teresa spirituality, not Trappist monks. Mother Teresa was almost certainly an agnostic. She was all about her version of the 12th step. That’s the spirituality. That’s where the juice that makes life worth living comes from.

    Personally, I’m not big on the term atheist because it’s misnomer. No one knows there is no god because it’s impossible to prove a negative. We are agnostics, but you didn’t ask me. That’s just my take on it.

    Yet another superb post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s