True Grit

Yay me! Notice the sobriety date in the sidebar hasn’t changed! Yay me!

And as they ask in 12-step meetings (well, they ask after you haven’t had to change your sobriety date for a period of time that has a medallion to commemorate: 30 days, 90 days, a year, etc.), how’d I do it?

You’re supposed to say, “I didn’t, my Higher Power did.” And then go on to say a few words about how nice it is to be sober.

So, how does an atheist answer this question? Stay tuned and as soon as I get back from work tonight, I’ll post the definitive answer.

< noticing that my sense of humor has come back >


Okay, after a long day at work and a visit with my therapist I’m ready to share the secret of how I quit acting out. Those of you who are Big Book aficionados will recall the part where the poor suffering alcoholic is advised to put his shoes under the bed. The idea is that when you’re down on your knees getting your shoes, it’ll trigger you to pray to your Higher Power and ask for your HP to keep you sober for the day.

Yup. That’s what I did.

I know. Crazy shit, right? Because I really don’t believe in God.

The reason I share this is that one of the most difficult things for addicts who are atheists is figuring out what the heck to do with all the “god-stuff” you hear in 12-step groups. I think this is difficult for most people in recovery to understand because they’re able to believe in some manner or another. It’s a much deeper predicament than having a closed mind, being arrogant, or being unwilling to change (traits that all addicts share). And please, don’t say they can use a door knob as a higher power. That’s not much help to an intelligent person who’s close to despair because they can’t stop some compulsive sexual behavior or another.

The way I rationalize “prayer” is by recognizing that I have an evolved brain. I’ve talked about that somewhere on this blog, but I can’t remember where. Besides, better authors than I have written whole books about this sort of stuff. My favorite is Richard Dawkins. I also recognize that survivors “pray” even when they do not believe. Laurence Gonzales wrote the book that I got that gem from, which has been one of the most important helpful insights in my recovery. And finally, there’s ice hockey and baseball. I mean, honestly. Sure some of these athletes aren’t all that bright, but some are. Somewhere they surely realize that growing a beard isn’t going to make them win. Same with wearing a uniform that hasn’t been washed (yuk). But they do it anyway because somehow, it helps.

Reconciling that with a desire to be rigorously honest gets you my atheist prayer: Dear Higher Power that I don’t believe exists. Please keep me sober today.

Honestly. I’m not making this shit up! I’m still an atheist republican. My therapist is a very religious guy, and he has a completely different explanation, but he’s nice enough to leave it at that, which makes us both laugh. Here’s hoping you’re laughing by now too.




  1. I’m very happy for you. I also have a problem with the common explanation of “God” and it’s only an issue for me in my 12 step program. My higher power, in part, can be the part of myself that IS strong, IS capable, and was born perfect. It’s inside me somewhere, buried under all the abuse, neglect and pain caused by others or myself. Part of my higher power is also my support system, my therapist, and my 12 step group members. Its’ anything that helps me to realize that just managing on my own isn’t likely to work.

  2. My wife and I are grateful for you and all you have brought to us. I was “violently agnostic” in my recovery. Truth be known, I was disgusted by what I saw as hypocrisy in Church people. Do as I say, not as I do. It was only when I came to an understanding of who God was to me and how God sees me that my hard heart was opened.
    That is “My experience” and I am not trying to sway you in any direction. I am only sharing my Experience, Stength and Hope. I am happy that this is working in your life and you are finding the strength to make another 24 hours sober.
    Some nights, I hate holding hands at the end of the meeting and saying “Keep coming back cause it works if you work it, so work it cause your worth it”. It seems, though, that this is very appropriate here. You are worth it, so keep coming back.
    God Bless.

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