I was baptised Anglican although I had no say in the matter. I remember learning the frightening Roman Catholic version of the ten commandments from my grandfather as a seven year old. I was confirmed against my will as a thirteen year old after being sent to vacation bible school, which are actually three words that have nothing to do with each other.
Just a run of the mill youth like many others.
When I was twenty I moved out of my parent’s house and started my career in another part of the country.
Over the next ten years I became badly addicted to alcohol. I should’ve known better as many relatives went down that path. I was always a functional alcoholic: able to go to work the next day and be very effective. Slowly but surely the addiction began to catch up with me, requiring more and more on a daily basis and chewing into my financial stability and physical/mental health. At my lowest point I was probably downing a quart and a half of Seagrams every night and began to have severe pain in my stomach as the lining had been chewed away to the point of ulcers beginning to form.
At that point I knew I had to get help. The first night without alcohol I shook and shivered until morning, begging god to help me the whole time.
I tried going to Alcoholics Anonymous. I really tried. These people were all older than I; many who you could tell were shells of their former selves. Stories of relapses, loss of families, homes, friends were the weekly mantra. I made no secret that my faith was dwindling, and working the twelve steps steeped in religion seemed incredibly hipocritical. You see, the whole concept of AA is to surrender to a higher power because they tell you a person is not strong enough to make it on their own. I was told the higher power doesn’t have to be “god.” It could be something as simple as a door knob. Seriously. This was their recommendation. Surrender to a door knob. That door knob would keep me sober.
At that point I started doing some reading about the lack of AA’s effectiveness. Studies have shown that AA and going cold turkey have roughly the same success rate of 3%. So why was I taking hours every week to confess my shortcomings to others and not get anywhere? I had no root cause for my problem. I didn’t know if I had deep rooted issues that I was trying to bury in booze. Maybe I was just lonely and used it as a coping mechanism.
The theme for AA was “keep coming back.” If you worked the steps and keep coming back to meetings then you’ll stay sober. Such a simple requirement of membership, yet rooted in one central theme: shame and fear. Others may disagree but that’s what I got out of it. The way I saw it, the fear of shame kept you sober rather than looking people in the eye and telling them you fell off the wagon at the next meeting. That, paired with the religious overtones of AA took me out of the program after only two months; mere baby steps away from my start of sobriety.
At that point I had realised I was an atheist. Shame and fear disquised as fellowship of a program wasn’t going to keep me sober. Reliance on a higher power wasn’t either. God wasn’t testing my faith by making me genetically predisposed to develop an alcohol problem.
The simple fact was that my body had become physically and mentally addicted to a chemical. Period.
I was lucky enough to get into a weekly meeting with a psychiatrist. The fact she was stunningly beautiful certainly helped. The anger at myself for being so “weak” slowly went away. I used to believe people with addiction problems were weaker than I was. Man, I was wrong. We are all so human, so vulnerable. My anger at religion has subsided a little. Let me rephrase that. My anger at people who forced religion on my has subsided. That anger has converted to understanding that our religions are mere hand me down beliefs from anscestors. I was mad that I was lied to about the power of prayer, but that lie wasn’t intentional. It’s just what people believed would help. They didn’t know any better. Again, we are so vulnerable. The promise of everlasting life, a god who will help you when you’re down…it’s so tempting to people who are down at rock bottom. But it isn’t true. My anger at the horrors done in the name of religion will never subside.
The best thing someone with a chemical dependancy problem can do is accept honesty as the only way out. You need to be honest with yourself and your family. The most honest I could be is to accept there is no proof of god to help me and that I had a very simple by definition problem. At that point I was able to convert myself into who I wanted to be using real, professional resources.
I’ve been sober ever since. Five years. Without AA. Without god. And I’m a better man because of it.
by Dean Modified – I’m an atheist and comedy writer. I’m pretty sure I invented the word fucksplode. @DeanModified
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