One of the best things that has happened as a result of having this blog and visiting other sites is that I constantly meet new people, who have interesting ideas about recovery, from all around the world. I wondered how my site would go down as I was really aiming it at people who had simply moved on from AA, rather than those who are specifically Anti AA and most response has been good. One of the most pleasant people who got in touch via email as well as commenting on the site was Jon who has written this great piece about his journey in recovery and how he has moved on from AA.

JonSleeper pic

Jon is a better writer than pretty much everyone else who blogs on the subject, so I am pleased to see him publish his own thoughts here. Like myself he can see a positive side to being in AA and is grateful for the help he received in the rooms. I am sure he helped many newcomers, and is the type of person that would have been good to have met when I started AA. He spent far longer in AA than I did, and seems to have got his life back on track, as many do when they commit to a recovery group.

However, he decided to move on, and that is always a daunting prospect, even when you have been sober for a long time, perhaps even more so, as AA would have taken up a significant amount of time in the past decade or so for him and probably become a way of life. He seems to have made the change pretty easily, and can see where the limitations of AA are without having to bash it.

I was actually advised to move on from AA by a counsellor in London who was worried that I was not responding well to certain people in my AA group. This gave me the push I needed to move on. I also had a good friend, who had left AA a decade earlier and was doing well compared to those in the rooms. Jon decided to move on by himself and I feel this is actually harder to do, as you always have that bit of doubt that AA people may be right, and relapse could be inevitable. This actually worried me and is one of the things, that made me want to write this blog, as I wanted to let people know it is possible, and that many people do it. The problem is that not many people who admit that they have done this. I know there is the small but loud anti AA people, but I think many who are contemplating leaving AA will look at an anti AA forum as complete lunacy and not something they would wish to be involved in. There is no point in jumping from one dysfunctional group into one that is even worse, which is possible in a couple of online groups, where there is a pack mentality.

I wanted to share my experiences of leaving AA, without giving the impression that it is the correct thing to do for everyone. It is certainly a good idea if you are having negative feelings about the program, but if this is the case I would recommend you talk things through with a well qualified professional, if possible. I think you do need to be pretty stable if you are going to go it alone after time in a support group, and you have to fill the time with worthwhile activities. It is true that some people go downhill after leaving AA, but if you are engaged in the recovery process in another positive way, you may well do better.

I really like what Jon has written, as he highlights many other resources which are available but are often ignored by people seeking a recovery solution. I have read most of the books he mentions including those by Stanton Peele and Lance Dodes, who I feel gives the best overview of the reality of AA. He also does not bash AA in the way that some do that have left, especially those who feel that every problem they faced in recovery, such as depression is always AA’s fault. A lot of the Anti AA message appears irrational and aggressive, which plays into the hands of people who wish to promote AA as the only answer. If more people wrote pieces such as the one here and less rubbish about AA being a cult set up by Nazi sympathisers, then we might actually get somewhere, and encourage people to look at alternatives.

Here is a section from his post:

A new higher power

Truth is my new higher power. Understanding truth is my new programme. I practice this programme through research and rational thinking.

AA’s programme of recovery is not a product of medical research, it was revealed to the fellowship’s co-founder Bill Wilson by a process of divine inspiration. As a result huge sections of 12 step treatment methodology are fatally flawed and significant portions of AA’s accepted folklore untrue.

Unfortunately faith-based knowledge such as this is also almost impossible to update. Consequently the programme has remained entirely unchanged for over 80 years and is also now desperately out of date.

Even seemingly uncontroversial passages of AA’s big book, such as “physicians familiar with alcoholism agree there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic … science may one day accomplish this, but it hasn’t done so yet” (Chapter 3: More About Alcoholism, p. 31) are now obsolete.

Here in the UK, for example, nalmefene and professional counselling treatment are an accredited means for achieving this once incomprehensible goal.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) makes for an interesting comparison to AA. Unlike the 12 step approach, CBT offers a proven treatment for alcoholism that requires no faith-based intuition or privileged information revealed by divine intervention. Instead it is carefully constructed using falsifiable scientific principles that can be improved and revised with the benefit of practitioner experience.

Crucially, the success of CBT does not depend on its participant’s willingness to compromise their intellectual integrity by conjuring up an imaginary best friend. Nor does it tally with the gullibility for fake new age spirituality prevalent among so many AA adherents.

Instead CBT is truly self-empowering. It works – it really does.


“God is dead” (Nietzsche, 1882)  /  “Nietzsche is dead” (God, 1900)

This sounds horrendous to a former big book basher such as myself, but that’s only the half if it. There is another large chunk of truth about our fellowship that need to be digested.

I’m sorry to put this so bluntly, but the delusion must be smashed. As Prof. Sean Carroll argues so cogently in this lecture at University of Oxford, there … is … no … God.

god not goof tyheory

Difficult to accept, I know, but unfortunately your higher power or sense of spirituality is no more meaningful than mine. It is a convenient human construct, the product of our evolution over millennia as social animals, with absolutely no basis in reality.

If Charles Darwin was right, then everything we know can only exist as a product of its one-time evolutionary advantage. That’s the sole reason why we’re here.

If you have any doubt whatsoever about this try watching Dr. J. Anderson Thomson’s superb Why We Believe In Gods from the 2009 American Atheists Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. Evolutionary psychology, it transpires, explains any and all forms of religion and spirituality.


Commenting area

  1. Hi.

    Thanks so much for the kind words! I really appreciate it. Also, thanks for your help when I was in need.

    I didn’t leave AA out of choice. I loved the fellowship and thought I’d be a dedicated 12 stepper for ever, but was forced out of the fellowship when certain key relationships in the rooms went wrong.

    You’re right to say it can be a difficult journey on your own. That’s why it was so nice to find someone with a positive message to share both about AA, and about the tremendous benefits of post-12 step life.

    The AA dogma about the dangers of leaving the fellowship can become a brutal self-fulfilling prophecy, and it’s brilliant to know that this is not necessarily true.

    You are a great example of that, and you really helped me to relax about life after AA. Eleven months on things couldn’t be better. I know a new freedom and a new happiness.

    I’m sure many people are in the same situation as we once were. Hopefully blogs such as ours can help them

    Thanks again. I’ll always be grateful.

    Jon S
    “Leaving AA, Staying Sober”

  2. Dear John,
    Back from my AA meeting I watched your chat with AronRa (whose videos I avidly consume even though I sometimes struggle ; I’m just not that smart) about AA and faith.
    I have been abstinent for ten years but unlike yourself I could never even TRY to trick myself into believing in god/fairies/allah/etc, in spite of being thoroughly on my arse.
    At meetings I employ[ed] a type of cognitive dissonance to get through it but it is less than ideal. Especially when I have to listen to people talk about epiphanies and claims that they ACTUALLY HEARD God [you must have heard many in your 14 years]. The temptation to stand, declare them insane and leave permanently is almost irresistible and may one day prove to be completely so. Perhaps they feel the same when I share that I DO NOT believe in any higher power. Bad luck.
    I want to stay in because of the free group therapy and to let newcomers know that there is at least one anti theist in the group.
    I have no doubt you’re a very busy man but I would be hugely grateful if you could take a moment give me your thoughts on how I might progress in my little AAA, the first A being aetheist.
    Kind regards,
    Gary Nixon
    P. S. If you speak to AronRa tell him he has a huge fan! I’ve learned so much from his videos.

    • Hi Gary

      Great to hear from you. I identify VERY strongly with what you’ve shared there. I think you’re taking a very sensible approach. There’s no doubt that group support helps people stay sober – so stick with it. Like you, I looked around for publicly sober atheists but couldn’t find any. In my early days I was so scared of drinking again, and the only people who seemed to be happy and sober were the religious ones – so I kind of felt I had no choice. When I met someone who I really admired, who worked in computers, I thought I’d found a good sponsor who might not be religious (because of his science background) but I was wrong … and away we went. He helped me get sober and happy, and I’m grateful for that, but he also got me praying. I wish there’d been more publicly sober atheists in the rooms. People who, like you, were ignoring the God nonsense and working the program on the basis of “well being” not “spirituality”. Well, today, you can find those people on FaceBook. There must be 100,000+ AA meetings in the USA but there’s now also a good few (100?) atheist non-prayer ones – and they’re growing. It’s the future, I’m sure of it. So maybe start one yourself? Check out the FaceBook group AA Atheists and Agnostics (if you send me an email with your FB name I’ll add you to it – jonsleeper[at]btopenworld[dot]com) and the web sites AA Agnostica (where there’s a “how to start a nonprayer meeting” guide) and AA Beyond Belief. You’ll feel right at home! Jon S

  3. Good information. Lucky me I came across your site by chance (stumbleupon).
    I’ve bookmarked it for later!

  4. I have been listening to the podcasts with Michael and have really related to them. I, too, came to AA as a strong agnostic and tried to cultivate a sense of spirituality. I came to the program at a fairly young age ( 22) and stayed for 27 years. I was all in and it worked for me 100 percent despite not being a great fit. With super hard work I almost forced myself to have some type of very vague HP. However, I was plagued by doubts and 2 years ago, I decided that I would follow where my doubts would lead me, no matter what. And guess what…. It took only 4 weeks of honest thinking and questioning and I had come more than full circle! No longer ” just” an agnostic, now a full blown atheist! Lol! I know instinctively that that would be a deal breaker when it came to the fellowship as I live in the Bible Belt of the US. I did not openly share about my new found atheism in meetings, but word got around very quickly and many program friends started to really start d to pull back! A old timer losing her faith! Talk about a fall from Grace !

    • Thank you for sharing, ISTIER and PAR-T. I’m always grateful for input. It’s great to get some discussion going here. I identify very strongly with your story. Good luck down in the Bible Belt. I love that part of the world, particularly the music, but there are drawbacks to living anywhere, I suppose. JS

  5. I became a founding member of an agnostic/ atheist meeting in our town but the meeting was small, not mainstream and somewhat shunned by the larger fellowship. I have since left the fellowship altogether. The social interaction was what had kept me going to meetings for all those years and now it had become slim. I started to do research on recovery and was able to look at many things in the fellowship with fresh eyes and realized that there were many drawbacks to the program. I am getting freer and lighter as the months without meetings go by and I have a strong feeling of finally becoming becoming the woman I was meant to be !

    • We’re often very vulnerable when trying to get sober and that’s when the religious angle can take over. However even after leaving AA I think it’s important to maintain that social contact. I do so now largely on FaceBook. The AA Atheists and Agnostics page is very good, as are sites like AA Beyond Belief. That kind of recovery is ingrained, when you’ve spent so long in the rooms, so it’s sometimes difficult to move on and make a clean break. I like the idea of keeping what worked going, and can do that via FaceBook.

    • Hi Istier. Well done on so many years beating the drink, that is a great achievement. I was never really religious in the program although part of me wanted to be! I have good friends who are religious and who get great strength from their faith and that is something I have never experienced. However when I started to really doubt the problem I did have my own little backlash, which completely removed the tiny bit of faith I was allowing myself and I know others who have become complete Atheists after leaving AA.
      I do think social interaction is important for many people and it certainly helped me at the start. Online is one way of doing it and I guess most of my contacts in recovery is online these days. I tend to try and socialise with a wider range of people these days who are not in recovery. I like people who live healthy lifestyles and who can deal with life without a crutch and try to emulate that.
      I’m glad you like the podcasts and they do seem to be getting quite a few listens. They are over 11000 now in 5 months which makes them worthwhile. If you want to do one with me let me know as I am sure you have lots of experience to share.

  6. Thank you so much for this blog. I went to Aa for two years. In my first I did find it helpful, although I was in a vulnerable state to begin with. I never questioned anything or my sponser I was just happy I had somewhere to go. The second year I had a break down and found the constant affirming of powerlessness not helping me. I was very co dependant with my sponser. When life began to take over I went back to thearpy. Which helped me, I saw some patterns , some my old sponser is still in.

    Stopping drink allowed me to have time to create a life as this started I found myself questioning parts of the program. I was on step 5 for a year and for each thought it had I would have these ideas reinforced along with I was sick in instances such as assault. This did not help me. As I sought other resources such as counselling, cbt and online websites such as this it gave me the courage to leave.
    I feel free and empowered. Thank you so much for your site

    • Hi Sol.
      Good to hear from you, thanks for contributing to the discussion.
      The internet’s a great way to find out more about recovery and the possibilities outside, or alongside, traditional methods like AA.
      AA can be helpful, but it’s good to get a wider perspective too.
      All the best in your ongoing recovery,
      Jon S

    • Hi Sol, I am glad things are working out for you. I found using a combination of methods helped me and I also did not bother with any steps after 5. I think it is more the fellowship and being in a group of people that have a common purpose that is helpful in AA rather than the steps. Good luck with the future.

  7. Thank you for more of the science behind alcoholism, I am a current member of aa and a women of faith most of the time! I do have concerns for those in aa who don’t get the God concept. I am sending this to see how to get the UK pamphlet on atheist and agnostics in aa. I know it would be helpful to people I know in that situation.

  8. Hi there. Thanks for the kind comment. Until recently, due to copyright issues within AA internationally (at least that’s how I understand it) AA UK was not able to ship or sell copies of The God Word to the USA. (I’m assuming you’re in America.) I’ve actually been shipping them out in boxes to various meetings in the USA instead. Which is quaintly comical. However, the good news is that last week the people running AA USA (can’t remember who, it’s been a while since I was in service in the fellowship) voted to adopt The God Word as official AA USA literature. So you’ll be able to get hold of it there shortly. Thanks, again, for the kind words. Jon S

Trackbacks for this post

    Leave a Reply

    You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>