Episode 6: Podcast Interview with Jon Stewart | Leaving AA and Staying Sober

Jon Stewart from Brighton, England was kind enough to join me for a conversation which I found immensely interesting, and I hope you do as well. Unlike guests from past episodes, Jon is not a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, he left AA after fourteen years in the program, and his blog Leaving AA, Staying Sober: New Perspectives on Recovery tells the story.

Jon’s experience certainly isn’t foreign to me. I was once at that crossroad. I was no longer comfortable in AA and honestly had I not learned about the Secular AA groups, I may have chosen another path. I can understand why he left and why scores of others leave. It’s something we in AA should think about. Why are people leaving, and should we care?

During the conversation Jon makes it clear that he is not anti-AA, in fact he wants AA to succeed. His primary complaint about AA is that it’s not sharing the spotlight with other options that could help people suffering from alcohol and drug addiction. I think he makes a good point. After all, don’t we acknowledge that we know only little, that we aren’t the only way? Well if that’s the case, why not be aware of SMART, and Life Ring, CBT or for that matter Naltrexone?

Whether you agree or not, I am sure you will enjoy this thoughtful discussion.

About Jon Stewart

Jon is a lecturer in cultural history, a blogger, and a public speaker on secular recovery. His blog Leaving AA, Staying Sober: New Perspectives on Recovery provides useful information for anyone interested in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. 

Referenced in the podcast

Leaving AA, Staying Sober, Jon’s blog

SMART Recovery

Life Ring

aacultwatch, a site based in the UK that keeps a watch on AA.

The Sinclair Method

One Little Pill, A documentary film about the Sinclair Method

Asch Conformity Experiment

The Thirteenth Step, A documentary by Monica Richardson

Safe Recovery, Monica Richardson’s blog and podcast

Common Sense of Drinking, by Richard Peabody

Why We Believe in Gods, Andy Thomson

The Ra-Men Podcast, Aron Ra’s podcast on which Jon will appear as a guest in January, 2016.

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  1. Michael McComb June 17, 2017 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Listening to the podcast now. Very interesting! I’m 11 years sober without AA. I was deeply involved at one time. Although I am not an atheist nor an agnostic, I congratulate you on your new found freedom. I completely understand the courage it takes to do what you’ve done. I look forward to reading more of your blog.



  2. David B February 8, 2016 at 9:58 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this podcast. It was everything I needed to hear about AA, especially the idea that one can either find a way forward in the Fellowship as an agnostic/atheist (as John has done) or strike out on his own, finding recovery in other places and with other methods (as Jon has done). Taken together, I was gifted with a wonderful, more full view of what recovery can look like for this non-theistic practitioner of buddhism. The heart and humour that ran through this interview was a breath of fresh air, and I am immensely grateful to you for making it happen.

    Still listening in Maryland!

    David B.

  3. Willow F January 17, 2016 at 9:46 am - Reply

    I just attended the Widening the Gateway workshop in Olympia Wa yesterday. I recently realized I am atheist and with 27 years sober thanks to AA, I have been on a terrifying yet exciting journey of discovery recently to try to figure out how to reconcile these two things.  With all of the other things I have started to discover over the past couple of months, from this site and others like it – and finally with listening to this podcast this morning, I realize I am not alone.  I spent the first 30 minutes sobbing while trying to listen due to this realization. THANK YOU BOTH for bringing this dialog to us and for everything you are doing to ask the hard questions, open our minds and “widen the gateway”.

    My life changed this weekend – I can feel it – and I feel an almost overwhelming responsibility to share this experience, strength and hope with others like me.

    I believe the stuff we are talking about here are FATAL failings in AA – and it’s time for evolution.

    • John S January 17, 2016 at 9:50 am Reply

      Willow, you just told my story. I was in AA for 25 years a confirmed believer of the steps and the Big Book. When I first realized that I was an atheist, it scared the hell out of me. AA has been such a huge influence on my life, and I was afraid that I would no longer belong.

      Today, some two years later, I am more involved and excited about AA than any other time in my recovery.

      Thank you so much for listening to our podcast.

      • Jon S January 28, 2016 at 4:47 pm Reply

        Thank you Willow. Thank you so much. JS


  4. bob k December 25, 2015 at 12:56 am - Reply

    Jon Stewart came across as very bright and articulate, AND as balanced and reasoned. He is all those things, as well as being brilliantly funny. Although Jon and I clearly disagree in a few areas, he is a total charmer, and this was an OUTSTANDING interview.

  5. Lovinglife52 December 24, 2015 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the great Podcast, I think you made some great points about how AA can be helpful for people who do not believe in God. The religious side was certainly an issue for me and I wish I had found the type of meetings that you talk about which are agnostic. I live in London and went to the culty type meetings for a while, until I traveled and found there was more to AA than Big Book thumping. I moved on from AA, but am still very grateful for the support, fellowship and inspiration to get sober when I needed it. Have a good Christmas!

  6. Mike December 24, 2015 at 9:42 am - Reply

    Each to their own path . It is not the job of Alcoholics Anonymous to educate the world as to the variety of paths available . Alcoholics Anonymous is simply one path which works for millions . I wish others success in whatever path they find. I found mine in Alcoholics Anonymous. I have no desire to change it and I don’t spend five minutes a year picking and choosing which portions of Alcoholics Anonymous I choose to ignore . Best of luck to all.

  7. Janet December 24, 2015 at 9:06 am - Reply

    Hello.  Thank you so much for your time, research and delivery,  I really connected to much of what’s been said in this interview…especially the issues of fear and dated material…I can’t read “To The Women” without laughing.  I’ve been sober since 1996 and a member of AA, my philosophy, after the first 5 years (lol), has been whatever works to keep you healthy and alcohol free is good.  I’ve known people who have remained sober via other venues and they appear as healthy or healthier than many in the program, I’ve also known people to relapse and not die…

    The cities and countries that are successfully turning around their addiction crisis thru re-socialization programs are additional proof that there’s more than one way.

    However, isn’t pushing to change AA’s BB much like pushing a specific political party or specific religion on others…much as non smokers trying to force others not to smoke (which is amazingly prevalent in AA. Lol), or AA pushing what they have on you?  Why not just write your own book and start your own program as many others have?

    Again, this was a wonderful discussion on so many important issues and I very much appreciate you doing it.

    • Jon S December 24, 2015 at 5:01 pm Reply

      Great post, thank you for your kind words, Janet. I think it would be useful to rewrite / update the book for the 21st century.   A new version could sit alongside the old and people might then then choose whichever they wanted. Of course we both know this will never happen!

  8. Steve K December 23, 2015 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed listening to this podcast and share alot of the views expressed. My experience in AA has been a bit different though, as I’ve not been involved with BB literalists during my time in the fellowship and have always been willing to question things in the literature and what’s said in meetings. I’ve basically evolved my agnostic/atheist views over a long period of time in AA and other members are used to me going against the grain to a degree.

    I’ve often thought about leaving AA, but the alternatives in my location are few and not that great. Also, for me, the fellowship is not all bad and I value certain aspects of it and focus upon those and practise tolerance towards the parts I don’t like. There’s a place for medications in recovery and harm reduction interventions, as we are not all the same and addiction is complex. However, motivation is all important and using them in the right way and not viewing them as a cure all. I can’t help doubting the 80% success rate quoted for TSM, and tend to view these treatments as additional aids to recovery rather than the whole solution, for most anyway.

    Where I do disagree with Jon Stewart, looking at his blog, is that he seems to make AA too responsible for informing/teaching alcoholics about every other treatment and alternative recovery method out there.  AA members are free to try other things as well and they quite often do. I’ve also attended other non 12 Step groups over the years, tried medications, engaged in professional therapy, facilitated other recovery groups, read different literature, tried buddhism, you name it! No one in AA has ever tried to stop me doing so and I’ve often been informed about these different things by other AA members who are Alcoholics Anonymous remember.

    AA does sound alot more religious and intolerant of secular views and practises over in the States, and I wouldn’t last 5 mins in those type of meetings, so agnostic/atheist meetings are vital. So are sites like Beyond Belief, even for us Brits.

    • John S December 23, 2015 at 5:16 pm Reply

      I thought about that as well Steve. In my early days in AA, I was discouraged by others to seek help outside of AA for depression, specifically from taking antidepressant medication. I’m fortunate that didn’t kill me. I suffered from depression for many years until I finally saw a psychiatrist and received a prescription

      Later, it seemed that people at my group mellowed out and became more tolerant of that sort of thing, and I didn’t hear that kind of talk very much if at all. It seems that most people were supportive of getting outside help.

      Often we describe AA as if it’s something outside of us, but it’s not really. AA is whatever group one happens to attend. There is no top down hierarchy really that is there to educate us about various options, but individual AA members if they are too dogmatic can do harm by insisting there is only one true way. There’s only so much that AAWS can do to discourage that sort of thing.

      I think it’s the more fundamentalist groups where this is really a problem. I understand there are still groups in the city where I live where people have been discouraged from seeking psychiatric help. The only time that I have ever heard an AA member speak of positively of another program is at an agnostic meeting, which I think is great. Its’ that damn dogmatism that’s the problem.

      Anyway, it was fun to learn from another person’s perspective. There was a time, not many years ago that I would view someone like Jon as a  sort of heretic, and I would intentionally disregard anything he had to say. I’m glad I’m not like that anymore.

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