You Can Do It!

By Herve L. 

As I write this I have been sober for 3 years.

I was born in Lorraine, a part of France where the churches have long been closed but the bars are doing well. I started drinking in my early teens like most of my friends and I was good at it, better than most. I moved to Florida when I was thirty and of course my drinking moved with me. I quite enjoyed the daily martinis after work — life was good. But after 45 years of “successful” drinking I crash landed in the rooms of AA after a horrendous drunk that lasted pretty much 3 months, the last week of it spent in bed with a bottle of rum drinking 24/7.

Under pressure from my family I agreed to go to AA and give it an honest try for a month or so.

So there I was on a Sunday night walking into the rooms of the local AA for my first meeting, with no prior knowledge of AA, not really sure I was alcoholic, and certainly not ready at all for what was about to happen. The minute I identified myself as a newcomer I was assailed by a barrage of “suggestions” in a lingo that I didn’t understand having to do with reading something they called the Big Book, praying to God, hitting my knees, and working the Steps. I tried to tell them that I did not believe in God and I had no idea what they meant by all of this, but I was told to shut up as apparently I was not supposed to cross-talk or double-dip.

So, in a fog, I had visions of a sacred room in the back where the initiate has to climb steps, hitting his knees with a mallet at each step while praying to God, all 12 of them, finally getting to an altar where sat a very large bible. The Stations of the Cross AA style. If Karl Marx was right and religion is opium for the masses they were certainly passing the pipe around that evening.

These people were crazy and I wanted to run.

My experience with God and the Catholic Church had been brief and dismal as I was forced to attend catechism for a few months when I was 10, to satisfy a deal between the local priest and my parents, who never set foot in the church, so my newborn brother could be baptized. I was kicked out of the class the second week for asking too many “impertinent” questions (I thought they were very pertinent) and had to be tutored … and there started my resentment for the church.

But I didn’t run; I had given my word so I came back and I came back.

It took me a few days to figure out that I didn’t have to actually hit my knees and that a simple genuflection would do. That was a relief as I’m not particularly into corporal punishment, but still there was no way I was ever going to get on my knees.

After a while, I also managed to make abstraction of the nonsense on the walls, the chanting, and the prayers. I was functioning in AA but couldn’t quite drink the Kool-Aid or smoke the pipe. The God thing was keeping me from hearing or relating to anybody. I also started to resent the canned shares full of platitudes and Big Book quotes. I was angry.

I felt more and more like dropping out and trying to do it on my own, but honestly I was scared to. After all, I was almost a year sober and healthier, physically, and mentally; and I give AA credit for that even if I don’t understand how it happened.

I went to my sponsor for guidance. He shares most of my beliefs or should I say disbeliefs and is 42 years sober. He is one of the very few people I trust. His advice was to go to more meetings. Not the answer I was looking for.

So I forced myself to get more and more involved with the group, chairing meetings and helping as much as I could. I was even asked to be the treasurer of our group of 150 or so members.

And it worked, to a certain degree.

I changed, became happier, my relationships with just about everyone improved dramatically, and I am very thankful. But lately I had started to feel ill-at-ease for not sharing my true feelings with the group, although most of them have noticed that I leave the room before the Lord’s Prayer or when staying just remain silent.

I attended a meeting in Houston a few months ago where an old timer shared that when an alcoholic walks into a room three people actually enter; the one he thinks he is, the one he wants you to think he is, and finally the one he really is.

It resonated with me and I have attempted to be “One” since. I had, again, a real hard look at who I was, digging deeper than I did when I originally did the Steps and I think I’m getting closer to knowing the real me. I also try to be as honest as I can and put down any false pretenses.

So for the last few weeks I have been more vocal about not just my agnosticism but also the numerous inconsistencies contained in the Big Book and my belief that AA needs to change or risk becoming irrelevant.

I am already getting some pushback and went from being the poster boy of our group to the controversial Hervé. But I feel better, more real, and I am again feeling a sense of purpose in the meetings.

It doesn’t come without a price though.

Last week I attended a discussion meeting where the topic was “the power of the rooms.” I shared that although I didn’t believe in the anthropomorphic celestial puppeteer they call God, I did feel a certain energy during meetings. As soon as I was done speaking one of our more enthusiastic members jumped in and in a perfect southern preacher fashion started to loudly quote Luke and the parable of the lost lamb (I looked it up on Google). I just smiled …

After the meeting another member chased after me and proceeded to explain to me that the energy I feel in the rooms is God and that I should join the believers and have my life much enriched by His presence. I just smiled …

I have had to smile a lot lately but something happened just this week that made it all worthwhile. At the end of Wednesday’s meeting I went to congratulate a member who was celebrating 90 days of sobriety. He didn’t look happy and when I asked him why he told me that he probably wouldn’t make it to a hundred as his sponsor was shoving God down his throat and pressuring him to pray on his knees mornings and nights, and he just couldn’t do it. He said that he had heard me share my beliefs at meetings and asked me if I could become his sponsor and help him stay sober without God.

I smiled.

“There is a principle which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting obedience, that principle is belief prior to investigation.”**

**Not by Herbert Spencer, but again neither is the quote in the Big Book.

About the Author, Herve L.

Hervé was born in France a looong time ago and moved to Naples, Florida in 1982. Retired from 30 years as a financial advisor, when they were little his kids used to call him a “broke stalker.” He has three daughters: Justine 38, Julia 28 and Tess 26. He is very happily married to Judith and her 3 sons … can you say “Brady Bunch”? He has been sober since 4/30/2013 and is Treasurer of the Easy Does It group of Naples. Hervé has been battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer since November of 2013.

Audio Story

The audio story was narrated and recorded by Len R. from Jasper, Georgia. Len is interested in starting a secular AA meeting in his area. If you would like to join him, please send an email to

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5 years ago

Thank you all for the kind comments and congratulations Manoel.

Manoel H.
Manoel H.
5 years ago

Hi, there! I took your text as an anniversary present. I completed one full year away from the bottle last week. Some of the things you wrote could have been written by me, including the “coming out of the closet” episode, which happened to me only a few weeks ago. To my surprise, my companheiros and companheiras didn´t seem to be bothered by my agnostic views. I certainly  could have taken that step into fresh air earlier, but, as the bus driver keeps telling me, better late than never (antes tarde do que nunca, I guess there´s a similiar saying… Read more »

Maui Rich
Maui Rich
5 years ago

Beautiful essay Herve. I came to AA at the age of 57, already a convinced atheist and I was always open about it. I heard my share of criticism and preaching about how I was not working the program. I also heard from those with similar disbeliefs and we were numerous enough to start our own We Agnostics meeting when I was 2 1/2 years sober. We have 3 a week now and another secular Emotional Sobriety meeting in which we don’t pray or do the usual readings, except the Preamble. What I really liked about your program is how thoroughly… Read more »

5 years ago

Herve, Thanks. It doesn’t make life easy to come out of the closet after many years sober, especially not in a small, mostly religious community such as mine. Being one of the few 20-30 years sober people, I was the town’s “Mr. AA” that all the newer people looked to for input, and I went to most of the meetings. That all sure changed, once I came out agnostic. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m shunned. After all AA does have a lot of compassion for people who can’t seem to find a higher power. But the… Read more »

Chris G.
Chris G.
5 years ago

At a little over 6 years sober, I find your story so very familiar. One line hit me hard: “I was almost a year sober and healthier, physically, and mentally; and I give AA credit for that even if I don’t understand how it happened.” Only for me, that was at about year 3. That was when my life-long lack of belief in things supernatural finally surfaced out of the alcoholic fog and began to rebel at the religious AA in which I found myself. The power in AA is there, in spite of the religious twaddle so many ascribe… Read more »

boyd p
boyd p
5 years ago
Reply to  Chris G.

. . . “religious twaddle”

Your use of these words is offensive, to me, a non believer.  In AA each person’s journey deserves respect, and active listening, no matter how conventional or otherwise fantastical.  I hope I have expressed my view without offense.