In this episode of AA Beyond Belief the Podcast, I speak with a new friend Dale K. Dale recently wrote a book that will help people understand the AA program of recovery as outlined in the Big Book, but from a secular perspective. I’m looking forward to this being published, which will hopefully be sometime next month. Presently, the manuscript is with Dale’s editor. What follows is an excerpt from the introduction to the book, which will be titled (unless changes are made) “Secular Sobriety.”
By Dale K.
Hello. My name is Dale, and I’m an alcoholic. Also, I’m what many call an atheist. That label is for you. I don’t find a personal label necessary. In fact, I don’t like the term “Atheist.” It has too much negativity connected to it. I’m not anti-theist. I couldn’t care less what others believe. In fact, I’m a believer, too! I believe in science. That ever growing knowledge of this place I live in and how I fit into it. That’s wonderfully positive! There is plenty of emotion that colors my thoughts, but my core beliefs are science based. I really don’t need a label for all this. I’m just a guy struggling through life like everyone else. Much of what I hold to be true is a temporary truth. With time new discoveries will shed light on new truths that may, also, be temporary. The one truth that I believe to be permanent is love. So, if you must label me, call me a lover.
January 6, 2017, was my 36th anniversary of sobriety. I don’t say this to boast. I say it because I think you should know my qualifications for writing this. During my early days in AA, it seemed like I was the only skeptic in a sea of religious disciples. I was told that my lack of faith was an obstacle in the way of sobriety. “You shouldn’t worry, though,” they said. “Soon enough you will get it.” In the meantime, I could use their Higher Power. I was told that would be sufficient until I found my own. The expression “fake it until you make it” was offered as hope that even this heathen could find sobriety with the God “of my own understanding.”
After a considerable test of time, it was realized that I wasn’t going to “get it.” My sponsor arranged a meeting for me with a man they described as the “Resident Agnostic.” This person was in a city 30 miles away, so I assumed there was only one in all of South Florida.
He was very friendly and considerate. He was a writer for the local newspaper, and I enjoyed discussing the “God” element of AA with him. Essentially, he told me that his solution was to add an “o” every time he heard or read the word, God. This changed God to good. It made sense to me, and I was convinced that I had my answer.
This was a good (pun intended) beginning for me. As I journeyed into sobriety, this simple translation worked well most of the time. Sometimes it didn’t work at all. There were moments when I wondered if I would ever find all this good without finding God. Seemingly, everyone else in AA believed in God. The peer pressure was formidable, to say the least.
Shortly after my first year of sobriety, I decided that I would take a closer look at religion. I read William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experiences” and, also, the Bible. I realized that I had great disdain for a book that I had never read. This falls under the “contempt prior to investigation” category. While reading the Bible, I decided I had contempt during investigation. I read about so much wickedness, violence and terrible things in the Old Testament. Then, in the New Testament, I found less evilness, but it still fell way short of satisfying. Finally, I read John 4:16. It said something that hit me like a bolt of lightning! “God is love!” Holy shit! I mean…literally…HOLY shit!!! I didn’t need to read more. I closed the book and never opened it again. I found the answer I was looking for. God isn’t just good. That was okay but inadequate. God is love.
Finally, I had my “Spiritual Experience.” It was sudden and profound. It was lovely! I had the biggest grin on my face. This was my epiphany. Oddly enough the Epiphany (a Christian holiday) is the same as my sobriety date. I remember sleeping like a baby that night. The next day I decided that whatever I was doing, whatever decision I had to make, I would ask myself a simple question: “What is the loving thing?” The next day I gave love a test run. My day full of love was the best day I have ever had. I try to have that day again but, of course, life and my humanity is a constant barrier. Life is a complicated endeavor. Often, simplistic answers aren’t enough. Love is a very large subject. Many of the details are common and obvious. Many more are hidden in the folds, crevices, and secrets that make our journey through life challenging and fascinating. Finding your humble self will be your best friend in this discovery of who you are in sobriety.
The irony of an atheist finding answers in the Bible is not lost on me. There are many dichotomies in my life. I welcome them. In fact, I love them. It’s an indication of open-mindedness. That quality will be most helpful in your quest for a sober life. We must be open to all that is around us. Many things you examine will be dismissed, but we must consider all of it. Take a little of this and a bit of that and create this unique sober person that will be beautiful to you. Be genuine. Be who you are. Own yourself. Try not to worry about what others might think. They are not living your life and have plenty of problems of their own. And, while you’re ignoring those that may judge, don’t judge others. Let them have their life just as you wish to have yours. This is the essence of serenity.
I would like to address the AA principle of “contempt prior to investigation.” It is very difficult to investigate what AA has to offer non-believers if you can’t read past all the references to a deity. Far too many non-believers have too much difficulty with this. The easy reaction is to dismiss AA and its’ members. That rejection means you will not find the beauty and wisdom of the program and the wonderful sober people that have come before you on this journey of sobriety. Don’t be blinded by contempt. Certainly, the Big Book can be quite obnoxious and arrogant. Don’t allow the book’s problems to become yours. An open mind will allow you to hear the bits of wisdom that help you on this wonderful experience of life without alcohol or other drugs. And remember, the only truth is the one you accept for yourself. Truth wears many clothes. Your truth does not mean another’s different truth is wrong. Both are right (and wrong). As you wish to be accepted and respected for your beliefs and who you are, extend that same acceptance and respect to others.
This is a quote by Adyashanti. “Make no mistake about it. Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagine to be true.” Now, I don’t give a rat’s behind about spiritual gurus, but this quote speaks to the notion that all is true and untrue at the same time. If you understand how science works, you will understand the fluidity of truth. Also, keep in mind that we should not be satisfied with mere enlightenment. When we apply our newfound enlightenment, we get the better and happier parts, too!
Many times during our lives we will determine that what we know is true. As we mature in sobriety, we will find new truths that displace old truths. Truth is a very dynamic thing. That which works for us today may not work tomorrow. An open mind, eyes, and ears will allow us to find our new truths. This is the enlightenment which feeds our serenity and happiness. This is the foundation of sobriety and a meaningful life.