Episode 101: Twelve Secular Steps | An Addiction Recovery Guide

00:00 John S: Hello, this is Episode 101 of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast.

[music]

00:21 John S: Today, I’ll be joined by my friend, Wes B, from my home group, We Agnostics Kansas City, and we’ll be speaking with Bill W. No, not that Bill W., another Bill W., about his new book, Twelve Secular Steps: An Addiction Recovery Guide.

This is John and I’m here with Bill W., who has written a book called The 12 Secular Steps. Bill has come back from the grave to rewrite the steps in a secular language. [laughter] Thank you, Bill. How are you doing?

00:52 Bill W: You’re welcome.

00:54 John S: Also with me is Wes, who is from my home group, We Agnostics. Wes, how are you doing?

01:00 Wes B: Hey, doing fine. Thanks, John.

01:02 John S: Oh, man, you sound good on the radio or on [chuckle] the podcast. You have a radio voice, put it that way.

01:07 Wes B: Oh, I have a radio voice indeed.

01:08 John S: You do. Okay. So anyway, we’re here to talk about Bill’s book. I read the book and it’s fantastic. The title again is 12 Secular Steps: An Addiction Recovery Guide. This kind of came along at just the right time, because I was actually thinking about starting a secular step study here in Kansas City, and I thought I was going to have to write the curriculum myself, and then I got an email from Bill, telling me about his book and I thought, “Wow, this is fantastic.” So, I bought a bunch of them.

Thank you, Bill. Why don’t we start? Can you give us the story behind writing the book?

01:42 Bill W: Actually, the story behind it is that it started out as just a pile of notes, and it had to do with sponsoring and to help newcomers who had expressed an interest in working a secular program; how they could go about doing that. You need a literature for that. You need the right words so that that path becomes clear. So, I was especially interested in how to get the first 90 days and to remove any sort of need to try to make a conscious contact with something supernatural. I thought that’s not a practical way to start to get sober today. Also another important feature was for the newcomer to see this as, “I have a role in this. I have a responsibility in doing something active today so that I can remain sober today.” 

02:58 Bill W: Addiction biology is not my area, but I am a biologist, and I was reading more and more biology, and it became clear to me that the foundation for a secular 12 step program should be grounded in the biology. It really informs us a lot about what we’re up against and informs us a lot about some of the elements that our solution should have. So, that grew from just kind of practical notes to putting it on a biological foundation, and then in the last half of the book, it gets practical once again on how to do an early phase, the goal of which is 90 days sober. Then to start a later phase of reconstructing ourselves as a person, to kind of undo the damage that so many years of addiction does to us, and if we hold on to that damage we live dysfunctionally. Dysfunctional living builds stress, and stress every time is going to make us perhaps want to look at our old solution. So, I would say that’s a pretty good wrap-up of how it came about.

04:22 John S: Now, you begin the book with a brief history of the original 12 steps, and how they came about, and I thought it was good that you did that. Why do you think that was important, and can you go into a little bit of that history for the listeners who might not know much about how the steps started and why they’re written the way they were so religiously?

04:40 Bill W: Oh, sure. To understand the steps in the way they’re written and with the… Well, we need to go back to 1939, in the beginning of AA, with Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. They met. Bill Wilson had been introduced to the Oxford Group, and at first he got sober in the Oxford Group. The Oxford Group is a Christian evangelical group. Two things happened there. Bill Wilson was saved and Bill Wilson was introduced to a fellowship, and this fellowship allowed him to get outside of himself; to get active in service.

So, at that time, when Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith got together and Bill helped Dr. Bob get sober, they went on to help other alcoholics and AA was born. Out of the original 100 founders, many of them were Oxford Group members, so they had this Christian evangelical background in common. It makes sense that when they wrote the program down and formalized it, that they would include that in their program, and it’s certainly very pronounced in the steps themselves.

06:10 Bill W: Now, fast forward to 2018, there’s problems. There’s a bit of a conflict in that the steps really have literally as written, two independent goals. One is a practical pathway for an addict or an alcoholic to get sober, and the other is a not so practical pathway of getting saved. I just felt like the secular, the practical pathway is really what’s essential and it’s what we need when we first come in, it’s what we need to do today, to get us sober today.

The religious part needs to be optional, really, to meet the diversity of people who suffer with addiction and who are looking for a solution. So, in looking at that, it just clicked to me that we need to separate religion from recovery and we need the secular words to do that. So, it’s a secular adaptation. I fully acknowledge that secular recovery is not unique, it is not original. The first 100, the founders, they came up with a very practical program alongside of this evangelism that they also had with them. When we look at just that portion of it, we can come up with a framework, an essential framework, and then leave it up to the individual to add their religious voice.

07:51 John S: Wes, I know that your background with AA, when you first started out, was similar to mine in that it was a really kind of a traditional approach. I mean, you went through the steps and everything, so how do you feel about the steps as Bill wrote them and do they kind of hit it for you?

08:10 Wes B: Well, I believe that… Personally, I’m an atheist. I was brought up in the traditional steps, I was brought up in very religious Florida conservative groups. In fact, you were not allowed to speak unless you had six months of sobriety, which I found just very disturbing, because as we spoke about a bit before the podcast, those who are new to the program are, I always say, “Closer to the hell,” and their thoughts, views, opinions should not be abandoned, discarded.

The God portion of the steps, as Bill said, and I like that he used the term optional, okay? So, I’m not saying it should be discarded, it should be optional for those who value it and use it and become sober with it, more power to them. But it should be optional. In my view, it’s sort of similar to the separation of church and state. Bill, in his book, has laid out a practical, like you said, framework to sobriety. Small, incremental, logical, reasonable steps towards sobriety. I believe that when you’re new to sobriety, you need, you need something tangible, you need rather than to wait for this gleaming light to shine down on you, you need to be making logical steps forward. And Bill has laid that out beautifully in this book.

09:47 John S: Yeah, I thought so too. What I liked about your steps, in particular steps 2 and 3, which in my opinion, you got exactly right, because too many people, even when they try to interpret the steps, in a secular way, they focus too much on that higher power part. “What is my higher power as an atheist?” Whereas, what you’re looking at is what actually happens, because what happens really in step 2, in my opinion, is we get hope. We get hope that there’s a solution for us, and in step 3, so many people seem to forget this, but the keyword in there is decision. We make a decision, don’t we?

10:23 Bill W: Yes, we do. What I had to say about step 3… Sometimes I can get rather wordy and long-winded and [chuckle] I am an academic. All I had to say about step 3, really was that once you make a decision, there really is only one way to know that you made a decision and that’s the actions that you see, that you actually go through. Because in step 3, it becomes real, it is, “If not now, when?”

In steps 1, 2 and 3, we come to a realization and it is faith for everyone. Faith and hope play a part. For me, I realized in very early recovery that my faith was going to be in a plan and the better I understood that plan, the more faith I would have in it. Without faith, before I had that faith, I felt like I had no foundation.

Step 1 gave me the realization that, I said it in the book, “I’m screwed.” [laughter] I really was, and I knew that I was, and until I really looked at the program in a different way and thought, “I can adapt this program, this can be my plan and I can put my faith in the plan,” then I found a foundation.

Along with that foundation of faith came motivation. “Yeah. This might work.” And then hope, and then what do you do from there? You dive right in.

12:13 John S: I’ve always thought about those first three steps as  experiences that happen to us. I think that even the founders when they wrote those steps, they were just trying to describe what naturally happens to an alcoholic when they hit bottom and they reach out for help, it’s that feeling of powerlessness, it’s the coming to believe that there’s got to be hope for me and then making a decision to make some changes in one’s life.

I think that when I went to my very first AA meeting, I was experiencing all three of those steps at that point. I knew I was an alcoholic, I believed that there was hope for me in AA, and I made a decision to start going to meetings. I’ve always said that having that experience was one thing, but understanding the experience and understanding the experience and how you can use that experience in other areas of your life, is what I found useful.

So when you wrote about those three steps, you actually have practical things that people can do with regard to those steps.

13:16 Bill W: Yes. It’s not all that traditional to do a step 1 inventory. I did one, and I found it immensely useful to build motivation, and that is one thing that I thought when the step 1 is complete enough, step 2 and 3 will happen more quickly. They do need to be linked, kind of bing bam boom in a row.

So, I wrote about with the first three steps, doing a step 1 inventory. I have some reservations about that, because we’re looking at the past, the worst things in the past, and we need to be careful doing that ourselves or guiding someone through that. Because looking at the past, for me, there were times in my first 90 days where I would look at these patterns and think, “I’m worthless, I’m a horrible person,” and really, that’s not the purpose of it and this is the importance of having, going through it, not alone, but with others, who can say, “No, that’s not the purpose. The purpose is to realize that you have a disease, a condition, it’s addiction, and this is what it’s doing.” You can measure the strength of it by looking at this inventory of the things that you’ve done.

14:44 Bill W: It was important because my sponsor said to me, “You wouldn’t have chosen to do this had you been sober, had you been your best self, so realize that we’re not measuring your self-worth here, we’re measuring why you’re in the right place, [chuckle] and you’re doing the right thing,” and that progression leads to, “Now, let’s do the right thing and tackle this.”

15:10 John S: Wes, I know that you work with people a lot and with the steps and so forth. How do you approach those three steps as an atheist?

15:19 Wes B: Well, gosh, first of all, I think hitting bottom, as was just alluded to, hitting bottom can be very motivational. As Bill said, in his book, “Suffering can take you part of the way and reason can carry you the rest.” Early recovery sucks, right?

15:36 John S: Right. [chuckle]

15:38 Wes B: As you said in the book. I like to stress, here’s another portion of the book that I really liked, “There are rewards headed your way that you can’t even imagine or list now, just stay the course and find out what they are.” One of the things that I like to stress to my sponsees is, when you stop putting daily roadblocks in your own way, progress just occurs naturally. The practical approach, which is one of the two portions of the big book, there’s this personal salvation and then there’s the practical approach, the practical approach is laid out perfectly, it’s perfectly clear. Most of my sponsees already know and admit they are addicts, they are alcoholics, but it’s all about, what I’ve noticed is, is it’s all about hitting bottom. That is the main motivating factor and that’s what will generally propel a sponsee forward is, “I’ve had enough of this.”

16:40 John S: Bill, about half of your book, because you do have a biology background, but half of your book talks about the biology of addiction, the science of addiction, and personally, I find that helpful. For me, when I understand something, it takes the fear out of it, it takes the stigma out of it. I used to be afraid of airplane turbulence until I understood how planes fly.

[laughter]

17:11 John S: I think it helps. Can you go into that a little bit? Can you explain the biology of addiction, as you wrote in your book, and how you tie that in with what Wes was just talking about, that whole process of hitting bottom, and starting to make changes and so forth?

17:27 Bill W: Yes, I do. I agree with you that I think that understanding the biology helps a lot of people, and removes the stigma, and removes that feeling that… You hear the comments a lot that, “Why don’t they just say no? Why don’t they use their willpower?” And everything. Once you understand the biology, you understand that that’s not the question to ask. I started out that chapter by saying that we use alcohol and drugs because they work, [chuckle] they do their job very well. I go on to saying that addiction, in the initial use is very rewarding, and it is. We have a reward center in the middle of our brain, the area called the limbic system, and it is responsible for producing the experience that we call pleasure.

18:36 Bill W: All the drugs that people get addicted to, alcohol is a drug as well, they can magnify the effect of a chemical called dopamine, that is responsible for turning the reward center from a off-state to an on-state. So, it just follows that you take a drug, take a drink, that chemical is going to get in the bloodstream, it’s going to hit the reward center, it’s going to release dopamine, the reward center goes from off to on, and our feelings change, it’s all about feelings. That’s why we drink, it’s not the flavor. It’s certainly not the hangover.

[laughter]

19:18 Bill W: We are set up in a way, I now look at the human machine as a bit robotic. On a subconscious level, when pleasure is experienced, whatever caused that experience, the behavior, the taking of a drink or a drug, we are learning on a subconscious level, it’s called operant conditioning, that was good. If there’s a reward, we tend to repeat the behavior that is linked to the reward. Punishment has the opposite effect. So, that’s operant conditioning, reward a behavior, it will tend to be repeated; punish a behavior, it will be avoided.

20:06 Bill W: That’s hitting bottom. It’s actually all about that side of the equation, but that may be 40 years off. At first it’s all going to be reward. Because it’s a learning process, over time that the… And these rewards from drugs, it all depends on the drug, these rewards are quite large.

We also get rewards as we’re growing up from social behaviors. Sharing for example, when we’re younger children and we’re in a group and we’re selfish or grabbing everybody’s toys, one likely, an adult is going to say, “Stop that,” or in some way discourage it and we’ll avoid it. When we share, it will be rewarded. Our playmates will reward us. Parents will reward us. So we learn to become less selfish. That’s a little dopamine reward that we’re learning from.

IV heroin, crack cocaine, that’s a larger reward than any natural behavior is going to do, including sex, where any social behavior is not going to have that big of a reward.

21:24 Bill W: We live in the world, really, that’s kind of challenging [chuckle] from a evolutionary point of view. So if you keep… If that reward, that behavior, keeps repeating, these large dopamine rewards keep occurring over time and create a new drive. A drive is something, a programming built into us that keeps us engaged in behaviors in seeking rewards. We have a food drive, a thirst drive, a social drive. We can get an addictive drive over time. You can tell when that happens because it will out-compete the other drives, and normal social behavior, as that drive withers, we’re not engaged that much with our friends who aren’t addicts, or with family, we’re not doing well at school.

22:20 Bill W: All these drives go by the wayside and one drive becomes the emperor of all drives and begins to take over our life. You can see this. Once that addictive drive happens, the person is reprogrammed, changed. They’re an addict. The machinery, the limbic system and everything is the machinery of willpower. A lot of times with a person who’s obviously an addict, everyone knows it. Many around will say, “Why doesn’t this person just use their willpower and stop, reverse this? Why are they not… ” The consequences get worse and they just seem, the addiction gets deeper in response. It looks like insanity, and you must understand that this is the machinery of willpower. Addicts do have a lot of willpower. Lock them up and take away their car, take away the money, they will still find that drink or that drug.

23:20 John S: Right. Yes.

23:22 Bill W: Now we look at willpower and we understand, “Ah,” and it is. I understand it a little bit looking at like programming a robot, and I feel like that by the time I was hitting bottom, I was a drug and alcohol-seeking robot. That was what my life was all about. Finally the consequences got so bad, like I said with the operant conditioning, the reward now, the punishment [chuckle] side comes along and I wanted to start. I was conflicted.

Even Bill Wilson describes this as we hit a point where we can no longer live with it or without it, and we’re ready at that point. But we can’t do it by ourselves at that point either. So, hopefully at that point we reach out for help.

24:16 Wes B: Bill, you refer to yourself as a drug and alcohol-seeking robot. I tended to refer to myself as an internal combustion engine that required fuel.

24:26 Bill W: Yeah. Exactly.

[chuckle]

24:27 Wes B: I mean, I truly needed… I always tell my sponsees, “Look, if you are socially anxious, like if you have depression, alcohol works. It works. It works. The problem is you develop a tolerance. You need more of it, and the only result is, you’ll end up in jail or the hospital or whatever.” Because at one point I needed a fifth of vodka a day and 200 milligrams of oxycodone just to run my engine. That’s what I required. When you’re drinking huge amounts of alcohol, the withdrawal is such that you cannot walk downstairs. You cannot drive a car. You have to drink just to, as I say, level out.

25:13 Bill W: Yes. Yeah, it does become a maintenance thing.

25:16 John S: Another thing I like about your book is when you go into the recovery process, after you talk about the biology of addiction. You talk about the recovery process in three phases and you break the steps down into these three phases. You also reference that to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which I was still joking with you about, it’s like the only thing I remembered from psychology class.

[laughter]

25:44 John S: It was actually helpful to me because I remember that when I was in recovery, I might not have gone down that far physically, but I had nothing. My first priorities was stay out of jail, put food on the table, keep a roof over my head. I had those basic needs that I needed to meet. I was not in a position to do a moral inventory at that point or anything like that. My needs were that basic.

I think that it was just ingenious of you to look at that whole recovery process, along with those hierarchy of needs, because it gives you a way of understanding where you’re at, having goals of where you want to be, and also of measuring your progress. I wonder if you might want to expand a little bit about those phases of recovery and the length of time and whatever, and how you know that you’re going through those phases.

26:37 Bill W: Okay, yeah. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there are five hierarchies, and at the foundation, there are two, which is safety and physiological needs. When we come in, it’s imperative that we establish abstinence. There’s a positive feedback loop when addiction has really embedded itself and has progressed. If we have a drink or a drug, it’s over. We’ve lost control and we’ll stop when some outside influence forces us to stop. We run out of money, wreck the car, get arrested. This period of abstinence really we recommend 90 days, do 90 meetings in 90 days, and just focus on steps one, two and three.

Probably, for most of us, I think it was about six months for me before I wasn’t… As they say in a lot of meetings “toxic” [chuckle] and I could begin to think straight. Reconstructing ourselves as a person, that phase, we need to be able to think about things, to analyze things. That’s not what the first phase of sobriety is about, I liked Maslow’s hierarchy because our foundation, that’s not what our foundation is about.

28:14 Bill W: Most of those needs are based in the primitive part of our brain that is subconscious. It’s not a reasoning part of our brain, it’s an emotional part. The upper hierarchies are really all about how we deal with the world, love and belonging, self-esteem, our purpose in life, is the top of the hierarchy would be self-actualization. I think of that as our purpose in life. These are much higher levels that are going to take really more work and we need at least I think a three to six month foundation to where physiologically we’ve returned to normal.

29:01 Bill W: A lot of times it’s not just when we’re intoxicated. Our way of life goes into the 24 or 48 hours when we’re not under the direct influence of a blood level as well. We’re still addicts. We’re still reprogrammed that way. So yeah, steps four through nine are about reconstructing, once we’ve cleaned ourselves up. The important structure to those processes is taking inventory, taking inventory of our transgressions really and seeing why, what is it. This comes from the Oxford Group, that the Oxford Group first identified that many of our problems, much of our stress, our transgressions get back to selfishness and fear. That, it seems to me is a universal truth. For many of us, selfishness, fear and personal problems existed before we found alcohol and drug, and the stress of living dysfunctionally like that, we were self-medicating. Certainly, if that’s not the case, 20 years of addiction and alcoholism will erode away our character.

30:26 Bill W: So everyone comes to this phase where they need to reconstruct and through these inventories we see how these defects of character have come in and dominated how we socialize, how we function. We identify them and we begin to replace them with positive values. We become responsible. We learn to live by the golden rule. We just learn to combine that abstinence, “Don’t drink or use no matter what today,” and we add, “Just be a decent person today,” and there will be a lot less stress in your life, and this will help you to maintain a longer sobriety.

Then we get to a final phase where we can add to that, purpose. Maybe our purpose is to sponsor, or maybe we may find purpose through our work or through something that, 10 years ago, we had no idea, perhaps activism or something. I was probably a little bit long-winded on that one.

31:27 John S: No, it’s great. That’s great. You know at the very end, I liked the way that you wind up step 12 as basically “I’ve grown up.”

31:36 Bill W: Yes.

31:36 John S: What were your thoughts, Wes, as you were reading through the nuts and bolts of the steps as he was describing them in his book?

31:44 Wes B: Well, what I was going to say is, the general goal of identifying our defects is growing up. I know that that’s part of my personal self-actualization. I’m only a year and a half into this, but I’ve noticed a major difference. When I hit one year, some of these more complex aspects have become modifiable or adjustable. I can actually start working now. Now that I’ve been away from substances, I can actually start working on growing up, which I have, by the way, failed to do profoundly. So, I was in rehab and I identified 26 defects of character.

[chuckle]

32:27 Wes B: As Bill said in the book, most of those come down to self-centeredness, and when we’re drinking, when we’re using, we’re, A, escaping reality, B, we’re heightening our own ego artificially, C, we’re self-medicating. We found a magic potion that worked really well, but over time, it takes you and takes your friends, takes your character, takes your job, takes your freedom, takes your everything. So, long-term, like Bill said in the book, the goal is to grow up.

33:03 John S: You know, even in the 12 and 12, Bill Wilson writes about steps six and seven in particular, he describes them as character building. Now everybody focuses on the God part, [chuckle] that God will take away your character defects away and so forth. But it’s really funny, for anyone who has been in enough AA meetings, usually when they talk about steps six and seven, people say that God hasn’t taken their character defects away. Well, they don’t have a clue. Why is that not happening?

33:31 Wes B: Where is God? He should have been here yesterday.

[laughter]

33:33 John S: That seems to be the whole focus, but the focus really should be on the building of character I think, and actions that we can take.

33:41 Bill W: Oh, I wan to get back to that the word that has come in about “growing up.” I don’t want that to be misconstrued. I did say in the beginning of chapter three that I wouldn’t come up to an addict and say, “Your problem is you need to grow up. Just grow up.” If a person who suffered a stroke was not walking correctly or was unable to use their left arm, I wouldn’t go up to them and say, “You should stop that and just walk and talk and move like an adult.” Really, there’s a pathology in both cases. The brain has been changed in both cases, physically. In both cases, I believe that there’s a rehabilitative, a logical rehabilitative process can undo that, and for me that’s the purpose of steps four through nine.

34:48 Bill W: The limbic system, once the addictive drive has been established, the limbic system, which is where we find the fight or flight and other high voltage systems, will take over. Our higher functioning does wither, and this is chemistry, this is physiological. The limbic lifestyle is one that is not reasoned, it’s emotional, and it’s certainly not based on consequences to ourselves or to others. We need to look at that and to work with that through a rehabilitative process.

So I’m careful. I don’t want to demean addicts at all, but on the other hand, growing up is our original programming. [chuckle] It is, and steps four through nine resemble growing up. It’s more than resemble growing up. We do need a period where, as part of recovery, where we learn once again to kind of recognize when we’re reacting rather than reasoning.

36:00 John S: I guess another way to look at it is just advancing along those hierarchy of needs and becoming actualized, self-actualized in some way.

36:06 Bill W: Yes, and to bring reason over reactiveness and emotional, impulsive, because that’s kind of a universal characteristic of someone deep in their addiction. We do, at least I was, impulsive, self-centered and really seeking, “I want to feel good today. I just want to have that and I want it right now.”

36:31 John S: So Wes, what’s your overall impression of all of this? I’m kind of interested in that. How useful do you think this book will be?

36:42 Wes B: I’ve read a bunch of recovery books. I find this one particularly appealing because it is based on actionable steps, right? It’s based on logic, reason. It’s concise. It takes the God out of it. It takes the, “I’m waiting for something to fix me” out of it, and says simply, “Here are some steps we can take to repair.”

Going back to what you guys were just talking about, I see a lot of young addicts and alcoholics whose families are mystified that their sons or daughters don’t have the “willpower” to fix their problem. Families approach addiction, which is not a logical condition, they approach it with logic and say, “Well, if we provide this or if we do this, we put a roof over our son, then that will fix him.” But addiction is not logical. As Bill said, if you can get through 30, 60, hopefully 90 days, then you can start the process. Of all the books… I’m plugging here, Bill.

[laughter]

37:55 Wes B: Of all the books I’ve read, this is my absolute favorite one because it cuts through the BS, it gets right to the point, and it is logical. And I like that it says things like, “Early recovery sucks.”

38:12 Bill W: Right.

38:14 Wes B: It’s true. It’s not preachy and it’s honest about just how difficult this is.

38:22 John S: I think it leaves room for everybody too. I mean regardless of what one’s belief system is, and even among atheists, there’s a lot of diversity among atheists themselves, how they approach this. Some atheists, like me, I don’t really have any use for spirituality, but others do, and you have room for that in here.

I know what I was going to say, what I was thinking about when I kind of got diverted to my own brain, is I pay attention to language a lot nowadays, because I understand that all these steps are is an attempt to explain what’s happening to us, and the language that I use is very different than what the language of a millennial uses.

39:01 John S: I am surprised sometimes that when people come in and they’ll hear a word that doesn’t faze me, but to them it means something else. For example, and you use this word, character defects. A lot of people say, “God, I’m defective. There’s something wrong with me,” like I’m some kind of… I’m a bad person or something like that. However, when you actually go through what you were writing about, you talk about character building,. There’s nothing wrong with that. When I was looking at these steps originally, I was focusing on that character building part. I just think of these defects as nothing more than traits that I have that I’d like to change, that I’d like to improve.

39:40 Bill W: Yeah, I kind of tend to look at it as programing now. [laughter]

39:43 John S: Yeah, computer programing like…

39:47 Bill W: Yeah, there was some coding that was a bit off.

[overlapping conversation]

[laughter]

39:52 Bill W: Yes. Let’s go back and correct those. One thing about the diversity that I realized while writing this book, I was thinking about what is different that a person of faith does from someone who’s more secular, atheist or agnostic. It used to puzzle me a while back about faith and connection to God, and when people say, “God is doing this. God is doing that. Active interventionist God,” but that doesn’t sound right. How do they get to… I know how a secular humanist gets to the values that we need of faith, hope, love, justice, accountability. Does God get in their head and say… I said in a meeting one time, “I’m a little bit scared of people [chuckle] who hear a second voice.” Because it never tells them, “Oh, it’d be a good idea to do those dishes.” [laughter] It’s always want to kill everyone in the room, seems to me. [chuckle] And I realized, no, because the… And I’ll say Christians, most of the time in dealing with… In the United States, we are, this is the religion, the God we’re looking at is Christian God.

41:18 Bill W: We’re not supposed to say that, but it is. [chuckle] I know many Christians who I admire and I know that they don’t have another voice in their head, and I realize, but they do have a teacher, and they’re getting these very same values where the secular person reaches it through reason, perhaps philosophy. The Christian gets it through a great teacher. But we get to the same place and it’s the same answer to the same character defects. We’re not all that different at all. 

I found in my early recovery, it was in a large city, that people of faith and people who were more secular now worked together all the time. They were very accepting of each other, so I just wanted to get to that. That’s at the heart of step six and seven, is getting in touch with those values and incorporating, re-programming ourselves with those.

42:21 John S: Right. Right. Well this has really been an interesting discussion. Wes, do you have any final thoughts that you want to…

42:29 Wes B: Well, going back to what Bill said, I personally resent the notion that religion has a monopoly on morality. I think that morality is easily derived from logic and reason, and sort of… Well, Richard Dawkins says it more eloquently, but basically we can all be tolerant and loving without religion.

One of the things that I value about our particular AA group is that we accept everyone, whereas in some traditional groups, atheists like myself are not particularly tolerated. I think tolerance which is part of Bill’s book, tolerance is absolutely key because we want everyone to recover. We don’t want the Muslim, the Jew, or whomever, to hear the Lord’s prayer at the end of a meeting and be scared that they’re not welcome. Everyone should be welcomed and it should totally tolerant.

43:32 Bill W: Right.

43:32 John S: Well, I want to thank you Bill for writing the book first of all and for letting me know about it. Like I said, it came at just the right time for me and for our group. I think Kansas City is going to be a test market for you.

[laughter]

43:47 John S: The book has been pretty well-distributed, [chuckle] and I’m actually thinking I’m going to start a step study and use your book.

43:54 Bill W: Well, I want to thank you for the support that I received on this book. I was telling my friend that it’s actually kind of humbling when I heard people talk and were speaking at a AA meeting and it was my book being passed around. I thought, “Oh, geez, I hope I got it right.”

[chuckle]

44:19 Bill W: because I hope I’m not going to be responsible for it.

44:22 Wes B: Well Bill, I did find four typos, four typos.

44:26 Bill W: Yes. Okay. I can take care of those defects in the second edition.

[laughter]

44:33 John S: Alright. Thanks everybody. I appreciate it.

[music]

44:52 John S: That concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief the Podcast. Thanks for listening, everybody. Hey, to learn more about Bill’s book, visit his website 12secularsteps.com. That’s 12, as in the number twelve, 12secularsteps.com.

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  1. Krysia November 25, 2018 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    Glad to hear how you have collaborated together I am so sad I meet so many who avoid as because they are secular and struggle and do not manage to tolerate some of the things they hear. all the best I know this is a great tool which I can mention in Bristol UK which is where I live Krysia 24 years sober member of aa willing to go to any lengths to maintain, sobriety and abstinence

     

  2. joe November 25, 2018 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Gr8 podcast, great hearing from Wes and Bill, too. Our secular AA group added a third meeting as a non-religious step study. We have used many tests for the first 10 minutes of the meeting (each devoted to one step). Sometimes instead of reading we just have a member talk about their experiences with said step and discussion follows. We get people coming to this meeting that don’t come to any of our other meetings. That makes sense; why wouldn’t someone who has elected the 12-Step process go toss many meetings as possible?

    I’m chairing Monday so I’ll get the kindle version and we can read from it this week.

    Thanks Bill, and of course, thanks to Wes and John.

    • John S November 25, 2018 at 10:58 am Reply

      I like that idea of having a member share about their experience with a particular step. Thanks for listening and commenting.

  3. John S November 25, 2018 at 8:06 am - Reply

    After recording this podcast, Bill spoke at our speaker meeting in Kansas City that evening. Here’s a link to his talk

    Bill W. at the KC Secular AA Speaker Meeting.

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