A Secular Sobriety, authored by Dale K. is an invaluable tool for anyone who may be interested in a secular interpretation of the 164 pages of AA’s Big Book. Dale takes the reader through the first 164 pages, but rewritten as a secular version of the book. The book also contains personal stories from secular members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today, we are featuring one of those personal stories: Joy! 

As a child I attended the Anglican church and belonged to the young peoples group. I taught Sunday school as a teenager and had pleasant times doing so. Later on my brother, whom I adored, left the University in his last year to join a cult like church that verbally attacked our family. He moved out, which was heartbreaking for me and my family.  

Later on, when I was married and had kids, we were living in New Jersey and there were rumblings about black people going to riot in our area. We didn’t have any in our neighborhood or schools. I wanted our kids to get to know black people in a friendly setting so I sent them to the Baptist church where there were some in attendance. My kids were friends with them and we had them over to our house. This was frowned upon by some neighbors. Later on I was told by one of my daughters that, while attending that Sunday school, she was taught that she should only marry a Baptist! Since then I have let myself acknowledge the inconsistencies of the message of love with the actions of hate.  

When I first started going to AA meetings, I was terrified that it wouldn’t work for me. It was the last resort so I was intense on following the suggestions. I joined a home group, got a sponsor and started attending meetings daily. Sometimes, I attended two a day. I remember looking at the 12 Steps that were hanging in the front of the room …and then I saw Step 2. Came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity? What would that power be?Then I saw step 3. Turn my life over to the God of my understanding! God with a capital G!  I rushed to my sponsor with my worries that this program wouldn’t work for me, but she told me to use “group of drunks.” I relaxed a bit and agreed.

Later on, I found out that my sponsor was Catholic. “Oh, no!” “What am I going to do?”  Well, I kept my sponsor and she never mentioned her religion to me. She didn’t use religious terms. She stuck to the basics of the program, lead me through the steps and was there when I needed her. We were not pals. She was my guide to sobriety. She kept it simple, taught me to use slogans and was a power of example. She was a true friend. Because of her guidance I have been sober over 37 years. She has since died and I now have a new sponsor who happens to feel, like me, that religion should be kept out of the program.

Over the years I have tried different methods of a higher power. Sometimes a female God or a rotund happy monk-like fellow sharing a small tippy rowboat with me. When riding my motorcycle, which is something I took up in sobriety, I will look up and say, “It’s Joy!” “I’m on the road again (just in case).”  I figure if there is a God he doesn’t care if I believe in him or not. My choice of a God wouldn’t have an ego problem and would chuckle at my disbelief…like a loving parent. 

I don’t join in with the lords prayer but I will say the serenity prayer. It’s not important to me who I am saying it to. Maybe it’s to myself. Maybe some spirit. All I know is that it calms me and reminds me that I am a member of AA and for that I am forever grateful.     

Sometimes I’m envious of those who believe. For them it’s simple…just turn it over. I’m uncomfortable in third step meetings where so much religion is talked about rather than spirituality. Sometimes, I share what I have tried. At other times I keep quiet and wish I were more eloquent so that those having a problem with this subject would feel relief that they are not alone and that the program can work for them. I have heard that I will eventually “come around.” I wonder when that might be!

Joy…just one of a group of drunks.

Additional Information and Links

A Secular Sobriety – Review

Episode 52: Dale K. Studying the Big Book from a Secular Perspective

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  1. monique ferec January 2, 2019 at 12:23 pm - Reply


    Does it exist litterature in french language ?

    I would like to open a agnostique group in France.

    Tank you for answer. Monique




    • life-j January 3, 2019 at 9:23 pm Reply

      Aren’t there groups in quebec that have put something together in french?

      • John S January 3, 2019 at 9:27 pm Reply

        Yes there are French speaking groups in Quebec and one of them is the subject of an upcoming podcast.

      • life-j January 3, 2019 at 9:24 pm Reply

        And also isn’t hmm, I forget, John C in Paris? There must be something we can do here

        • John S January 3, 2019 at 9:26 pm Reply

          Yes we have contacted John and he reached out to Monique.

    • Jack Blair January 2, 2019 at 5:43 pm Reply

      You may have to use Google translators. I think that it does not yet exist in French. You may be the person who translates it.

      All best to you,


      Vancouver, Canada.

  2. Pat Nagle December 30, 2018 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    I’ve never had a sponsor. When new I asked Father Pat, a home group member to be my sponsor, but he kindly said no, but he’d be my friend. I also asked the fellow who took me to my first meeting and got the same response: “no, but I’ll be your friend”. With lots of years behind me, I now understand what they meant. What I desperately needed was sober friends. I wasn’t a “baby” or a “pigeon”. I was a grownup man whose life had become screwed up because of drinking.

    That first group included both the Catholic priest and a Catholic nun. It’s been a while, but I really don’t recall either of them talking about religion. They were grateful, recovering alcoholics, and they left theology out of it.

  3. Marty nieski December 30, 2018 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    Sounds like my story!  37 years ago I had a Catholic sponsor who never mentioned any religion or any gods.  He took me to meetings, told me what AA was and, more importantly, what it was not.  We were never buddies, but in the early days he would always pick up the phone.  This lasted about 1 year.  At the time I had joined a traveling speaker group and got to know people at a level that can’t be gotten just by going to discussion meetings.  I stumbled upon several secular friends over the years.  One very early.  We may have saved each others lives.  We since have started 2  secular meeting here in NE Connecticut.  Life is good!

  4. life-j December 30, 2018 at 11:24 am - Reply

    Stories are always good, and thanks for this one. And I had the pleasure, and it was a pleasure to meet Dale at the conventions. But the book I don’t much like. Hey, it is sincere, well considered, and thorough. It’s just that the Big Book is so full of false dichotomies, confirmation bias, plain manipulation, and the occasional outright fabrication, that it can not be re-written. Once you start doing that, it simply comes apart at the seems. And I guess that is why Dale’s very honorable (though I would, very lovingly say ultimately failed) attempt of a re-write,  turns into a commentary instead. It’s the best you can do. I have written articles along those lines myself, even at one point made an annotated electronic copy of the Big Book, but sooner or later I think we just have to accept that the big book can not be re-written. We should let it be. In fact, we should restore it to its 1939 version, take out all later changes, of which there actually are many, and call it something like “Alcoholics Anonymous – Our Original, Founding Document” – in an attempt to get across that that is all it should be at this point. It should only sporadically be read for recovery’s sake. The rest of the time it should spend on the top shelf, not too far from Chairman Mao’s little red book, and all the other demagogary. Then every once in a while we can take it down and read it for history’s sake, and say wow!, these guys really had a talent for starting a movement! Now how do we move on from here?

    • Jack B. December 30, 2018 at 4:43 pm Reply

      Can’t possibly agree with you more. Putting the BB to one side is a very fearful action for many to do. VERY fearful. I have been able to greatly lessen that fear by approaching the subject starting with a question or three: what did medicine, science and societies in general know about the chemistry and psychology of human beings in, say, 1937? What was and has been learned about the chemistry and psychology of humans since then? What have we learned since then about addiction?

      Finding answers to those and other similar questions soon shows that the differences between 1937 and today are, well, vast. Advances in medicine alone are dizzying. Ditto science. And what was known then about addiction was basically nil. What is known today about addiction nearly requires a whole new language and an equally vast shift in societal thinking.

      The book Alcoholics Anonymous should always remain a most noble effort to address an extremely difficult and greatly misunderstood and shunned problem. (Actually, calling addiction a “problem” is a bit like calling a nuclear fireball a nuisance!) It is a fact that, since the BB was published, many many people found – at last! – a way to escape the horrors of alcohol addiction. Still more have escaped their addiction to several other drugs; and let us please be done with the discussion of alcohol being a drug.

      Both today and the future are here. Both medicine and science are here. We no longer have the time for wishing wells and other hocus-pocus. Religion belongs strictly in churches not in the field of addiction treatment and recovery.

      I alone am responsible for my life. No part of my life today labours under the authority of any addictive substance. Many years have gone by since addiction ruled my life. I am recovered.

      While I sail very close to my beloved, I alone am captain of my ship.

      I alone am master of my life.


    • John S December 30, 2018 at 11:29 am Reply

      I like that. “Alcoholics Anonymous: Our Original Founding Document.” I believe that is exactly how it should be viewed, in historical context.

  5. Thomas Brinson December 30, 2018 at 11:14 am - Reply

    Thanks much Dale for writing this and John for publishing it. I was most privileged to review your book, Secular Sobriety, for AA Agnostica, which is a wonderful resource for those of us who are secular members of AA.

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