A Review of “Staying Sober Without God”

Staying Sober Without God: The Practical 12 Steps to Long-Term Recovery from Alcoholism & Addictions
By Jeffrey Munn

Published January 6, 2019
Self-Published, San Bernardino, CA
173 pages
ISBN 9781733588003

Staying Sober Without God: The Practical 12 Steps to Long-Term Recovery from Alcoholism & Addictions, by Jeffrey Munn is the book the author wishes had been written when he was first getting sober. It is a practical manual for recovery that stresses not just the 12 steps, but also the importance of self-care, seeking help from mental health professionals, and finding a supportive recovery community. 

Jeffrey Munn’s secular and practical interpretation of the 12 Steps emphasizes building a healthy lifestyle, and he provides concrete suggestions for working each step to bring this about. Recognizing that the steps don’t address everything needed for a viable recovery plan; Munn also writes about the importance of sleep, exercise, physical health, interpersonal communication, and relapse prevention.     

Munn introduces the book and himself by describing how addiction to drugs and alcohol quickly landed him at rock bottom and motivated him to attend his first 12-step meeting. As he continued attending meetings, he noticed his life was improving. He made new friends, learned new coping skills, and he became ever more optimistic about his future.

However, there was one problem…the god bit. He writes on page two:  

“The only thing that nagged at me was the constant talk of God. He was mentioned by some name or another in half of the steps and nearly every member had brought him up at some point while sharing during meetings.”

Agnostic since the age of eleven, Munn simply couldn’t square this Higher Power talk with his worldview, so eventually he stopped going to 12-step meetings, which ultimately led him to a relapse after two and a half years of sobriety.  

Realizing that he needed to get back into recovery, Munn went to an inpatient treatment facility where there was never a mention of God. Instead, he was helped to address the mental and emotional trauma that fed his addiction. This experience was life-changing, and shortly after leaving treatment, he enrolled in graduate school, and went on to earn a master’s degree in clinical psychology.

Attending 12-step meetings while earning his master’s degree, Munn learned to place the experiences he heard from 12-step members within the context of sound psychological principles, which eventually gave rise to this work. His experience as a secular person in recovery, his understanding of the 12 Steps, and his education in clinical psychology, make Jeffrey Munn the perfect author for this book.

Too often, nonbelievers are encouraged to find a metaphor for God. It could be ‘good orderly direction,’ or ‘group of drunks.’ And if those don’t work, how about a doorknob? Munn makes no bones about it, and defines God as “any supernatural being or force that is capable of directly intervening in your life.” Certainly, there is nothing practical about that.  

Chapters two and three offer an interesting discussion about addiction and recovery.

Addiction is defined simply as “the experience of not being able to stop using a substance or engaging in a behavior despite a genuine desire to stop.” On page 16 Munn writes:

…addiction, like most things exists on a spectrum. Some people have a much harder time controlling their addictive behaviors than others. Some need treatment and some seem to be able to do it with minimal assistance. It’s not black or white. If you’ve had the experience of not being able to fully control a behavior despite wanting to, then congratulations, you’re part of the club.

Recovery is defined as “the life-long process of improving your overall mental and emotional health so as to minimize the harm and suffering you inflict on yourself and others.” The book describes this as a process that takes place slowly over time.

Munn believes the principles described by the Twelve Steps are well-grounded and beneficial, but the original verbiage turns many people away from giving them a try. The Practical Twelve Steps were designed to empower the individual and are viewed through a lens that focuses on psychology rather than spirituality.  

Before working the steps, the author recommends that a person be evaluated by a mental health professional because oftentimes, addiction will coexist with other mental health concerns.

Interestingly enough, Munn points out that stopping the addictive behavior does not always precede working through the steps. He cites the experience of AA co-founder Dr. Bob, who didn’t stop drinking until after he made amends. Still, Munn recommends that a person stop the addictive behavior as early in the process as possible.

The Practical Twelve Steps and the suggestions for working them are presented in the fourth chapter. The first step sets the stage, but unlike the traditional step, there is no mention of the addictive substance. Instead, it is phrased to describe the problem of addiction itself.

Admitted we were caught in a self-destructive cycle and currently lacked the tools to stop it.

The second and third steps involve trusting that a healthy lifestyle is attainable and making a commitment to attain it. The suggestions for working the first three steps involve self-reflection, writing, and communicating with a fellow in recovery. Munn finds writing to be personally helpful and he recommends it often, though stressing that it is not required to work most of the steps.

Steps four through nine are similar to the original version in that the focus is on self-examination, building character, and repairing the harm done to others. One notable difference is that Munn doesn’t include the sex inventory as he finds no good reason for sex existing as a separate category. 

One aspect of the inventory process that I found unique was how the author addresses the fear inventory. He describes this on page 62. “The fear list consists of three columns: what you fear, a core belief that drives this fear, and a reality-based replacement belief.” Munn then goes into more detail about this, which is very helpful. 

The practical version of Steps Six and Seven are much more helpful than the original version that simply expects a deity to remove character defects. In the practical version, character defects become character traits, and rather than focusing on removing the unhealthy character traits, Munn recommends adding healthy traits. 

The amends steps are similar to the original version, but the author  believes in living amends when necessary. Additionally, he stresses that an amend should be avoided if it causes harm, including harm to the one who is making the amend.

Steps ten through twelve are considered the maintenance steps, and Munn places a lot of emphasis on Step Eleven, which he phrases simply as “We started meditating.” Munn is a proponent of mindfulness meditation, and he makes a good case for it. On page 113, he writes:

… a major factor in our compulsive behavior is the sub- or semi-conscious desire to sooth ourselves due to a persistent state of discomfort or unease. Through mindfulness meditation, we become more aware of this underlying sense of discomfort and actually begin to desensitize ourselves to it.

In Step Twelve, the author suggests helping others learn how to obtain a recovery lifestyle, and surrounding oneself with healthy people. It is difficult to lapse into an unhealthy lifestyle while teaching and helping others to attain the same. He recommends sponsorship as a means for working this step, but if sponsorship is not an option, he encourages other forms of service. Munn believes that service to others is absolutely essential.

Outside of the steps, Munn provides some practical tools to avoid relapse. One of these is the Personal Craziness Index, which involves a review of some key components of a healthy lifestyle and rating how well one is maintaining those behaviors.

The final section of the book covers areas that the 12 steps miss. This includes taking care of one’s physical health, improving interpersonal communication, and having fun. Of these three, I thought the topic of communication was the most helpful. The author lists four categories of communication: passive, aggressive, passive aggressive, and assertive. He goes into a good amount of detail about how important it is to learn to communicate more openly and honestly.

The book is structured in such a way that it should be read from beginning to end, but it is so well organized that it can also be used as a reference guide. The writing is very good. It is clear and effective at helping a person understand the concepts presented. Munn writes in a style that conveys both the experience of a trained therapist, and the empathy and humor one might find from a friend in recovery. There are a few minor typographical errors, but far fewer than what is usually found in a self-published work. Those errors in no way detract from the book and can easily be corrected in future editions.

I recommend this book without reservation. It’s not only a valuable resource for a person who is newly sober, but it is just as good for someone who has been in recovery for many years. It’s a great book to read with someone you sponsor, or to read from as a topic at a 12-step meeting. Staying Sober Without God: The Practical 12 Steps to Long-Term Recovery from Alcoholism & Addictions is available at Amazon in both paperback and kindle editions.

Five Coffee Cups

This book was rated on the credibility of the author, the content, the writing, and the overall value. I awarded the highest rating of five coffee cups for the following reasons:

  • The author’s credibility is well established, and there are end notes with references and citations to support his views.
  • The content is complete, useful, compelling, and more detailed than other books in this genre.
  • The writing is very good. The concepts and ideas are presented in a way that make them easily understood.
  • The book is a great value for people in recovery, particularly those who want to experience 12 Step recovery from a secular perspective.

Rating System

5 Coffee Cups – I love this book and highly recommend it.

4 Coffee Cups – It’s a fabulous book and I can recommend it with confidence.

3 Coffee Cups – This is a good if not a great book. It may have had fewer coffee cups in one or two of the measuring criteria, but it’s still a good book and worth reading.

2 Coffee Cups – I wanted to like this, but it had too many problems. It’s an okay book, but there are others in this genre that are much better.

1 Coffee Cup  – I really didn’t care for this one and I would not recommend it.

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John Runnion
John Runnion
2 years ago

Thanx for the review, John. Jeff is going to speak at our AZ Secular AA conference in November, 2019, and we’re really looking forward to it.
One thing about the three areas of communication: i was surprised it wasn’t four, since his blog also mentions “Assertive” as the fourth and recommended style of communication. Have you read any of the NVC (Non-Violent Communication) work? Or Oren Sofer’s “Say What You Mean.” I’ve found the ideas in those quite useful (but still a work in progress).

thanx again!