by John L.
In February 2013 I celebrated
my 45th AA
— that is, 45 years since my last drink. I'll not tell my
here, except to say that I hit a low bottom physically. In my first
year of sobriety I attended meetings all over Manhattan, but mainly in
Greenwich Village. This was fortunate for me, since at least a few AA
members there were openly anti-religious: they rejected the 12 Steps in
whole or in part, and defiantly remained seated when others stood up to
recite the “Lord's Prayer” at the end of meetings.
One of the first
heard was that of “Bob”, who was in his seventies
been sober for over two decades. At the end of his talk, Bob proudly
identified himself as an atheist, and affirmed that his sobriety was
based on himself and the shared experiences of other drunks, not on
belief in the Supernatural.
I regard Alcoholics Anonymous as the
best option for
recovery from alcoholism. It is very difficult for an individual to
achieve lasting sobriety on his own, but much easier and better with
the moral support of other recovering alcoholics. There is a great deal
of freedom in AA, both for AA groups and for the individual. One
speaker put it this way: “Alcoholics Anonymous is a
people — working
their individual programs.”
To me, the following represent the heart
of AA, the
reasons why it works:
• The 24-Hour
Plan. Recovery from alcoholism means complete
alcohol — staying away from the first drink, a day at a time,
the rest of one's life.
These developed out of the
early experiences of AA, and have kept the organization viable for
This says it all, clearly and concisely:
Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience,
strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common
problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There
are no dues of fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through
our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination,
politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any
controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary
purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
In addition there is the Serenity Prayer,
speaks strongly to alcoholics, especially in the early stages of
recovery. Confronting the wreckage of their lives, they realize that
some things are lost forever, and these losses must be accepted with
serenity. But there are still opportunities for a good life, and one
must have the courage to work and even fight for them. The usual AA
God, grant me
However, the principles are just as valid without reference
“God”. Here I have re-worded the SP in the first
plural, in a form appropriate for ending an AA meeting:
the things I cannot change,
the things I can, and
to know the
May we have
Undeniably, there are many AA
that they owe their sobriety to belief in a Higher Power, to prayer,
and to the 12 Steps. However, these things are not necessary,
many non-believers (atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, secular
humanists, rationalists, infidels) have achieved good and lasting
the fellowship of AA, as I have. The religiosity in AA is harmful in
many ways: it drives away non-believing alcoholics, lowers the level of
discourse, and creates a false impression of recovery. Some pious AA
members are so concerned with achieving
that they neglect to stay away from the first drink.
the things we cannot change,
the things we can, and
to know the
Dr. James R. Milam
is co-author of the single best book on alcoholism, Under The Influence
(1981). His landmark position paper, “The Alcoholism Revolution”, put
forward the biogenic model: “Alcoholism is a primary addictive response
to alcohol in a biologically susceptible drinker, regardless of
character and personality.” This and two other papers have more
material, presented in a clear and scholarly way:
• More on the Alcoholism
Revolution. To read it click
• An Open Letter To All Concerned
With the Drug-Crime Epidemic. To read it click here.
Dr. Irving Maltzman's article, The Winter of Scholarly Science Journals, describes the fraudulent basis of claims that “moderate drinking” is a viable option for alcoholics. To read it click here.
Friends of Lucifer,
a blasphemous satire echoing the Hail Mary, Paradise Lost, and cliches
of Alcoholics Anonymous. The serious point is that AA should be
secular. To read it click
The 24-Hour Plan.
The heart of recovery in AA. This is the earliest known statement of
the 24 -Hour Plan, taken from the Manual
for Alcoholics Anonymous, Akron 1939 or 1940. To view it
in HTML click here.
For a printable PDF file click
in Alcoholics Anonymous.
Celebrates and defends the True AA, the AA that works, but criticizes
with no holds barred the things that are wrong and ought to be changed.
For information click here.
In 1976, when I was living in New York City and had been sober for
eight years, I wrote and disseminated “A
Proposal To Eliminate ‛The Lord's Prayer’ From A.A. Meetings”.
To read it click here.
There are now, around the world, bona
fide AA groups
for atheists, humanists and agnostics. Check out the website of the
New York City
AA Agnostica (“A
space for AA agnostics, atheists and freethinkers worldwide”) is
a website based in Toronto. It is meant to
be a helping
hand for alcoholics who reject the religious content
AA meetings. To visit AA Agnostica click here.
following AA Agnostica, is a magazine-style site with articles of
interest to agnostics, atheists, and freethinkers in AA. To visit Beyond Belief click here.
I have prepared a Bibliography
read it click here.
In 1975 an excellent article by R.L.
with God's Help?”, appeared in The New
(London). To read it click here.
America's most beloved president, addressed the Springfield
Washingtonian Temperance Society on 22 February 1842. It's a fine
speech — eloquent and perceptive. All of the best elements of
Alcoholics Anonymous were already present in the Washingtonian
Temperance Society, which was founded in 1840, nearly a century before
the birth of AA. The Washingtonians advocated that reformed drunkards
were best qualified to help their fellows who were still drinking ...
that practical help and persuasion were more effective than moral
condemnation ... that the only cure for alcoholism is lifelong
abstinence from all alcoholic drinks. To read Lincoln's speech click here.
Here is a brief history of the Washingtonian Temperance
Society, its principles, and its way of
conducting meetings, taken from the Washingtonian
Pocket Companion (1842). During its heyday, the
Washingtonians were spectacularly successful —
sobering up many tens of thousands of inebriates who had previously
been regarded as doomed and incorrigible. In many ways Washingtonianism
not only foreshadowed A.A., but was superior; it was relatively free
from the cloying religiosity that plagued A.A., especially in its early
years. To read Washingtonianism click
A Freethinker's Steps
For Recovery From Alcoholism.
When I attended my first A.A. meeting in 1968 I saw the
for the first time. I made a pledge then
to re-write them into good English —
a pledge I have finally fulfilled. My
steps are intended especially for non-believers (atheists, agnostics,
rationalists, freethinkers, secular humanists, infidels, etc.), though
I hope they could be useful for all recovering alcoholics. To read the Freethinker's
Steps with Introduction and notes click
here. To read the Freethinker's Steps by
themselves as a PDF document click
Searching and Fearless Inventory of the A.A. Steps Themselves.
This was published in the AA-Atheists website, which
unfortunately no longer exists. To read it click
Drinking: a gay way of life. In a 1981 article Arthur Evans discusses alcoholism among gay men and harmful aspects of the gay bars. To read it click here.
Man on the Bed” is an oil painting created by Robert M. for
A.A. Grapevine; it was reproduced as the center-spread in the December