Do you want to get sober without adopting the belief in God that is often pushed in AA, NA, and other 12-step meetings? Do you want a practical, no-nonsense, psychology-based approach to sobriety that is rooted in down-to-earth principles and actions? Staying Sober Without God is a guide that will help you do just that.
Staying Sober Without God provides an overview of alcoholism, drug addiction, and behavioral addictions along with a new version of the 12 steps referred to as The Practical 12 Steps. These steps, written by a recovering addict and licensed psychotherapist, are adapted from the original 12 steps. They contain the original wisdom of the 12 steps without any reference to God or the supernatural.
Staying Sober Without God also provides guidance in areas that the original 12 steps don't fully address such as physical health, seeking outside help, and effective communication. The end result is a robust, well-rounded guide to a balanced recovery lifestyle that can help you stay forever free from your compulsive behaviors if you choose to be.
Finally, there is a path to recovery for the rest of us.
Learning a new perspective for those whom are agnostic or atheists but want to work the twelve steps for the ability to stay sober and clean; this is a more in depth, eye opener. It gives a willingness to be fully open minded, compared to having faith in an unseen force shoved down your throat and not taking responsibility for our condition and of our recovery. For me it has shown how it's my reactions, my decisions, and ultimately the individual to take responsibility for recovery. I learned more about myself than I've ever seen before. So much insight on a level we can understand. This book could profit open minded people who believe in the Christian God or any other one. It's not written in any way to take anyone's beliefs from them!
This is my second time reading all the way through this remarkable guide to staying sober and clean. Applying the 12 steps without a religious concept has worked for me. There is no judgement on anyone's faith nor people's beliefs; it's a support group and doing what works for you. I go through this book doing my 12 steps where I am today and practice each one on a daily basis and it's working for me. I need all the help I can get during this Pandemic and the isolation I am in. Whatever Works!
On a summer night in 1988, shortly after my 26th birthday, I was sitting in a smoke-filled room in Kansas City, Kansas. It was a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had been attending meetings for weeks, and I was becoming ever more discouraged with the constant talk of spirituality. No longer capable of tempering my frustration, I told the people at the meeting, something to the effect, “I have serious problems, and I need real answers!” My desperate plea was met with someone tossing the book "The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" my way and shouting at me, “This is your solution!”
"Staying Sober Without God: The Practical 12 Steps to Long-Term Recovery from Alcoholism & Addictions," by Jeffrey Munn was written to help people like my younger self, and if you are an agnostic, atheist, or otherwise secular in your worldview, and struggling with the 12 steps, this book was written for you too.
This 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 recovery community for support. Jeffrey’s interpretation of the 12 Steps emphasizes building a healthy lifestyle, and he provides practical suggestions for working each step to bring this about. Recognizing the steps don’t address everything needed for a viable recovery plan; Jeffrey also writes about the importance of sleep, exercise, physical health, interpersonal communication, and relapse prevention.
Jeffrey 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, Jeffrey 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, Jeffrey 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, Jeffrey 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 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? Jeffrey 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 Jeffrey 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.
Jeffrey 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, Jeffrey recommends that a person be evaluated by a mental health professional because oftentimes, addiction will coexist with other mental health concerns.
Interestingly enough, Jeffrey 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, Jeffrey 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 are similar to the original version in that they involve self-reflection, writing, and communicating with a fellow in recovery. Jeffrey 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 aspect of the inventory process that I found unique was how Jeffrey 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.” Jeffrey 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 what are referred to as character defects. In the practical version, character defects become character traits, and rather than focusing on removing the unhealthy character traits, Jeffrey recommends adding healthy traits.
The amends steps are also treated similarly to the original version, but Jeffrey 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 Jeffrey places a lot of emphasis on Step Eleven, which he phrases simply as “We started meditating.” Jeffrey 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, Jeffrey 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. Jeffrey believes that service to others is absolutely essential.
Outside of the steps, Jeffrey 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. Jeffrey lists three categories of communication: passive, aggressive, and passive aggressive. 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. Jeffrey 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 be easily corrected in future editions.
I can 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.
A real issues some entrants to the AA program face is what appears to be an obvious contradiction to them, but not to other members: “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking,” paired with religious language peppered throughout the 12 steps. If you have respect for the long history of success of AA in creating a sober life pathway for recovering addicts, but aren’t religious, how do you find a balance?
This was my challenge when I first walked into AA this past year; I’m not hostile towards religion, but the language bothered me. Step 6 is the perfect example of this: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” Without going down a philosophical wormhole about free will, my problem, as I consider a statement like this, is that it removes agency from me, the person living with this issue on a daily basis. There are a million decisions an individual makes every day, and for alcoholics, many of these may put you a step closer to, or step further away from, sobriety.
This book helps to keep the core spirit of each of the 12 steps while rewriting them as empowering statements for proactive self-improvement. This allows someone who is turned off, or unmoved by religious language to benefit from the structure of 12-step programs, which have provided community and support for countless individuals over a long period of time.
Very helpful. A good introduction for me to swallowing and adapting to alternative 12 Step interpretations. It really helped me see that I have my own understanding of the steps, and see how I already work them, in an untraditional manner. This book helped me see there’s so much more out there than the big book and e 12 & 12, and that I could be involved in recovery communities without being caged in by 80+ year old text.
Written by a recovering alcoholic to me gives the book creditably
I’ve struggled with the God emphasis in AA for the last 17 yrs. We’re told AA doesn’t require you to believe in God but you’re treated like a leper if you don’t join in. This book provides me comfort and support, and perhaps others who struggle with the God emphasis in AA meetings.
Make sense style recovery to me , taking responsibility for your sobriety and getting down to business,"Practical actions" process ,I'm 10 years sober and very disappointed in the way a lot of AA has turned into some "wacko right wing cult" Its so bad now,I no longer attend traditional meetings, How many more alcoholics and addicts will they drive out to they're deaths with they're dogma?...who knows?, Interested in applying this knowledge to my own problems in sobriety today. thanks for your hard work Jeffrey,I hope this book saves and changes more lives.
This book has the potential to help many, and anybody who finds the God-iness of 12 step recovery to be an impediment to getting clean and getting better. I also loved the additional suggestions for optimal recovery beyond or alongside the 12 steps. A great and easy read. I have already given it to see real addicts. I have 36 years clean and am still willing to learn Thank you Dr Munn for the opportunity
Even though I am not an atheist, I got a lot out of this book. It is thought provoking and supplements and enriches my program. Glad I read it and will be working the Steps with this book with an atheist sponsee.