Recovery in Texas without AA or 12 Steps?
February 5, 2008 5:09 PM   Subscribe

I have a pretty serious drinking problem which has caused me to "call in sick" too often at my job. I finally confessed to my supervisor that I have a drinking problem. I should have been fired long ago, but because I appealed to them for help, the company is willing to keep me on the payroll provided that I seek treatment for my addiction. Here's my dilemma: where I live, every alcohol/chemical dependency treatment program is based on Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 Steps. I have an intrinsic aversion to anything even remotely associated with a Higher Power, God, Jesus, etc. I need to find a treatment facility ( either residential or out-patient) that'll help me get sober without all the spiritual mumbo-jumbo associated with AA and the 12 Steps. I live in Corpus Christi, Texas and it's important that any suitable treatment program be located somewhere nearby--preferably Austin since I have sober friends there. But I guess anywhere in Texas will do. Any suggestions?
posted by buzzbash to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is a condition that falls under a disability for the employer and they can't fire you right now. However, I don't think on an employer paid health plan you will get to pick and choose your treatment. I think giving every effort to the program available to you through your employer is your best course of action unless you are prepared to pay out of pocket or get fired and have to pay out of pocket anyway. It doesn't sound like you are fully conscious of the depth of your problem. You got a reprieve now, but maybe being picky about treatment options is your way of finding your bottom.
posted by 45moore45 at 5:18 PM on February 5, 2008

Rational Recovery is an approach that doesn't use the higher-power thing. However, they also don't have groups or recovery centers, and I have no idea if it's any good. But maybe there's a therapist who uses the approach in your area that your employer can approve of.
posted by PatoPata at 5:29 PM on February 5, 2008

Maybe check out Smart Recovery (although I don't see Austin listed, you might find something close?)---I've heard from a couple of shrinks that it's a good alternative for people who aren't religious. My other suggestion would be to see a shrink (in addition to or instead of a program) and see if you can get to the bottom of what's causing you to drink too much. Good luck! Take advantage of your employer's help. They should also have some resources for you (phone numbers, etc.).
posted by hulahulagirl at 5:32 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

as for 45moore45's comment (maybe being picky about treatment options is your way of finding your bottom) ----you should feel free to choose the best recovery path for yourself and if you know the AA thing won't work for you, that's good. Just try something else. You have to do what works for you.
posted by hulahulagirl at 5:35 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

First of all, congratulations. I don't have any personal experience in this area, but Rational Recovery looks like kind of a snake oil operation. From their FAQ:

There are no Rational Recovery® treatment centers, anywhere.... Moreover, AVRT® is incompatible with addiction treatment, because the billing format requires that addicted people be diagnosed with a medical or psychological disease and provided services aimed at reducing the desire to get high. AVRT® is just too simple, too quick, too obvious, to easy, for insurance companies to justify the cost of medical surroundings with a large cast of misguided clinicians.

I think there's a reason that the 12 step model (which has been around since the 1930s) is used most places, and the reason is that, for a lot of people, it really works. Which isn't to say that it's the only or best option for you - and I hope that people with information about Texas places you may prefer come forward... But please don't think you're the first to have the "higher power" objection. There are a lot of atheists and agnostics who work the program successfully, and I bet that you could find a sponsor who started in the same place that you are. There's a reason that the program starts with a "giving up" and a "handing over". Like they say, your best thinking got you here.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:39 PM on February 5, 2008

I had a real atheisty roommate go through AA. I asked him specifically about this because I was curious how it worked out for him. He says they're really so not picky about it, it's okay to just say some obscure machinations of the universe are your "higher power" without attributing any kind of intelligence to it. I guess the point is to acknowledge that you are not in control, not that some bearded guy in robes is.
posted by aubilenon at 5:45 PM on February 5, 2008 [8 favorites]

Seconding aubilenon's comment. Many, many people have successfully followed the 12 Steps to recovery without believing in or acknowledging a belief in God per se. "Higher Power" can mean the Collective Unconscious, or even something as simple as the synergistic power present when a group of people unite for a common purpose. It's about admitting that there is a power out there greater than yourself, whatever that may be. It's a means of dissolving the ego.

There is a chapter in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous entitled "We Agnostics" that addresses some of the concerns you may have.

The 12 Steps do work, and no one at any real meeting of AA is going to try to force any religion or religious belief system on you.
posted by Roach at 6:12 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, the vast majority of inpatient treatment facilities I've come into contact with incorporate some degree of 12-step work into their curriculum. The ones that don't are either aversion-therapy like Schick Shadel or Scientology fronts. Seriously.

I promise you, even if you have an aversion to spirituality period, 3 or 4 weeks in a 12-step treatment facility is not going to brainwash you, and will likely do you a ton of good regardless of the treatment modality you pursue upon release.
posted by Roach at 6:21 PM on February 5, 2008

Here's a link to a treatment locator from the Texas Department of State Health Services. If you haven't already done so, double-check the list of programs available in Nueces County to see if any meet your criteria. If none do, check in Travis County for Austin, Bexar County for San Antonio, or Harris County for Houston. They do provide phone numbers, so you can call and inquire about the programs before you decide what to do.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:34 PM on February 5, 2008

The problem of "Higher Power, God, Jesus" is true for a lot of people in AA, and gets talked about a lot too.

The WHOLE POINT of the 12 step program is to realize that you aren't capable of making the right decisions about your life, and that you need something more powerful to make those decisions for you. Give up your control and slowly you will regain control of your life. What "giving up" means is entirely up to you. You'll need to acknowledge "God" in some form or another, but AA isn't picky about what that form might be.
posted by johngumbo at 6:47 PM on February 5, 2008

First: I've been there, and I really hope you find your way through this. It takes bravery to assess your situation that honestly, and bravery and honesty are two things that you'll need to quit.

Second: I'm in AA (in Austin, actually) and I feel like it saved my life, so obviously I'm not unbiased. But I think I can relate my experience with it honestly.

I do know people who have managed to quit on their own (in one case by switching to pot exclusively), though not with Rational Recovery, which frankly seems more anti-AA than pro-quitting. Most of us in AA have tried to quit on our own -- sometimes dozens of times -- before winding up at AA.

I was agnostic when I joined AA (and remain so), but I was told, "You don't have to believe in God to make this work, you just have to believe you're not him." I've found this to be true. Yes, the G-word appears frequently in the literature, which can be pretty alienating, particularly if you've thought carefully about your atheism or agnosticism. But in five years of meetings, I've heard Jesus mentioned exactly three times in a religious context. (On the other hand, I've heard the phrase "Jesus fucking Christ" dozens if not hundreds of times.) One of the most beloved members here is an atheist in his 90s who believes that "we live in a universe of pitiless indifference." There's even an all-agnostic meeting, though from what I hear they actually wind up talking about God much more than regular meetings do.

The important thing is that you'll be accepted and welcomed regardless of your beliefs, or lack thereof, which is one of the things I love the most about AA. One of the group's traditions explicitly states that "the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking," and most meetings I've been to honor that explicitly. (It helps that I live in Austin and not some small town in East Texas.)

Subilenon is right that you can call anything your "Higher Power." (The official literature uses the example of a doorknob.) The point of the "Higher Power" is not to make you believe something that goes against your experience; it's to get you to acknowledge that your conscious brain hasn't helped you quit and that you can't do it alone. That was a lot harder for me to swallow than any theological assumption. You could use the group, or you could use your own subconscious. Whatever works.

I'm sorry to take up so much space here, but I wanted you to know that there are a lot of people in AA who felt exactly the way you did about it, and they didn't have to betray their own beliefs or experience to stop drinking.

Whatever you decide, I really hope you figure out a way to do this. I've been where you are, and it sucks. Your life will improve immeasurably if you can find a way to quit that makes sense for you. If you have questions please email me at the address on my profile, and good luck to you.
posted by viscountslim at 6:58 PM on February 5, 2008 [17 favorites]

Seconding viscountslim's wise words. It is pretty normal to meeting shop, too. You may find the meeting in the Baptist church is completely agnostic and the one at the VA is very religious. There are more than 80 meetings to choose from in Austin. In a major metro area, meetings tend to get niche: smoking meetings, non-smoking meetings, prayer meetings, atheist meetings, latte meetings, brown bag lunch meetings, meetings with childcare, GBLT meetings...

Basically, I don't think AA is what you're imagining it to be. The only universal is that the coffee is bad.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:24 PM on February 5, 2008

I'd no idea AA had a religious component. Fascinating.
posted by A189Nut at 7:27 PM on February 5, 2008

Atheists can definitely get and remain sober with the help of AA and the AA fellowship. For some of us, it can be like finally getting the Operating Instructions for life that we felt everybody but us had been issued at birth. The coffee is bad and sometimes there is a lot of God stuff, but overall the 12 step program is full of wisdom and works for many. After rehab, you might want to steer away from groups calling themselves Back To Basics, as they do seem to be evangelical in nature and may be unethically riding on AA's coattails.
posted by Hobgoblin at 7:55 PM on February 5, 2008

Use whatever works for you. You may have noticed that alcoholism and depression are
good friends. I used Prozac to treat the underlying depression and lost the urge to
drink. It was like a miracle for me, but I had also made the positive decision to stop
drinking. Now I rely on 1 step: Don't drink.
posted by jimbotex at 8:14 PM on February 5, 2008

"Keep coming back."

Smart Recovery is gaining a lot of respect and is utilized by the local community services board here. It is not based on 12-step.
posted by waraw at 8:27 PM on February 5, 2008

Can you get into a hospital-based program? We took part in an intervention performed on an alcoholic friend years ago and his treatment counselor cautioned participants at the time to not mention that the person should "accept Jesus as your personal savior," "get right with the Lord," or any other similar platitudes. I will never forget her final words on the subject, when she addressed one of the participants who got sober and wanted to involve "the Lord" in the proceedings; "Some people have been whipped by the Lord. You need to give this man a chance to find his own higher power without insising on him accepting yours." The subject did commit to a course of treatment at that hospital and as far as I know is still sober, more than 25 years later. So maybe a hospital-based course would work for you.
posted by Lynsey at 9:08 PM on February 5, 2008

Get over it and get healthy. The higher power stuff is not going to kill you. Many in the program will not be buying this, but will be buying the advantage of having a group to help you stay clean. Did you never have parents force this down your unaccepting throat? Well, in any event, I wouldn't worry about the religious aspect of the 12 steps program. Think of yourself first. When they ask you to put God first, just substitute "others" for God. If you are a drunk you have fucked a bunch of people over. Put them first if you can't put God first. Whatever, recovery is all about no longer putting YOU first. Good luck.
posted by caddis at 9:13 PM on February 5, 2008

At one time the higher power concept was put to me this way - if a cop pulls you over while you are drunk, who is the higher power? I was also told to take what you need from AA and leave the rest. No one in AA ever tried to shove religion down my throat, in any way, shape, or form. I found AA to be a very tolerant, non-judgmental group. Good luck!
posted by wv kay in ga at 9:38 PM on February 5, 2008

It might be easier if you substitute "God" with the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:00 PM on February 5, 2008

FWIW, I've been sober in AA for nearly 9 years and I'm an atheist. I was very anti-God when I first came to AA, which resulted in my resisting any attempts to 'do the Steps' - that is, undertake the self-reflection and mental and moral housecleaning I needed to do to get to the root of my problems.

For me the Higher Power I've found in AA is AA itself and the power of the programme.

The key to living sober is ridding myself of the shame, guilt and old behaviour of the past, learning to live in a way that sits right with my conscience, and not doing the things that made me die a little inside every day with shame. For a long, long time I've felt good about myself in a way I never did when I was drinking. I don't get to the point any more where I want to hit that 'Fuck it!' self-destruct button, because I've learned in AA to live right.

Good luck.
posted by essexjan at 1:56 AM on February 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

I have a good friend who is active in AlAnon and she told me that she uses the concept of the group as her higher power. She was really resistant at first but says the experience has really helped her and the religious thing is really a non-issue.
posted by miss tea at 4:18 AM on February 6, 2008

The two people I know locally involved in AA are both gay and not religious. Borderline blasphemers. Not sure if that's relevant to you at all.
posted by sully75 at 5:31 AM on February 6, 2008

I think querying the Hive mind is a perfect example of relying on a Higher Power. Think of the group itself as your HP. Certainly you'll get lots of effective support from people in AA. Please think about trying it before you reject it.

Good luck.
posted by RussHy at 6:24 AM on February 6, 2008

The NY Agnostic AA Group lists two meetings in Austin. There are atheist AA groups that are officially recognized by AA. A Skeptic's Guide to the 12 Steps is a good example of how to work the AA program without changing your beliefs. The only requirement in AA is a desire not to drink. The reason that there are so many AA groups and treatment centers is that the program works and it works whether or not you believe in a god.
posted by calumet43 at 6:33 AM on February 6, 2008

Scene: Immediately after an AA meeting, basement of church.

Characters: Guy #1, a drunk checking out AA. He's been court-ordered to attend; Guys #2, 3, and 4, regular attendees. Guy #1 is in conversation with the other guys about his apprehension about AA being the answer to his sobriety.

Guy #1: (With bravado)
"I don't believe in any of this 'Higher Power' shit."

Guy #2: "Okay, then. Answer me a question. Do you think I could kick your ass?"

Guy #1: "Hell, no! I've got 4 inches and 30 pounds on you!"

Guy #2: "If I help him, could we both kick your ass?"

Guy #1: "Um, no! I could take both of you without breaking a sweat."

Guy #3: "How about if the three of us tried? Could you take all three of us on?"

Guy #1: (Less sure of himself now. Hesitates. Speaks less forcefully)
"Maybe. Not sure. If I dropped one of you quick, I might be able to take the other two..."

Guy #4: (Speaks softly. Puts his hand on Guy #1's shoulder.)
"Well, until you get into a better place, and can handle this on your own, just consider the four of us your own personal Higher Power. How's that sound?"

Your Higher Power is anything that is stronger than you are. Unfortunately for too many drunks, alcohol remains their HP, and they use any and every excuse to avoid getting sober.

Good luck.
posted by Corky at 1:18 PM on February 6, 2008 [5 favorites]

I am a devout atheist (!), and have used a 12-step program (SLAA) to reach my sobriety.

When they say, "higher power", I think, "better path".
When they say (in the closing prayer), "God, I ask you to...", I say, "Group, I ask you to..."

No one balks. We're all there to help, and to get better.

One time a member chose to end the meeting with the "Lord's Prayer", which curiously was noted as an acceptable alternate closing prayer. I (quietly) refused to join in that "prayer circle" - not just much because I found the prayer non-inclusive to me, but also to Jews & all other non-Christians. The member was innocent about this - he apologized, explained why he did it (innocently picking a variation, for variety's sake), and we never used that "option" again.

The wording has a lot of goddy-type stuff in it, but it's really not about preaching. It's about self-help.

They don't tend to be judgmental in that way. It's counter-productive to their main goals. Give it a try.

And good luck.
posted by WorkingOnANewMe at 8:19 PM on February 6, 2008

Best answer: First of all, thanks to all the ladies and gents here who offered answers to my query. I'm impressed and humbled by the quality of your answers. That being said, I didn't get the answers I was looking for. Instead, I'm pretty sure I got the answers I needed. That's even better.

As a result, I'm going to let down my defenses a bit and give AA and the twelve steps another chance. Per suggestion, I ordered a copy of A Skeptic's Guide to the 12 Steps along with a few other books that might help me better understood the twelve steps. Those other books are:

The Tao of Sobriety: Helping You to Recover from Alcohol and Drug Addiction
Mindful Recovery: A Spiritual Path to Healing from Addiction
One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps

Also, I've decided to enroll in a month-long alcohol and chemical dependency IOP (intensive out patient) program at a local hospital. Of course, the hospital's program is based on the twelve steps. I tried the program before, but I dropped out early. I admit, my mind was pretty closed back then. Going in, I was biased against the 12 Step methodology, so I didn't get much benefit out of it. This time--thanks to your comments--I hope to open up and be more accepting of new ideas that would have otherwise repulsed me. I think I can do it.

Thanks again everybody!
posted by buzzbash at 1:20 AM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

One more (belated) note-- I attended daily AA meetings for two solid years, and found the steps very helpful in terms of actually dealing with my drinking issues in terms of dealing with my life issues in general.

However, I finally quit when the makeup of the group changed, and the dynamic shifted from "recovery mode" to "wallowing" mode. When I realized I was getting more anxious about going to the meeting, than about the possibility of relapse, I decided it was time to move on. It took some doing (I live in a small, rural area), but I found another group that kept its focus on getting better, not self-pitying / reliving the latest relapse. About six months later, I moved on entirely.

I guess what I'm saying is, don't let the religious aspect of AA turn you off; but don't hesitate to step away and look for a better group, if the group you start out with is unhealthy.

It's been a hard process, but I've been sober 11+ years, and it's been worth everything. All the best of luck to you!
posted by ElaineMc at 2:35 PM on February 7, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for writing, ElaineMc!
posted by buzzbash at 12:58 AM on February 8, 2008

« Older Name an important recent book on academic...   |   Simple backup on OSX...locally? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.