You do NOT need god to get sober.
Today I am sober. I have been sober since the middle of 2019. I can assure you that this fact surprises me more that it surprises you. The reason I say that is because of the way my sobriety started.
For me alcoholism was a slow process, but then it probably is for most people. I played rugby as kid and that continued through into my thirties, the guys who play rugby enjoy a good drink, and drink they do. So from my time at university, playing rugby at the weekends was always a release. Not only on the pitch, but afterwards in the bar too; it’s just how it was.
It slowly got worse, and with the alcoholism, along came the depression and the two enjoyed each other’s company. It just kept on getting slowly more consistent and more dramatic. I was a heavy fun time drinker before I started to get depressed, but depression and alcoholism are certainly the other’s catalyst.
I’d had some pretty stressful times and I coped with the stress using a combination of drinking and later taking self-prescribed Valium for a year or so, until I moved to a new country and could no longer get Valium so easily. My bottom came after a skydiving accident in which I broke my leg and my back when I found that sitting at home in pain, not being able to go anywhere and alcohol was not a great mix. I know, shock horror, who knew!?!?!
The result was ending up in rehab before I’d hit rock bottom. I am pretty sure it could’ve got much worse, so I think I was lucky to end up in rehab before things got way out of control. And this is where my surprise at being sober comes from. The rehab pushed their one-size-fits-all-AA-cookie-cutter-religion-shoved-down-your-throat approach, where anyone for whom their approach didn’t work was considered to be uncommitted to their recovery.
And they tried to push me into believing in a higher power, which if it doesn’t make sense for you before that point it will never make sense, no matter how much someone says you need a higher power or you’ll die an alcoholic. Well, I can tell you categorically that you absolutely do not need a higher power. If a higher power can be a doorknob, what’s the fucking point? How completely stupid is that?
If some half-baked counsellor keeps telling you that you are not strong enough to get sober on your own how will that affect you in later life? I worry for the guys who are taken in by these charlatans because you are being taught that you are too weak to solve your own problems.
I prefer to give myself some credit that I am strong enough.
I wasn’t ever going to find god (Notice I say god not God, because I don’t want to give the concept any more credence than it deserves). Finding god or dying an alcoholic were never my options, my options were either to get sober without god or die an alcoholic. And then one evening Russel walked into the rehab facility to share his stories about his secular recovery and my outlook changed. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t been exposed to a secular approach to AA. Meeting Russel made me realise I could get sober as long as I could get through rehab, so I stayed.
Rehab for me was a mental reset. I had three weeks of total rest and recuperation away from my stresses and that helped sort me out. I hadn’t had proper downtime for an extended period, and that’s what rehab was for me. The chance to switch off from my problems and get some decent sleep made all the difference to me.
From an AA perspective, did I get anything? Not really. The religious ferocity was so intense none of the lessons made any sense to me, I spent most of my time just having to fight back and justify my lack of belief. I now find that I am partly doing this to prove the theists in AA wrong; you can do this without god. So maybe that is my higher power, the need to prove the theists wrong. When you think about it that’s quite an oxymoron!
The most ridiculous thing was being told that atheism was a belief system in itself. As Ricky Gervais tells people; atheism is a belief system as much as not going skiing is a hobby.
What did you do at the weekend? I didn’t go skiing, it was awesome!
And that’s how my sobriety started. Other than meeting Russel and having three weeks rest, there wasn’t much more to suggest that I was heading into recovery with any kind of appropriate toolset to cope with life without booze. But there I was, three weeks sober and three weeks of having belief in god thrown at me like a fire hose on full blast.
Now that I’ve been in recovery for a while, here is what I’ve gained from the experience.
The whole days sober thing doesn’t make sense to me at all. Just because you relapse or have a drink doesn’t mean all those days sober have disappeared.
Why make it harder for someone to achieve something? Everybody slips up at times, being knocked over isn’t failure, the failure is not getting back up and trying again. Provided you keep trying to stay sober after a slip up, you haven’t failed. In fact, getting back up is even tougher and deserves more credit.
I often think of my recovery sticking power as me having recovery batteries. For some the batteries drain pretty quickly, but for some it takes longer. For me, one meeting a week is enough and it keeps me focussed and stops me heading off down that alcoholism rabbit hole. I am aware that some people need more meetings because their recovery batteries drain more quickly. This, more than anything, shows that you have to make your recovery your own. Assuming an off the shelf recovery will work probably isn’t a great start, only your recovery will work for you.
I don’t have a sponsor, I didn’t do 90 meetings in 90 days, I haven’t done the 12 steps and I have no plans to, but this is my recovery. I do know I have people I can ring if I ever need to, but my recovery is all about being happy, doing what I enjoy, getting rid of the negative and being busy.
Skydiving is my thing. But in rehab I was told I couldn’t go to the dropzone because of all the triggers, but in the end it turned out that the dropzone was my safe space. It was full of real friends who helped, they didn’t make it difficult for me to be sober. Some are a little OTT with their help, but I know they care. I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if I had taken the advice I was given in rehab and quit skydiving.
It turns out my triggers at the dropzone were all of my own making, but it took being sober at the dropzone to realise that.
Getting sober has meant that I have a lot more time on my hands, which might not seem like a great thing but if you fill that time with things you enjoy or things that are productive, or even better both, then the extra time becomes a benefit. A great way to fill the extra time if you are feeling stressed or feeling depressed is to read, which you probably found quiet difficult before getting sober. If you want a secular and more realistic way to get sober than the god bothering ‘you-must-have-a-higher-power’ brigade offer, a great suggestion is Jeff Munn’s book Staying Sober Without God: The Practical 12 Steps to Long-Term Recovery From Alcoholism and Addictions. He goes through the 12 steps in a secular way that makes much more sense.
I tend not to look for the deep and meaningful in things very much, if at all. Suggestions I accept reality, be humble or look for the ‘real’ me always leave me cold. I am very practical, which you could say is me accepting reality, but being practical means actually doing something rather than navel gazing. Just get out there and go for it, even if you don’t have a plan just give it a go.
The last few months have been amazing. I resigned from a job that was a very poor environment in which to work with a management team pushing you to do job they need you to do instead of nurturing people’s passions. Since quitting that crappy job, the months since have been super busy and now that I have gone freelance. I can happily say that the since going freelance have become the most rewarding I have had for a long time.
Like everyone in recovery I have my moments, moments where the thought of just one drink seems a possibility. This is when I think about how much I enjoy my sober life, and that brings me back to my senses.
I think my message is one of an awakening. Being sober for an extended period has changed how I live, it’s changed how I view life, it’s changed how my days go, it’s changed what I can achieve on a particular day, it’s changed everything, and for the better.
Recovery isn’t easy, it’s tough, but it’s changed everything in my life for the better.
Graham is still fakin’ it ’til he makes it, but being sober has made fakin’ it a whole lot easier.