Atheist’s suffer a lot of abuse in 12-step programs and treatment settings – this much is clear whenever I peruse other alternative addiction/recovery websites and message boards (not to mention I have personal experience with it). The badgering, browbeating, insults, and putdowns can be brutal. Here you are looking for help with a drinking or drug problem, and there’s this whole other unrelated issue you’re forced to cope with – being berated and treated like an outcast within what seems to be the only system available to find the help you’re looking for. Everywhere you turn for help, it’s the same exact message – you will fail unless you believe in god. This is the first part in a series where I’ll be discussing the particular issues atheists face in the recovery culture, and how to deal with them.
DON’T Tolerate This Intolerance!
So how should you cope with this? My first recommendation is to simply refuse to tolerate, deal, or put up with it in any way. You do not need 12 step groups, treatment centers, or help from ANYONE who tells you that you need a miracle from god in order to change your habits. It is obvious that these people truly don’t have a solution when the only solution they offer is to pray and wait for a miracle. They see themselves and all others with substance use problems as being afflicted with a chronic incurable disease that only god can solve, and they are committed to seeing it that way. They have resigned themselves to powerlessness and personal inaction, therefore they have nothing to offer you in the way of a solution. They can only offer you more powerlessness, fake hope (delusion), and empty promises. Get, and stay, the hell away from this.
There are other options for dealing with a substance use problem. What many people don’t know is that most people (75%) who successfully change their substance use habits, do so without ever getting any professional addiction treatment or 12 step involvement. If these options are hurting you, then you can leave them and just go live your life without substance abuse and without the recovery culture – with the confidence that you are not alone, that the odds are not stacked against you, and that you will be alright. This is called self-change, and fortunately we’re beginning to learn a lot about what facilitates self-change. Those who do it, generally go through a process of cognitive evaluation or appraisal – which is a fancy way of saying that they honestly weigh the pros and cons of their substance use habits, and choose to stop. There are other factors at play too, which we will discuss elsewhere on this site, but they generally boil down to building a happier life. Self-changers make an informed decision about changing their behavior, then they make the changes stick by taking steps to live a life that they personally find to be more fulfilling and satisfying than a life of excessive substance use. If you want help in doing this, then you should check out the self-help books available from Stanton Peele, these will be the most atheist friendly books I can recommend at this point, and Stanton focuses on improving those other areas of life which tend to help people change.
But perhaps you have to attend these programs who tell you to believe in god. Maybe you made a plea deal on a drug or alcohol related court case where you had to choose between jail or treatment, and now you’re stuck with the intolerant recovery culture for a while. How do you cope with that? Most of all, you need to keep your mouth shut. Just go to your meetings, and never mention your beliefs about god, because the onslaught will be relentless if you do. Just keep quiet and don’t incriminate yourself. If you have already mentioned it, and the onslaught is in full swing, then with each new encounter you should just say you’d rather not talk about it and leave it at that. If a counselor of some kind holds your legal fate in his hands, and he is adamant that you need spirituality to make progress – then tell him what he wants to hear. Tell him you’ve found a higher power of your own understanding, and that things have turned around and looked brighter since you did, and that you feel it helping you. Make him happy, because if he’s not, then he may tell the courts that you need more time in treatment, and you’ll only end up being subjected to his nonsense even longer.
The rhetoric these mystics use in trying to convert you is insidious. They’ll make all sorts of insanely irrelevant and unrelated claims about your thought process in order to create self-doubt. As I said before, please try to avoid engaging in these discussions, but arm your mind for them when they are unavoidable. If you must be subjected to this, it can leave you confused, lonely, and upset with yourself. Don’t ever be ashamed of not believing.
Some people believe and some people don’t, and you can’t flip a switch to believe. You have a personal standard of proof which must be met in order for you to believe something, and that’s a good thing, they have standards which are different. Usually, these proselytizers don’t even attempt to offer proof – in fact it’s basically a policy that proof is unnecessary. You shouldn’t feel bad for not believing a claim which no one has reasonably proven to you, this doesn’t mean that you are close minded, it means that you have standards. You should take those standards, and use them to your advantage. Judge your use of substances objectively, and see whether it provides what you want and need out of life, explore other options and judge what those might offer to you – make an informed decision about your life path that satisfies your standards. Then just go and live life, you don’t need to struggle with belief in god, and you don’t need to struggle with addiction. Leave the poisonous recovery culture behind.
Note: The essays in this series are in no way meant as an attack on religious, spiritual, or god-believing people in general, nor are they meant in any way to dissuade anyone from believing in god. They are however meant as a defense of atheists seeking “recovery”, and a direct attack on all those who in any way suggest, imply, or proclaim that an atheist cannot solve their substance use problem unless they believe in god.