Preface and Table of Contents

Preface to Twelve Secular Steps: An Addiction Recovery Guide

Am I an alcoholic? Am I an addict?
One miserable morning I finally broke through the denial to an honest yes. Addicts—like vampires, spies, and others who live a double life—avoid the light of honesty above all else. By day many of us hide behind a mask of normalcy, but in the shadows we indulge our obsession. One morning I stepped out of the shadows. I stood in the light (a 40-watt bulb in a grimy bathroom), looked in the mirror, and took the first step. I surrendered to the facts about who, and what, I had become. That threw me into the next crisis: What am I going to do about it? Suddenly, I felt like a refugee: defeated, tired, alone in a collapsing world. How could I go forward, sober, and face all this mess? How would I change what seemed like . . . everything? I needed help.

I found help in the Twelve Step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and I am grateful. If you are an alcoholic or addict, and you think you are ready to do something about it, consider working a Twelve Step program. Try out a few meetings; talk to some people who have successfully recovered. If it’s not the solution for you, it’s likely you’ll still find their experience and support helpful.

So, why write this book? Chapter 1, The Separation of Religion and Recovery, answers that question. Early in my recovery I adapted the faith-based, traditional version of the Twelve Steps to create a leaner, secular version that I could understand and use. With time, I found there were many others like me. For decades now, agnostics, atheists, and others have modified Twelve Step literature to disregard features based in faith healing. Addiction knows no boundaries—not of gender, age, ethnicity, class, or faith. As such, it is more important now than ever to welcome secular adaptations into Twelve Step recovery. They expand the usefulness of this approach and support the inclusiveness already present in Twelve Step groups. This book is meant for those of faith as well as those who are agnostic in their outlook.

People of faith are just as likely as agnostics to take personal responsibility for the work necessary to recover—and that is what this guide facilitates. Truth is, Twelve Step recovery has a robust cognitive-behavioral methodology built into it. Cognitive-behavioral approaches emphasize the use of rational methods to recognize and change problematic thinking and behavior. First, you put together a reasonable (and simple) plan. Then you build a little faith in that plan, and then put it into action (with the help of those who have previously succeeded). Through my adaptation of the Steps, I have tried to produce an effective Twelve Step framework and methodology that is pared down to the essentials. The simplicity of this plan reflects the straightforwardness of the goal: freedom from active addiction. Recovering addicts can easily add their individual religious or philosophical perspectives onto the basic framework.

I should point out an additional note to this book, one related to the general nature of addiction. I do not view alcoholism as separate from any other addiction. I hold the same view accepted by Narcotics Anonymous: that alcohol is a drug, and alcoholism is a form of addiction. This stance is consistent with the known biology of addiction, which Chapter 2 summarizes. Throughout the book, I extensively refer to addiction in general terms rather than as separate conditions defined by a single preferred substance. I also use the words “sober,” “clean,” and “recovered” interchangeably to describe sustained abstinence from the misuse of any mood-altering substances.

The first step to recovery is a truthful answer to a simple question: am I an addict? If—after we honestly consider the negative impacts in terms of our health, damaged relationships, problems at home, school, or work, as well as the financial and legal costs—we arrive at a yes, then the next thing to do is reach out for help. One option is to use the shared experience and support available from fellow addicts in Twelve Step programs. My sincere advice is to put anything you can in your favor.


PART 1 Secular Foundations
1 The Separation of Religion and Recovery
2 The Biology of Addiction
3 Characteristics of Addiction, and of Addicts
4 Overview of Secular Recovery
PART 2 A Suggested Twelve Step Plan
5 The First 90 Days Sober and Steps 1, 2, 3


Reconstruction: Steps 4 through 9

Long-Term Sobriety and Steps 10, 11, 12