A common feature of many sobriety programs, including the most famous of them, Alcoholics Anonymous, is that they rely heavily on a belief in some sort of higher power. AA describes itself as a “spiritual program” rather than a religious program, but in my opinion, there’s a fine line between the two. So what do you do when have a desire to get sober, but aren’t religious or spiritual? Atheist Adam Collins found a solution for himself: a self-imposed 30 Day Sobriety Challenge. I spoke with Adam to learn more about how an atheist sobers up.
As an atheist, Adam was averse to a spiritually-based program like AA for rather obvious reasons. He told me that, “Religious people who quit drinking rely entirely on their idea of god. My dad did it. He was a super hardcore alcoholic until he was 28 (I’m 33), and was never a Christian until the day he got “saved” and completely quit drinking on the spot and hasn’t touched it since. He’s become a strident fundamentalist Christian since then and gives all the credit to the Christian god. A lot of people do that. They use their god as a support system. They throw their problems at the feet of the god, and feel like they’re accountable to him/her/it, so they don’t want to disappoint the god, and that works as a deterrent for them to not drink.” Of course, that wasn’t an option for Adam, so he decided to use something different: real people.
“I had to find something that functioned the same way. Gods aren’t real, but people are. My friends are. They’re real, and they care. I’m accountable to them, and they’ve been overwhelmingly supportive,” says Adam. He decided that he would record daily updates for the 30-day challenge and then post the videos to Facebook as a way to build a support network for himself and to be accountable to something. Adam says that the videos are his version of praying every day, the only difference being that his “prayers” actually get answered; so much so, that he often can’t answer back. “The response to this whole thing has been unbelievably overwhelming, and the support hasn’t dropped even slightly since day one,” says Adam, “I really do try my very best to get back with everyone, but the video comments, the private messages, and every other means of communication are so constantly coming in that I literally just don’t have the time to respond to everyone.” The videos have even inspired others to take up the challenge – Adam says that he knows of 31 people who want to start their own 30-Day Challenge and 8 who have actually started, adding, “the fact that I’m able to inspire others into bettering themselves and improving their lives absolutely means the world to me.”
The 30-Days were far from a walk in the park for Adam. The weekends were particularly difficult for him. However, that wasn’t the biggest issue he faced. One week into the challenge, Adam got some devastating news about his son’s mother. Adam told me, “I got a message telling me that my son’s mom had overdosed on heroin and she was in the hospital on life support. The doctor didn’t have much hope that she would make it, so they pulled the plug the next day and she died. I stood there and watched my son watch his mom die right in front of him. It was the most excruciating thing I’ve ever experienced.” Adam describes the tragedy as a “huge curveball” and says that it had a “massive impact” on how the rest of the challenge played out. “I did video updates on both nights while I was an emotional wreck, and some people told me that they hoped that incident didn’t drive me back to drinking. But it didn’t. For those couple of days, drinking didn’t cross my mind,” says Adam, “I mean, my kid just lost one parent to drug addiction. What kind of horrible person would I be to revert back to my old habits and self-destruct with alcohol when my son suddenly needs me more than he’s ever needed me in his whole life?”
Despite the challenges he faced, Adam pulled off his 30-Day Challenge. He says he doesn’t know if he plans to continue living alcohol-free, but adds, “I certainly have no intention of falling back into the pit I was in before I started this challenge. But I also don’t want to say that I’m going to quit forever because I know what happens when I say that. I’m not going to commit either way for now.” As for his feelings about non-religious sobriety programs versus religious sobriety programs, Adams says, “I’m not saying my way is objectively better, I’m just saying that the ‘god’ thing wasn’t an option for me because I don’t believe it,” adding, “Whether it be gods or friends, a support system that you can lean on and be accountable to is absolutely 100% essential. Religious people happily state that they couldn’t possibly do it without god, and I will happily admit that I could not, at all, have done it on my own.”
You can catch Adam live on Dogma Debate on Saturday, September 24th at 5pm EST where he’ll be discussing his sobriety experience. You can check out all of Adam’s daily updates from the 30-day challenge on his YouTube channel.
If you are struggling with addiction and are also averse to religious/spiritual programs, you can check out Addiction Recovery Guide’s list of secular programs here.