Life as an atheist or agnostic in recovery may seem isolating at first glance. A higher power or deity is often strongly associated with mutual aid support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). But the truth is that there are many ways those who don\u2019t believe in a higher power can still benefit from these groups and find fellowship and support to stay sober. One Atheist\u2019s Experience in AA John S. is an atheist and recovering alcoholic who came into AA in July 1988 and practiced the program as a believer. After 25 years, he realized that he was an atheist and at that point began to express his recovery in secular terms. \u201cI spent a lot of time speaking like everyone else was speaking,\u201d John says. \u201cI realized I was an atheist and started talking about the program from this new perspective and got a lot of pushback.\u201d Feeling uncomfortable in his current group, John started \u201cWe Agnostics\u201d in Kansas City. Ever since, he has been part of a growing number of groups and resources for agnostics in AA. In addition to his work with these AA groups, John helps manage a website and hosts a podcast popular in the secular AA community called \u201cAA Beyond Belief.\u201d Making the 12 Steps Work as an Atheist or Agnostic While there are thousands of secular mutual aid support groups around the world, online agnostic AA meetings and forums, as well as 12-step alternatives such as SMART Recovery, LifeRing and Refuge Recovery, nonbelievers could find themselves in traditional 12-step groups depending on their circumstances \u2014 if they\u2019re in a drug or alcohol rehab grounded in 12-step meetings or in a particular region, for example. Maybe they live in a small town or are traveling outside of their local community where agnostic meetings aren\u2019t offered and they prefer an in-person group to an online forum. This shouldn\u2019t prevent anyone from getting the help they need. \u201cThe big obstacle for some is they think you must have a belief in a higher power. It doesn\u2019t necessarily mean that,\u201d John says. He explains that it\u2019s really about getting to that point where you realize you have a problem that is bigger than you can handle on our own. You turn for help wherever that might be: AA, a therapist or an addiction treatment program. John offers some ways you can adjust your experience in a traditional AA meeting and find support as an agnostic or atheist in recovery. Revise the Language for Your Needs The 12 steps originated from Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism (aka \u201cThe Big Book\u201d) by AA cofounder Bill W. Six of the 12 steps refer to God or a higher power. If you can\u2019t get past these references, try rewriting them in a way that resonates with your personal values. John created a secular version of the steps. For example, Step 5 reads: \u201cAdmitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.\u201d John\u2019s version simply omits the phrase \u201cto God.\u201d Step 5 still works for him because he believes there is something innately healing about being honest with ourselves and sharing our struggles with other humans, whether that is a therapist, AA members or others. Research backs up the benefits of self-disclosure to other people. Opening up to others about our painful experiences can help us overcome shame and begin mending emotional wounds, with or without God. Be Honest About Your Nonbelief Be upfront about your viewpoints from the beginning. \u201cIf you\u2019re not honest about your beliefs, you\u2019re not going to meet someone who shares your beliefs, and they\u2019re usually there,\u201d John says. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous don\u2019t require you to believe in a certain way. \u201cMost people in AA are very welcoming and open to agnostics and atheists. It\u2019s the minority of the people who give us a hard time,\u201d John says. Focus on Other People In meetings, John concentrates on his connection with others, not a higher power. \u201cMy higher power is the people in the room. It\u2019s the experience of the people in the room that can support me and my desire to stay sober,\u201d he says. When John feels uplifted after a meeting, he attributes it to the emotional high he gets from the support of others in AA. Other people in the room may attribute that same feeling to spirituality or a higher power. \u201cSo often in those meetings, it\u2019s language. We\u2019re doing the same thing but we\u2019re describing it differently,\u201d he says. Try focusing on fellowship and the actions behind the words. Appreciate the language as a way to convey an idea without taking it literally. Don\u2019t Jump to Judgment Don\u2019t judge AA or NA by the first meeting you attend. Every meeting is different. If one meeting doesn\u2019t resonate with you, give it another shot, or try out a different meeting. For example, some meetings close with the Lord\u2019s Prayer. This can be uncomfortable for an atheist or agnostic. If you find yourself in a meeting with the Lord\u2019s Prayer, John has some advice. \u201cI would encourage the newcomer to be honest about their nonbelief and if they are not comfortable reciting the prayer, to know they are free to abstain,\u201d he says. \u201cThey can either stand there quietly as the others pray or simply leave the room.\u201d Connect With Other Agnostics\/Atheists You\u2019ll likely find other atheists and agnostics in traditional Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Also know that there are many resources, agnostic AA groups, online agnostic forums and groups, social media communities, books, podcasts, conferences and events where you can connect with likeminded people in recovery. Additionally, alternative groups like SMART Recovery and Refuge Recovery are growing in number. If you\u2019re in a 12-step-based treatment program, you can still benefit from the fellowship and core principles of the 12 step programs. If you choose to seek out more secular options when you leave drug rehab, there are plenty available. Remember, We\u2019re All in This Together The bottom line is that people in mutual aid support groups have much more in common than they might think. Whether your path to sobriety involves a higher power or not, the benefits of the connection, support, honesty, acceptance and accountability you\u2019ll find in these communities can help you stand strong in sobriety. John says that the rooms of AA can sometimes be uncomfortable for an atheist or agnostic, but it\u2019s not impossible to make it work. \u201cOnce we\u2019re in that room, the real connection with the people has a way to make the other stuff less important,\u201d he says.