In this episode, John introduces himself through his recovery story, talks about how he became interested in podcasting, and what he hopes for this new podcast, “My Secular Sobriety.”
00:05 John: Hello, welcome to My Secular Sobriety, an addiction recovery podcast giving voice to the atheist, agnostic and freethinking person in recovery. My name is John, and I am a person in long-term recovery. I’ve been sober since July of 1988. So since this is the first episode of this podcast, why don’t I begin with an introduction by way of my recovery story and then I’d like to talk a little bit about how I got involved in podcasting, why I started this particular podcast and what I hope to achieve with the podcast and the YouTube channel. So as far as my recovery goes, I actually started pretty young in life with my drinking and the problems that came with it. By the time I was 19 years old, I thought I needed help and I considered getting help at that time, but I told myself I was too young and I continued drinking for another six years and during that time of drinking, things got progressively worse for me, my drinking got progressively worse and the problems I had were getting worse, I was having problems, the kinds of problems I wouldn’t have. Were it not for my drinking. When I was 25 years old, just a couple of weeks before my 26th birthday, I was arrested for the third time for drunk driving and it was in a three-year period, that these arrests, were occurring and that last DUI would be my last drink.
01:48 John: It cost me a lot, I lost my job over it, I lost my apartment and I had this deep fear, that I would never have any sort of decent life ever, and I knew I needed to stop drinking, and I was terrified that I couldn’t. So I sought help through a peer support group and it was a good decision because I’ve been sober since and my wife has gotten better and it set me on this journey to get me to where I am on YouTube speaking with you today. Now, at this particular peer support group, they practice the 12 Steps and I did not know this going into the meeting but God has written in a few of these steps. And I didn’t realize that at the end of the meeting, they would ask me to hold hands and pray, and all of that made me, feel uncomfortable, and it made me feel uncomfortable, not because I identified as an atheist at the time, because I didn’t but it made me feel uncomfortable because I wasn’t a religious person and I was always uncomfortable when people would speak openly about their religion, because I knew nothing about it, it wasn’t part of my experience.
03:21 John: I grew up in a family that didn’t, they weren’t churchgoers, we didn’t talk about religion, it wasn’t part of anything that had to do with my life and I always felt kind of a bit of an outsider when other people would talk about the church they went to and so forth. I didn’t know the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant as a kid, I knew nothing. In fact, when I was in my early 20s, I took a class at a community college to learn about religion, I took a class on the New Testament as literature, just so I could understand what it was about. Now after that, this is during a time when I was drinking and my drinking was bad, I was searching for answers, and I did go to religion, I went to the Bible and I tried to have some sort of faith that there was a power that would help me, a God that would help me, that would get my life straightened out, but I never had that ability to connect, to have faith, and I always just figured it was something about me that I was somehow different from other people, that I lacked the ability to have a faith in some unseen power, God, whatever.
04:46 John: So that’s how I was going into this meeting when they wanted me to hold hands and say the Lord’s Prayer. So as uncomfortable as it made me feel, I was desperate enough that I just went ahead and did it and I went back and I went back and I went back and there was a lot of God talk at these meetings and what I would do is I would process that in my head and I would tell myself, “Okay, these people are doing this, they’re praying, and so forth, and there must be some psychological benefit to it because, obviously there isn’t a God, but they must be experiencing some sort of psychological benefit from doing these things” and that’s how I just kind of processed it, but I was talking to myself, that’s not how I spoke to anyone else. I quickly learned in these rooms where these meetings were taking place, to use the language of the 12 Steps because when I used the language of the 12 Steps, the heads in the room would bob up and down with approval, and I felt safe and secure and accepted, I belonged to a community, and that was important to me, and I had friends and I was staying sober and life was getting good.
06:10 John: But before you know it, I stopped doing the rationalizing, I just went with the, I just went with the flow, I started doing what others did. I guess I conformed as a way to survive, not realizing what I was doing, but that was it. And after about 10 years, I really began to have some serious doubts about this whole God business. But again, I wasn’t telling anybody about it, but I did stop praying.
06:45 John: At this particular peer support group, they stressed praying in the morning, and in the night and I used to do it and I did it almost obsessively compulsively, if I ever forgot I just had to run back and do it, I felt weird. And anyway, I stopped doing it, but I didn’t tell anybody. And then time went on, and life was getting better, I went to school, I got some degrees, I got married, I bought a house, things that one does, things that I was able to do sober that I couldn’t do when I was younger and drinking. So after about 25 years of [chuckle] sobriety, I realized that I am an atheist. I lack any theological belief, that’s it. I just don’t, I just don’t have any belief whatsoever.
07:46 John: It’s not that I necessarily disbelieve, I just lack any belief in a God. And on one hand, it was good to understand this about myself, but on the other hand, it was a little bit frightening because now I knew I was permanently different from these people at this peer support group that I had been attending for 25 years, where I had been talking the language of the 12 Steps and watching their heads bob up and down with approval. I realized that I couldn’t do that anymore, but I took a look at what I had done those past 25 years, to get and stay sober, and what I realized was the action that I took, the things that I did and the people who were there to support me, is what helped me get and stay sober. And when I read those 12 Steps and I take out the God stuff I could see some practical action underneath them. I looked at those things and I realized that they were a description of experiences and actions, that’s it, but they were written in someone else’s language. Not mine. It’s not how I would describe the experience. So I took the time to write that experience out in my own language, in my own words, and I was very comfortable with it. So I started going to my peer support meetings and I would explain to these people my way of understanding this.
09:33 John: This is a completely natural practical process. Well, it wasn’t well received, the heads were not bobbing up and down with approval. In fact, sometimes I would get some not so subtle criticism. People were adamant that though it’s fine that I believe that other people would help me, they were sure that the time and place would come when people would fail me, that no one would be there for me, that only God would be able to help me. And they told me that, and I told them, “No, I don’t believe that that’s the case because there is no God, and all I have is people, so hopefully they don’t ever fail me. [chuckle] And people will fail you, there’s no doubt about it, but there’s enough people in the world that together we can probably put something decent together, we can probably help each other. It’s not necessarily one person that ever did it for me, in my recovery or anything in my life, but it was a group of people, it was a community of people that always helped me. I think that that’s how human beings are kind of built maybe, I don’t know. Well, anyway, I did feel uncomfortable.
10:53 John: So I did a little bit of research, jumped online, and I found out that there are thousands of atheists and agnostics and free thinking people who are in recovery and many of those, most of them, in fact attend these 12 Step meetings and many of them, most of them, in fact, were just as uncomfortable as I was, and a lot of them started their own meetings that were completely secular. In fact, I did myself, in my own hometown, started a meeting and now there are seven meetings a week in the city where I live, Kansas city. So I had this connection again, that I was missing, but I was connected with people online, and they were from all over the world, and one person in particular, had a website, a very well-known website for atheists and agnostics who are in recovery and he encouraged me to build a similar website because he didn’t know how long he was going to be able to do it. And I like websites and I have always have enjoyed, I just love this technology, so I thought that would be fun. And at the time, I was listening to podcasts as well, actually I had been listening to podcasts for a few years and I thought it would be interesting to add a podcast component to the website. So back in September of 2015, I started podcasting and the people that would listen to this podcast and I still am producing that podcast and I will continue to produce it.
12:41 John: The people that subscribe to that podcast are atheists and agnostics, freethinkers, secularly-minded people who participate in 12 Step Fellowship, 12 Step programs, recovery programs. So, in fact, I do myself and I’m okay with that. But… And I love that podcast. And I’ll continue doing it, as I said. But I really felt a need… I’m becoming more and more interested in recovery at large beyond the 12 Steps. I understand and accept and appreciate that the 12 Steps are not for everybody, and that they’re definitely not for a lot of secularly-minded people.
13:27 John: And there are other options out there, and I would like to learn about them. So I created this podcast, My Secular Sobriety, to look at secular options for people who are interested in recovering from addictions of all kinds, and not only the addicts but the families and loved ones of people who are addicted. So this podcast, My Secular Sobriety, is going to take a look at programs such as LifeRing, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery and some of the grass roots, social networking groups that are popping up, I mean there’s a lot of people that are just finding each other online and getting together and many of them are actually connecting in person later on and so there’s just a huge amount of activity going on out there of people finding each other and helping each other in their recovery, and I want to learn about that, and I want to bring that out so other people can learn about it as well, because there has never been a better time as far as I’m concerned, for a person to get help because there are way more options than I had in 1988 when I was getting sober, when I needed help, there was only one place to go it seemed. Not quite that way now.
14:55 John: People have a lot more knowledge now as well, so a lot of people are going to do research, they don’t have to… [chuckle] It’s easy to learn about these fellowships, these recovery programs and what they’re all about. So some people won’t even go to the first meeting because of what they might have read online and some of it might not even be accurate. So I hope that this podcast will have some accuracy and truth behind it as well so that people can actually learn something about what’s really going on out there.
15:29 John: So I’m really excited about this. I’m also looking forward to the YouTube component. My last podcast has a YouTube channel, my current and first podcast does, but there’s static pictures with audio and it’s just to put the podcast out there, but… And podcasts are great. It’s such an intimate medium. I mean, it’s a way to connect with you, that’s so personal, you hear the person right in your ear and you’re usually by yourself and it’s just such a personal, deep connection and I love that. But video takes it to another level, I think, and I’m interested in that and I’m interested in becoming part of the greater community of recovering people that I see on YouTube with the various YouTube channels. I want to be part of that. So I thought that I would start My Secular Sobriety, as a way to explore things, that don’t necessarily suit my other podcast. So this is going to be more out there, where I will be who I am publicly, video, so forth, so I hope to have plenty of guests on this podcast and YouTube channel who we’ll talk about their own journeys in recovery using various types of support networks, using various types of treatment.
17:05 John: I’d like to look at people who might be practicing harm reduction or pharmacological treatments for their addiction. I’d like to talk to people that are in different support groups, but I also like to talk to some experts, and doctors, who are studying the science of addiction, because we have learned so much in recent years about how the brain works in an addict. And we know how these dopamine levels in the reward system get triggered very high. And I’d like to talk to some of the doctors and bring them on this podcast and this YouTube channel to talk about those things because it’s very interesting. I learned a lot from these people. There’s also some great literature out there dealing with recovery. There’s the quick let [chuckle] that, the basic memoirs of people telling their stories, but they’re great and you can get so much out of them, I’ve read some beautiful recovery memoirs and I would like to bring those to the podcast and the YouTube channel, hopefully get the authors on to talk about their books. There’s nothing more fun for me than to read a book and then have the pleasure and honor of actually speaking with the person who wrote it.
18:22 John: It’s so much fun, because they like talking about their work and they love talking about it with someone who’s actually read it, read the book. And I like reading and I love reading these books. I write and I try to write book reviews, but I find that so difficult. And it’s so much easier for me to actually just sit down with the person who wrote the book and talk about it, so I hope that we get to do some of that.
18:43 John: And I hope we have some fun and that we kind of explore the culture of 12 Step culture, recovery culture in general. We can take a look at movies, we can take a look at television, we can take a look at the Internet, what’s going on in the world of recovery, celebrity gossip, you name it. We’ll talk about it here, so it’ll be fun, it’ll be fun, but at the same time, I’ll never forget the seriousness of addiction and how many people are out there suffering. So that will always be important to me because I know that these podcasts and YouTube channels don’t just entertain people, and I’m not just out here to entertain people. Yeah, it’s fun, but I hope to help some people along the way too, like I’ve been helped. So I think that about covered it. I will be back again with another episode soon. I think the way that I’m going to do these episodes is I’m going to record ’em on YouTube just like I’m doing this one and I’m going to post ’em on iTunes, without any editing, just the raw audio and that’ll make it easy so I hope it’ll make it easy to listen to too. So thank you very much, it was nice talking to you and I’ll be back again real soon with another episode of My Secular Recovery.
20:09 John: Bye-bye.