Guest post on Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Our Selves

Guest post by Anonymous.

Right now, Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Our Selves (SOS) is in financial crisis. SOS is a support network for those seeking a secular alternative to AA. James Christopher, a sober alcoholic, founded SOS in 1985 as a way to get and stay sober through secular means. The Council for Secular Humanism (a part of Center for Inquiry) has financially supported the SOS program for over 23 years, but due to other commitments, it will severely cut funding unless SOS can raise $75,000 by the end of March 2014. SOS has so far raised $25,000, but time is running out.

Many, many people have been helped by SOS. Over 700 SOS groups meet in cities all over the world, including many in prisons. It doesn’t get the recognition that Alcoholics Anonymous gets, of course, and people mandated by the courts to join addictions recovery groups often aren’t aware of/offered an alternative. AA is not a secular program. Its 12-Step model requires giving oneself over to a “higher power” to get sober. Many nonbelievers in AA say they can make their higher power whatever they want it to be, i.e. pets, fictional characters, the memory of loved ones; but it is a major part of the program and it’s difficult to get around if you aren’t a spiritual person. Group prayers are often part of the meetings.

SOS credits the individual for achieving and maintaining their own sobriety, and welcomes the attendance of religious as well as nonreligious persons.

Please help save this important, effective program from losing its funding. Secular organizations offer few social programs that directly benefit the public and it would be a shame to lose this one.

If you agree that SOS should continue operating, please donate or pass on this link to the SOS Indiegogo page: There’s also an abbreviated link there to use on Twitter. The Indiegogo campaign ends March 14.

Donations can also be made (through March 31) here:, or send your tax-deductible donation today to:

Save SOS
4773 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA90027

(Credit card donors may also call 323-666-4295 24 hours.)

Find out more about SOS here:


  1. ewanmacdonald says

    This sounds like a great organization and I truly wish you the best of luck, but my (second-hand) experience of AA is that they quite firmly frown upon public displays of prayer or religious affiliation in meetings, to the extent that I know at least one person has been expelled from a local group for refusing to stop doing these things. If there is sectarian prayer taking place that is, I’m quite certain, contrary to AA’s mission.

  2. says

    Hmm. How can you be quite certain? I have some second-hand experience of AA too, but I’m not quite certain either way. Couldn’t many AA groups favor prayers while many others don’t? It’s not firmly controlled from the top or the center, is it?

    Anyway there is the higher power thing, and as Anonymous says, that is indeed not secular. It sure as hell would put me off if I needed AA.

  3. johnthedrunkard says

    AA does not ‘require’ any belief from anyone. BUT, AA can’t prevent individuals from saying otherwise. In many parts of the US, AA could be confused with the Christian Right, with bibles on display and meetings filled with evocations of Jeebus. The same creeping fundamentalism that infects the whole United States has its tentacles in AA as well. I have seen a dangerous drift during my 25 years as a sober member.

    These fellows in England:
    Have a lot of information regarding the spread of cultish authoritarian behavior in AA. AND the kick back from members who know better.

    I regularly attend VERY specifically secular AA meetings. These exist scattered about. The need for SOS and siimilar organizations is to provide a secular entry-point into the community of sober alcoholics.

    An enormous amount of what is worst in AA comes from its entanglement with outside organizations. The courts, forcing drunk drivers onto meetings they have no interest in attending. Treatment centers that claim to be ‘based on’ the 12 steps. The latter is simply not possible. AA has no hierarchy or command structure and the ‘steps,’ if they are used at all, are discussed and shared between equals.

    SOS has made the mistake that AA barely avoided back in 1938. By accepting ‘support’ from an unconnected organization, SOS has been unable to generate self-supporting momentum. I attended the first few SOS meetings in the Bay Area, Before the link to CFI. Today, the only such meetings anywhere near me are inside treatment centers. SOS essentially doesn’t exist as an actual movement of, for, and by, alcoholics.

  4. psanity says

    There are many relatively secular groups around, but usually in big cities, where a more diverse environment leads to more secular groups. The groups reflect the nature of their participants, and in much of the US, AA is very goddy indeed. The Jesusy people are confused and offended at the notion they’re not being as inclusive as AA’s ideals indicate. ‘Cause, see, they think they’re being perfectly inclusive, because Jesus comforts everybody, right?

    The language and frame of reference of AA were developed by a couple of religious guys who were trying really hard to make the principles as broadly applicable as possible, as far as they could see. I think that they did a pretty good job, considering their limited viewpoint. Still, many, and in rural America, most groups are pretty off-putting to non-religious folk; and of course many of us can’t deal with the “higher power” thing at all, period.

    In the small town where I live now, AA is really very goddy –and there really are no functional alternatives. In the Bay area, many groups were quite secular, but it was still always recommended that you shop all the groups to find the best fit.

    My experience with AA is not-quite-firsthand –my parents were deeply involved for decades, so it was kind of a family thing for us. We were never religious, so it was interesting to sort of find our metaphorical comfort zone with the AA language.

    SOS is badly needed everywhere.

  5. psanity says


    Very interesting info. Those damned fundagelicals get their pointy horns in everywhere, don’t they?

    And I hadn’t realized that SOS was in such trouble. I only found out about it a year or so ago, when I was trying to find some help for a friend. I assumed it was just new and only starting to grow. You’re so right — it needs to be grassroots in order to flourish.

  6. jamessweet says

    How about some firsthand experience to trump the secondhand experience?

    AA groups vary wildly. Some are not religious at all, some are saturated with it. You really can’t generalize about AA at all. And now I’ll try to anyway: Generally they try to avoid being particularly sectarian, but there’s almost no escaping the overtones. I mean, they try things like “God as you understand it”, but then the steps refer to “God” using a capitalized male pronoun, so uh… that kinda communicates a message, you know?

    Moreover, there is another important difference between AA and SOS that has nothing to do with religion: SOS is not a 12-step program. This matters a lot, especially for those of us who have a problem with ideas like powerlessness, etc. If I’m in the right frame of mind, I can go to an AA meeting and “take what I need and leave the rest”, but there’s a lot I end up having to leave, and it’s just way more comfortable to be at SOS.

    I had no idea the national organization was in trouble. This is not a good thing… SOS is badly needed, not just for the secular aspect, but also for the emphasis on personal self-determination. (There are a handful of explicitly religious people who attend the same SOS group as I do, because they just fit better in that atmosphere) Despite the self-aggrandizing “How It Works” thing, AA does not work for everyone, and it’s important to have alternatives. Outpatient treatment is great, but it’s hella expensive. SOS is one of a very very few organizations providing a free member-supported alternative to the 12 steps. That alone makes it incredibly valuable, even aside from the secular aspect.

  7. catbutler says

    First hand experience here as well – each individual AA group or meeting sets its own rules, supposedly within the framework of what they call the Twelve Traditions and governed by what’s called the Group Conscience.
    Each meeting is different. They aren’t supposed to be sectarian, but the American South in particular is pretty much overtly Christian (I’ve attended meetings in GA, SC, TX and FL and was Jesused at pretty much everywhere down there). Many meetings even here in the NE end with the lord’s prayer. Individuals are free in meetings to discuss their personal religious experience (although I got a lot of blowback whenever I mentioned my atheism).
    And the literature is abominably sexist and full of religious overtones.
    I left AA several years back after getting sick of people trying to convert me or telling me I couldn’t maintain sobriety as an atheist (oddly I am still an atheist and still sober—looking at the calendar just now I realized I have been sober for nine years as of yesterday).
    In spite of lip service to the contrary AA as a whole is a religious organization and can operate a lot like a cult. No one I knew in AA speaks to me anymore and it was really awkward the couple of times I tried.
    I am sorry to hear SOS is having financial issues. I will definitely make a contribution—it is an essential alternative for secular people.
    Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

  8. kestra says

    AA may not be “sectarian” but it sure isn’t secular. I’ve been looking for a non-Jesus AA in a major East Coast city for a few months now, and every group thus far has had the opening speakers refer directly to Jesus leading them to AA, Jesus keeping them in AA, Jesus saving them from alcohol and drugs… and on and on and on. That’s absolutely unhelpful just to people who aren’t *Christians* let alone those who hold no gods at all. Six (or seven) of the twelve steps directly reference a god, who, as jamessweet said, is written with a capital “G” and uses male pronouns.

    I contacted SOS a while ago to try and find a group, haven’t heard back. There are “agnostic” AA’s, and that’s my next thing to try, hopefully it will be better than the AA’s I’ve been to so far.

  9. learninglate says

    Thanks for posting this. My son is a recovering addict and though he got a lot of of AA meetings, the god stuff did put him off. He hasn’t gone in a while. I wish there was a SOS group in our town but it’s in South Carolina. Not going to happen, I’m afraid. In any case, I just contributed to the fundraising campaign and will try to add more before it ends.

  10. catbutler says

    @8 and 9 – Have you looked into rational recovery programs like Smart recovery (online)? I’ve found they’ve given me some help here and there. No twelve steps, just a more reasoned approach using things like cost benefit analysis, etc.
    They also have online forums, which I’ve used myself from time to time.

  11. johnthedrunkard says

    Interesting. I’ve been an ‘out’ atheist as long as I’ve been sober. I quit ‘going along’ with the Lord’s Prayer 25+ years ago. If someone starts it, I stay silent and look around for anyone else who shows discomfort.

    I’ve been around long enough to see that the ‘religious’ AAs and the authoritarian ‘obey your sponsor and don’t as questions’ types do NOT stay sober any better than anyone else.

    My AA sobriety is rooted in fellowship and service. Step work has never been a big deal to me. The principles involved come up naturally without the ritual.

    AA’s Preamble may be the most important piece of literature the organization has. It is notable for NOT invoking god, steps, sponsorship, prayer etc. etc. For those who haven’t had contact with AA, it is worth quoting in full:

    “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.”

    If these principles were kept front and center, AA would not have the problems it has. The steps are supposed to be tools for personal progress, not some bizarre ritual or cult induction ceremony. They can be skipped and/or ignored, even Bill Wilson said so.

  12. paulabryder says

    Unfortunately, kestra’s experience above (#*) is not unusual. I vividly remember Jim Christopher claiming to have “hundreds” of SOS meetings in place in the ’90s. When pressed, his listing of them turned out to be a loose leaf notebook stuffed with names & phone numbers on paper scraps & napkins. SOS groups in St Pete, FL & Southern Calif regularly received letters when he ran down his CFI salary & needed a new computer or car or…His book Unhooked did a great deal to lay the groundwork for secular recovery groups. In fact, Lifering Secular Recovery ( split from SOS, and now has an effective national presence. SMART has a clearly outlined & succesful program based on sound REBT principles, and its meetings are run by trained facilitators. It’s very active here in Phoenix, a fact that delights this secular sobrietist! Secular recovery groups (abstinence based) are desperately needed, and not just by non-theists.


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