Why You Don’t Have to Believe in God to Pray
Need help? Call our 24/7 helpline. 855-933-3480

Why You Don’t Have to Believe in God to Pray


This post was originally published on June 10, 2014.

One of the great misconceptions about AA is that it’s some sort of a religious organization, which—given the frequent mentions of God throughout the literature—isn’t all that surprising for an outsider or newcomer to conclude. In fact, the first time I came to AA, this was probably the principle reason that I didn’t stick around (although continuing to smoke pot and take Xanax and not getting a sponsor or joining a group may have had something to do with it as well).

I was pretty sure I wanted to stop drinking (or at least slow down and make the trouble go away), but just the mention of God or prayer made me cringe, because most of the associations I had made with the word God (pre-Boston priest sex abuse scandals) were connected to crazy-eyed born-agains and televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and Tammy Faye Bakker—not exactly the best poster children when you’re trying to swallow the whole God Thang, particularly when you’re an agnostic at best.

So after 49 days of pretty much just not drinking, I helped a friend score some blow (because I was such a standup guy who always helped his friends out if there was something in it for me) and when he offered me a line, I snorted it, completely forgetting that I couldn’t do coke without drinking booze or popping pills. And that led to a hellish four-year run that in turn led to cirrhosis, huge debt and near death. Still, since I was still drinking and drugging, these events weren’t nearly enough to make me consider trying AA or something as ridiculously uncool as prayer.

It wasn’t my idea to come back to AA a second time, as I was still perfecting my own recovery plan that would allow me to continue to get fucked up without consequences. But I got busted for a DUI and that required me to go to four or five AA meetings a week and submit to random breathalyzers (plus urine testing for a decades-old drug charge) and that meant I couldn’t drink, smoke pot or take pills without being sent to a facility for two weeks if I failed. Of course, this was a blessing in an extremely clever disguise, because that’s how I found out that I no longer had the capacity to stop drinking or drugging on my own. I stopped taking the drugs, but couldn’t stop drinking. I went to two spin-dry detoxes and drank almost immediately after leaving both, including walking directly from the facility into a liquor store and gunning down a half pint of schnapps literally five minutes after being discharged from the second one. I really wanted to stop, but saw no way out of this shithole existence. I was doing 90 meetings in 90 days, but I was doing it smashed, and I was driving to meetings to boot.

One day I ran into an old drinking buddy at a meeting who saw that I was struggling, and he asked if I had tried praying. “Of course not,” I replied.

“Then I can’t help you,” he said. To which I not-so-politely responded, “Go fuck yourself.” And he just laughed at me and shook his head.

Soon after, desperation met willingness.

I went on vacation with my wife and friends, and started drinking large amounts of Listerine (26.9% alcohol) every day—not because I couldn’t afford real booze, but because I didn’t want my wife and friends (or people in AA or the cops) to smell the booze on me. Of course, everyone within 100 yards knew I was hammered, but I thought I was getting away with it. Still, the shame became unbearable. I raised my hand at a meeting and admitted that I was drunk and I didn’t think I could stop, but I didn’t even know how to pray.

An old-timer grabbed me after the meeting and told me, “Just get on your knees and ask to stop drinking, kid. You don’t even have to say God if you don’t want to, but you have to ask.” So I stopped wondering whether it was going to work or not and I just started doing it—very sarcastically at first, as in, “Please help me stop drinking. Whatever.” And I started doing it every day and going to tons of meetings (drunk).

I’d love to tell you that the Magic Sobriety Fairy came down and tapped me on the head with her wand and I stopped drinking immediately, but that’s not what happened. As a matter of fact, things continued to get considerably worse for a few weeks. But one day, something just went “click.”

I woke up one morning after about a month of praying to who-knows-what and just knew that I didn’t have to drink anymore. I did drink that day (a half pint of Listo before a beginner’s meeting and a nip of schnapps after), but the next day I didn’t. I wanted to, and my body was still screaming for booze, but I knew didn’t have to. So I didn’t. I made it to midnight and that was probably, in some ways, the best (albeit most horrifying) day of my life.

At the time, I wouldn’t have told you it was the prayer, but eight months later, I found myself overwhelmed with some typically overblown alcoholic bullshit, and the obsession to drink returned with a vengeance. I was definitely going to drink, even though I knew it probably meant death, but I couldn’t shake the obsession. Then I remembered what a woman had once said to me—that a day would come when no power on earth would keep me sober.

So I got on my knees and literally begged, but my prayer was definitely not out of the Bible. It was simply, “God please don’t let me go fucking crazy.” And I didn’t. A couple of minutes later, a calm came over me that I can’t describe and the obsession was lifted. It’s been gone for over 10 years now, but that’s also because I still go to a meeting pretty much every day, pray and meditate and also try to live the steps and carry the message into detoxes and jails.

I don’t believe in the traditional God—not the 80-foot white guy with a beard, or even Mother Nature or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But when I pray and let people help me, most of the time I just have this feeling that I’m going to be okay. And I never felt that way when I was drinking and drugging (or in early sobriety, for that matter). I don’t have an “invisible friend” or believe the earth began 6,000 years ago in the Garden of Eden. But I pray and it works.

Thank God.

Any Questions? Call Now To Speak to a Rehab Specialist
(855) 933-3480

About Author

Johnny Plankton is the pseudonym for a freelance business and comedy writer/editor (and recovering alcoholic) who lives in Boston. He is also a grateful member of America’s largest alcohol recovery “cult” as well as Al-Anon.