Book Review: Staying Sober without God

Munn wrote this book because, as a nonbeliever, he felt the 12 steps of AA don’t fully translate into a workable program for atheists or agnostics. This inspired him to develop the Practical 12 Steps.

Reviewed by Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

  • Staying Sober without God by Jeffrey Munn, LMFT
  • Published in 2019, 165 pages

I stumbled upon Staying Sober without God while searching for secular 12-step literature for a client who identifies as atheist. Jeffrey Munn, the book’s author, is in recovery and also happens to be a licensed mental health practitioner. Munn wrote the book because, as a nonbeliever, he felt the 12 steps of AA don’t fully translate into a workable program for atheists or agnostics. (For example, the traditional version of Step 3 directs the addict to turn his/her will and life over to the care of God as they understand him. If you don’t believe in God, how can you put your life into the care of him? Munn notes that there’s no feasible replacement for a benevolent, all-knowing deity.)

The whole “God thing” frequently turns nonbelievers off from AA/NA. They’re told (by well-meaning believers) to find their own, unique higher power, such as nature or the fellowship itself. (The subtle undertone is that the nonbeliever will eventually come around to accept God as the true higher power.) Munn writes, “There is no one thing that is an adequate replacement for the concept of God.” He adds that you can’t just replace the word “God” with “love” or “wisdom.” It doesn’t make sense. So he developed the Practical 12 Steps and wrote a guide for working them.

The Practical 12 Steps are as follows:

  1. Admitted we were caught in a self-destructive cycle and currently lacked the tools to stop it
  2. Trusted that a healthy lifestyle was attainable through social support and consistent self-improvement
  3. Committed to a lifestyle of recovery, focusing only on what we could control
  4. Made a comprehensive list of our resentments, fears, and harmful actions
  5. Shared our lists with a trustworthy person
  6. Made a list of our unhealthy character traits
  7. Began cultivating healthy character traits through consistent positive behavior
  8. Determined that the best way to make amends to those we had harmed
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would cause harm
  10. Practiced daily self-reflection and continued making amends whenever necessary
  11. We started meditating
  12. Sought to retain our newfound recovery lifestyle by teaching it to those willing to learn and by surrounding ourselves with healthy people

The Practical 12 Steps in no way undermine the traditional steps or the spirit of Alcoholics Anonymous. Instead, they’re supplemental; they provide a clearer picture of the steps for the nonbeliever.


Before delving into the steps in Staying Sober without God, Munn discusses the nature of addiction, recovery, and the role of mental illness (which is mostly left untouched in traditional literature). He addresses the importance of seeking treatment (therapy, medication, etc.) for mental disorders while stressing that a 12-step program (secular or otherwise) is not a substitute for professional help. In following chapters, Munn breaks each step down and provides guidelines for working it.

The last few chapters of the book provide information on relapse and what the steps don’t address. Munn notes that sustainable recovery requires more than just working the steps, attending AA meetings, and taking a sponsor’s advice. For a balanced, substance-free lifestyle, one must also take care of their physical health, practice effective communication, and engage in meaningful leisure activities. Munn briefly discusses these components in the book’s final chapter, “What the Steps Miss.”

Staying Sober without God is well-written and easy to read. The author presents information that’s original and in line with current models of addiction treatment, such as behavioral therapy (an evidence-based approach for substance use disorder). Working the Practical 12 Steps parallels behavioral treatments; the steps serve to modify or discontinue unhealthy behaviors (while replacing them with healthy habits). Furthermore, a 12-step network provides support and meaningful human connection (also crucial for recovery).

In my opinion, the traditional 12 Steps reek of the moral model, which viewed addiction as a moral failure or sin. Rooted in religion, this outdated (and false) model asserted that the addict was of weak character and lacked willpower. The moral model has since been replaced with the disease concept, which characterizes addiction as a brain disorder with biological, genetic, and environmental influences. The Practical 12 Steps are a better fit for what we know about addiction today; Munn focuses on unhealthy behaviors instead of “character defects.” For example, in Step 7, the addict implements healthy habits while addressing unhealthy characteristics. No one has to pray to a supernatural being to ask for shortcomings to be removed.

The Practical 12 Steps exude empowerment; in contrast, the traditional steps convey helplessness. (The resulting implication? The only way to recover is to have faith that God will heal you.) The practical version of the steps instills hope and inspires the addict to change. Furthermore, the practical steps are more concrete and less vague when compared to the traditional steps. (This makes them easier to work!)


In sum, Munn’s concept of the steps helped me to better understand the 12-step model of recovery; the traditional steps are difficult to conceptualize for a nonbeliever, but Munn found a way to extract the meaning of each step (without altering overall purpose or spirit). I consider the practical steps as a modern adaptation of the traditional version.

I recommend reading Staying Sober without God if you have a substance use disorder (regardless of your religious beliefs) or if you’re a professional/peer specialist who works with individuals with substance use disorders. Munn’s ideas will give you a fresh perspective on 12-step recovery.


For working the practical steps, download the companion workbook here:

Note: The workbook is meant to be used in conjunction with Munn’s book. I initially created it for the previously mentioned client as a format for working the practical steps. The workbook is for personal/clinical use only.

Top 40 Most Disturbing Mental Health Posts on Quora

What questions are people asking about mental health? Quora posts indicate that misconceptions and myths related to mental illness and addiction prevail. Read the top 40 most unsettling questions on Quora.com.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

I conducted a Facebook poll to ask about knowledge of mental health. A majority of the respondents (83%) viewed themselves as “very or quite knowledgeable.” Only 17% of those polled reported having little (or no) knowledge.

However, it’s unlikely that my small sample size is representative of the general population. There are many common myths out there about mental health and addiction.

I turned to Quora (an online platform for asking questions) to see what individuals who view themselves as less informed may be asking about mental illness. What I found ranged from thought-provoking to comical to disturbing.

Continue reading for 40 of the most unsettling inquiries I came across. The following Quora question posts illustrate some of the misconceptions surrounding mental disorders.

1. “Is mental illness really an illness?”

2. “Is mental illness catchable?”

3. “Do people with mental disorders have friends?”

4. “Are people who self-harm just looking for attention?”

5. “Is drug addiction really just a lack of willpower?”

6. “Can a person be intelligent and a drug addict?”

7. “Should drug addicts be left to die?”

8. “Why can’t drug addicts just stop? What compels a person to continue with a destructive behavior despite the obvious problems their behavior causes?” (Note: Addiction is a brain disease, which is why someone struggling with substance abuse can’t “just stop.”)

9. “Why should one feel sorry or sympathetic for drug addicts, given most of them chose this life?”

10. “Instead of ‘rescuing’ drug addicts who have overdosed, wouldn’t society as a whole benefit from just letting nature take its course?” (If that was the case, shouldn’t we then withhold all types of medical treatment and preventative or life-saving measures… to allow nature to take its course?)

11. “Is there any country in the world that won in the war against drugs by killing the users or the drug addicts?”

12. “Why should we lament drug addicted celebrities dying of drug-related causes? It’s their fault for starting a drug habit.”

13. “Why save drug addicts from overdosing? From my experience they were problems for their families, a drain on society from their teen years, and won’t get better once addicted.” (All diseases are a drain on society to an extent; that doesn’t mean lives aren’t worth saving.)

14. “How do you differentiate between drug addicts and real homeless people when giving money?” (You don’t; find other ways to help.)

15. “What are the best ways to punish an alcoholic?”

16. “Don’t you think it’s time we stop spreading the myth that alcoholism is a disease? You can’t catch it from anyone. One chooses to drink alcohol.”

17. “Why do people who are oppressed/abused never defend themselves and have pride?”

18. “Why don’t I have empathy for people who end up in abusive or unhealthy relationships? I feel that they deserve it for being such a poor judge of character.”

19. “Why do most women put up with domestic violence?” (Most women?? “Put up”??)

20. “Are schizophrenics aware they’re crazy?”

21. “Are schizophrenic people allowed to drive?”

22. “Do people who become schizophrenic become that way because they are morally conflicted?”

23. “Are schizophrenics able to learn?”

24. “Can a schizophrenic be coherent enough to answer a question like ‘What is life like with schizophrenia?’ on Quora?”

25. “Can one ‘catch’ schizophrenia by hanging out too long with schizophrenics?”

26. “Can schizophrenics have normal sex?” (Yes, or kinky, whichever they prefer)

27. “Why do people ignore the positive impact spanking has on raising children?” (See #28)

28. “Is being spoiled as a child a cause of mental illness such as depression?” (No, but spanking is linked to mental disorders and addiction in adulthood.)

29. “Should mentally ill people be allowed to reproduce?”

30. “Should people with mental illness be allowed to vote?”

31. “Are we breeding weakness into the gene pool by treating and allowing people with physical and mental illnesses to procreate?”

32. “Why are we allowing mental illnesses of sexual orientation disturbance and gender identity disorder that were changed for political reasons, to be accepted like race?”

33. “Why do some people with mental illness refuse to work and live off the government when they are perfectly capable of working?”

34. “Why are mentally disturbed women allowed to have children?”

35. “I feel no sympathy for the homeless because I feel like it is their own fault. Are there examples of seemingly “normal” and respectable people becoming homeless?”

36. “How is poverty not a choice? At what point does an individual stop blaming their parents/society/the government and take responsibility for their own life?” (White privilege at its finest)

37. “Why are mental disorders so common nowadays? Is it just an “excuse” to do bad or selfish things?”

38. “Are most ‘crazy’ people really just suffering from a low IQ?”

39. “Why do some people have sympathy for those who commit suicide? It is very cowardly and selfish to take your life.”

40. “Is suicide part of the world’s survival of the fittest theory?”

Please leave your thoughts/feedback in a comment!