ACA 12 Steps – Agnostic/Secular

ACA Oregon Intergroup has voted to post an ACA Agnostic / Secular 12 steps list on our website which would be in addition to the WSO 12 steps. It will not replace the original 12 steps. The purpose of this will be to help our members who do Recovery without God.

“Likewise, if the meeting requires a specific spiritual or religious belief, the basic freedom to choose is removed, and the meeting should not be called ACA.  We are a spiritual program where each person is free to choose a Higher Power or not.  There are no mandates.”  –Page 74 ACA WSO  Strengthening my Recovery.

Comments are welcome below.


ACA 12 Steps – Agnostic/Secular

  1. Admitted we were powerless over our family dysfunction and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  1. Came to believe the wisdom of the ACA program and its members could restore us to sanity.
  1. Made a decision to follow a path of recovery.
  1. Made a searching, fearless, and honest inventory of ourselves and our families of origin.
  1. Admitted to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our past.
  1. Became entirely ready to work at nurturing and transforming ourselves.
  1. With the assistance of others and our own firm resolve, we transform negative aspects of ourselves and cultivate positive ones.
  1. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and those who had harmed us.  Then became willing to make amends and open to letting go of the shame and blame we hold for ourselves and others.
  1. Made direct amends and forgave such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure ourselves or others.
  1. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  1. Sought through meditation to improve our conscious contact with our highest selves and to find integrity in all areas of our lives.
  1. Having had an awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others like us and to practice these principles in all our affairs.


Please note this is not an ACA WSO-sanctioned document.


50 thoughts on “ACA 12 Steps – Agnostic/Secular”

  1. These are GREAT!! Really love that this will speak to *even more* Adult Children who are searching for help and hope.

  2. I think this definitely should be included in Aca Oregon’s literature., a definitely yes to post on this website. There is enough spiritual wounding in my brothers and sisters of Aca that I cannot think of a better reason to have these available for those who need them.

  3. Wonderful, thank you for adding this to the website! I know of many people who have shied away from ACA and other 12-Step programs due to the word “God.” Truly, ACA is a spiritual program, but spirituality (and philosophy) can manifest in many ways. Let us be inclusive!

    These steps are a welcome addition to the program here in Portland. May they open the door to healing to even more people.

  4. In the continuum of trauma suffered at the hands of those whom once hold power over me, the idea of having to conform to anyone else’s beliefs or having to deny my own could not be called, “recovery” for me. ACA, of course is based on both freedom and the personal responsibility that comes with freedom. The 12-Steps were not invented. There was never a single original idea; rather the entire process was borrowed from other sources readily available at the time from both religious and psychological approaches to recovery. Some of the language expresses our experience and some of our words are a narrative that explain our experience. For me, as an example “Were entirely ready” in Step Six describes an experience; “to have God remove all these defects of character” is an explanation more than an experience. Years into recovery this was not my experience.

    A freethinkers version of the Steps invites me – or anyone – to consider the principles behind the Steps and articulate them in words that are as close to 100% authentic for me as I can muster. It’s not chronic-uniqueness, it’s finding my own authentic voice and expressing unabashedly what is true for me. “Sought through meditation to improve our conscious contact with our highest selves and to find integrity in all areas of our lives,” for example, can be the experience of someone with a supernatural view to recovery or it can be as concrete and practical as someone with a natural worldview would or may express themselves. These Steps work for me, inviting me to participate without conforming.

    1. yes! well said. In 1983 I went to Two aca meetings, could not return, back then they actually included the words, and I quote,” “god” may have given us alcoholic parents, but “he” also gave us the 12 steps.” wow, for an atheist/agnostic/freethinker like me, those were deal breakers. As recently as 3 or so months ago, I was asked to leave an aca group on facebook, due to my atheism.

      1. Perhaps the guidelines in the 12 step system need to be reviewed by & reminders sent to all ACOA groups about choosing a higher power w/o ridicule & banishment so that your experience doesn’t happen again. To anyone.

  5. William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.

    Starting the process of developing a Secular ACA is a great idea. We need that in the Los Angeles area. Now that the 12 Steps have been adjusted, what about all the other literature? Here is one idea to kick around (bad metaphore for my wounded inner child!): the notion of a “Higher Power” can be replaced by the concept of a “Healing Power.” As a living organism, Evolution has developed in each person a Healing Power that operates naturally for those who work the program. By working the program, and “turning it over to one’s own inner Healing Power,” the toxic feelings and effects of childhood trauma can be released, or healed. It’s not a case of the Ego taking charge, but of learning to trust oneself and surrender to one’s own Healing Power.
    Bill K from LA

    1. I stopped 12 step altogether when I started not feeling safe to express myself at meetings w/o ridicule. Pretty ironic I’d say & against the guidelines of choosing a higher power of choice.

  6. It seems I am late to this. I mentioned above I have had BAD experiences with ACA in the past, both in person and on line. I always thought it odd that folks who might have been abused were supposed to just shut up and take it, regarding rules and regulations and dogma in many MANY 12 step fellowships. Thanks to the internet, I’ve been able to search and find like minded folks. Right now, I am slightly going crazy, as I am the care giver for my elderly alcoholic mother. I was shocked that adherence to a dogma was more important than getting some support. Very glad I found this. thanks internet. take care, Rob T

    1. Wow Rob. Sounds really tough. Consider a respite worker/volunteer through elder care groups &/or Senior Center in your area. Self care is vital.

      I can’t sit back & “take it anymore”. As an aging adult I could never go to a regular mtg now. No tolerance. Support should never include “strings attached” in my book.
      Hang in there & please take good care.

      1. me as well, I won’t go to a “regular” meeting either. IN MY OPINION, it’s as dogmatic as the Westboro Baptist Church. And I can use the support, but not not from dogmatists and religious fanatics who always say, “it’s not a religion” but “god” gave you your parents “for a reason” blah blah blah. again, this is MY opinion and experience.

  7. I really like this version.

    Many years ago, I was an active member in an ACOA group in western Massachusetts in the early and mid 1990s, where we had a similarly non-theistic version of the 12 steps. When I moved to the Chicago suburbs in 1996, the meeting there not only used the “normal” (theistic) version, but they also recited the Lord’s Prayer at the close of every meeting (!).

    I attended a group business meeting and proposed that the group stop using the Lord’s Prayer and to adopt the copy of the 12 steps from the western Massachusetts meeting. Not only were both proposals roundly rejected (I don’t think there was a single other vote in support of either proposal), I felt strong, negative, personal judgment of me in things said by several members of the group. I was told that the other ACOA groups in the area all used the “normal” version and the Lord’s Prayer, so I left ACOA altogether.

    I recently became active in a group in the Seattle area, in which we have been looking at potential revisions to the preamble script. I was thinking that this may be an opportunity to consider an alternate version of the 12 steps to use in our meeting.

    My only concern about this version is whether it would be acceptable to someone who is theistic. For example, if someone believes only in a transcendent higher power – rather a belief in immanence – I’m concerned that such a person may find “higher selves” as objectionable as I find the use of “God” in the version of the 12 steps we currently use. I wonder if “true selves” – a term used in several places in the Big Red Book – might be something theists and atheists / agnostics would find acceptable.

    Similarly, if a theistic person believes in prayer, but rejects meditation, I wonder if using the disjunction “prayer or meditation” would be acceptable to all adult children, regardless of theistic orientation.

    Finally, does anyone have any experience with using this version of the steps in meetings? I’m wondering whether it alienates any of the theistically oriented group members. Thanks.

    1. thanks for writing something. I hope we can all try to keep this going. Maybe start a secular ACA group. Who knows.

    2. Chicagoland area recovery seems to find it difficult to let go of their God. Think I might hit the only one of 2 secular AA mtgs to get an idea of how it differs. Want some familiarity before considering the possibility of starting one up north.

      1. The ACA mtgs have really dwindled down to just a very few here. Where is the Oregon ACA sec mtg held? Here it’s mostly churches.

    3. Yep, in IL it’s TLP after every meeting every meeting place I’ve been, & I’ve been to a lot. Haven’t been to a meeting now for about 5 years as a result. Trying to get new meetings started here is like pulling teeth too.

  8. I see comments back from 2016, is there anyone who’s attended a secular mtg since then who could mention how it’s been different in recovery? How to work on issues w/o turning it over to God?

  9. I hope this picks up. As I already said, I am currently the only “caregiver” to my alcoholic elderly mother. It’s literally driving me insane. I’d love a fellowship of some kind, without the religious nonsense. I cannot go to a “normal” meeting any longer. I do not want what they have. That is all, take care. RT

    1. Hi Rob, I do appreciate the challenges you are facing, and it is possible that there is a real threat to your well-being here. Have you looked into other types of support in your area? There are possibly other options that may be able to give you the support you need.
      Stephen C

  10. I’m thinking there is just no way to get past the “god” nonsense in ACA. Everywhere there is an insistence on, believing in a “higher power” one can surrender to. Very insulting and offensive. I’d love to find like minded folks, because people who actually think some “god” set it up (being raised in an alcoholic family), and then gave us the 12 steps have nothing I want. I’ve been in another 12 step fellowship for 39 years, off and on, and it’s been difficult. Hope this picks up it is needed.

  11. Marguerite Downey

    I don’t understand why there isn’t another support model for adult children healing. I have just been to my first ACA meeting. It wasn’t very Godly but I can’t get on board with the reading because the whole program seems to depend on magic to work. So, how can an atheist get on board. Does it require magic to heal or not? if not, then get rid of half the steps/book. This is very troubling.

    Thank you Oregon for the rewrite. It’s great. But I am afraid to look inside that book. Also, I’m afraid to hear all the nice people of my adopted God-soaked state go on about Jesus and prayer. I mean they do it at the grocery store here. So, I gotta believe the meetings are going to be full of it. I won’t be able to take it. I will go to a second meeting though. I’m not going to assume defeat up front. But I am not optimistic.

    1. I highly recommend reading aaagnostica . org it helped me so much. I feel pretty good these days because I think for my self to the greatest extent possible, and I disregard all the crap and I have learned to laugh at the insane control attempts by other people.

    2. The diff with ACA is there is no religious doctrine to accept. Sure there are a lot of religious people but let them have their god. I am also agnostic and trying to understand higher power. At this point I see ACA as a way forward helping us help ourselves. Higher power for me is likely simply Goodness in the universe…the world is essentially good and there is power there. ACAs have broken from that universal goodness by our upbringing. We need to purge the negative results from the abuse. We do that ourselves and with the support of fellow travelers. A new way of thinking is real …simple but not easy

  12. Camille Omey Omey

    Saturday 10:30-12pm – Generation New ACA – Metro Community Church 2400 NE Broadway, Portland, Family Room (main level rear), Everyone welcome.

    1. I would like to hear more about this meeting, Camille. Please email me so I can ask some questions.

  13. I’m a bit amazed this place is so empty. In AA there are scores of alternatives to the religious “normal” AA approaches, but none for ACA or Adult Children Anonymous. None. I was in a 12 step “fellowship” for decades and it was horrible, the controlling insanity. anyway, anyone else find anything??

      1. thanks, I’ll look into the starting a meeting. the tuesday meeting is in oregon and i am in the s.f. bay area.

  14. Step 9 is tough when one has an abusive parent that is aged & quite ill, as in most likely won’t live to see next summer. If it hadn’t been for ACA (& therapy) I wouldn’t have been able to get through some really rough times. Still suffer from the residual but the point is I wouldn’t be able to sit outside on such a stunning day on the screened-in porch grateful & in the present moment w/o the support I’ve received over the years. Some days were pure emotional hell yet here I am even after a suicide attempt many years ago & serious consideration for another a year & 1/2 ago after cancer surgery (all is well currently). For years weight struggles to get type 2 under control (what sugar addiction can do!) has been an ongoing challenge but just for today I will have gone out & walked twice & eaten healthy by bed time. That’s what is so important for me, to remember, Just For Today.

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