I was sitting in a coffee shop, minding my own business, when a regular reader recognised my face. This happens often. I’m not famous – I just have a disturbingly memorable face.

“Why haven’t I seen your columns for so long?” he asked. “Were you in rehab or something? Aha ha ha ha ha… Oh…”
I also have an I’m-a-huge-addict face, apparently. A commenter asked exactly the same question in a previous column, and a dealer once tried to sell me cocaine on Long St – which would have been nothing unusual if it hadn’t been at 8.30 on a Monday morning.

So anyway, rehab wasn’t too bad. It was a lot like the low security Swedish prison where I imagine Mikael Blomkvist served his time in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, only with more tik-koppe. Now rehabbed, I’ve been to more meetings than a middle manager, where we alcoholics take turns telling each other how much better our lives are now that we’re not trying to murder ourselves with booze.

And a huge part of staying sober is the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step programme, the emotional equivalent of chemotherapy, in that it saves your life while making it miserable.

The first step is easy: admit that you’re powerless over alcohol and your life has become unmanageable. Easy-peasy! In my last few years of drinking I was pretty much doing that every night and most mornings anyway. But I hit a months-long brick wall with the second and third steps: come to believe that a power greater than yourself could heal you; and decide to hand your life and will over to God as you understand him.

Unfortunately, my understanding of God is that it’s all bullshit. No offence intended if you’re religious – please feel free to believe any old crap you like – but for me the choice seemed to be either to force myself to believe in something I patently don’t, or die a slow, miserable death. Yay.

Now the loophole for many non-religious dipsomaniacs is that phrase, “as you understand him”, in step three. This implies that my personal god can be anything I like, so long as I perceive it as a “higher power”. Your god, counsellors have told me, could be nature, science, or that big tree outside my window.

If I were mildly wet-brained, that is. Science, by its very definition, simply doesn’t care; the only thing I like about nature is that it stays outside, and no tree could possibly be my higher power so long as I have two functional arms and the spending power to buy a chainsaw.

The quandary is exacerbated by AA literature’s constant reference to a God that is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, loving and an explicitly male creator of the universe. So yes, definitely not a tree, then.

The Twelve Step Programme can be very alienating for the many millions of people who are non-religious, but somehow have still managed to develop a drinking problem. But I think I finally stumbled across a workable (albeit cheesy ) solution when I started listing the positive aspects of religion, like empathy, affection, friendship, fellowship, communal support and charity – basically love, in all its forms.

Love can be an awesome higher power for the godless. Although it’s not a male creator of the universe, it can be pretty goddamn hardcore. It’s nearly unkillable (and fuck knows I’ve tried), it’s ubiquitous and, as long as you have it, it will dictate what you do, how you do it, and how happy you will be at the time. 

It’s also mysterious, contradictory, can be extremely cruel, and between moments of bliss, makes you want to punch certain people repeatedly in the face. So it’s almost exactly like a god, only without all the religious crap. And you get to do whatever you want with your genitals.

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