In response to the call for positive explanations of the alternative programs, please allow me to put in two cents. I have been clean and sober 7 years plus, all of it in meetings that used to be called SOS and are now called LSR (LifeRing Secular Recovery). I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. My understanding is as follows.
The starting point is the desire to get clean and sober. Where does that come from? It comes from a place inside the person that hates the drinking/drugging experience and wants a better life. In the active drinker/user, that place is smaller and weaker than the other place inside the person -- the addicted place, the part that wants to get drunk and wasted and wants to die that way. Those two parts of the person are in conflict, and so long as the addicted part of the person is stronger, it dominates the person's behavior and defines their character.
The general idea of the recovery process, as I see it, is for me to find the sober place within me, and to gradually build that place up and make it stronger. One of the most effective ways I have found to do that is to go to meetings with other people like myself. In those meetings, it is as if the little "sober guys" and "sober gals" inside of us conspired with one another about ways and means to overcome the addicted bruisers within us. The meetings are a little like gyms where our inner sober selves do pushups and body building. They're a little like classrooms where our inner sober people learn strategy, tactics and other useful material. And they're a little like pep rallies where our inner sober selves take courage and confidence for the daily battle with our inner Boozer/User. In these and other ways, we gradually tilt the balance of power within us until the sober part of us becomes definitely more powerful than the addicted part. At that point we become transformed from people who are drunks and users, with a little sober guy locked up inside, into people who are clean and sober, with a mean little drunk locked up inside.
The process of this transformation is much more complicated than this simple sketch, but it isn't mysterious. This is something humans can do and have done since time immemorial. Giving one another group support, working on oneself to overcome old patterns and to build new patterns, transforming oneself through persistence and hard work -- these are very traditional ideas.
That's really about the gist of it. In a nutshell, it's called "empower your sober self."
In the general section of this board, someone has posted a theory of how AA works which is diametrically opposed to what I have outlined. Sometimes it seems to me that the real debate in all these issues is not between AA and the alternatives but between AA and AA. As to our group dynamics being the same as in AA, I'm not really qualified to say. Generally speaking, our group dynamics presume that each of us present has the potential to get sober by their own power. Hence we focus on defining and describing the sober part of ourselves, and on strengthening, enlightening, enlarging, invigorating, stroking, nurturing, and otherwise empowering that place within us. Generally, we tend to think that a strong sober ego is essential to long-term recovery, and we encourage that in one another, and this colors our group dynamics. This is a very complex question and perhaps we can get back to it.
We use applause rather than prayer as an ending ceremony because we feel that prayer tends to be divisive and can be disempowering. There are more effective devices to achieve group focus and synchronization, and applause is one of them.
I can't say whether there is an inner place in the mind where alcoholism cannot invade. I have seen people die from drinking and I suspect that this was because the alcoholism did invade the last inner place in their mind. I do agree, however, that in all alcoholics and addicts who are still alive, there is such a place. My view is that this inner place is something different from what I have seen described as a Higher Power in the AA literature. If this inner place were a higher power to begin with, the person would not be drinking. The person drinks because the inner sober place within them is not strong enough to dominate their behavior. The point of the recovery process is to enable it to become stronger and, eventually, to dominate the person's entire conduct, so that they remain abstinent.
If my experience persuaded me that it was absolutely necessary for a person to develop some kind of belief in a supernatural entity in order to achieve a lasting recovery, then I might be inclined to agree that the "HP/God" barrier to entry, that AA erects, is warranted and justifiable.
But such is plainly not the case. Plenty of people achieve long term sobriety without ever adopting any kind of "God" belief, even one as eclectic and diluted as yours. Plenty of other people believe deeply in the traditional Biblical God and drink themselves to death. And plenty of people who achieve recovery in AA sound like they're faking it about the "HP" thing, or have defined an instrumental "God" that resembles a personal Jeeves more than a bona fide deity.
The "HP/God" barrier to entry, therefore, is a useless and counterproductive obstacle. No one knows how many drunks have died lonely deaths because of it. It may have killed ten times more drunks than AA has saved. If it drove even one drunk to the grave, it fails the cost-benefit analysis.
It takes a really big heart to take the secular approach. You need to let go of the accumulated religious-spiritual baggage of the decades and ask yourself: what would it take to get more people sober? How could we shape a program so that we don't have things sticking in people's craws that will drive them away for no good purpose? How can we strip away all the unnecessary dead crap from our approach and get to the one really important thing: helping people stay clean and sober? Our own approach has many shortcomings, and we have a great deal to learn; but I believe I speak the truth when I say that our sincerity in pursuit of the sobriety priority is second to none.