Saying Goodbye to My Home Group

By John S

I sometimes write just to let out whatever emotion is tying me up in inside, and when I do this, I don’t plan or think too much about the words I choose, I just let it out. I’ve been doing this for most my life, probably for as long as I could write. My mind is a confused and disorganized place, so it helps when I put my thoughts and feelings down on paper. Often, when I look back at what I’ve written, I will gain some insight into what I’m feeling and maybe why.

Some weeks ago, I was feeling a little sadness and a touch of anger as I reflected on my former home group. A group I made my AA home for twenty-five years, and that I left over a year ago to help start a new secular AA group. I guess I felt a need for closure in that relationship, and when I was finished writing, I realized that a longing for closure in relationships has been a recurring theme throughout my life.

Though, I was thinking about my old home group, the feelings that came through in my writing, could just as easily have been about the many other relationships, mostly during my drinking years, that ended abruptly with finality and without explanation. Sometimes it was me who just walked away, and other times it was I who was left.

What you are about to read is simply the raw emotion that flowed through me one evening as I wrote.

When I was a young man with an out of control life, with nowhere to turn, with no one left who cared, I found you, and you welcomed me and you made me feel loved. I needed you and I depended on you for my very life. You helped me make sense of the madhouse of horrors from which I emerged and you gave me hope for a new life and the courage to make it happen. I needed you then and thankfully you were there for me.

You became my everything, my world, my life, my love and passion. I devoted my time and attention to you. Day by day, month after month, through the years and decades, I was devoted and committed to you. They were good years too. We laughed, we cried, our children grew, our parents died, our friends moved on, we had successes and failures, triumphs and defeats and we shared them all.

We had a language all our own and I knew the words that would make you swoon. I spoke the language of the books, the books we loved so much, the books we read over and over, the books we studied, the books we praised, the books we knew were true. We knew we were good, and we knew we were right because we read the books and we knew the books.

The best book, the Big Book, was the best book of all! We would not and could not speak a word without first reading from that most wonderful of books. The book that told us how it works.

When I spoke the words I learned from the books, I could see that you approved. I could see it in your eyes. You thought you knew me. I thought I knew me, but I was a stranger even to myself. The words I spoke had no meaning because they didn’t belong to me, they belonged to people who lived long ago, and who have been gone long since. Yet day after day, I returned and said those things that you knew I would say, that you expected me to say that I knew you wanted me to say.

Then the day came when I couldn’t do it anymore.

I wouldn’t tell you. I couldn’t tell you, because of the drill, the all-important drill. The drill demanded we pray day and night. Nobody ever went out when they followed the drill. Yet, I stopped and the shoe didn’t drop.

The doubts, the nagging, stubborn, clinging doubts, that I could no longer ignore, eventually took me away from you. My faith was gone and the God I stopped praying to years before was also gone. God, He, Him, Our Father, was dead at long last and I was elated. I was glad that he was gone until I thought about you, and then I became afraid. I was afraid of losing you, but I had to speak the truth.

It was hard because you still spoke from the old books, and I was speaking from my new thoughts. With trepidation I tested the waters, and when I spoke, I saw the disapproval in your eyes. I saw the judgement, and I knew we had grown apart.

You looked at me and sternly spoke at me straight from the book, and you broke my heart.

One day I left. I just up and left and never said goodbye. I was gone for a day, and then a week, then a month and a year. I was no longer with you. Did you notice? You never called me, not once. Did you write me off as one who strayed and was lost, like so many others who just would not or could not grasp our way of life? Do you think about me from time to time? Do you care that I’m gone?

I have a new home now, and I’m happy here. I wish you knew that I was happy here. I wish you cared that I was happy here. Maybe if I had said goodbye, but I didn’t. I never said goodbye.

A few weeks after writing this, I returned to that group and I finally said goodbye. I walked into the room for the first time in several months, feeling a little nervous but not overly so. My sponsor was there, a person I used to sponsor was there, a lot of people who I’ve known for decades were there. Before the meeting started, I chatted with some old friends or at least people I’ve known for a long time. Some asked where I’ve been, others knew and asked how my group was doing. It seemed like pleasant enough conversation, and a few even said they would come to one of our agnostic AA meetings someday.

The meeting started as they always do with the reading “How it Works“. I sometimes feel as if I’ve heard that read a million times, and it once served as sort of a mantra to relax me before the meeting started. However, I now bristle at the words which contradict my beliefs, and indeed seem to contradict AA itself.

“There is one who has all power, that one is God. May you find Him now”. That’s my least favorite line because it’s so authoritative and doesn’t leave much room for people like me.

Next, the Twelve Steps are read, concluded with the all important a,b,c’s: “That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives“. “That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism”. “That God could and would if He were sought”. 

Following the reading of “How it Works“, the meeting leader asked someone to read from Daily Reflections. On this day the reading was taken from November the 14th, “…we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision. We relax and take it easy. We don’t struggle”.

The meeting leader picked someone to start the sharing, and then we went around the room, one person after another sharing their thoughts on the reading.

People of course talked a lot about God and their relationship with him, and all the myriad problems with which he helps them. When it came my turn, I had nothing to say about the reading, but I did have something to say. I needed to say goodbye and I needed to say the words “I don’t believe in God.”, and “I’m an atheist”.

This is what I remember saying:

I came to this group for twenty-five years and I don’t come here anymore because I stopped believing in God. I’m an atheist and I no longer felt comfortable here, so I helped start a new group for agnostics, atheists and freethinkers, and that’s where I now go to meetings, and I’m very happy. I do want to say thank you for my sobriety because this is where I got sober, and I will always be grateful to this group. So, I won’t say goodbye, but I will say “see ya ’round”.

Very few who spoke after me had anything to say in response. Some wished me luck, others seemed to lay the God stuff on heavier than normal, and a few spoke some kind words about me and my contribution over the years to the group.

When the meeting closed with the Lord’s Prayer, I experienced something that I thought was quite odd and discomforting at the time. As everyone stood to pray, and this is not a “hand holding group”, they just stand and pray, most with hands folded and heads bowed.

As they prayed, I  just stood there with my eyes open, looking straight ahead, when out of the corner of my eye, I could feel that someone was staring at me. It’s odd how one can sense such a thing, but I was right. When the prayer concluded, I looked at the person from which the stare came, and he was absolutely glaring at me with frankly a menacing look. At the time, I wrote him off as an ignorant person, and I felt no need to talk to him. I just looked back at him as he glared at me with his hateful look.

Days later, I had a delayed reaction and I got angry about that guy and his menacing look. I realized that he was actually harassing me. He was intentionally letting me know that I wasn’t welcomed there anymore. I considered giving him a call or going back to let him know how I felt, but I thought otherwise.

As it turns out, he actually did me a favor and gave me the closure I needed. He represented everything that drove me away from that group in the first place, and he served as a perfect example of the need for our agnostic meetings, and the necessity of helping educate the rest of the fellowship about the importance of inclusion.

I did the right thing by leaving that group. I’m happy today with my program and my new home group. I must have met a hundred people since helping start this group, people I have come to trust and care about, people who have become friends. At our meetings everyone is free to express their search for, or rejection of spirituality. There is no insistence that we all have the same experience, and nobody will give you a menacing look no matter what you do or say.

We are relaxed and accepting of everyone. You won’t hear a prayer or be asked to pray, nor will you hear the dogmatic reading from “How It Works“. What you will find is humor, love, and the basic core ingredient of Alcoholics Anonymous; people sharing their experience with one another, honestly, openly, and without judgement.

I now have closure.

About the Author, John S.

John S. lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his wife Susan, two cats, Phoebe and Luna, and a very sweet Wheaten Terrier, Gabby. John has been sober since July 20, 1988 and his home group is the We Agnostics Group which has been meeting since August 2014.

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Christine L
Christine L
7 months ago

John, I really appreciate your article; it was very timely for me. I recently left my home group because of the religiosity of the group and their recent antagonism towards my beliefs. Leaving them has left a bittersweet taste in my mouth since this was the group that I turned to when I finally decided to get sober. I have known the people in this group for 20 years and I developed a new sense of maturity with them. I developed many friends there and will miss them. My intent was to merely walk away from the group but I… Read more »

Lindsay K
Lindsay K
4 years ago

John, I enjoyed your article and have had some similar experiences. I too am leaving my home group, not because of the god thing, but because of some other things which are the antithesis of what I believe in as a human being, and how one should behave. So, I understand your unease staying in a group which held, in such high regard no less, tenets which are the antithesis of what you believe and know in your soul. Basically, deal-breaker type stuff. My only comment to you is this: some parts of your article come off as having a… Read more »

Scott A.
Scott A.
5 years ago

Thank You John S., as ever… Your article is so poetic, complete with bittersweet melancholy of love lost. At our little “Saturday afternoon” aafreethinker Skype meeting we read much of it as fodder for discussion. It so spoke to me that I had to return to complete the “story” and to try to digest some of the “so very much more” multi-faceted comments that your story has inspired here.  Combined with this, “the season of forgiveness and renewal,” I find myself very “stirred.” The interest in “saying goodbye”/closure did re-mind me of “the grief recovery handbook,” which I encountered years ago… Read more »

Benn B
Benn B
5 years ago

Thank you for your honest sharing John. I have felt many of the same things when dealing with people from my old home group. I have never officially said goodbye, but I no longer attend my old home group on a regular basis. I seem to show up once every few months. Sometimes I worry I over-personalize people’s reactions to my (in my opinion) more personally authentic sharing, but other times I know they are overtly trying to send a message. In more traditional AA meetings around here (Lincoln, NE) it generally doesn’t feel very accepted anytime I share something… Read more »

Roger C.
Roger C.
5 years ago

I really liked this article, John. It is so honest. I had read your earlier one – written before you said goodbye to your home group – and I liked it. But this one is better yet: it is more complete. And I like it even if it brings back very painful memories for me. I never said goodbye to a home group. But I was in the room when Intergroup said goodbye to my home group, Beyond Belief, and kicked us off the meeting list. It was ugly, with people storming around the room, and shouting. Quite frankly, it… Read more »