Pacific Region Alcoholics Anonymous Service Assembly

By Thomas B. 

Over the weekend of March 4 – 6, 2016, I had the privilege of attending my second Pacific Region Alcoholics Anonymous Service Assembly (PRAASA) at the Spokane, WA convention center. It was attended by some 1500 members involved in the General Service work of Alcoholics Anonymous throughout the Pacific region, as well as regular members of AA, such as myself. Last year, going as GSR for Portland’s Beyond Belief group, I was most impressed by the first PRAASA I attended in Layton, UT. I reported about it here.

At this year’s PRAASA, many of the same themes dealt with last year were again prominently discussed, both by panel members as well as in comments from the floor. The panels deal with items on the agenda for the upcoming AA General Service Conference between April 17 and April 23 in New York City. They include:

  1. How to balance our primary purpose to help alcoholics, while also being inclusive of others, who may have co-existing disorders or conditions, such as those with other addictions, the mentally ill, and those in gender transition.
  2. There is much emphasis on the need for safety within AA meetings, not only from sexual or financial predators, but also from members who without a license dispense medical advice, regarding such issues as the use of medications or whether to seek therapy for issues other than alcoholism.
  3. Despite the overarching concerns about anonymity on social media sites, there is recognition that to reach younger generations of alcoholics AA must adopt and utilize 21st century digital technologies for communication, as well as to disperse information about AA. In this regard, Joel C., Pacific Regional Trustee, announced that the Grapevine will soon be launching a subscription app for mobile phones.
  4. There is continuing awareness that the demographics of AA inside our meeting rooms do not match the demographics outside of AA meetings, especially regarding people of color, age, gender and non-traditional spiritual beliefs.
  5. A major concern — partially due to declining membership as well as flattening literature sales — is that in the near future AA may be facing hard decisions in regard to how AA operates. Either projected income must substantially increase, or operating expenses drastically be reduced.

Regarding this last issue, there was no mention of the proceedings in Toronto by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, regarding potential punitive damages that GSO could be assessed, if found to have violated the rights of agnostics, atheists and freethinkers by the Toronto Intergroup’s decision to delist their meetings. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but wonder if this isn’t a subtext consideration.

The issue that perhaps garnered the most divisive discussion was the item on this year’s Conference agenda for exploring the publication of a Plain Language translation of the Big Book. The rationale for such a translation is to make the Big Book accessible to people with limited literacy skills. Many folks were disturbed that AA’s basic text, which they consider sacred text, would possibly be watered down by publication of such a version of the Big Book. This rationale was countered by more progressive points of view, who asserted that if such a publication would help some alcoholics, why not make it available?

Throughout the discussions about this “hot button” issue, I discerned that fear was a predominating factor for those who resisted even considering the possibility for such a “plain language” version of the Big Book, even though it might be needed for some alcoholics to have a possibility of recovery.

The “plain language” Big Book issue represents a fairly evident divide within AA. On one side, the conservative wing, there are those who want AA to remain unchanged from the way it was initially formulated in Akron during the 1930s. My impression is that such folks tend to be older and both technologically as well as social-media phobic. They fearfully resist any change.

After an early panel in which this view predominated, I texted my wife, Jill, at home, “Not only is AA a Cult, it is an Old-Fashioned Cult ! ~!~!”

Gratefully, I stayed to experience a shifting of the group conscience from the other, more progressive wing of AA, who deeply believe that AA can readily adapt to change, following the spirit of the Traditions and Concepts of Service. This wing advocates that AA, indeed, can evolve to change and thereby more accurately reflect the mores and demographics of our ever-changing society and culture.

Here are some random bits of wisdom, I noted during the proceedings:

  •  When I have “skin in the game,” it’s much more difficult for me to be loving and tolerant.
  • Learning to deeply listen to other points of view is a key characteristic of General Service in AA.
  • How can I disagree without being disagreeable?
  • Bill’s intention through the Traditions and the Concepts of Service was to forge a pathway for deliberating needed change.
  • A knee-jerk fear of change seems to be a predominant characteristic of our collective group conscience.
  • We must always seek new ways of being inclusive by reaching out to all who suffer from alcoholism.
  • Whatever happened to meetings after the meeting?
  • The essence of the recovery process is the sharing of our stories.

Just like last year, one of the most meaningful experiences was attending the panel of former Trustees from the Pacific Region. I was again deeply impressed by the seasoned wisdom these trusted servants amply demonstrated from their extensive knowledge and experience of having lived the principles of AA’s Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions and Twelve Concepts of Service.

Driving home on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon along the Colombia River Gorge, I reflected that just like last year I had a mixed bag of impressions about PRAASA. On the one hand, as I texted to my wife, much of AA is quite cultish. On the other hand, I was deeply moved by the efforts made by most to seek common ground through our informed group conscience, so that AA can better extend the hand of AA anywhere, anytime, to anyone, who desires to stop drinking.

Therefore, in conclusion, I have renewed my commitment, as a member of the decided minority of agnostics, atheists and freethinkers, to continue doing General Service work so that my voice is included in the deliberations of AA.

I further urge other agnostics, atheists and freethinkers to join with me in General Service work to insure our minority voice is included in the future evolution of AA.

About the Author, Thomas B.

Sober from his primary drug of addiction, Colt .45 — preferably by the case lot — since October 14, 1972, Thomas is grateful for the full life he has experienced in recovery for over 43 years. He’s been active at the group level throughout his recovery and in 1978 was the co-chair of the first New York City Young Peoples Conference. He is a co-founder (with his wife, Jill) and past GSR of Portland, Oregon’s Beyond Belief group. Retired from a 30-year career in addiction treatment, he and a fellow Vietnam Veteran colleague, Vince Treanor, were instrumental in establishing the correlation between addiction and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during the 1980s.

He’s been an active participant on AA Agnostica since early in 2012 and has had the following articles published: 

He and his wife, Jill, live in gainful retirement on disability in Seaside, Oregon with their dog Kiera, and two cats, Savannah and Elsa, writing and helping to expand secular AA throughout Oregon.

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  1. life-j April 24, 2016 at 11:31 am - Reply

    I heard the talks of the past trustees on a disk, and was pleased to hear so many of them focusing on the need to include agnostics and atheists in AA.

    There are opportunities to change AA with service work

    There’s a part of me that sees this as an opportunity to jockey for position, and a part of me that doesn’t want to touch that process with a 10 foot pole.

    I am reminded of the god people who brought in the votes during our local intergroup fight.

    Maybe we have no choice but to bring it down to this level……..

    • Thomas B April 24, 2016 at 5:04 pm Reply

      Absolutely, life-j — John and I will be doing a workshop at the Austin convention November 11-13 later this year strongly advocating that as many secular AA groups  as possible get involved in General Service, electing GSRs to participate at District and Area levels of service,  so that our decidedly minority voice within traditional AA is included in the process of evolving AA’s future.

    • boyd p April 24, 2016 at 2:07 pm Reply

      I looked again, more carefully at the picture.  Looks like it is one hand photo shopped multiple times, and the fingernails are pristine, framed by a white shirt cuff!

      Literacy crosses cultural and racial boundaries.  The need is apparent for a big book in simple language (referenced in life-j’s other comment) , but reaching out to diverse stakeholders who see the need and will advocate is challenging.  Ironically,  important precedents are found in the plethora of biblical translations and  dictionaries.  What are some creative ideas for next steps?  Perhaps enlisting some key endorsements.

      • Thomas B April 24, 2016 at 5:20 pm Reply

        Soon, boyd, we should have results from this year’s General Service Conference, which ended yesterday in New York. It will be interesting to see what was done with the “Plain Language” version/translation of the Big Book. As I understand it, the request to consider publishing it came from a delegate or Area Officer in Canada whose Area includes many Inuit First Nations people. At the bottom level of AA’s General Service Structure, my sense is that among the Trustees, General Manager and GSO staff, Delegates and Area officers, the need for such a version/translation is strongly supported.

        However, at the top of our service structure amongst the members of local AA Groups throughout rural and small town areas of North America, I’m not so sure how it will resonate. From the xenophobic rhetoric of this season’s political contests, it might not fair so well.  Although I’ve been most pleased when I return to my hometown of Jackson, MS, at the friendly interaction of a fair number of Blacks within the mostly white AA meetings.

  2. Joe C. (@Rebellion_Dogs) April 24, 2016 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Inspirational Thomas,

    Being engaged in AA vs being an armchair quarterback is something I encourage people to do. Not all forms of service are for every AA member and I don’t “Love” ever committee meeting I sit through but being taken outside my comfort zone is part of my ongoing wellness (for lack of a better word).

    Social media has, is some way, replaced the meeting after (or before) the meeting. We talk about things online that wouldn’t exactly be typical meeting chatter but is still the art and science of “being” or “living” sober.

    Accommodation is the key to a just and democratic society. The question isn’t “should we have simple version of the Big Book?” The question ought to be, “How can we accommodate such a request so that those who wish it/need it, get it?” Not every AA member reads the Gay and Lesbian pamphlet. Not every AA reads the pamphlet for members in the armed services. Who cares what someone who doesn’t want to read this new book cares about it? I don’t, AA ought not concern itself either.

    The “opening the floodgates” argument is folly (if we allow this then this, and this, and this, could happen). Take each case as it comes. In the case of this plain language literature, make is print of demand if we don’t think the demand will be high. After 10,0o0 have been ordered, do a run of more.

    When we get away from should we help the still suffering alcoholic by meeting them where they live to how can we, we’ll be A) more effective and B)living within our own principles (The Responsibility Declaration comes to mind).

    And as we all know, if AA (as a whole) doesn’t AA (the fellowship) will. Anyone can write a book and hire an editor and layout person now. And there’s no rules about what books can be read in a meeting or by members.

    It’s not “will this book be written?” it’s “who will control it and get paid for it?”


  3. Doris A April 24, 2016 at 9:53 am - Reply

    Nice article Thomas.  Happy Birthday too.  Love the picture that goes with the article =)

    • life-j April 24, 2016 at 11:43 am Reply

      yes nice picture, but still I couldn’t quite help reflecting on the fact that all the hands were white, including the ones holding brown pieces. Another conundrum: In a way it would of course be racist too, to go deliberately looking for brown hands to include, just as it would to deliberately include them – neither of which, I’m sure, was the case here.

      But as I have a black son I sometimes notice these things.

      Which does bring to mind the discussion of the plain language big book – it would to a large degree be for the benefit of our various shades of non-white populations. And maybe here the resistance is once again a case of a case of a majority which sees no need for something a minority wants. Something to make our program more inclusive.

      Like Joe C says – you have two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner……

      • Thomas B April 24, 2016 at 5:08 pm Reply

        Whoa and Jeez !~!~! Thanks life-j for pointing that out. It’s amazing how much of the obvious I miss. I’ve been involved in civil and human rights work since I was a teenager growing up in Jackson, MS, and it never occurred to me.

        Just as black —  and brown and red and yellow lives matter — so do the color of their skins.

    • Thomas B. April 24, 2016 at 11:11 am Reply

      Yup, me too, Doris ? Thanks . . .

  4. John S April 24, 2016 at 8:53 am - Reply

    Today, just happens to be the author’s birthday. Happy birthday Thomas!

    • Thomas B April 24, 2016 at 5:21 pm Reply

      Thanks John . . . 😉


  5. boyd p April 24, 2016 at 6:28 am - Reply

    ” How to disagree without being disagreeable.”

    In rural America, southern Oregon, where the service pool is limited and conventional AA dominates, but diversity is bursting forth, my Intergroup participation uncovered another conundrum.  Finally, after two years of participation but not much commitment, I have found a niche, I think.  Literature management, which of course sticks strictly to approved material, but there’s Grapevine stuff!  Deep breath.  Financially strapped, the Intergroup office has kept its doors open, but risks survival by ANY change, most recently supplying chips.  Really.

    A creative service opportunity that at the moment leaves me stumped.  But that shouldn’t stop us, right?

    • Thomas Brinson April 24, 2016 at 7:47 am Reply

      Yes, Boyd, AA in rural and small town areas of North America suffers from financial woes just as many other social service not-for-profit and governmental agencies.  Declining population and job opportunities impact the delivery of all kinds of services.

      In cities, however, such as Portland, there are building booms and an expanding economy. This trickles up, so that AA from the individual group level through the Districts and into the Oregon 58 Area are in decent financial shape to include ample prudent reserves. This includes the Portland Area Intergroup Association that previously was in somewhat dire financial straits, but which has managed to become financially stable for the present.

      I keep having to remind myself to TTP — Trust The Process. Somehow, my experience has been that my situation has turned our better than I would have ever expected. As well in AA we always seem to be able to somehow “trudge the road to happy destiny,” though at times it may appear we are barely trundling along . . .

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