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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4 years ago

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… Read more »

boyd p
boyd p
4 years ago
Reply to  life-j

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.

Joe C. (@Rebellion_Dogs)

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… Read more »

Doris A
Doris A
4 years ago

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

Thomas B.
Thomas B.
4 years ago
Reply to  Doris A

Yup, me too, Doris ? Thanks . . .

4 years ago
Reply to  Doris A

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… Read more »

John S
4 years ago

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

boyd p
boyd p
4 years ago

” 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… Read more »

Thomas Brinson
Thomas Brinson
4 years ago
Reply to  boyd p

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… Read more »