Episode 24: Not Alone Anymore

By Glenn G.

June of 1989 was my original sobriety date. I was what is described in our literature as a classic “two-stepper.” You could have never convinced me I would ever forget that horrible bottom . . . but I did!

In 2006, my primary doctor of fifteen years prescribed me some cough syrup for walking pneumonia. I filled the prescription, took a dose and went back to work without realizing it was a narcotic. Fifteen minutes later, that golden glow descended over me. I thought I had “changed” and it would turn out differently. It didn’t! A little over two years later, I checked into a homeless shelter minus the million-dollar company, minus the new wife and kids, minus the two homes, etc. We all know the story. I returned to AA in June 2009 and fervently did “the deal.” I got a sponsor, worked the steps (all of them), and rebuilt my life one piece at a time.

In the rooms around here I often hear, “When you pick up a five-year chip, if you hear a loud pop, that’s just your head popping out of your ass!” I remember always laughing to myself after hearing it thinking, “yea right.” Then it happened to me! There I was five years sober, going to meetings, helping others, “fellowshipping” all the time, and I was miserable. I didn’t believe in a God, I didn’t identify with most of what I heard in meetings, and I only saw what I didn’t like about the people in the rooms. Of course, that popping sound represented the continuing process of my recovery. At five years sober in AA, I realized I wasn’t being authentic with myself or anybody else.

My relapse taught me participation in a recovery program was paramount and I had to stay connected. I was in trouble! AA helped me rebuild my life but it just wasn’t working for me anymore. The summer progressed and I isolated more, grew disgruntled, and was lonely. In August 2014 I was ready to try other programs and started reaching out to those I trusted and get some suggestions. It turned out one of them had started an agnostics meeting right here in Jacksonville; I started attending but the unhappiness didn’t go away. I still felt alone and a little lost. I found out about the 2014 WAAFT Convention at this meeting and decided to go. I had planned to go surfing in El Salvador that week but canceled and made reservations for Santa Monica instead. Best damn decision I ever made!

WAFT IAAC SignI arrived the first day not knowing anyone or what to expect and was greeted cheerfully, got my packet, and started to check things out. The first day is still a blur but by the end of it I was overwhelmed with a feeling of relief and joy. Here were hundreds of people in AA from all over the world with similar thoughts and beliefs. I WAS NOT ALONE!

On day two of the conference, I attended a workshop on “How to Start a Meeting” and decided to start a meeting when I returned home to Atlantic Beach. I talked with several different groups and individuals at the convention about their groups, how they got started, and how they ran their meetings. They gave me good suggestions and some even emailed their meeting formats. I was ready!

Armed with the information and inspiration, I headed home and got to work! During the following weeks I found some help, a room to meet in, and on Saturday, December 13, 2014, Beaches Agnostics & Freethinkers of Atlantic Beach convened our first meeting. There were only four of us at that first meeting but we didn’t care, the hour passed quickly. We’ve been meeting ever since on Saturday mornings at 8:30 in a really cool art gallery.

The convention workshop leaders stressed the importance of registering your group with GSO and getting a group number. They said it may help at the local level if intergroup or others tried to say you were not an “official” AA group. That was great advice. We had no problems registering with intergroup but did run into some resistance at the local clubhouse when we posted our flyers. We changed the flyer and added our group number and that was that.

Starting this group taught me the difference between an AA group and an AA meeting. Registering with GSO, district, local intergroup, and North Florida Area 14 turned out to be a great learning experience for me. As was suggested at the convention, I registered with GSO first and got a quick response from them informing me they didn’t assign group numbers until the group had been meeting for a month.

Dunes-300After hearing some of the negative experiences of other WAAFT groups, I was a little apprehensive but our new group packet arrived right on time with a surprising amount of materials enclosed. The next step was registering with intergroup. Now remember, we live in the heart of the “Bible Belt” so with some apprehension I attended our monthly intergroup meeting, filled out the paperwork, and introduced myself.

My fears disappeared when I received a big welcome and a “Glad you’re here!” Unlike some of the experiences shared at the convention, our group has met with very little pushback from anybody in the AA service structure. Intergroup listed our meeting in the local “Where and When” and on the website. It took some time but we now have a GSR that represents us at district and area meetings, an intergroup representative, and we disperse money every month to them all. Starting next month along with the other area WAAFT group, we are going to start carrying a meeting into the local hospital once a week using our format.

Right now our meeting is made up of twelve to fifteen regulars who are mostly men, though our intergroup rep is a female who has been with us from the start. We have a good mix from mature double-digit sobriety to newcomers. The other WAAFT meeting in town supports us and has always been a big help for which we owe them many thanks. Our group’s personality has changed over time. Our first meetings were filled with lots of God bashing, angry atheist talk, and frustrated venting about what was wrong with AA and the people in it, me included.

After about nine months our discussions became more intimate, personal, and positive. Having gone through a similar process after “coming out” as an atheist in AA, I believe this is part of the growing process. The other WAAFT group in town said they went through the same thing. So now when an angry newcomer comes in and vents, it brings a smile to our face as we can relate.

Last month we had another big first in our group. One of our regulars sheepishly shared that he had found God and experienced a medical miracle. He shared his fear he wouldn’t be welcome anymore and would have to find another meeting. This turned the discussion on a dime! We assured him he was wanted and welcome no matter what his belief or non-belief was. Hell, that’s part of what we read to open our meetings every week. It’s been a positive experience for our group and group conscience as we want to remain inclusive, not exclusive. To best describe our group today would be to say we are atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and a believer in AA and want to be there for the alcoholic who needs us.

I had an epiphany at the 2014 WAAFT Convention that has been with me ever since. I am not alone in AA and I can be authentic with myself and others about my beliefs. I am so grateful to everyone who helped orchestrate and/or attended the 1st WAAFT convention. The convention did change my life. Members from both our local groups will be in Austin this November and we are so excited! I only hope we can be as much help to someone else struggling as others were to me.

About the Author, Glenn G

Glenn G. is a founding member of Beaches Agnostics and Freethinkers in Atlantic Beach, Florida and serves as their DCM. He will be serving on two panels at the WAAFT-IAAC in November. After a five-year struggle of “going along to get along” in traditional AA, now he is comfortable being authentic about his atheism and shares his message every chance he gets. Glenn owns a small landscaping business, which allows him plenty of time for surfing and adventure vacationing. .

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  1. Doris A July 4, 2016 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    I am so glad I came back and listened to the podcast.  Glenn, you tell a good story.  One I related to on several levels, including the severity of our addiction/alcoholism.  It was nice to have something to read as well as listen to.  Thanks for doing both.

  2. Pat N. July 3, 2016 at 10:21 am - Reply

    Thanks Glenn, for an interesting article, and congrats on your re-entry into sobriety.

    When a few started We Agnostics in Olympia, WA, 20-some years ago, one regular participant was a retired Methodist minister, who was still a believer, who drove 20 miles to join us. We meet on Sunday mornings, and another guy had to leave early to sing in the choir at church.

    We have always said it’s the GROUP that’s agnostic. Members and attendees can and do believe a variety of things.

    Every year or two, we’ll have someone attend for a month or three who is open about being religious, usually Christian, and their contributions are always accepted without special comment, and they’re part of the social mix after the meeting.  Maybe 10 years ago, we had a fellow come for a while who was in a prison work-release program, who was always open about his Christian faith. At his last meeting with us, when he was due to go home, he expressed gratitude for our meeting and fellowship. He said he didn’t know what to say, so instead he sang a couple of verses of some simple little religious song. It was accepted just like any other contribution.

    Another guy, an old geezer like me, used to talk about his faith in what seemed a belligerent way, as if wanting an argument. No one ever obliged him, he got the usual thanks after speaking, and eventually stopped coming. He irritated some people, but was accepted.

    This all reminds me of my first, regular home group. Two members were a priest and a nun, both oldtimers I think. I can’t recall either of them talking about religion much, if at all. But they did talk about getting and staying sober, and a whole lot about gratitude.

    I like  to think we’ve had a liberalizing effect of local AA, making it more accessible to nonbelievers, or maybe it’s broader social changes at work. At least, I think it’s improving.

    • Thomas Brinson July 3, 2016 at 6:02 pm Reply

      Absolutely, Pat — thanks for this comment. I agree with you completely. Those of us who are non-believers are just as responsible for adhering to AA’s code of love and tolerance as those who are ardent believers.

      I’ve been most concerned by the lack of tolerance for believers conveyed by a number of the members of the IAAC Board who are responsible for the program for our upcoming convention in Austin next November. I find several of them just as narrow-minded towards AA members who are believers as the most ardent Bible and Big Book-thumping Christians. Fundamentalists of any stripe, in my opinion, do not represent AA’s history and traditions of inclusiveness and openness to all who desire to stop drinking, the only requirement for membership per our third tradition.

      It saddens me that increasingly AA seems to be devolving into a schism of a Christian-oriented Back to Basics religious sect and a free-thinking, more open and inclusive secular sect, one that in my opinion is more in accordance with what AA was intended to be during it’s first 40 years, where one’s religious or spiritual beliefs were irrelevant as stated in AA’s Preamble.

      Hopefully, at our Austin convention we can find ways to be more tolerant of the variety of beliefs we have in the  AA Fellowship, so that we can continue our legacies of Unity, Recovery and Service fully within AA, not separate and apart from AA and its General Service Structure.

      • boyd p July 8, 2016 at 9:09 am Reply

        The struggle for unity is among the most important elements of our journey, which is filled with unanswered questions.  “Be like a bird, who halting in their flight, on a limb  to frail, feels it giving way beneath them, yet sings, sings, knowing they have wings.”

        Seek and we will find unity by listening, mostly, receiving direction from the fellowship and the real/natural world around us.

  3. life-j July 3, 2016 at 9:42 am - Reply

    Glenn, thank you for this. I learned a lot from it. But now I must get my day started, so I will leave it at that for now.

    • John S July 3, 2016 at 9:46 am Reply

      Hey your comment worked! 🙂

  4. Doris A July 3, 2016 at 9:25 am - Reply

    Great story Glenn.  I loved hearing about the member who became a believer and the group continued to support him.  Like you, the convention was an “I am not alone” experience for me – and it helped generate enthusiasm for starting an agnostic group in Central Illinois, Many Paths, that celebrated a year in February.  A lot has happened in a few years.

  5. John S July 3, 2016 at 8:55 am - Reply

    I love this story and I think I would consider it a “must read” for a number of reasons. Glenn writes about how difficult it was for him in meetings to be his “authentic self”. This is something that many of us can relate to and is why it’s so important that groups be allowed the autonomy to form special purpose meetings and groups for agnostics, atheists and freethinkers.

    I don’t know if I ever really believed in God, but I went through the motions for about 25 years talking the talk in AA that made everyone at my home group feel that I was on the right track. After coming to accept my atheism, I began to receive some subtle and sometimes not too subtle push back from people when I started sharing my experience from a new secular perspective.

    Thank goodness for these secular AA meetings. I don’t know if I could have stayed in AA had it not been for this. I know that we should be comfortable at all meetings, but at the very least I would have had to find a new home group because it got to where I couldn’t be honest anymore without someone preaching the Big Book at me.

    Like Glenn, the convention in Santa Monica was a pivotal moment for me. It changed everything for me! My AA world has not been the same since and I know I’ve said that so many times it must seem corny by now, but it’s the truth!

    Another thing that Glenn wrote about is the difference between a meeting and a group. Beaches Agnostics is an AA group that participates fully in AA’s service structure. I share Glenn’s belief that this is very important for agnostic groups, really it’s important for all AA groups to participate in the service structure, but for us it is imperative because we need to engage with the rest of fellowship and educate them about the needs of secularists in AA. There is also a lot of misinformation about us that we need to get squared away, plus if we want to have anything at all to say about guiding AA into the future, we need to fully participate.

    Thank you Glenn for sharing this story. I will recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning about agnostic AA.

  6. Thomas Brinson July 3, 2016 at 8:32 am - Reply

    Thanks so much, Glenn, for an excellent story demonstrating that the basic foundational principles of AA’s tradition and history are as applicable today as they were during the formative years of our evolution. You and your group are to be congratulated for insuring that you are open to all who attend your group meetings, those who belief as well as those do not believe — this is true, authentic AA, open to all who meet the only requirement for membership, the desire to stop drinking as stated in AA’s third tradition.

    I also salute your groups getting involved from the outset with AA’s General Service Structure, adding your minority freethinking voice to the informed group conscience of your District and Area. This is how secular AA groups will become normalized and accepted within traditional AA as a whole by demonstrating that we too, without traditional religious belief, live in accordance with the generic humanistic, ethical and moral principles of AA’s steps, traditions and concepts of service.

    There are those among us who eschew participation within the AA General Service Structure, and of course that is their prerogative to so chose, but I am convinced that our movement will only be enhanced by cooperative involvement with all of AA,  both those who are ardent believers as well as with those of us who are nonbelievers, in the spirit of our code of love and tolerance to include and reach out the hand of AA to all who desire to stop drinking.

    • John S July 3, 2016 at 9:01 am Reply

      I am convinced that our movement will only be enhanced by cooperative involvement with all of AA,  both those who are ardent believers as well as with those of us who are nonbelievers, in the spirit of our code of love and tolerance to include and reach out the hand of AA to all who desire to stop drinking.

      I absolutely agree with this!

  7. Rich July 3, 2016 at 6:14 am - Reply

    Outstanding commentator , Glenn G. Sometimes , I believe , that we forget that ” the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking “. Thanks to Jim Burwell & others ,  this has helped A.A. to be more inclusive. Whether or not a person is a believer or non- believer who is suffering  from the throes of alcoholism , I believe is irrelevant . We don’t shoot the wounded. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help others alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

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