Episode 31: On the Road to Austin with Pat N.

Pat N. will be a keynote speaker at the We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers International AA Convention that will be held in Austin, Texas from November 11th through the 13th of this year, and he was kind enough to visit with me for a podcast to share a little of his story, and to talk about starting a secular AA convention in Olympia, and some of the happenings going on in Austin this Fall.

Pat was born in 1934, the year Bill Wilson got sober, and though he grew up in a house without drinking, there was a history of alcoholism in his family. His parents drank alcoholically during the 1920’s before there was an AA, but they both managed to somehow stop and they remained sober while Pat was growing up.

When he was 16 years old and working in Montana, he got drunk and he says “it was the first time in his young life that he ever felt truly relaxed.” Though, it made him terribly sick, the sense of ease and comfort that came with a few drinks compelled him to drink again.  It’s a story often heard since AA’s early days. Though he seemed to manage well for a time, eventually drinking took over entirely, he began to experience blackouts and his life and marriage became a shambles.

Seeking help from a therapist, he was told that he couldn’t be helped so long as he kept a bottle under the seat of his truck. She recommended that he meet with her husband, a member of AA who would take Pat to his first meeting. It was at that meeting when Pat heard others for the first time tell his story through their own. He could identify and at his first meeting he said those words of surrender, “I am an alcoholic.”

Pat had a bumpy start after making that initial admission. He’d go to meetings and remain sober, but feeling that he had it under control, he would stop going to meetings and relapse. This continued until February of 1980, when one night while driving drunk, his truck slid off the road. He threw the bottle out the window, returned to AA an has been sober ever since.

Learning about secular AA from his brother Dick, who attended the We Agnostics group in Los Angeles, Pat became interested and one day after a meeting when the group was saying the Lord’s Prayer, he noticed a woman across the room who like him wasn’t reciting the prayer. This turned out to be Judy who helped him start the first agnostic AA meeting in Olympia. That was almost twenty-five years ago and the meeting continues today, going strong with sometimes up to thirty people in a meeting.

On January 16, 2016,  Pat helped organize the Widening the Gateway Secular AA Convention in Olympia Washington. This was one of two regional secular AA conventions that developed since the original WAAFT IAAC was held in Santa Monica in 2014. The convention was a success and a learning experience for those who organized it. In fact, Pat and Jerry F. will be hosting a workshop in Austin that will address some of what they learned about starting a regional convention. I’m personally interested in attending that workshop as I would like to help start a secular AA convention in the Midwest.

It was a lot of fun speaking with Pat and I look forward to hearing his talk in Austin this November. I hope you enjoy the podcast.


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Jerry F.
Jerry F.

Very interesting Pat and John. You guys covered so many topics! I’ll just pick one on which to comment. When we did our AZ convention we had the same qualm about having enough variety in our panels & speakers. So I wrote a play with five actors. A thirty minute skit. It was about God & AA and it included some fairly heavy material. So, to lighten it, I wrote some comedy, even slap stick. Well, as it turned out one of the actors had not studied the script. So when it was his turn, and sometimes when it wasn’t, he… Read more »


I stopped saying the LP many years ago.  No one has ever said anything to me about it.  We, in Newport, OR now have an Agnostics meeting.  Hallelujah.  I’d like a flier on the Olympia event.  Is this yearly????


If I had been young I would have hitchiked to Austin, and found a place to camp out once there. Alas, I’m old now, and can’t do that and can’t afford to go.

Thomas B

Thanks so much, Pat, for sharing some of your story with us, and thank you for helping to facilitate the regional Northwest gathering of the Secular AA Fellowship in Olympia, WA this past January. I look forward to hearing your keynote address in Austin. I especially resonate with your description of how you noticed another person, Judy, who also wasn’t saying the Lords Prayer, which was the impetus for the two of you to start the first secular AA meeting in Olympia that has evolved into such a vibrant community of secular AA members. The vitality of your community was certainly… Read more »

boyd p.
boyd p.

For those of us who are able, doing the closing circle, holding hands and resonating together (all of which I fully embrace) while reciting the LP (not) is electrifying when one discovers and joins others in silence.  The experience can be seen as dissonant, even heretical.  Oh well.  Whatever keeps us sober.

boyd p.
boyd p.

“You don’t like the twelve steps!”  Or I tried it, and they’re ok.   And or, write your own.  The variations are many, and they all can work, in AA or somewhere else.  Each person’s recovery is their own journey.  It does seem abstinence is a basic tenet in AA.  Repeatedly embracing those who can’t seem to make it is also basic, though disheartening to say the least. Really wanted to make it to the Olympia event.  Maybe next time.  Extra organizational effort is required,  but overnight accommodation in member homes helps build fellowship and keeps costs down, and you… Read more »