By Bill D.
“. . . But am I to be consigned to a life where I shall be stupid, boring and glum . . . ?” (Big Book, p. 152)
To tell the truth, that life looked like a step up for me when I arrived at the tables Feb 3, 1989, and if you folks could show me how to get to that, well then, good enough.
I’d taken my last drink January 30, 1989, and had just been released from a detox stint at a local hospital. This wasn’t my first visit to AA; I’d made several other starts without much success, but it was the only place I found people like me that were contentedly sober. Yeah, I thought you were stupid, boring, and (maybe not so) glum. After all, I had a brother with three years’ sobriety under his belt and a brother-in-law with nearly ten, and they weren’t at all like that. So here I was once again. The arrogance, pride, and hip-slick-cool attitude was finally beaten out of me. Forty-five years old, and no coping skills or very many healthy brain cells left, sitting on my hands staring at the table top and wondering if it was going to work for me this time. I hoped so, but kind of doubted it.
Then it happened, one of the members said the magic words: “Get God in your life or die.” Another offered, “Get with God or get drunk.” This is where I’d bailed in the past, but I’d be damned if I was going to this time. Nope, this is the last hope for me and you’re going to have to throw me out . . . this was the string of thoughts running through my head at the time. Then I heard a man say that at the end of his drinking he met a man who radiated so much love you could warm your hands off him, and he became this man for me. That’s all I hung onto till the end of that meeting. None of the other dire pronouncements of ultimate demise if I didn’t hit my knees mattered. It was just this one human connection and it was good enough to start. I talked to him after the meeting and he asked me to consider two thoughts that were important to him:
- Never put conditions on your sobriety nor allow others to.
- The only two things we do by ourselves is the First Step and come to our own understanding about the spiritual aspects.
He then gave me the phone number of the local atheist member (we’re a small rural community and there aren’t a lot of us around willing to admit it).
Dick J. and I spent a lot of time together and he acquainted me with his take on the program of recovery and the way he put it made sense to me, so I made a start. I also needed to revisit the sources of my resentments regarding religion and spirituality, and this journey yielded results. Over the course of several years, I arrived back at my original non-theist position, never once having to compromise my own personal ideals. What has been added is a frame of mind that allows no antagonism, resentment, or judgment toward the beliefs of others. Live and let live, or as Thomas Jefferson put it: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
I wasn’t comfortable sharing my beliefs at meetings for a long time. I had been accepted by a group of folks I cared very much for and I thought that I might somehow jeopardize that acceptance. I was frightened, you see. It was easier for me to rationalize my self-censure than come out as a non-theist. Usually when the topic centered around God, Higher Power, spirituality, or prayer I’d mumble something about “the steps say of my understanding not my explaining,” or “it’s all a mystery to me and I’ll just let the mystery be.”
I know how many of us are when we first arrive at AA, parroting what we hear, paying lip service to concepts we may not agree with; I was that way, too, but grew increasingly disturbed with the preaching and pulpit rattling that started to become more pronounced. Was there possibly someone here who needed to know they might not be alone? Probably. When the topic was appropriate, I shared my thoughts with just as much zeal as the fundamentalists. In time, I had others approach me after the meetings and share their own thoughts about what they saw as alarming practices in the groups they attended. Some were atheists, some agnostics, and many held traditional religious beliefs.
I had been introduced to general service early on and had served as GSR for our group and DCM for the district, having held all offices in that body as well as a couple of office positions for our Area. We adopted a yearly group inventory at our home group. We measure ourselves by the Twelve Traditions as to how well we are living up to our primary purpose. Everything is subject to change or revision, nothing is sacred.
I would love to report that the group has done away with the Lord’s Prayer closing, but although a motion is made to this effect every year, about all that’s happened is that we have come up with an announcement from the chair: “It is the custom of this group in closing our meetings to join hands and recite the Lord’s Prayer. You are welcome to join in if you wish but it is strictly voluntary.” We’ll keep trying. At least most of those opposed to this simple request aren’t as adamant nor as militant as they first were. We’ve found that discussing the traditions as a regular meeting topic has started to open the door to an understanding that practices standing in the way of full inclusion are as much a hindrance to unity as any errant treasurer or anonymity breaker.
I’ve found personally, that I need to give as full a measure of tolerance toward those with views different from mine as I would wish from them. An attitude of smug arrogance and antagonism probably isn’t going to do the cause of full inclusion and the development of a fellowship worthy of unity any good. Yep, from time to time I can become ‘stark raving sober’ over what I perceive as intentional provocations of agnostics and atheists. We had a member from a nearby Back to Basics group show up one evening and about half way through the meeting exclaim that Fellowship sobriety isn’t real sobriety and if you’re not talking about God it isn’t an AA meeting at all. I started to burn and was about to enter into verbal combat with him when one of our younger (in sobriety) members smilingly said, “Why thank you very much for sharing that. Keep coming back, it will get better.” Silence. We moved on and he moved off. I hope he heard something in that comment that will become operative someday.
In the past several years a few of us like-minded people started to meet from time to time, usually at a meeting after the meeting. We offered support to anyone who might be experiencing difficulties and needed to hear something other than “I’ll pray for you,” or “Turn it over to your higher power,” or that inane “Let go and Let God.” We also have a private Google+ page where we can submit opinions, and share links or just stuff of interest.
A recent attendee, someone with expertise in the digital world, and I are working to incorporate a chat session through this venue. We’ve discussed starting a group for like-minded people, but nothing has come of it other than discussion. We know we have the resources and a reservoir of experience to draw on. The main objection has been that because we are in a sparsely populated region and AA groups tend to run small, we may have an adverse effect on neighboring groups. It appears that at this time we’ll strive to become a “traveling” group attracting those who wish to be a part (not apart) as we attend other meetings nearby.
I wish I had an easy answer to the dilemma those of us with non-theological, and non- mainstream theological views have toward what can only be considered a not so subtle attempt to hijack our fellowship in the name of God. It’s my personal opinion that Alcoholics Anonymous IS religious in nature and sooner or later will either have to acknowledge this truth and make drastic changes or become a footnote in the annals of recovery. This change rests with us. We are AA, and through the cumbersome processes of the General Service Conference structure we have the means to affect change. Perhaps there will never be an answer satisfactory to all of us who love this Fellowship. But the question I have sometimes asked myself and with which I end this essay is: “Have you a sufficient substitute?”
Yes, there is a substitute and it is vastly more than that. It is the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. There you will find release from care, boredom, and worry. Your imagination will be fired. Life will mean something at last. The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead. Thus, we find the fellowship, and so will you.” (Big Book, p. 152)
I have alcoholism, and as a result of arriving in AA I have gotten well. This has been the truth of my life in AA. This for me has been the promise handed down from one drunk talking to another, and I will continue to do what I can to make it a reality for all who seek an answer to their problem.
I’ll stay on the firing line till I reach the end of this Happy Trail.
About the Author, Bill D.
Bill D. was a new product start-up team leader for a major manufacturer and is currently retired. He lives contentedly sober in mid-Michigan with his wife of almost 54 years, Dorothy. Bill had his first intoxicating event on New Year’s Eve in 1957; he earnestly began his quest for that “last drink” in his mid-thirties and ended it ten years later on January 30, 1989. He and his wife enjoy duplicate bridge, time with family, and a host of friends both in and out of the Fellowship.
Covered Bridge image by Bill D. and Doris A.
All other photos by Jan A. of Oregon
The audio version of this story was recorded by Len R. from Jasper, Georgia. Len is interested in starting a secular AA meeting in his community. If you would like to join him, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org