Episode 55: Judy W. from We Agnostics in Bend, Oregon

Judy was 13 or 14 years old when she had her first drink—a gin and bitter lemon. She doesn’t recall anything particularly special from the drink other than it seemed to help reduce her shyness a bit. Any positive effect was soon followed by a feeling of sadness which she didn’t much like. She wouldn’t drink again until she went to business college in Sydney at the age of 16. 

Business college was a compromise to appease her overbearing alcoholic father. When Judy was 15, she wanted to continue her education and eventually attend University, but her father didn’t think girls needed an education, and he wanted her to stop her schooling at the age of 15. A furious argument broke out that finally led to the concession that she would attend business college the following year.

While at business college, Judy became friends with an American girl who introduced her to American men. Judy liked the Americans because they seemed to pay more attention to her than did Australian men. 

Eventually, she met and married an American sailor. Newly married, she left Australia for America where she lived with her husband’s very religious parents while he was stationed in Korea. Her father-in-law was a hell fire and damnation Missionary Baptist preacher, and her mother-in-law was a religious fanatic. Judy, herself was never religious and wasn’t interested in attending church with them. Finally, though, she relented and not only did she go to church, but she was saved and baptized!  

During this time, Judy gave birth to her son, and her husband took leave from the Navy to be with her. After he had reenlisted, she, her husband and newborn son relocated to Western Australia. While in Australia, her marriage deteriorated, and she and her husband had separated. Judy moved back to Sydney, and while there, she began to think that life would be better in the United States, so she convinced her husband that she still loved him, and together they returned to California where they were soon divorced. 

Judy’s drinking and pot smoking by this time had spun out of control. She was drunk the night when she received the news from her mother that her father’s alcoholism finally killed him. At the age of 59, his heart, liver, and kidneys all gave out. Not much affected by the news, Judy continued drinking and smoking pot while somehow managing to maintain a good job and a decent place to live. There were, however consequences to her drinking and pot smoking; the most painful of which, was losing custody of her five-year-old son.  

Miserable, she had the idea that perhaps life would be better back in Australia, but upon returning home, she soon found herself once again in the familiar pattern of drinking, smoking pot, and dealing with the resulting fallout. After three years of this, she thought things would be better if she were back in the United States, so she returned to California and found work in San Francisco.

While in San Francisco, Judy attended her first AA meeting—a beginner’s meeting that was located about a block away from her apartment. She went to that meeting and introduced herself as a pothead, as she wasn’t sure if drinking was a problem. Later, while attending an AA speaker meeting, she heard her story through that of the speaker’s, and it was then that she finally realized and admitted that she was an alcoholic. 

She was in and out of AA for a while until she found a sponsor to help her with the program, which made it possible for her to stay sober for seven years. Unfortunately, her sponsor moved to Chicago, and Judy didn’t find a replacement. In time, she stopped going to meetings at all.

One day, while on an elevator at work, Judy met a woman who asked her how things were going. “Shitty!”, she said, “I could sure use a Joint,” to which the woman replied, “I can get you some, but it may take a few weeks.” There was plenty of time for Judy to consider the ramifications and to change her mind, but she didn’t, and she was back out again for a few more years.   

Returning to AA, Judy received a warm welcome at her home group. She had reached a place in her life where she was willing to do whatever it took to stay sober. In just a week’s time, she found a new sponsor who would later comment that she had never seen anyone as willing to work the steps as Judy was at that point. Judy has been sober ever since, and in June of this year, she will celebrate ten years of sobriety. 

The religious language of the steps, the prayers and “god talk” in Alcoholics Anonymous have always bothered Judy. For the most part, she was quiet about her atheism until she met a woman who came to the conclusion that she too was an atheist, and found that it was possible for one to get and stay sober in AA without belief in a god. Today, Judy attends meetings at the We Agnostics Group in Bend, Oregon with others who share this view. She also attends the women’s meeting that she has belonged to for years, and she actively participates in an ever growing online secular AA community.

Judy’s program is quite simple. She practices the principles of AA in all her affairs. She believes in cultivating self-honesty by continuing to take inventory and promptly admitting when she’s wrong. She does her best to keep her side of the street clean and as a result, her sober life is a good one. She enjoys the freedom to pursue her dreams and she treasures the time spent with good friends. Judy is a talented quilt maker who creates beautiful quilts for herself, others and charity. It’s a passion that has recently given way to an interest in a sometimes quite competitive game of pinochle. 

Thank you, Judy, for taking the time to share your story with us. 


The images used in this article are photographs of quilts that Judy created by her own hand. You can view more of her work at her website Quilt Wombat.

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  1. life-j April 26, 2017 at 1:03 am - Reply

    good story, but why written in 3rd person?

    • John S April 26, 2017 at 6:02 am Reply

      Because I wrte the story based upon my interview with Judy.

  2. RonB April 19, 2017 at 5:49 am - Reply

    Fair dinkum, this shiela has had a hard time! Greetings to her from Perth. The grass always seems sweeter eh! Glad she found AA and sobriety, and hope she is close to her son, being taken away must have really hurt. Put a snagger on the barbie for me 🙂

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