Outside Issues – What’s That About?

By Jerry F.

In some of the meetings I attend I have heard what sounds like a misunderstanding of the 10th tradition. The long form of the tradition reads like this:

“No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate A.A., express any opinion on outside controversial issues–particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever. “

This tradition is in a way an amplification of Tradition Five that states AA’s primary purpose. We can’t carry a clear message to the alcoholic who still suffers if AA is commenting on all sorts of topics that are completely unrelated to this primary purpose. This means that AA  will never have an opinion on national politics, the question of whether marijuana should be legalized, and the relative merits of Buddhism and Christianity. Furthermore, no member of AA should express an opinion on what the short form of the tradition calls outside issues in a way that suggests that his or her opinion represents AA itself.

Beyond this, Tradition Four tells us that each group can determine for itself what issues are suitable for discussion. It is unfortunate however, that in some meetings topics related to alcoholism and recovery are also considered outside issues and this is wrong. I’ve often heard a speaker in a meeting interrupted and told to not get into this sort of outside issue. I’ve seen a meeting leader told that such a topic was unacceptable.

There are several errors being made when this happens. First, AA as a whole may have no opinion on such issues but AA members have both their opinions and their experiences and should be free to discuss them during a meeting. When prohibited from doing so, they are clearly being censored. An example of a bogus outside issue might be the use of medications to help a person stay sober at the beginning, or meditating, or even reading non-conference approved literature.  Tradition Four says, “Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.” This means that a group has the right to determine what topics are suitable for discussion. Some groups, for example, ask attendees to not talk about drugs. I suppose an AA group can engage in suppression of speech even while knowing that their actions are unjust. But why do so? Why not be open-minded in a way that allows AA members to discuss whatever topic relates to their efforts to stay sober? To prohibit this smacks of cultish behavior.

Another result of the misapplication of Tradition Ten is that the group members are deprived of learning about matters that may be useful to them in maintaining their own sobriety or that of their sponsees. I’m told that this is not a problem in all parts of the country but here, in the Southwest, a meeting attendee dare not speak about any drugs other than alcohol. Someone will interrupt them and tell them to confine their comments to alcohol and alcoholism. Anyone speaking about outside issues such as a medication to suppress the craving to drink or a therapeutic method that has been proven to be the most successful treatment for alcoholism that we have today, is passing on facts that may be essential to newcomers.

Our rapidly declining membership numbers tell us that our message isn’t working. One reason for this is that we are not incorporating the latest treatments and therapies into our discussions. Bill Wilson used the best medical opinions that were accessible to him when he wrote the text of the Big Book. If he were with us today I have no doubt that he would be telling us about the best medical solutions available now.

Even in Bill’s lifetime when the Yale alcoholism studies were published and when E.M. Jellinek produced his famous chart, Bill did everything he could to promote understanding of these outside issues. In fact, Bill carried out personal experiments with LSD (before it became illegal) and large doses of vitamin D in order to find as many ways as possible to help fellow alcoholics. One of Bill’s friends remarked that when it came to looking for new ways to help other alcoholics, Bill was the most open-minded person he had ever known. Why shouldn’t we carry this same openness into our meetings today?

Substance abuse disorder treatment today recognizes that there are multiple experiences that have led to each person’s addiction and multiple stressors acting upon each individual at the time of treatment and therefore there are multiple pathways to sobriety for each of us.

And this is not AA taking sides or even AA having an opinion. It is AA members expressing their personal opinions based on their personal experience. Too many people in the past sobered up in AA and, finding a safe harbor, battened down the hatches to stay blissfully unaware in the shelter of AA. But they pay a terrible price for their chosen ignorance and they do immeasurable harm to AA by contributing nothing more to the meetings than platitudes of gratitude. We, the members at any particular meeting, could benefit from hearing from members who have tried SMART or SOS or psychodynamic therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, or any other approach to recovery from addiction.

The National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism has a wealth of information available for anyone with internet access. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has an array of solutions for those who keep coming in and going back out. Maybe if AA meetings encouraged more discussion of these solutions, we would have fewer people relapsing and even fewer dying.

Without getting into all the dopamine and GABA receptors jargon about neurotransmitters, we can still, in our meetings, discuss some simple concepts that are very helpful in understanding what addiction really is and how it controls us. All of us have a certain amount of depression brought about by the stresses of life. Some of us take drugs that increase this depression, drugs that we may have initially begun taking to counter the depression. Depression can be mild or it can go all the way up to what the shrinks call Major Depressive Disorder. People in this state are unable to function, often unable to get out of bed. Those of us who are somewhere in between these points can benefit by discussing depression at meetings.

In addition to depression, all of us alcoholics suffer from a certain amount of anxiety. Again, the degree is highly variable among us. Anxiety and depression may seem to be opposites but they are not. They are both the result of chemical imbalances in our brains. Anxiety is a learned, irrational reaction to fear. It is fear of fear. Since everyone in the Fellowship, newcomers and old-timers alike, deal with the stressors that create these imbalances, we can all gain from discussing how we are coping with them and staying clean and sober while doing so.

Some of our members are struggling far more so than others. From an experiential standpoint, anything that is creating difficulty for a member in attaining or maintaining sobriety is very much an inside matter. It is inside that member and it belongs inside the AA group he or she belongs to.

We in AA are in this world and of this world. What is happening now in medical research, in psychology, and even in politics, affects us greatly. I do not believe that AA should form an opinion or express one on any of these matters. But I do think that AA members should seek to inform themselves on the issues that are affecting our Fellowship now and those that will soon be doing so. The outside won’t stay outside just because so many of our members desire it to do so.

AA works, to the degree that it does, by one alcoholic talking to another. The prohibition of recovery related outside issues puts constraints on that successful method.


About Jerry F.

Jerry is one of the founding members of We Agnostics in Tempe, AZ and was the instigator of the WAAFT-AZ Convention last November in Phoenix. He has served in many positions in his 27 years in AA and is currently treasurer of his traditional AA group, coffeemaker of his secular group, and is beginning a term as a board member of WAAFT-IAAC. He considers his greatest achievement as being responsible for a change to the Fourth Edition of the Big Book and his greatest asset as being relentlessly anal.

Artwork

The artwork used for this article was created by Cope C. from the Many Paths Group in Urbana, Illinois.

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  1. Glenn October 24, 2017 at 9:35 am - Reply

    I started AA in 1972 in Chicago.  The AA meetings were heavily influenced by the free thinker 60’s style. We talked openly about anything having to do with recovery. We had lots of outside literature. Leads and topics covered AA, medical, psychological, sex, drugs, etc.  Everyone felt welcomed and free to speak their mind. I still go to those types of meetings here.  We must make every person, especially new comers, feel that they fit.  Leave the crusty, old timers to themselves.  Find meetings that work for you, or start your own. Your life depends on it. I will always accept you as you are.

    • Pete Christie October 24, 2017 at 4:27 pm Reply

      AA does not have the greatest retention rate in the world and intelligent people learned from history and they know history always repeates so ignorance is bliss and those who poo poo history or old timers have a lot to learn, and the Big Book is how the first few dozen got sober, and after a couple decades I got the God of my misunderstanding talking thru others, ergo I can also hear the Devil speaking thru others so I must be careful.

      • Jack Blair October 24, 2017 at 6:12 pm Reply

        Ummm…

        W.T.F!!!???

        • XBarbarian October 24, 2017 at 6:16 pm Reply

          seems we have some theists here to troll us…

          • Pete Christie October 24, 2017 at 7:55 pm Reply

            Not a Theist I just know a bit about AA History, like in the 1940’s when Bill and the boys were having a meeting a Pill Popper joined the room and nobody liked it so after the meeting Bill gave that guy the Steps and the Traditions and that guy started NA. .

             

            • XBarbarian October 24, 2017 at 8:06 pm Reply

              fyi: most of the posters on this page are sober 20+ years folks. i’m 23 years. I know a bit of history too. thx.

              • Jack Blair October 25, 2017 at 3:38 pm Reply

                Well said XB…

                As to Mr Christie – methinks the elevator is stuck on the mezzanine.

  2. Diana October 23, 2017 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    Thank-you for this article Jerry. I really enjoyed reading it and all of the comments.

  3. Pat N. October 22, 2017 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    I want to hear others’ stories. If that story includes drugs or approaches to recovery that mine doesn’t, that’s part of what I need to hear. I now introduce myself at meetings as “I’m Pat, and I used to be addicted to alcohol.”  Indeed I was, and it was in the past. I was no less an addict that someone who stuck whatever in their arm, snorted it, or whatever. The agony and losses were the same.

    I did get uneasy at today’s meeting when someone shared a comment about a politician as part of his share. It wasn’t relevant, and could lead to division (even though I agree with his opinion).

    • Pete Christie October 25, 2017 at 1:24 am Reply

      Dear Pat, political talk should never be mentioned in a meeting first it’s an outside issue, and I look at it like the opposite of Pro is Con then isn’t the opposite of Progress is Congress and a Congress is what you call a group of Apes, so Congress is a group of Apes leading us Sheeple and it’s well past time to thin the heard and sheer the rest.

      • Jack Blair October 25, 2017 at 3:50 pm Reply

        Pete:

        Dude, keep on keeping on but ease back on the lysergic thought lines. Yr making it difficult to follow you and take you seriously.

  4. Pete Christie October 22, 2017 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    I’ve been coming 25 years now, and when I got sober my first sponsor and the next were very into the Traditions and I concur.  If I look at the Traditions Checklist and Tradition 10 states, Does AA really have an opinion on Doctors, Institutions Medical or Legislation of Marijuana Laws and that’s paraphrasing but I guess that will include Heroin Crack Speed or whatever.  I had a Spiritual awakening to quit booze, 4 years earlier this Recovering Catholic had a Spiritual awakening on drugs after I thought my heart was going to blow thru my chest and I scooped up the drugs into the garage and picked up a bottle and drank while thinking “You never hurt me like that.” And 4 years later I looked at a couple bottles on the floor and something in my head said “You can’t drink anymore.” And 3 days later I figured I would need help quitting and I made 2 calls and AA said you don’t have to do it alone anymore.  But then I would go to MEETINGS and here, I’m an Alcoholic and a Drug Addict or Crack Head.  So I started saying I’m an Alcoholic and a Recovering Catholic and a few didn’t like it but acceptance is there if we work on it.  I live in NYC for 7 years and would speak at Gay MEETINGS and others, and I would say I’m an Alcoholic, Recovering Catholic, and a Flaming Heterosexual, and once in awhile: A former Freelance Gynecologist OBGYN stands for Oh Boy Got You Naked.

  5. Gerald October 22, 2017 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    The traditions saved my life first. I landed in an AA community that actually practiced the traditions 🙂 No hierarchy, no conformity, including no religion, and no money: any one of these things would have killed me.

    Then Prozac saved my life, again. My lifelong depression would have killed me before the AA message could have reached me.

    Later, two years later really, after the pink cloud of early recovery (= Prozac) wore off, the steps began to improve my life (because I took up steps 10 & 11 on a daily basis as a way of life.)

    … You know, the BB was written for newcomers and by newcomers. This is “starter recovery.” We’d be more effective as a movement if we humbly kept this is mind 🙂

    Sure, they’re encouraging you to go back to church 🙂 Sure, it’s a real Prodigal Son kind of spiritual awakening that they’re describing. But they’re also telling you that this simple program of action is just a beginning, “suggested” and “we know but a little;” rejoin Life and find what you need. Therapy is suggested.

    But most BB thumpers out there don’t thump the parts that give you your freedom. No, they thump with an agenda: conformity & hierarchy, some kind of control.

    I thump the whole thing, and as an atheist.

    I tried Bill W.’s vitamin B3 cure for depression. It felt like a cool, minty fresh wind blowing through the front part of my brain. That’s it 🙂

    I tried LSD several times (before sobriety in AA). Those were the only times since age four that I would feel like I had a “normal, healthy brain.” Unfortunately, the sweet spot between the hours of going up and the hours of coming down was too short to justify twelve hours of intoxication.

    You know, you don’t get anything done when you’re on LSD. At least I didn’t. I mean, a whole day just gone, nothing accomplished 🙂

    The Miracle of Prozac gave me that feeling of a “normal brain,” ten days after my one & only relapse, just 72 hours after my first pill. Same planet, different world – it saved my life & changed my life. The GV published my article on that topic in ’05(?) or ’06(?), I can’t remember; Gerald in Tempe, AZ. I spent 13 years in southern AZ, twenty-six summers (!) (That’s a joke.) I’m sorry I missed you & the We Agnostics meeting, Jerry, during that time.

    But Prozac only took me so far. From age 23 and three years sober to age 35 and fifteen years sober in ’09, I was a sometimes up, sometimes down kind of sober AA member, everything fine on the outside, no reason to justify any lingering depression & anxiety. I was just about ready to give Prozac another try because I knew I deserved to feel better than I did.

    Then low-carb dieting changed my life. Ten times better than Prozac, a much better feeling of a “normal brain” than Prozac and LSD both gave me.

    It has been eight and a half years now, not one moment depressed or anxious.

    You know, this is not a spiritual solution 🙂 It’s a nutritional one, and now I relate to a Bill W., who just couldn’t shut up about how his nutritional solution cured his depression, in this case mega-dosing niacin.

    I can’t shut up about it either, and Tradition Ten actually says I’m allowed to talk about it. Just AA as a whole doesn’t talk about it.

    Alcohol & Agriculture, maybe A.A. could stand for that as well, one more acronym. Basically, I abstain from agricultural carbs, you know, Manmade foods from the past ten thousand years. Basically, I’m a Paleo dieter, and I enjoy a normal brain every day.

    “Restless, irritable, and discontent?” Actually, it was malnutrition too! Not just a spiritual illness.

    I don’t invoke the assistance of a high-carb diet deity to fix my brain problems. I employ the nutritional tools that are native to & natural for my species 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Thanks,

    Gerald in Japan
     

  6. Chris G. October 22, 2017 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    Nothing that truly impinges on one’s alcoholism or attempt to recover from it should be an “outside issue”.

    • Pete Christie October 22, 2017 at 6:29 pm Reply

      We came for alcohol and when Bill wrote the steps he said something about every malady wanting to use these steps for their own malfunctions and these steps are written for alcoholics and he didn’t know what would get anyone else sober.  Then in the 40’s Bill and the boys had a pill popper join the room and nobody liked it, so after the meeting Bill gave that guy the steps and the Traditions, and that guy went and started NA, and even in NA I don’t see a whole lot of people hanging on.  So did Bill say “You have to change the Steps.”  Or did the Pill Popper say, “I ain’t changing shit.” Or did Bill not say that????

       

       

  7. John H October 22, 2017 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your ever sane and well reasoned remarks Jerry. It’s hard to believe that the abuse of the cross addicted still goes on out there.

    Short of being abusive to another member it’s been my experience that anything a member needs to talk about is OK in AA. I can’t recall anyone being silenced in our neck of the woods in DC but someone did call me an atheist MF once more than 25 years back but that was just that one guy the rest of them having he decency to use the term behind my back.

    Your true scholarship and good sense are sorely needed in Secular AA these days. I hope you chose to get involved in the Toronto program. It was a true privilege to share a workshop with you in Austin.

    Great Article!

     

     

  8. life-j October 22, 2017 at 11:33 am - Reply

    Jerry,

    Drug addicts steal your shit, and they have weird haircuts.

    No, but seriously, thanks for speaking to a most pertinent issue. I think the only way it can change is if you and me go to the regular meetings and start talking about it all. I have done so for a while now. The one or two people at a meeting who have been sober a few years longer than me aren’t going to try to shut me up nowadays, though in the beginning a few of the relatively recently sober people did try, and were horrified about my heresies. Now they’re getting used to it.

    I’m glad we have our secular meetings, but the newcomers, the addicts, and the mentally ill need us there at the regular meetings .

     

    • Jack Blair October 22, 2017 at 3:10 pm Reply

      Hello Life; we’ve never met but I feel like I know you to such a degree…

      Here I am again strongly agreeing with you. Your primary point and mine over the last few years is that ppl who think like the writers here MUST take their opinions and ideas to the newcomers in the traditional groups. It’s all well to express and opine here, where it really counts though is when it’s taken to newcomers.

      For far too long the religious fundies and the self-appointed “defenders” of AA have attacked and smeared anyone with a secular opinion, anyone who starts to describe any new science of addiction info and/or anyone who attempts to introduce alternative treatment protocols. I too regularly do verbal battle with these ppl but I will absolutely keep going while I see “traditional” AA become calcified through ignorance and fear.

      It is a particular joy to meet a relative newcomer who says he/she never knew that science has a tremendous amount to teach us about the psychology and physical affects of addiction.

      I’ve been a member of AA for nearly 30 years. I sat on the sidelines and watched as my beloved fellowship became more and more “fundamental” and fearful. A small but loud group of extremists interrupted and shut down ppl who started to express opinions quite different from theirs. A good friend calls them AA nazis. Harsh perhaps but I agree with him. It is interesting that ppl like me feel more welcomed at NA and CA than we do at too damn many AA meetings.

      The real harsh truth though is that membership numbers in AA will continue to plummet if smart, persistent and educated ppl continue to do and say nothing. We can all see the slow death coming; we all need to act and act now!!

       

  9. Richard Steele October 22, 2017 at 8:41 am - Reply

    Thus sayeth the Lord.

    • jeff October 22, 2017 at 9:59 am Reply

      What does THAT mean ?

  10. XBarbarian October 22, 2017 at 8:24 am - Reply

    cult behaviour is a predictable outcome as people in groups form and defend, Hierarchy.

    followers flock to the most dominant in the group. often, the most dangerous, or in this case tradition offenders, are usually, the sycophantic followers of a dominant. unfortunately, the dominant isn’t generally a the most health person in the group.. just the most charismatic, and often sociopathic. bleeding deacon.

    the paranoia and often grossly inappropriate responses around singleness of purpose seen frequently in meetings is an expression of raw fear and one of fear’s by-products, ego. specifically, the 60+ yo’s frequently buoy their ego by looking down on addicts, imagining their alcoholism, was acceptable and better than, the junkie. absurd, from a 10000 foot level.

    regarding meds, alternative treatments, and such, I do believe in limiting to those conversations to outside of the meetings. there can only be opinions expressed, and inevitably, conflict. like butts, everyone has an opinion. Im rarely if ever interested in an opinion, unless expressly requested, just like advice.

    truth is, we share our ESH. Never advice, minimal opinions. there are only self appointed gurus, but no actual authority. no experts. only survivors. identification is the message, the only true magic beans of 12 step groups. not literature, not steps, not gurus and hierarchy.

    humans are merely the current king of the petri dish, the alpha predators, NOT enlightened spiritual beings. that’s self serving grandiose bull.

    it’s best I understand that, and sit back, observe the predictable manifestations of predators with a milieu of agendas, dance.

    the attraction of a healthy recovering person IS the future of 12 step meetings and systems. toxic people will always remain, we aren’t the wellness society after all, and they are unmanageable. might the elder statesmen prevail.

    peace

  11. Thomas B. October 22, 2017 at 7:47 am - Reply

    Ah Jerry, thank you for a wonderful, mostly factual account of one of those divisive issues that often causes destructive controversy in our meetings where supposedly there are none.

    I can attest to the phobia Southwestern meetings have against any mention of the five-letter word D R U G S — at a Tucson meeting once, a young Native American woman shared about her difficulty staying clean and sober from methamphetamine and alcohol, when a crusty old fart, ten or so years younger than I am now, rudely interrupted her saying with utmost disdain, “Young Lady, we don’t discus D R U G S here. Go to NA.” Crestfallen, she burst out sobbing and left the meeting. I went out to try and find her, but I couldn’t. I never saw her again.

    My experience in New York City during the 70s and 80s, which resulted in GSO approving the blue cards stressing our “Singleness of Purpose” to discuss alcohol use only in 1989, was that it relieved some members of being concerned about their use of mind-altering drugs other than ETOH, the liquid, legal, mind-altering drug, especially marijuana and powerful opiates (mother’s little helper) prescribed by medical professionals for relief from various pains including anxiety.

    I am most grateful that the custom at the traditional meetings I go to here in central Illinois is that the discussion of drugs other than ETOH is pervasive. Even the occasional dropping of an F-Bomb or five is tolerated.

    Yes, Andy L. is right — it was niacin, massive doses of Vitamin B-3, that Bill was dissuaded by AA’s Board of Trustees for promoting or even discussing out of the offices of GSO in New York City. Such discussion was sternly banned,  and he was dispatched to only discuss this “outside issue” from his offices up at Stepping Stones in Westchester County. Early on in my recovery, I took a long, dark ride after the Manhattan Midnight Meeting out to Freeport Hospital on Long Island where four of us got large shots of Vitamin B-3. I was unaware that it made my early recovery any easier, but I did stay sober through those early, rocky days that stretched in to months, years, and now decades of longtime sobriety.

     

    • jeff October 22, 2017 at 10:06 am Reply

      “Young lady,we don’t discuss drugs here.”   “Young lady “……how arrogant !

      How would he have felt if someone had said, “Old man, your opinion is irrelevant ; you’re too old to speak now.”

       

       

      • Pete Christie October 24, 2017 at 4:45 pm Reply

        AS has no opinion on outside issues, I used drugs and one night I Free Based and thought my heart was going to blow thru my chest and I scooped up the drugs into the garage and picked up a bottle and drank while thinking You never did that too me.  Well 4 years later after having a Spiritual Awakening on Alcoholic I determined I needed help for booze and I crawled out of the Sewer system into the Gutter, then into a AA Meeting so I  don’t need how bad drugs are, I know how bad drugs are and I don’t come to AA for drugs as this is AA not NA, CA, or MA, and if one has a problem with that I don’t go to the Dentist cause my gut hurts.

  12. Andy L. October 22, 2017 at 6:47 am - Reply

    I got sober this time around with SMART. After about three months, the public meeting moved to a patients-only VA hospital, so I found an AA meeting I could live with. Whenever I mention it to anyone in AA, I get a blank stare– nobody has heard of it and can’t imagine that there’s anything but AA.

    Incidentally, wasn’t it Niacin, rather than vitamin D, that Founder Bill was excited about?

    Thanks for the essay! It’s certainly past time for AA to incorporate a few things more recent than the 1930s.

     

  13. Murray J. October 22, 2017 at 6:07 am - Reply

    I have often felt that to suppress the full extent of someone’s story that in the modern era invariably includes substances other than alcohol is unfair. At the first ever Secular Ontario AA Roundup a speaker spoke on the topic of tools of recovery. He mentioned how naltrexone and cognitive behavioral therapy got him on his journey in treatment. Those present were encouraged to comment on an open mic. The opinions ran the gamut from “big pharma is profiting from our misery” to mostly comments of support. Freethinkers expressing their free thoughts.

    Thank you for this article. It obviously got me thinking.

     

     

    • Pete Christie October 24, 2017 at 8:40 pm Reply

      Oh,,I will say when I speak I was a garbage head, I tried to snort up Peru and smoke out Columbia but when I freebased outside issues I had a Spiritual awakening that said if I do another hit I will die, and I scooped up the outside issues and into the garbage picked up a bottle of Jose Gold Tequila and thought “You never hurt me like that.  And 4 years later the same thing happened with booze, I saw a couple bottles on the floor and something in my head said “If I take another drop, I’ll die, but I am going to need help with this.  And that’s why I look at Drug Addicts like, what’s the problem.  Especially Pot Heads

    • life-j October 22, 2017 at 11:54 am Reply

      Murray,

      I was there at SOAAR, too, and just for the record – while big pharma  is abusing the suffering in many ways, at least when it comes to Naltrexone, that one is no longer under patent, which is also why big pharma has no interest in promoting it, they can’t make big money on it anymore.

      • Murray J. October 22, 2017 at 5:01 pm Reply

        Thanks life-j. I used to work in big pharma. A predatory industry if there ever was one. I was asked to be part of a clinical study of naltrexone when I went through treatment 21+ years ago. I passed. But I don’t discount meds as being aids to those suffering from mental health and addiction issues. A speaker at my open traditional A A meeting today said that if there was a pill to destroy your urge to drink or drug he wouldn’t take it. I get that! He’s an addictions counsellor and talked at length about how his journey led to going back to university. He mentioned some of his professional experience. An outside issue? A violation of one or more traditions? Hell no, not to me.

         

        Murray

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