Episode 88: Life-J

About life-j

life-j got sober in Oakland, California in 1988. In 2002, he moved to a Northern California coastal mountain village where he helped to wake up the sleepy AA fellowship there. He’s been involved in service work of every kind, but now thinks the most important work is to help atheists and agnostics feel safe and welcomed in AA. Events in the Fellowship conspired to make him more radicalized than he ever wanted to be, and he finds it difficult to settle back down to focus on his own program again, for better or for worse.

He’s spent part of his life as a building contractor, part as a technical translator. He has also dabbled a bit in artwork and writing, and he is a frequent contributor at AA Agnostica and AA Beyond Belief. life-j is now semi-retired on a five-acre homestead together with his sweetie, and his dogs, chickens, and gardens. In this podcast life-j shares a little of his story, his views on recovery, and AA’s past, present and future. 

Podcast Transcript

00:00 John S.: Welcome to episode 88 of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. I’m your host, John S.

[music]

00:27 John S.: Today we’ll speak with Life-J, a friend of both AA Beyond Belief and AA Agnostica. Life has written several articles for both sides and was also published in the Grapevine. Life will share his story with us, and we’ll talk about the Sinclair Method, his thoughts on recovery, his thoughts about AA, present and future, what he thinks about secular AA, the use and limitation of technology, and a need for improved networking among secular AAs.

01:00 John S.: How you doing Life?

01:02 Life-J: I’m doing pretty good. I’m pretty good. It’s a sunny day here for a change. Yeah, I’ve been good.

01:07 John S.: Well, it’s really nice of you to agree to join us. I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a long time. You’re an important voice in the secular AA community, and you’ve done a lot for AA Beyond Belief and AA Agnostica with all your great writing. And there’s just so much that you have to offer with your ideas and your experience, so I really had been looking forward to this. I’m wondering Life, if you wouldn’t mind too much, just giving us a little bit of background and what finally happened that convinced you that you needed help with drug and alcohol addiction or either, and then we’ll just go into your AA story a little bit and take it from there.

01:44 Life-J: My life was just coming apart. I wasn’t doing much other than drinking. I had a room down in my basement where nobody could see whether I was home or not. And I would sit down there and drink and smoke the evening and the night away and sometimes make it to work and sometimes not. Once you can’t work anymore things start going downhill pretty fast, the bills won’t get paid, you lose a place to live, and all of that stuff. And I just barely averted that happening.

02:16 John S.: And about how long ago was that?

02:18 Life-J: Well, I had a back problem. I was working as a contractor at the time, and there was a time there about a half a year before I quit, I was working for some really wonderful people, and the guy happened to be an orthopedist, so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking a look at my back. I didn’t have any health insurance. He took me and sat me down at the dining table. Him and his wife were sitting there. First thing he asked me is, “Have you ever drank too much?” And I thought about that for a minute. Of course, everybody’s drank too much at one time or another, right? So, as I was sitting there thinking about what to answer, he says, “Have you ever been wasted for weeks on end?” And to that I said, “No, no.” So, he said, “Alright, let’s go take a look at that back.” Obviously, the reason he asked me that question was he could see I was in the middle of being wasted for weeks on end.

03:16 Life-J: I had a lot of respect for this guy. So that started making me think that maybe there was a problem, so he sent me down to Highland Hospital. That’s the big public hospital in Oakland, and the first thing the guy there asked me is, “Have you ever drank too much?” And of course, by then I got smart enough to answer “No” right away, so that I wouldn’t get found out. [chuckle] Well, you know how that goes. But anyways, from that point on, I stopped drinking every day. I stopped drinking. And I wasn’t going to drink until… Well, tomorrow I wasn’t going to drink, but today I just needed a couple beers to relax. And that’s the way it worked every day until finally I woke up one morning and realized that… So, I quit, and I quit on my own, and just the absence of the atrocious hangovers was enough to make it okay. I don’t remember having DTs and stuff. I was just okay. About five months later I realized I was going to drink again if I didn’t get some help, so that’s when I started going to AA. My 30th birthday was actually last Tuesday.

04:28 John S.: Oh, congratulations. And now, you grew up in Denmark, is that right?

04:33 Life-J: Yes, I did, and that’s a drinking country. [chuckle] When we were big enough to walk a quarter-mile down to the grocery store, people there would send us down to get beer. That’s how it was.

04:47 John S.: Yeah, and they didn’t really have a drinking age or anything there, did they?

04:51 Life-J: No, I don’t know if they do now, but it certainly isn’t enforced very much, but we could go out and drink when we were 15.

05:00 John S.: Yeah, I think it was that way. I lived in the Netherlands as a kid, and my older brother and sister, they were teenagers, and they tell me, “Yeah, I don’t think there was actually any kind of a drinking age [chuckle] or anything, at that time anyway.” But it’s also a very secular country, isn’t it?

05:16 Life-J: Yeah it is. Yes and no. It’s a funny situation, because Denmark has State religion, but being as that everybody’s a member, it also means that nobody really cares that much. [chuckle] You’re just a member, right?

05:32 John S.: Right.

05:32 Life-J: As kids we had to endure a couple of really religious teachers. Of course, we had religion talk in schools, even though it’s not like a Catholic school here necessarily or anything, but it just so happened that our teachers were quite religious, and we prayed, and they told us about bible stories in church class and all that kind of stuff. We had religious education all the way up until confirmation which is fourteen and you didn’t have to participate anymore.

06:03 John S.: So were you ever… Did you ever have theistic beliefs at all?

06:06 Life-J: I think I became a non-believer around the age of eight. My grandmother was a very religious person. She was not the kind who would push it on you, but she did have me pray at night when I was going to bed and stuff. And I had a crucifix hanging over my bed. I was getting beat up in school a lot at the time, and I just looked up at that thing and said, “There’s no way I can believe in this stuff.” So, I endured it for the next five, six, seven years or whatever.

06:39 John S.: So, then you find yourself in the States, and you’re working, and you begin having a problem with alcohol that you recognize and you start going to AA. How did you reconcile the religious nature in AA with your non-belief? And did it present a problem when you were first starting out

06:57 Life-J: It did, but I was desperate enough to have help, and counseling and other things were out because I didn’t have any money, so I kept going to AA. I was actually lucky very early on in AA. I found a meeting in Berkeley called the Humanist Meeting, which was just happening once a week. There we weren’t religious at least. Even the Berkeley Fellowship, you know, it’s Berkeley, people aren’t overly religious there. It’s a couple of people that are and of course they read how it works and all that stuff, but it wasn’t emphasized and there were very few meetings that ended with the Lord’s Prayer and all that. It wasn’t too bad.

07:44 John S.: But then the part of the state that you live now is more of a rural area and is a little bit different?

07:49 Life-J: It’s not all that different. Northern California is one of the more liberal parts of California. When I first got to this little town, there were five people. There was an old guy who was really kind of our spiritual lighthouse. He went sober about the same amount of time as me. And then there was a couple of people sitting and complaining about the DUI and cops. There wasn’t much going on here. I showed up and I just started going to every meeting there was and just another body of somebody who actually was sober was enough to really start changing things. So, from five people back 10 or 15 years ago to now we have a Tuesday meeting, there’s 20 people, 25 or something like that. It’s actually pretty good. We don’t do the Lord’s Prayer. Somebody was suggesting that we brought it back and I just had a shit fit.

08:47 John S.: Didn’t you at one time start a secular meeting over there?

08:50 Life-J: Yes, I did. And it never really came off the ground because it’s a little bitty town out in the middle of nowhere. There’s just not enough people for it, but there’d usually be one or two other people. And here at the beginning of the winter I had to shut it down. Whether that’s temporary or for good, I don’t know. But being as that I have cancer and all, it’s just really difficult for me to go out and sit in the cold and all that and get the meeting started.

09:23 John S.: But you also had a problem with your central office not listing the meeting too, didn’t you?

09:28 Life-J: That was a real problem, yeah. We fought bitterly for about ten months and eventually I just let it go and just started the meeting. And then a couple of years later when people had cycled out, I went back, and it wasn’t a problem then so we just…

09:46 John S.: Okay, what was their initial objection?

09:48 Life-J: That we weren’t going to do the steps the way they were in the big book, and eventually I just decided we don’t even really need to do the steps. We just sit and talk, one alcoholic to another and we find whatever readings we want to read and then if they don’t like us reading the wrong steps then we just don’t read any. That’s worked all right. And in fact, I think that the steps, if we keep on reading on the steps as the 12 steps, it doesn’t really matter whether we have the alternative steps or what it is. It’s all just going to be this thing that you have to have 12 steps.

10:29 John S.: I know. I thought that was funny. Did you just post a comment about that I think or did someone else that said, “Why is it always 12?” [laughter]

10:38 Life-J: Yeah, I think that was me. So, what I did do is I did a little long hand piece or what’s… Not long hand but a little piece of prose where we just read all the 12 steps together as one piece. It’s kind of the opposite process of the 12 promise, right?

11:01 John S.: Yeah. I did the same thing actually. Sometime ago I wrote a piece that Roger actually published about… I called it “How it works 2.0” and I wrote… I basically went through the steps as a paragraph, not as a linear progression of a list but just as things that we’ve experienced in one way or other. And that’s just, I think, a different way of looking at it. It doesn’t have to be a list of things. But I know that it was 12 because Bill Wilson thought that was a magical number because of the 12 apostles and so forth, right?

11:33 Life-J: Yeah. Yeah. [chuckle]

11:36 John S.: So, when did you finally learn about secular agnostic AA meetings and how did you get in touch with Roger at AA Agnostic and get involved with writing for his site and so forth?

11:47 Life-J: I can’t remember exactly how it happened. I guess I just sat down and searched for it one time and found Roger’s site, the AA Agnostic, and got really blown away by all the articles there. And I must have written to him and checked in with him. I can’t remember. My memory’s not that good anymore, I’m getting a bit old. [chuckle]

12:12 John S.: Well, I know…

12:13 Life-J: But it must have been about 2012 or something like that.

12:16 John S.: Okay. All this is interesting. All of this is fairly recent history, but I wasn’t really aware of that. In 2012, I was still going to my very traditional group, pounding on the big book. [chuckle] So anyway, so you’ve done a lot of writing for Roger and so forth. And you’ve done a lot of writing for AA Beyond Belief.

12:36 Life-J: Yeah, I started translating 20 years ago, and that’s how I actually got into the habit of just writing. Even though that’s through dry technical stuff and all. Yeah, I started writing memoirs and things about 10, 15 years ago, I guess. And little by little I’ve gotten into doing more writing. And so, coming into AA Agnostica and starting to write there, now it’s something I’m actually spending my days with is writing in one way or another. Nothing particularly great or profound, but…

13:16 John S.: Do you find it helpful to write?

13:18 Life-J: Well, it’s not necessarily all about my own personal issues and stuff. But as far as AA goes, I haven’t done much other writing that whatever you see on the internet there. I don’t sit down and do written inventories and stuff. It always helps pull the brain together to be writing, regardless of what you’re writing about.

13:42 John S.: I think it helps. And I think it helps other people, because you’re bringing information to people. Or you’re making people think about different ideas that they might not think about otherwise. You have some sort of an underlying philosophy of your recovery that you’re able to reconcile your understanding with the rest of AA. I wonder if you can talk about that a little bit, Life? How do you see your recovery today? It’s not traditional AA per se, but you haven’t actually thrown AA out the window either.

14:12 Life-J: There’s two million people helping each other there. And that’s what we need to tell them, it’s “Yes, those two million people helping each other, the fellowship, the meetings, all of that, they’re the place for an alcoholic to go.” I think the program is terrible. And it’d be nice to get rid of that. But we need the fellowship. We need the mutual help. That’s Bill Wilson’s great discovery, that an alcoholic is most likely to trust another alcoholic if they want to quit drinking.

14:46 John S.: But the program itself, as far as the steps and all that, it’s not necessarily helpful?

14:52 Life-J: I don’t think so. It’s nice with the steps when somebody comes in and wants to be sat down and be told what to do. They’d say, “Here’s 12 steps for you to work on.” But whether a person who works those 12 steps, or whether they work something else, I don’t think it really matters. What matters is that they do something to change their life and their behavior, and their thought processes and all of that. Everything needs to change, but it doesn’t have to be done with the 12 steps just like that.

15:24 John S.: Yeah, I agree with that theory actually. And it seems like there’s a lot of people that do want that structure, I guess. Maybe, I needed it to a certain extent. But then there’s a lot of people who balk at it. They absolutely can’t stand it, especially when it’s written in such doctrinaire language, an archaic language like Arthur-written. But you’re also very interested in science and the newest methods of recovery. And you wrote an article for AA Beyond Belief that is the single most read article on our site. I’ll have to post the statistics, but thousands and thousands of people have read it, plus it’s posted on our YouTube page, because Lyn did the recording of it, and it just gets more hits that anything. But it’s all about the Sinclair method. I wonder if you could talk about the Sinclair method. Just start from the beginning. What is the Sinclair method? What evidence is there that it works or doesn’t work? And how do you see it, if you do see it, fitting in with AA?

16:21 Life-J: Well, it doesn’t fit in with AA. [chuckle] No, we need all the help we can get. And Sinclair method, it’s an American Doctor Sinclair, that moved to Finland, and started working over there, because apparently, they were way more open minded over there to his methods than anywhere else. So, as far as I could tell, he’s helped 60,000, 70,000 people in the time that he was there. That’s quite a bit. And they are starting to experiment with another one called nalmefene, I think it is, everywhere in Europe at this point. And, in the US, the naltrexone is approved for alcohol treatment. But the way it is approved here by the FDA is that you take that pill every day, and you stop drinking. And that’s exactly what Dr Sinclair said, if you do it that way it doesn’t work. And I have a dear friend in the program here, who’s had a really hard time staying sober. And finally, I got her lined up with a doctor nearby who was in the program and asked if he would care to try this with her. And he prescribed it the FDA way, no matter how much I told them that that’s not the way to do it.

17:38 John S.: Is it because legally they must do it the FDA way? Or do you know why they do that?

17:43 Life-J: They don’t have to do it that way. Any doctor can use the medication off-label. So that’s not really the issue. I don’t know why you would do it that way. The doctor here in our local clinic, she’s quite interested and said she was going to experiment a little bit with it. But I haven’t really heard much about it if she has tried to do that or not.

18:08 John S.: Well, the way it’s supposed to work, The Sinclair Method, the way that Dr Sinclair devised it, the way that he believes it should be prescribed, and correct me if I’m wrong, but you should take the naltrexone before you drink. Is it like an hour before you drink or something like that? And by doing that, chemically, it blocks the receptors that cause you to drink in excess. And what happens is, over time, a lot of people, a good percentage of people, experience something, they call it “extinction,” where they don’t even want to drink. It’s not even something they even think about wanting to do. And a lot of people that use The Sinclair Method, some of them will just continue taking the pill and then drinking normally, or some of them just eventually find entire abstinence.

18:58 Life-J: Yeah.

18:58 John S.: Is that pretty much how it works?

19:01 Life-J: That’s how it looks like it works. And we got that movie by… What’s her name?

19:08 John S.: Claudia Christian?

19:09 Life-J: Yeah. It seems to work. I have not been able to personally get involved in the whole thing. Obviously, no reason for me to get involved in it at this point myself. But there’s a lot of resistance in AA against this, because they want you to be completely abstinent. And I think one of the reasons why doctors are hesitant to prescribe it in this way is that it’s not very good for them, legally, to say, “Here’s a pill, now, you need to go out and drink more for it to work.” Especially since when people first start taking the naltrexone, apparently, they get way more drunk, physically more drunk, without having any pleasure. And so, after a couple of days, I guess it starts subsiding, but it does have in it some risks of drunken accidents and this, that, and the other.

20:08 John S.: Right. Right.

20:09 Life-J: I guess that’s part of why doctors are somewhat reluctant. But a person could be doing this under some supervision by family and whatnot. There’s ways to deal with it.

20:22 John S.: Sure. I’m glad that I learned about the Sinclair Method, and I’m going to learn more about it because we’re going to be having a podcast about it here soon. Not in a meeting, but after a meeting, I was talking to somebody, and this was a couple of years ago, and he was just having a really hard time staying sober. And it was just dangerous, and I said, “Have you ever heard of naltrexone? Have you ever heard of Sinclair Method?” And he never ever had. And I said, “You should check it out, talk to your doctor about it.” And I thought that was an entirely appropriate thing for me to do, to give this guy this information that he didn’t have otherwise. Of course, though, here in the States, he went to the doctor and he did prescribe him naltrexone, but they do it completely different. It’s done as a way to… Somehow, it’s supposed to curb your craving or desire for alcohol, and I don’t know if that’s true or not. But the people I’ve known in my group who have taken naltrexone and drank on it say that their experience drinking on naltrexone wasn’t satisfying at all. Kind of interesting, I think.

21:23 Life-J: Yeah. It certainly has some promise, and science may one day accomplish this. Right?

21:30 John S.: That’s right.

21:31 Life-J: And it already has accomplished it and we just don’t want to recognize it.

21:35 John S.: So, what happens, I wonder, if somebody decides, “Okay, I’m going to use the Sinclair Method, but I also need the support of people in AA”? Because there’s a lot that goes on with alcoholism that other people can’t relate to. We have some issues in our lives, and only another alcoholic, as you said, will understand what we’re dealing with. And it seems like it should be possible for someone who says, “You know what, I’m going to use the Sinclair Method to treat my alcoholism, but I also want the fellowship with other alcoholics,” and maybe someday in the future that will happen. There will be people in AA meetings who will openly talk about being on the Sinclair Method while working a program of recovery to help them with those other issues that come up because of their addiction.

22:29 Life-J: That would be a good thing. And there’s a lot of negative attitude in AA about that, which is kind of funny. We don’t put people down if they go out and relapse a bit. There’s a little frowning, but basically, we welcome people even when they go relapsing. But we don’t welcome a medication that helps them cut down on their relapses…

22:57 John S.: And even in our own secular community, where most of us are Atheist or Agnostic and have a love for science, there’s also a resistance to it, incorporating it, at least within AA. So, I don’t know how I feel about it. I think the way I approach it is if I think it might be helpful to somebody, after a meeting, I will let them know about it. And I certainly think it holds some promise. It’s not for somebody like me who’s been sober already for a long period of time, but it certainly might save a life. I often think it would have saved my brother-in-law’s life if he would have known about it.

23:35 Life-J: We are trying to save lives, right?

23:38 John S.: That’s the bottom line.

23:38 Life-J: That seems to me that that would be what we were trying to do. Then there’s… In AA, we say, “No, we don’t want to save lives that way.” And that’s kind of a shame because it should be about damage control. It’s a way better situation if a guy cuts back from drinking a case of beer to drinking two beers a day.

24:00 John S.: Right.

24:01 Life-J: It doesn’t necessarily fit in with AA philosophy, but it saves his life. Maybe a few months down the road, he’ll cut out those other two beers and maybe he won’t, but at least he gets his mind and body in a clear enough state to where he can start looking at where is he going next.

24:20 John S.: Right. I used to think like that when I was new. I was amazed that I could not drink for a week or a month or two months or whatever. And when I’d go to meetings, I’d watch these people who had been sober for a year or two or whatever, and then they would relapse, and they’d feel awful about it. And then they couldn’t continue celebrating their anniversary and so forth, and I used to think inside, I’d think to myself, “Well, heck, it’s still, if you just drank once in the last three years that’s pretty damn good.”

24:51 Life-J: Yeah.

24:52 John S.: Considering what I was doing at the time, I thought that was pretty damn good and the person should feel good about themselves. I remember going up to one of the old timers, I said, “Why do we make such a big deal about the number of years that we have? Why can’t we just celebrate how long we’ve been in recovery, regardless of whether or not we’ve been sober the entire time?” because that’s… A lot of people might relapse, but they learn something from it and they help other people from it, and it seems like it takes the stigma away. But anyway, the old timer says, “Oh, no, no, no, we need to do it the way that we do it.” So, whatever.

25:23 Life-J: Yeah, yeah.

25:23 John S.: But that’s still a question I ask myself sometimes, is like, “Why do we make such a big deal about the number of days that we put together?” It is something to feel good about, I guess, but on the other hand, if one does drink, it almost compounds the feeling of guilt and the fear of coming back.

25:40 Life-J: It does, it does. And I think it keeps a lot of people from coming back. Speaking of that, I had one beer, that was, I don’t know, about two and a half months after I got sober, something like that. And that’s the best beer I ever had…[chuckle]

25:56 Life-J: It’s not because it tasted good or anything, I can’t remember if it did. But I hadn’t really missed drinking, not that much anyway for that time. But having that one beer set up a craving like I had never had before.

26:12 John S.: Oh, wow.

26:15 Life-J: It was all I could think about the next day and a half or so, and then it started subsiding a bit again. With every liquor store I drove by, the steering wheel started pulling.

26:25 John S.: Right.

26:26 Life-J: So, I had never experienced craving because I had never had a situation that put restrictions on my drinking. I never knew that I was physically addicted to this stuff, and that let me know that I was. So, I think that was the best beer I ever had.

26:46 John S.: That makes sense.

26:47 Life-J: I could, of course, just as easily have gone in and got myself a 12-pack and been off and running.

26:52 John S.: Right. So, let’s talk a little bit about… I wanted to talk about what you think is the future of AA altogether, which I know is a huge topic. But if you could talk about that a little bit. Talk about the future of how secular AA fits into that picture, and then also talk about an idea that you have or that you feel that there’s a need to improve the networking within a Secular AA community. So, tell us, first, how do you see the future of Alcoholics Anonymous?

27:21 Life-J: It depends on whether it can get out of its 1938 framework, I guess. AA will still keep existing, but I think… Wasn’t it Joe that said they’ll be like the Mennonites. [chuckle]

27:36 Life-J: And there’s a lot of risk in that, course. In percentage of the American population, it’s already going downhill, even if in actual numbers it’s pretty much maintaining. But it needs to open up, it needs to get out of its 1938 philosophy. And it’s a very difficult situation because World Service depends on sales of Big Books and other literature to keep functioning. And how are we going to help World Service keep functioning without depending on Big Book sales? Because as long as they’re pushing Big Book sales everywhere, it’s going to stay the same. And that’s a real problem, but…

28:22 John S.: You know what gets me about that from a business perspective though? Okay, if you’re AA World Services and you’re a publisher, why are you only publishing one book? Wouldn’t you want to come up with a different book? I think that if AA said, “Okay, guess what? We got a new improved Big Book for the 21st century,” I think they would sell like hotcakes.

28:39 Life-J: I think you’re right. Yeah.

28:42 John S.: But it’s like a good business decision would be, “Okay we’re a publishing company and we’ve got this book that was written in 1939, and we’re going to just keep rolling out the same book, all the time.” Well, wait a second, why don’t you write a new book for current people? I mean, keep the old book but write another book. Sell that book, and have it based upon what we’ve learned in the meantime. It seems to me that would sell like crazy, and they’re missing out on money if that’s what they want.

29:12 Life-J: We are alcoholics, so we keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results, right?

29:16 John S.: Yeah.

29:18 Life-J: But yeah, that would be a great idea. And if AA would actually start publishing alternative books, that would probably really make a change.

29:28 John S.: Yeah, I think so. And it must come from not just the Grapevine. And even the Grapevine, I love what the… The Grapevine is going to have their Atheist book and stuff, and that’s really cool and everything. But there needs to be something that, in my opinion, if you’re going to have a program of recovery and everything within this fellowship, then we need to update it, and we need to have it presented in such a way that a secular person can accept it as well as a religious person. It should be something that’s kind of neutral when it comes to belief and faith, and it should… That’s my opinion. But anyway, who am I to say? So, I agree with you. I think that AA will be around, but it depends how relevant, put it that way, how relevant it would be. So, what about secular AA? How do you see that? Do you think it’s a movement?

30:11 Life-J: I think it is. We are pretty small of course, but there’s a lot of long-term recovery in there. And it’s so ludicrous that there’s people sitting in regular AA with 20, 30, 40, 50 years sober that believe more in three years sober Bill Wilson than they believe in themselves, and in secular AA, that have been sober all that long time. We know more than Bill Wilson knew.

30:46 John S.: Yeah. [chuckle]

30:47 Life-J: And yet they treat it like scripture. So, we have a lot to offer. And it seems like most of the time, people that have been around for a long time, they have thought about things, and especially those of us that have been on the outside because we have been ostracized, we have had an opportunity to really think about stuff and what is it that’s wrong with AA. It’s a lot easier to figure out what’s wrong with AA if you actually think there’s something wrong with it, than if you don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. And so, we have a lot to offer AA. There’s a lot of good thinking heads in the Agnostic community. And so hopefully, we will get to have an influence on it in the long run.

31:42 John S.: But you pointed out, and you submitted something to us, and I think I’ll… If I still have a copy of it, Life, maybe you might want to send it to me. You wrote a piece about the need for improving how we network within the secular AA community. Do you want to talk about that a little bit, what your thoughts are on that? What is the need? And what are the solutions?

32:02 Life-J: Well, we have horizontal communication, and we have vertical communication. Vertical is that we come in and we read the articles on AA Agnostica and AA Beyond Belief, and do podcasts like this, and go to the Secular AA website to find meetings, and all that. But horizontally, we have no communication at all. I have driven to Sonoma County and to Berkeley and to San Francisco to talk with people and to meet people in the other Agnostic meetings. I’ve driven three hours away, and three hours back, to go and meet these people. because that’s the only way I could meet them, because we have schedules of meetings but there’s no contact information. We need this really bad. I talked to the people at the secular AA, and they said, “Yeah, we can’t give away people’s contact information.” And I said, “No, I’m aware you can’t do that without having permission to do so. But for one, you could get the permission. For another, there’s ways of sending an email to somebody without getting their information. You do that on Craigslist and online dating sites and whatnot all the time.”

33:23 Life-J: That’s very easy to do. It just needs to be set up. I met some resistance, I don’t know if we’ve gotten past that or not, but we really need that. When was it about? Was that one year ago or two years ago? I think it might have been two years ago, they had that Roundup, up in Olympia, Washington. I drove up there. And there was… Well, we were about 80, 90 people, and it was great. I would love to do something like that here in Northern California. And, I have done a local, once a year, little Roundup here. It was always fairly small, here in my own place. And after I came out as an Agnostic, it got even smaller. But it would be nice to have a Roundup here in Northern California of secular and Agnostic people. And it’s simply not possible because we can’t contact them.

34:24 John S.: So, it’s like we have all this technology now and there’s all kinds of different ways to use it. I think I get what you’re saying. It’s like, sure, we have these Facebook groups, but Facebook isn’t always the best way to get to know somebody, or to communicate, or let somebody know, “Hey, I’m coming into your town. Do you have a meeting, or can I meet you at some time?” Or whatever. There isn’t any kind of one-on-one personal communication. You can go on the secular AA website and you can find out where the meetings are, I guess, and click on them and drive there. But you want to have that personal connection. You want to be able to give someone a call and say, “Hey, are you guys meeting? Has anything changed?” Yeah.

35:05 Life-J: Yeah. Yeah. There’s a meeting two hours north of us here and I’ve been wanting to go there for a while. It’s 10 o’clock Sunday morning, that’s not convenient for me, I’m two hours away. Last weekend, we drove up there, I had written down the address wrong. If I’d had a telephone number, granted it’s possible that 10 minutes before the meeting starts the guy wouldn’t have answered the phone, but there is a possibility. Or I would have called them ahead of time and say, “I’m just wanting to make sure the meeting’s here.” And they’d tell me, “That’s the red building sitting back there and there,” and I’d have found it. But not having any contact information, it’s not happening. So…

35:47 John S.: And not every community either has central offices set up. And some central offices aren’t very effective, I can vouch for that here in Kansas City. Not everybody has a central office that you can call and say, “Hey, can you tell me about this meeting,” or whatever. And even if you do, that central office might not necessarily know a whole lot about that particular secular AA group. But if you did have a personal contact… I think I could see how it could be set up, you could have some sort of a private database or something, I don’t know, where you can have people with their contact information to use for networking.

36:22 John S.: You know what I used to think of a need for? This is the idea I had, it would be nice to have a database of all the GSRs for all the agnostic groups in North America, maybe all over the world, and have their contact information and everything, so that if there was something that we wanted to have done at the General Service Conference, we could contact all of them by phone or email or whatever and say, “Hey, we got this issue going on, let’s all get together and push for this at the General Service Conference”. Or, let’s say for example, in Colorado right now, in Denver, where their central office is giving them a hard time, we can all come together and put pressure on that central office, or put pressure on that area assembly where that central office is located to put an end to that discrimination. So that was kind of an idea I had. because you could put this database together, but you know what? Organizing anything in AA is just very cumbersome sometimes.

37:21 Life-J: It is. But I think it’s a good idea, and my experience back when I had my controversy with Intergroup, there were several people there that were agnostics that were part of the Intergroup. We agnostics are very service-minded people, maybe more so than AAers at large. And therefore, I think that getting people together, like you were just saying, would have quite an impact because there’s a lot of people that are GSRs that are agnostics.

37:56 John S.: I know. I think it’s because we feel that there needs to be some change in AA, and I think that’s why a lot of us are more involved. And we are kind of connected. It is amazing that I can talk to somebody in New York and I know what’s going on over there, I know what’s going on all over the world. But that’s only because I’m involved with AA Beyond Belief and everything. But if I was going to be in Portland next week, I don’t have anybody’s phone number I could call. And that would be nice to say, “Hey, I’m going to be in town but I’m not going to be there the day of your meeting. Can I get together with you?” Something like that.

38:36 Life-J: Yeah, that would be great. If they don’t do it at secular AA, please consider doing it at AA Beyond Belief. In fact, I think it’s a shame that we only have one meeting database. It’d be nice to have two, like we did for a little while there. Be nice to have a PDF of all the meetings you just go in and scan down through instead of having to go in and go through them all.

39:03 John S.: Also, I noticed that the meeting list on secular AA, it’s a little funky. They need to kind of fix that. Because what happens is, you have to sort for the day, the time, the place and all that kind of stuff. But once you do that sorting and you press Enter nothing comes up, you have to refresh the page. It’s kind of frustrating. And they need to fix that. Plus, we need to have… It’s great that we have this technology of the internet and everything, but there’s still a need for paper too, and there’s still a need for phone calls. I see that at work all the time. At work, I’m emailing people all the time, but occasionally, I just need to pick up the damn phone because some things are just too complicated to put in an email, or they won’t get the meaning of what I’m really trying to say. And I think the same thing here. It’s like, yeah, it’s great, but sometimes email isn’t automatic. People don’t respond right away, or you don’t have all the information on a website. Sometimes you can talk to someone, like if you’re in Northern California and you know there’s a secular meeting a few miles away, you can talk to that person and they have all the information in their head. They know, “Yeah, you have to go down this gully or whatever.” [chuckle]

40:12 Life-J: Yeah.

40:13 John S.: I hear what you’re saying. If I still have that article I think I’m going to post it with the podcast. If I don’t have it, I’ll have you resend it so that people can read it and see what you’re talking about. Because as people understand the need for it, then maybe something will happen.

40:29 Life-J: Yeah. Yeah. We really got to do that. And at the Austin conference, there was no central email list of all the people that attended. Apparently, the only thing they had was the emails of the people that had paid with PayPal. And we had no get-togethers there. There were meetings and stuff, and I don’t even know if there was such a need for so many meetings because you can go to meetings anywhere anyway. But what would have been nice, and what’s needed in Toronto for sure, is that it be arranged that people from the same area can get together and meet each other there and start networking. I met a couple of people by chance from Northern California in Austin. There probably were a dozen of us there, and we really all should have sat down and had a meeting and talked about what do we want to do in Northern California. Anything that we can do to network will make us stronger.

41:33 John S.: And to think beyond just the technology, the new technology, but also think about the old technology. There’s also a couple of things too about technology. When it comes to reaching the newcomer, a lot of people don’t think about this. Okay, it’s great that we have all these websites and everything, but if you’re a down and out drug addict or you’re a down and out alcoholic, you don’t have access to the internet. You might not even have a job. There’s a lot of people just out on the street. You can’t find the internet to find anything. So, it’s like, you do have… And in some communities also, just because of poverty in this country, there’s a digital divide. Not everybody has access to the internet. So, it’s like, there’s still a need beyond just the internet to have boots on the ground, people that will take a phone call and go to someone’s house or pick someone up and give him a ride or to print out a meeting schedule and bring it to somebody. Those are still needed. Some of us don’t have a whole lot when we first start out.

42:34 Life-J: Other issues too. I don’t go on Facebook. I’ve been told, “If you want a network in Northern California, go on Facebook.”

42:42 John S.: I don’t know about that, I’m kind of getting disappointed with Facebook. I don’t know what’s wrong with it but… I don’t know. I go on there, but I think that people… They take on a different personality on Facebook sometimes or they… People have different impressions. You can have five people read the same thing and every single person takes a different attitude about it. I don’t know if Facebook is always such a greatest way of doing things. I’m kind of down on Facebook right now. It’s full of Russians. It’s full of Russians spreading misinformation. [laughter]

43:18 Life-J: Yeah. No, but that’s… Back to where you were saying, we really need to have a way of contacting each other by telephone and showing up in person. That’s good old AA, and we need that in secular AA for certain.

43:35 John S.: So, Life, I really enjoyed this conversation. I thank you very much for coming on and speaking with me. And I also thank you for everything that you’ve done for secular AA, all the articles that you’ve written, what you’ve done for AA Beyond Belief and what you’ve written on AA Agnostica. That stuff is meaningful.

43:53 Life-J: Yeah. And thank you to you for having me on here today and thank you for having me on AA Beyond Belief. It’s a very good thing.

[music]

44:16 John S.: Well, that concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the Podcast. Thank you for listening everybody. That was quite a conversation we had with Life-J. He wrote that article about the Sinclair Method some time ago and it is the most popular article on our site. Life did a really good job with that article. And speaking of the Sinclair Method, next week, we’ll be speaking with Gary Bell. Gary was in the documentary One Little Pill, and Gary knows quite a bit about the Sinclair Method, having personal, first-hand experience with it. A lot of good stuff coming up, I’ll be interviewing Bob K. About an upcoming book that he has written, it’s a historical fiction about Bill W. So, hey, if you enjoy the podcast, if you can and if you would like to, please consider making a contribution. A small contribution of even a dollar a month would help quite a bit. Just visit our Patreon page, that’s at patreon.com/aabeyondbelief. We’ll use the money to pay for transcripts and other expenses associated with producing the podcast. Thanks again, everybody. Until we speak again, you all take care and be well.

Link to life-j’s Essay about Networking

A Need for Better Networking


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  1. Joe C April 19, 2018 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    There are directories of AA meetings (print – not digital) for Canada, Eastern USA, Western USA. They list groups and addresses with meeting times and formats and contact name and numbers, too. GSO produces them.

    I planned a trip out west around hitting a Wednesday 3:30 PM Agnostic meeting in Las Vegas at the Camel Club but it doesn’t meet on that day or time anymore and there is no contact info. It would have been great to call someone and meet for coffee, or call ahead and plan my trip around the new schedule.

    It would be great for planning say… ICSAA2018 to be able to reach out to group reps to do outreach. A directory would be a great resource.

    Two great AA members doing one great podcast once again. Thanks life, thanks John.

     

     

  2. Willow April 18, 2018 at 9:47 am - Reply

    Allright – just finishing listening to this – re: the secular service network – if we build it, they will come. We can absolutely do this. Is someone already working in it? If not, I’ll lead it. If so, I’ll help.  Those that know me will know I’m serious.

    • life-j April 19, 2018 at 8:31 pm Reply

      Willow, please do. Please check with Sam and Courtney. Thanks

    • Lance B April 19, 2018 at 10:30 am Reply

      I placed a long comment after the link to Life’s letter.  It includes my contact information.   And now I’ve spent 15 minutes trying to find a reference to the meeting list/map I’ve used so effectively.  Can’t find it on this web site.  All kinds of websites which do me little good in my travels–you have to know where each place is in order to know whether you will be passing nearby.  I need that map and will go over to aaagnostica expecting to find it relatively easily.

      • Lance B April 19, 2018 at 10:38 am Reply

        Easy peasy over on agnostica.  And the map is there and working just as well as it ever did–wonderful.   You have to choose map rather than list but after that you can see the location of every meeting in the world and then just focus on down to get the details.  I see that my phone number and address were never added to the listing of my meeting though I wish they had been.  And I see that the web location the hot button on agnostica sent me was secularaa.org–so if I went there frequently, I’d be able to do that directly.  Beyond belief could become more friendly to me if they made the list and map as easy to find.  It must be on here somewhere, but surely not obvious to me.

  3. Oren April 18, 2018 at 9:22 am - Reply

    Thanks for the interview, Life-J and John. The Sinclair Method is certainly of interest as a harm-reduction technique, and it may have great value for those who are struggling. As an old-timer with contented sobriety (as of today, anyway), I’m even more interested in the idea of “horizontal communication” for community building, and for increasing the fellowship. I agree that FB seems to have its limitations, maybe because internet culture has developed in such a way that it brings out our “snarkiness”. I’m glad that there are positive people like the two of you using the web to further secular sobriety.

  4. Thomas Brinson April 18, 2018 at 7:56 am - Reply

    Great to hear you life-j and that you are still so active in our secular recovery community. Thanks so much for all the service you are doing a day at a long time.

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