My Life in AA: Past, Present, Future

This is the recording and transcript of the closing talk at the Widening the Gateway Secular AA Conference held in Tacoma, Washington on March 31, 2018. The speaker is Bruce H. and his talk is titled, “My Life in AA: Past, Present , Future.”

00:00 Announcer: Alright this is the Widening the Gateway conference, final presentation. It is 4:43 PM March 31st, 2018.

00:18 Willow: Once again my name is Willow and I am an addict.

00:21 Audience: Hi Willow.

00:21 Willow: Hi everybody. I want to thank everyone for joining us today, this has been an incredible experience for me, and I hope it has been for you as well. And a huge thanks to everyone that helped today run smoothly and those that participated in all the conversations and bought tickets. If you’re here you contributed to making this what it was, which, like I said for me it was incredible, so I thank you for that. If you are interested in helping plan next time, then be sure that we have your email either through your ticket or through the contact us form on the website. Those plans will be coming together at some point. Some people are already talking to them, talking about them. I refused to. It’s like talking about having another baby while you’re still in labor. I said no.

[laughter]

01:17 Willow: Now granted, I don’t have any babies, so I can’t really talk from that, but yeah. Let’s see, and as I mentioned earlier we don’t have any specific formal dinner plans tonight, but, I know that several groups are talking about meeting up and going to dinner at various places so, talk to a friend, get in a group, if you’re not in a group you’re welcome in mine of course. I don’t know where that is yet, but we’ll have something great to do and somewhere great to do it. Also, somebody mentioned that when I talked about the outing tomorrow it didn’t really make a whole lot of sense, so the outing that we’re doing is to northwest trek which is like a northwest safari, so mountain lions, and probably no tigers but wolves and bears, and deer and oh my. That would be fun if you want to come and join us for that you’re welcome to get with me and we’ll figure out all our timing and stuff. And with that I want to offer my humble thanks for being able to put this together with you guys, it was really amazing. And I’d like to welcome up Bruce H from Seattle, Washington.

[applause]

02:47 Bruce H: Alright, thank you everybody. Do you mind if I do something I’ve never done before?

02:57 Audience: Go for it.

[laughter]

03:00 Bruce H.: It’s not all that racy or crazy but, what I want to say is my name is Bruce and I am a person who among other things has a substance use disorder. And I say that because of this identity question, who are we? And I’ve been… And I’m going to talk more about this a little later, but, I’ve been, experienced the past few years a bit of a renaissance, and a part of that has been figuring out, “Okay, who am I?” Cause my rote thing is to say I’m an alcoholic. My name is Bruce, I’m an alcoholic, but, I did a lot of drugs too. I’ve tried… Okay, well I’m Bruce and I’m an addict. Yeah, sometimes I’ve said I’m Bruce and I’m an ethanol addict.

[chuckle]

04:06 Bruce H.: There are many variations and my sobriety date is December 8th, 1975, that’s a little while ago, and I got sober in Minneapolis and back then there was this movement, people identified mine, I would have said my name is Bruce and I’m chemically dependent. But that was in the treatment center meetings. And I realized, maybe six months ago I met a woman here in Seattle, she lives here in Seattle now, but, she got sober in Minneapolis in the early 80s and she was talking a bit about her experience with AA in Minneapolis, and it was very different than mine, pretty much more, let’s say, conservative, and so I remembered that basically there were, that was a treatment centers, I was 20 years old and ended up in a treatment center and got out and just found myself in meetings of other people from treatment centers and so that’s what we talked about. And I went to maybe two meetings that were not that way and I just kind of, “Oh, I don’t really like this so well, so I went back. Anyway, that’s maybe getting a little ahead of myself. I first want to just acknowledge what a wonderful day this has been, and I think…

[applause]

05:55 Bruce H.: I think we owe a big debt gratitude to Willow and Lori and Tom and others who have been on the planning committee, including myself. I did the website design, and the flyer design. And it’s just been a real pleasure working with you and just been a wonderful day. Starting with Ray’s talk this morning, I really enjoyed what you had to share with us. Some of the things you talked about are things I sort of suspected but understanding how alcoholism and addiction really works from research as opposed to anecdotal evidence. There is a difference, so thank you for that. I wish I could have made myself into three people and been in each of the three workshops [chuckle] because there really were some great topics. And I heard about from people who went to other ones, about the great discussions that I missed. Though I was in a great discussion in each one of them, including Tom’s talk about “Spirituality for the Unchurched” which was I thought was a great title, and it was a good talk from Tom and the panelists.

07:42 Bruce H.: The folks from BC talking about finding our free-thinking friends, also good. And then this last one I was just with Gina and others talking about perspectives on 12 step programs and unity and things among varieties of 12 step programs, and that also was very wonderful. I’m sure each one of you have your own experiences from the other ones. Anyway, thank you to all of the organizers of the panels and the panelists. Thank you very much.

08:25 Bruce H.: What I want to do is spend a little time now basically telling my story. What happened, how I ended up here, what’s happened since and then maybe more. I first got drunk when I was 12 years old. What I remember is I was with a friend of mine and we had stolen some whiskey from our parents. And we were sitting in my parents’ kitchen, kitchen of our house. And we knew probably drinking straight whiskey was not such a great idea. It didn’t smell very good and all that. So, we mixed it with black cherry soda. That’s what we had. I remember, I do, and I have this vivid memory of sitting at our kitchen table with this glass, big tumbler, full of whiskey and black cherry soda. Sniffed it. Sipped it. I just said… I just poured it down and it tasted terrible.

09:46 Bruce H.: But you know what? You guys know what happened next, right? It started feeling warm inside and it felt really… Once I got over kind of gagging, it felt good. Of course, if one is good, then certainly another one will better and another one will be even better, and so I set a pattern probably for… My experience when I drink is I would drink as much as there was to drink, and I would drink until either it was gone, I would try to find some more, or I would drink until I just couldn’t. Either I would throw up or I would pass out or usually both. And that was the pattern. I, at that age, didn’t do that all that frequently, it wasn’t that easy to find alcohol, but by the time I was 16, I basically knew I was an alcoholic. I knew that if I drank, there was no telling how much I would drink or what would happen to me. And 16 was also when I first experienced blackouts. At least that I remember.

[laughter]

11:23 Bruce H.: I guess that’s kind of a weird thing to say. I remember waking up and finding “What? How did I get here and what happened?” And all that kind of stuff. And did I do anything wrong or did I crash my parents’ car into anything or whatever. I recall a particular experience where I came home one night, and I just threw up all over the bathroom and passed out in it. My mother found me and well her threat was if you don’t stop doing this I’m going to have to tell your father. But I got out of doing that because I agreed that I would go to see one of the pastors at this church that we went and talk about this, talk about my problem, whatever it was. And I do remember telling this guy, “Well, I think I have alcoholic tendencies, but I don’t have to drink all the time.” What I didn’t tell him was at that point I had started smoking pot and taking pills. Probably didn’t have to drink then, I’d get stoned or high. But then I wasn’t an addict because I didn’t shoot up, right? But I did everything but.

13:08 Bruce H.: When I was 19 years old my mother passed away from cancer. She had been sick for 10 years. When I was nine years old she was given three months to live. They opened her up to try and give her surgery and said, “There’s nothing we can do.” But at that time radiation was an experimental therapy and she got into some kind of clinical trial and it worked, at least it worked well enough to prolong her life. But at 19 she did finally pass away and while I was, I definitely belonged here before then, after she passed away I just went off the cliff. For another year basically drank and used drugs as much as possible, as often as… All of that. I was in college at the time, I basically flunked out though. My father was trying to figure out, “What’s going on with this kid?” Because I was basically flunking out, but I was lying about my grades and what was happening, so he had no idea. And then I’d say well… He’d ask like, “Oh where’s your report card?” And I’d say, “Well, I lost it, but I’ll get another one.” But finally, that caught up with me and he found out that basically I’d flunked out of school. And to make the long story short I ended up in the treatment center in Minneapolis.

15:21 Bruce H.: December 8th is my sobriety date, December 8th, 1975. I actually entered that treatment center on December 10th. And I had these two days where I knew, I had agreed to go in because I knew there was something wrong with me. I figured out well I think what they’ll do, they’ll figure out what’s really wrong with me. And they’ll give me some Librium and they’ll put me in a padded cell for a couple of weeks and I’ll be better, and I’ll be able to get out. I was an avid skier. Our family was planning to travel to Utah for a ski vacation over the Christmas holiday, I’ll be out in time for that and it’s all going to be clear sailing from here. And then they went to Utah without me while I was sitting in that treatment center going… And yet at the same time I was starting to connect things, to connect the dots, to connect thing, my behavior with my alcoholism.

16:49 Bruce H.: A couple of things stand out to me from that experience of treatment. It’s been a while, but one was back to the identity thing. I remember sitting with this counselor. She’s asking me saying “Bruce,” you know saying, so I ask, you say “Bruce, say your name.” She wanted me to say, “I’m Bruce and I’m an alcoholic.” I would say, “I’m Bruce and I’m… ” No I can’t do this. But I was starting to connect the dots. One of the things that started to do that for me was part of that program was to work through the first five steps, so I did my first step. The second step, I remember looking at it and I go, “Yeah, okay whatever.

18:00 Bruce H.: Didn’t really make any sense.” I had spent my childhood growing up in a very progressive and open congregational church in downtown, Minneapolis. It was much more focused on, shall we say, social justice and those kinds of things rather than everybody believing in God in a certain particular way. In fact, the minister of that church was very much, a man who is open to the whole spectrum. And so, I kind of looked at it and I go, “Okay. I… Whatever.” Step three kind of the same thing and instead of… There was a point where I could have either gone to a group on step three or I could have gone to a grief group. And they suggested strongly that I go to the grief group and I’m thinking, “Well, why?” I don’t really want to do that.

[laughter]

19:12 Bruce H.: But I did, and I didn’t, I thought, “Well, my mom passed away.” I was, “That’s done and it’s over.” Well, no, it wasn’t done, and it wasn’t over, and it was in that group where I first, really for the first time deeply cried to my bones about the loss of my mother. Cause well, two reasons. One is, I was an alcoholic and an addict and I was doing everything I could to keep from feeling those feelings. Two is, I grew up in Minnesota Norwegian and really, we didn’t do that kind of stuff. We were stoic, and we showed how tough we were on the outside and all that, but we didn’t cry. But I started breaking down, and when I broke down and cried about my mother I started making these connections. And started realizing maybe this is the place I do belong, not a padded cell. I also remember that time going to my first day AA meeting and particularly the first meeting I went to I was really stunned by it because I had never experienced anything like that. I go in this group, my impression of it was something… I had a run in with the law in upper Michigan about a year before and what I knew about AA there was, it was a bunch of like 60 something wet brain copper miners sitting around a table drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.

21:19 Bruce H.: I wanted nothing of that. Well, I go into this meeting and it’s a group of people, most of them young people and they are laughing, they’re hugging each other, that kind of stuff. They’re happy, they have this sparkle and life in their eyes. And I was blown away. This was something I really have experienced. Our tradition says the only desire for membership is, or the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. I think at the beginning I don’t even think I had that, but I had the desire to have what I saw in that room. I wanted that, because that’s what I’d been really searching for and they told me, “Well, don’t drink and don’t use and a day at a time you can have.”

22:35 Bruce H.: And so that kept me coming back enough, until I really did make the connection that, “Yeah okay, I really do have a desire to stop drinking.” And from needing, to stop using any of the mood-altering substances. One last thing about the treatment experience for me was, at the end we had to do a fourth step, a fifth step. And I wanted to get out of there so, “I’m going to do this.” And I did my fifth step with this Lutheran minister who I had never seen before and I’ve never seen since but I got in the room with him and started talking about stuff and I just thought, “There’s some stuff that I had never talked about with anybody.” and I made a decision, “What the hell, I’m going to say this stuff.”

23:56 Bruce H.: And in the scheme of things it really wasn’t… None of it was really a very big deal, but it was a big deal to me because I did not have the practice of talking about what was going on with me with other people. In fact, I had just the opposite. I did the best I could, it is really, to this day, really, I did a couple of other kind of partial fifth steps in my first few years of sobriety, but that was really my first and only full fifth step, and it was enough because I’ve haven’t had to drink or use since then. So, I got out of treatment, I’m just watching the clock, I’m going to have to move on a few things because I have my notes here. Okay, I wrote down some notes, I probably should just throw them on the floor. [laughter] But there are a few things that I do want to say. The third step says we understand God, so I thought, “I don’t understand God, but I want to.” So, I started reading stuff, philosophy, all kinds of things and ended up going back to college when I was about three years sober and I declared my major as philosophy because I didn’t understand God and I wanted to.

25:47 Bruce H.: Three years later when I finished, I didn’t understand God. [laughter] But it mattered less, and I remember back then saying, [laughter] “This isn’t an affair of the head, it doesn’t matter, it’s more almost like an affair of the heart.” Sometimes I think of the third step is almost like a bit of a parlor trick to get my focus away from these things that I obsess about. I remember back then a big thing people had was, “I’m going to put this in my God box.” And I think that works for some people. I tried it and it never really worked for me, but the principle of it, it’s like learning what is it that’s mine and what is it that’s not mine has stuck with me, so I do need to pick up my notes.

[laughter]

27:20 Bruce H.: When I was about five years sober, I moved from Minnesota to Salt Lake City because I wanted to be a ski-bum. I’d finished college, some of the best skiing in the world is just outside of Salt Lake City, so I moved there, and I landed there and I started looking around at meetings and things and it seemed pretty dismal, I’m looking around, and it’s like, “I don’t think there’s anybody under 40 here staying sober.” And that was hard. After I’d lived there for a year, I was back in Minnesota for the summer, and that year, it was 1981, the ICYPAA conference, international conference of young people in AA, was in Saint Paul and in fact some friends of mine were involved in organizing it. So, I went to this thing and I was blown away and I couldn’t help but think, “We need this in Salt Lake City, it’s like we’re desperate for this kind of thing.”

28:45 Bruce H.: And so I went back to Utah and I was going to meetings, and I’d talk about ICYPAA and people would look at me like I was crazy, but I’d keep talking about it and here and there were people coming out saying, “Oh, that sounds kind of cool, let’s do something.” We started our own young people’s group and started having young people’s meetings and we started a young people’s conference and I remember a friend of mine and I taking a bunch of our stereo gear around and doing dances in various places in and around Salt Lake City for young people and we put together a big committee for ICYPAA and chartered a bus to Denver and rode there. And it just was really… In some ways it rejuvenated my AA experience. And what I find really interesting is that now being involved in this secular AA movement it feels a lot the same.

29:58 Bruce H.: It feels like a lot of the same kinds of things. We’re trying to… Back then I started doing it because I wanted to find a place in alcoholics anonymous, in my AA community where I could be comfortable and where I could be around people that I can relate to. And that’s also what happened as I found the secular AA movement. That’s true for many of us. Just after that conference I moved up here to Seattle and left it in the hands of people there but… On that bus there was this guy named Zeke, who was at that time about 90 days sober and he was crazy as a loot. He was just one of those people. [chuckle]

31:00 Bruce H.: He likes to be the center of attention and all of this and he was just doing that in spades. And it was like, “Oh, this guy’s obnoxious.” Whatever. [laughter] But he’s kind of fun too. But he was on that bus. A few years later when ICYPAA did go to Salt Lake City. He was a co-chair on the ICYPAA conference committee and the last time I heard, it was maybe 10 years ago now, when I was back in Utah visiting I ran into a mutual friend who said, “Oh yeah, Zeke’s still out, he’s now 20 plus years sober.” It’s like, this work we’re doing affects people’s lives. In making a place for ourselves, we make a place for other people. And that was just a really cool thing.

32:13 Bruce H.: I want to spend just a little bit of time talking about my father. He is still alive, in fact this past week was his 89th birthday. He lives in Minneapolis. He is now living with late stage Parkinson’s disease and has pretty much checked out from this plain. But in his work, he was a CEO and he was a very driven person and a person who, especially as a younger man, was very much a black and white thinker and so he and I had very different views of the world. And so, I am really grateful today that when I got sober I found an AA community that was open and welcoming. That it wasn’t full of people who were saying, “You must do it this way.” My first sponsor he was almost twice my age, but he had some things that I really admired, and he was also very much a supporter of me and not a director. Because if I had found somebody who said… There’s an archetype of the sponsor who is telling you, “You’re going to go to 90 meetings in 90 days and you’re going to do the steps like this and da da da.” Well if I had experienced that from a sponsor, or from AA, I would have said, “No thanks, see you later.” That’s too much like my home life. But I’m very fortunate that that didn’t happen to me.

34:19 Bruce H.: In the late 80s, one of my brothers got sober and his getting sober opened the family stuff for me, and I became very aware of what my part was in our family’s nest. Basically, four of the five of us either were or became alcoholics. My dad was the one who didn’t. And after my brother got sober, I started getting in touch with this and realized that yes, I had some very specific things that I needed to make amends to him for. But I would think about that and I would go to a meeting and it seemed like every meeting I went to was on the eighth step. And I’d go in there, and I’d like, “You know what! I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to make amends to that son of a bitch.” [laughter] And say it, and on the other hand I’d think, “I’m holding poison here.” This is poisoning me. It’s eating me away.

35:41 Bruce H.: And it took me some work both within AA and with outside psychotherapy as well to get through there, but it was maybe two or three years later, I went back to Minneapolis for a visit. And I was sitting out on the deck with my dad, beautiful sunny summer afternoon. And we started talking about stuff from back when it was all going down and I talked about the things that I needed to talk about with him. And, he said… I could never imagine having a conversation like this with my father, ever. And almost right in front of my eyes, he turned into a five-year-old boy and our relationship was never the same. It was an amazing experience. And I am very grateful that I had a chance to experience that.

[pause]

37:04 Bruce H.: In 2001, on a nice sunny spring day, I picked up my daughter Heather from, she was 10 years old at the time, I picked her up from school, we went up to Snoqualmie Pass to do some skiing and I took a bad fall and I broke my neck. And I was laying on my back in the snow looking up at the sky and I knew what had happened. Everything from here down was gone. In fact, it felt like actually my feet were still up in the air pointing at the sky. And I’m just lying there thinking, first, I hope nobody comes and moves me. Heather came up. I asked her to call for help. A doctor was skiing close by. He was the first person to come, which was a relief. I remember also laying there, just thinking I’m going to make it.

38:33 Bruce H.: I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m going to make it. And I was thinking about, in particular, about the fact that at that time I’d been in Alcoholics Anonymous for 25 years. And it’s like, even though I didn’t know any of you, or almost none of you then, you were there with me. And the ski patrol arrived. And I saw one of them take Heather aside, so I go. “Okay, she’s going to be okay.” And they put me in a helicopter for Harborview where I spent two and a half months. And it was a very, very hard experience for me and my family. I do remember one night when I’d been there, I don’t know, two or three weeks maybe. I had this idea. I could get drunk. Yeah.

[chuckle]

39:46 Bruce H.: I could. Now, you got to picture this. I’m lying in a bed, I can’t move. I can’t eat. I have more tubes connected to me than I don’t… But I thought, “Yeah, well I’d have to get somebody to get some booze and bring it in here. And then they’d have to inject it into my feeding tube.”

[laughter]

40:15 Bruce H.: And, I just laid there, and I thought about this and I just had this nice warm feeling. It’s like the sun was setting from the west. So, there was kind of a nice glow around, it just felt, ash. And then, fortunately I did… One thing I’m going to do, is I thought it through. And, I knew when I did that, I knew that if I tried that, I would die. And I was not going to die. I was going to live. I was going to recover. And, I did. In fact, I recovered better than expected. So, I wish it were better than it is, however, I know other people with injuries very similar to mine who are much more incapacitated. So, we don’t know. But I did also have people in the program who came in and brought meetings in to me. In fact, on Sunday mornings we had, in the rehab floor, we took over the lounge and would have a meeting every Sunday morning. And that also was a real blessing.

41:46 Bruce H.: So, the thing about staying sober for 42 years is that there is so many things to say, so many things to talk about. [laughter] So I’m really, I’m going to shift forward to… In 2015 I celebrated 40 years, and with that, I started thinking about, why do I go to AA and what do I get out of it and how does AA work for me? And some of the conclusions that I have drawn from that is, one is that step 10 has been my favorite step for years. And I really picture step 10, for me, is the… because steps four through nine, I just kind of pull out the God bits, because the personal God thing just has never worked, never connected. Because I don’t really identify myself as an atheist or agnostic, because I think those are terms that the dominant culture uses to label me. It’s just not something that works and it’s just… I do kind of like apatheist.

[laughter]

43:15 Bruce H.: That may be it, but it’s just kind of like… It’s not something that’s hugely relevant to my life. So anyway, I take those and squish them together into step 10. And I really believe that my practice of doing that for years and years and years on end has slowly increased my self-awareness and my understanding, really of like, what’s my shit and what’s not. And I think, most of the time, most of the stuff is not mine. But some of it is, and there are things that I can do, and that I can take care of right now that’s mine. But if it’s not mine, I can let go of it. And it’s sometimes agonizingly hard to do that because it’s like, the things that are not mine, just, they jump out, and it’s like, “Ah, but I just want to fix that.” Sometimes it’s as stupid, as driving down the freeway and it’s like, all the other drivers are idiots and I’m the only brilliant driver out here. [laughter] But that’s not true. And there’s nothing I can do about that anyway. But I can do things about my driving, but not anybody else’s. So, that really is one of the things that works.

44:55 Bruce H.: And, I also started getting more and more uncomfortable in some of the more traditional AA meetings. I remember one in my last group in Bellevue, before I moved to Seattle a few years ago. And the topic was on the fourth step and the person sharing that night was reading out of the big book on the fourth step. So, I’m listening and I’m going, “Wow, I forgot that.” And I’m like, okay, it’s talking about self-centered fear and some of that stuff, and I’m going, “Okay, yeah, I get that, yeah.” And then, in the next paragraph, it’s like, “And then there’s God… ” And, various capital-letter words about that where it was kind of like, no. And that really, I think, was the beginning for me to think, “Well, maybe there are some other meetings that might be friendlier.” So, I started looking around. And, I ran across a podcast that Willow did a couple of years ago, in the Beyond Belief podcast. And I was listening to it and she said, “Well, got sober in California, da da da da… Then I moved to Seattle,” and my ears perked up and then she talked about the Many Paths meeting in Burien. And I’m going, “Wow, why didn’t I hear about that?”

46:37 Bruce H.: So, I look it up in the schedule and the next thing I know, I’m down there and I’m enjoying it. And then, I’m starting a version of Many Paths in Seattle, which has been going for almost a year now. So, this movement is really… I’m just really feeling like there’s energy and enthusiasm for AA, again, within me that I didn’t have a few years ago. And so, I just really thank you all for that because this is something that we can do together. I can’t do it alone, but we can together. So, what can we do? It’s like my question, what is my shit and what is not? Well, there are things we can do. We can start being more open in meetings. After that fourth step meeting, I started doing that a little more. I recall being at that same home group one night, and there were a couple of new people in there, there was one young woman who was very vocally saying, “I don’t think I can do AA, because I just can’t do the God bit. I just can’t do that.” And there’s a guy there who was quiet, and when I shared, I just mentioned that, “Hey, well I… The idea of a personal God’s never worked for me and I’ve been sober for 40 years.”

48:31 Bruce H.: And it turns out this other guy who was quiet, he’s one of us, he was here earlier, he had to leave but… So, when we say things like that, we don’t know who… It’s just like, we don’t know who may hear us, and I think it’s important that we don’t have to ring a bell or make any big, drastic announcements, but we can say, “This is my experience. This is my experience,” whatever it is, and however you say it. And that is valid. And it also carries a message louder, in my opinion, than anything. But when somebody tells me, “You need to do this.” My reaction is, “No, I don’t. [laughter] I don’t want to and all that.” But, if I see somebody who has something that I want, and I notice, well, these are some of the things they’re doing, that speaks very loudly to me. That is one thing we can all do and that’s easy. Starting a meeting, I think that’s one of our things, the fourth tradition says, “Each group is autonomous, except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.” We’re autonomous, we can start a group. And we can do… We can’t charge people 100 bucks an hour to come in, there are some limits. But we can do a lot. So that’s a thing we can do.

50:22 Bruce H.: And one of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is about the public face of AA and how are people finding out about AA today. Because, we’re living in a different time, and now we all carry these things around. And, especially the younger generations, they don’t consume information the way us, older folk, do or have. So, I think it’s really, really important that AA thinks about that, and I think it could be our Achilles’ heel.

51:12 Bruce H.: The whole process of conference-approved literature and how long it takes to make any kind of change. And there’s good reason for being conservative, but we may be too far. [chuckle] I picked up my phone, and I went to aa.org and tried what’s the user experience of using aa.org on my phone. [laughter] It’s pretty bad. [laughter] And a lot of the information is in pamphlets in PDF format, so it’s sort of like… It’s like Marshall McLuhan, who is a Canadian, “The medium is the message.” So, the way we communicate says as much or more as what we actually are trying to communicate. So that I think is one of our challenges.

52:12 Bruce H.: There is, right now, coming up at the General Service Conference, there’s some pamphlet things that are of interest to us. One is about, should we publish a pamphlet from the UK, called “The God Word”? The second one is, should we actually make our own pamphlet and publish that? Those are good things. Though, there’s a part of me that wonders, “A pamphlet?” When I started this meeting almost a year ago, I’d gotten some pamphlets, I don’t think I’ve seen anybody actually take a pamphlet [laughter] anymore. I don’t think so. No. We had some of those “Beyond Belief” books. I know somebody stole at least one of those, maybe even two or three. [laughter] We sold some, as well, but…

[background conversation]

53:19 Bruce H.: It’s just something to think about. I think getting a pamphlet for atheists and agnostics or getting some information, does say to the wider AA community, “Yes, you are part of us. You belong.” Maybe there’s better ways to do that, maybe not, I don’t know. But this is coming up before the General Service Conference, so I would suggest that in your home groups you talk to your GSR and let your GSR know your views on these pamphlets, there’s background material that the GSRs are getting, they’re also available on the area72aa.org website, the background materials.

54:06 Bruce H.: And we also, here in Western Washington, have the privilege of having Steve, our delegate with us who is on the literature committee. So, if your group doesn’t have a GSR or your GSR is not communicating, you can contact Steve or just talk to Steve even here. He said he would be willing to chat and set up communication, because that’s how this… Maybe it doesn’t… AA… The upside-down pyramid that, it’s the groups that drive the decisions. It’s not the people that we send to New York our delegates, our trustees. It comes from the groups, so we need to pass that information. So those are a few things you can do.

55:02 Bruce H.: I’m sure I’ve heard numerous ideas. I just have been blown away today at how articulate people are, how many ideas people have, how many thoughts, how many things people are wrestling with here that they’ve talked about in these breakout sessions. Do something. Pick something that you can do and do it, big or small, doesn’t matter. Finally, I just really want to shift gears at the end of my talk here, talk about something, an experience I had last night, because it embodies why I keep coming back to Alcoholics Anonymous. And, why really, I love Alcoholics Anonymous. Despite, I think, its faults and flaws and all this, it’s been my adult life. And, I was at the Seattle Transplants meeting. Some of you were… Seth was talking about it in one of the breakouts. It’s a great meeting. It meets at 7:30 on Phinney Ridge in Seattle. And I was there last night, and a young woman shared about her experience with both being a compulsive liar, before coming here and even for years inside the program and talked about her struggles with figuring out her identity as an addict and an alcoholic.

57:05 Bruce H.: She could see, when she’s shooting up heroin, “Okay, I’m an addict and I’ve got a real problem. Alcohol? Not so sure about. But wait a minute, there’s this stuff.” Anyway. The discussion following her talk was amazing. And then, off to one corner, this woman spoke up, said her name and she said, “This is the first time I’ve shared in an AA meeting.” And it’s like the room hushed and I just felt my hairs going up on the back of my neck. And I was just like, “We are in the presence of something.” The only word I can think of is holy. We’re in the presence of something that is very precious and dear to us. And she started trying to talk and articulate her struggles with getting clean and sober.

58:14 Bruce H.: And then a few other people shared similar things and I just was in tears. So deeply moved to hear these struggles and to remember my own struggles with those very same issues. And those are things that I hope I never forget because if I start forgetting those things I’ll… Well, we know the booze is still out there, the drugs are still out there, that lifestyle is still out there, we can have it if we want it but, for me, I don’t want it. Not in the least. And because I get to be with people like you, I don’t have to experience that anymore. Thank you very much.

[applause]

59:30 Bruce H.: Thank you. Thank you so much.

[applause]

59:37 Audience Member: That’s it? No chanting, no nothing?

[background conversation]

59:40 Bruce H.: That’s it.

[applause]

59:50 Audience Member: You all go in peace. We’ll see you next time.

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  1. Joe C May 16, 2018 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Great to hear this; thanks for posting. You know, the issue with the word “alcoholic” has little to do with what you or I feel about the word. It is going out of favor with the next generation of healthcare workers and newcomers. Stigma is associated with it and to the contemporary ear, it sounds as old-fashioned as “wino” or “inebriate.”

    https://rebelliondogspublishing.com/home/blog/from-genius-recovery-what-s-the-future-of-the-word-alcoholic

    Seattle was home to the first We Agnostics Panel (1990 world convention). There was a vibrant AA for atheist and agnostics community then and I see from this podcast that community is going strong today. Even for those of us who have to rely on second-hand Widening Our Gateway experiences thanks to podcasts like this, I think it’s true for all of us that we are all grateful to the volunteers and committee members that have put these last couple of great days of AA on. It’s a year of planning for you for a day of enjoyment for me and “thanks.”

    • daniel May 16, 2018 at 9:41 pm Reply

      I would like to ask a question. I noticed the Chair of this meeting indentifed herself as an Addict. Is it a usual occurence to have an addict chair a meeting at this convention? Thanks so much.   Daniel

      • Joe C May 18, 2018 at 11:39 am Reply

        I travel a lot and I find (for lack of a better phrase) identity politics varies from region to region. In some places, people politely stick to AA-ese, using the word “alcoholic” to describe themselves regardless of what one’s drug-of-choice would be. Other places, anyone who’s there must have screened themselves (have a desire to stop drinking) and how each member identifies is not so important. Some places, I hear “My name’s Joe and I’m in long-term recovery” as a typical identification. I suppose they like to identify with the solution – not the problem. I’ve heard professionals and members say that there is stigma or negative self-image associated with “alcoholic” (or “drug-abuser/drug-addict”) and for that reason people want to identify without perpetuating stigma.

        Honestly, the reason I identify at all is that I am following a custom. Part of me wants the approval of others. Somewhere between the rugged individualism that AA affords and the courtesy that is asked, I have tried different ways myself to identify, also.

  2. Thomas Brinson May 16, 2018 at 9:23 am - Reply

    Wonderful talk, thanks so much, Bruce. I’ve recently been identifying myself as “alcoholically addicted to the legal, liquid drug ETOH, preferably Colt. 45, by the case lot . . . ;)”

    I agree with so much of what you shared about, Bruce, about how AA has to transform itself into a 21st Century organization, which speaks relevantly to the younger generations via the digital media they use instead of “dead-tree” pamphlets.

    With the passage at the April General Service Conference of reprinting Britain’s “God Word” pamphlet and the publication in August of the Grapevine book of stories by agnostics and atheists published since 1962, AA at the GSO and Board of Trustee levels, as well as by the General Service Conference, is openly acknowledging that agnostics and atheists belong in AA today just as they did from our very beginnings with Hank P. and Jim B.

    I still go to meetings, both secular and traditional, to experience the connection that you so movingly related about the woman who shared for the first time in AA — yes, that was a most holy and sacred event that brought tears to my eyes — THANK YOU !~!~!

  3. Oren May 16, 2018 at 9:13 am - Reply

    “I had a run in with the law in upper Michigan about a year before and what I knew about AA there was, it was a bunch of like 60 something wet brain copper miners sitting around a table drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.”–Bruce H.

    It sounds like you were right in my neighborhood, Bruce. I got sober here two years and 11 months before you, with the help of a Twin Cities treatment center very similar to yours. One of the requirements of the center was to attend an outside AA meeting, so I went to a “young people’s” group at the 2218 Club. It think it was called “Squad 3” (many of the Minneapolis meetings were called “squads”). That one hour, spent with 6 or 7 other fellows–all in our 20’s, caused a paradigm shift in my mind. It dissolved the last doubts that I didn’t really fit or belong in a recovery group. Sounds like you did some very important work in getting young people’s AA going out there in Utah.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. John L. May 16, 2018 at 7:56 am - Reply

    “I’m John, and I am an alcoholic.”  I’ve been saying this for over 50 years.  To me it is a commitment and a recognition that I must never drink again.  It gets to the heart of Step 1, which should have been written: “We admitted that we were alcoholics — that we suffered from an addiction which is invariably fatal unless arrested.” (From “A Freethinker’s Twelve Suggested Steps For Recovery From Alcoholism”.)

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