Pam W. a co-founder of the first international secular AA convention, then known as the We Agnostics and Freethinkers International AA Convention was a keynote speaker at the second international secular AA convention which was then known as the We Agnostics, Atheists, and Freethinkers International AA Convention, and held in Austin Texas in November 2016.
00:01 Pam W.: I got my notes. Okay, so the first embarrassing thing, hi, I’m Pam W., and I’m an alcoholic.
00:07 Pam W.: First most embarrassing thing. Nick just wrote up this little introduction for me, and I gave him my wrong sobriety date. It’s July 2007. So, I’ve been sober a little over nine years and I have notes because I can’t remember my life, how sad is that? But yes, I have something to do with this, I can’t believe it.
00:45 Pam W.: But I didn’t do it alone, and quite frankly it was not my idea. A little over well, about four years ago I got to know Dorothy H, who couldn’t be here. We were talking one night and we had, you know, I don’t really know where to start. I’m kind of all over the place tonight. This is what I was worried about. Let me start with me and then we’ll talk about us. How’s that?
01:22 Pam W.: I was born in Southern California. I was raised by a loving family. I have three siblings, I’m from a little beach community. It was a pretty happy life, and I was encouraged to do things. In fact my sister and I talked one time about how we both believed for sure we would go to college. We never questioned it.
02:06 Pam W.: About the time my younger sister was born my father had a bit of anxiety and had a moment in his life where things just got really hard. He worked for the government and he worked at a time when we had the Cuban Missile Crisis. Looking back and doing a little self analysis and doing some work in this program, I realized that my identity, my way of looking at the world had a lot to do with where he was when I was starting to learn those skills as a little girl.
The world became a very scary place because my father was very lost and confused and had a little bit of soul-searching to do himself. So, I would say that those insecurities are what stuck with me and they’re ultimately why I ended up finding alcohol as a solution because when I did walk into these rooms and I started to hear your stories, I heard my story. And that was this is the best way to deal with my feelings because it freaking takes it all away.
02:58 Pam W.: When I was a high school student, I was a good student. Truly, I really was. Good grades, I was really involved. I was my senior class president. That doesn’t mean you’re popular by the way. That means you’re the guy that does all the work.
I also would go to a party and I would drink and I would drink without thought. It was just what can I consume, and I remember very clearly one of those first parties where my girlfriend was 18 and her parents thought it was perfectly fine that, you know, her 18 and younger friends come over and drink. We liked her house. So, I come in the room. I’ve come in with one friend. She’s got coke and rum. My girlfriend’s celebrating her birthday. She takes me out in the back, and does one of those, what do they call, those shooters? You cut the hole in the bottom of the can.
04:08 Audience: Shotgun.
04:09 Pam W.: Shotgun, thank you. See, I’m not a great drunk. We’re in the backyard and she does this and of course, you know, half of it ends up on me. Then we go back in the house and I don’t know what else I was drinking but about, I don’t know, two hours into the party, I’m throwing up on the kitchen floor. I woke up the next morning at home which is good. It’s a good start.
I went out to the living room, my mother asked me who drove me home and I looked her square in the face and said, “I don’t know.” I didn’t black out, maybe I did, but I had to call another friend to tell me what had happened and we had to actually figure it out because apparently when I left the house I was leaving with person “A”but by the time I left I was leaving with person “B.” They did take me home and I remembered eventually, but I didn’t think that was a problem. It was just high school life. That’s what we did, right?
05:22 Pam W.: I also had become aware that I was keeping my parents at a distance. I definitely was not the child that said, “Sure mom, come by the high school, sure mom, do this.” I didn’t want them that close to me and I kept them at a really huge distance. So, there’s a bit of a irony here. I was a good student. I had “A’s” and “B’s.” I was on student government, but I did feel like a fraud, and guess what? That didn’t stop. I continued into college and perhaps from my age you would know. I went to college in the ’80s. And coke, California, very popular.
06:13 Pam W.: I was at a private university, so there was lots of students with lots of money. I was not one of them. That was the drug of choice on campus, but I was a poor student, so I drank. It was the early 80s. Oh yeah, I was going to cue music but I didn’t bring the music, a good ’80s song to sing.
I was an art student and art students have art openings, and art students buy big boxes of wine, and we’d get very drunk. You know even in town we’d go to art openings, they had free wine too, so it was quite a little culture and I sure enjoyed it. I think that was the beginning of my love for wine, which I’ll get to in a minute. That continued and I would say that there was other issues. There was food, men. Oh the men, no regrets, no regrets. [laughter] Maybe one or two. [laughter] I graduated college, just like I graduated high school too.
07:42 Pam W.: I went out into the working world, and there were parties here, parties there. At some point, when I finally decided that I was going to come into these rooms… And I’ll get to that in a second. I wondered, it was like “Am I really an alcoholic? How could it be a problem… ” I didn’t think I had a problem because I didn’t get drunk all the time. I didn’t come home and have a drink every day. But there was a specific office party and there was a photo, and the owner had rented a really nice suite, and we had food catered in. My boss was a very nice man, and he treated us all very well—and he loved to drink. I can’t say what his situation was. I loved him dearly, but he had to have a shot of tequila with every single one of us, and then of course it’s, “Pam have another one.” And I’m already drinking. There’s a photo of me laying on the bed. I hope somebody burned that. This was the thing, I didn’t know how to stop. When I did, I just kept going and I don’t know. Somebody said, “Well you’re a periodic Pam, that’s what you are. You’re a periodic alcoholic.” I was like, “No I don’t know, okay, whatever.” I never lost a job.
09:22 Pam W.: I didn’t have great relationships. I was married for a short time, divorced. He thought I had a drinking problem, so he tried to hide the alcohol. He’s like “What are you doing?” I was in a relationship in the late 2000s or early 2000s, and things were pretty good. I thought they were pretty good. He was smart, he was cute. Really smart, too smart. Then, I realized the relationship wasn’t going well, and we were drinking a lot together like all the time. It got to the point that when he wasn’t around, I was drinking every day. I didn’t have the guts to say, “This isn’t working.” I was just drinking and I started having that dialogue in my head, “No, I won’t drink until afternoon.” Or, “I won’t do this.” Or, “I don’t have a problem.” Let me backtrack a little. I was working for a company that handles the shipping imports and exports of wine and spirits, so I was in an environment where that was our commodity, that was what was really important. That was how we were making our money.
10:57 Pam W.: So, I thought I was this great, lovely connoisseur of wine. You know those six packs with 20, 10% off? Do grocery stores do that? Do they still do that? Anybody know? I know we’re not in the grocery store. Yeah [chuckle] I used to go into the grocery store and peruse the categories. And buy my Bechelli, they can’t get that all the time, but picked the wines and put them in the case and justify that I was sort of this connoisseur collector of wine, but I could never keep that selection full. It kept getting empty, I don’t know why. It got really bad, it got really bad, and I ended the relationship. Well, let me backtrack again. I quit drinking January 2007. I share this because of the boyfriend who came over and I had to tell him, “No, I’m not drinking any more.” It was his birthday, and he was ready to party on, and that was the beginning of the end of that relationship.
12:13 Pam W.: I was good.Six months, I didn’t drink. I never walked into an AA meeting, because I wasn’t an alcoholic at all. So, July 2007 rolls around, and a girlfriend of mine comes from the same company that handles the wines and spirits. She comes out from New York and we go to a hotel, get a bite to eat. Our table’s not ready, we go sit in the bar. I don’t know how to tell her, “I’ve got a problem.” We drink martinis. Shit! I didn’t get wasted. It was like the worst going out ever, two martinis. So the next day though I felt like crap, not because I had a hangover, but just because I had let myself down. Eleven months of me thinking I’d go to a meeting kept occurring, and I was still with the boyfriend. I would get in fights with him as I’m driving around looking for a meeting, and knowing where the meeting was and then somehow getting on the phone with him and fighting with him, because that would keep me from going to the meeting.
13:28 Pam W.: Yeah, so one day, I did walk into a meeting. I’d found the perfect meeting. It was on a street on the way home between work and home. Some of you probably heard this little story, but I came into the room, it was a church and there was about seven old guys in a church. The only thing missing was the smoke, because we don’t smoke in buildings in California anymore. They’re like, “No, no, no.” I must have had deer in headlights look on my face, and they said, “No, no, come in.” they said it was a men’s stag meeting, which didn’t register with me what they meant.
14:12 Pam W.: They’re like, “Come on. No, come on in, come on in, sit down, join us,” and I come in and I sit down, and it was a book study. It was a We Agnostics book study. I didn’t specifically set out to go to that meeting. I just wanted a meeting, and they proceeded to go through the readings and we each read, and then there was the format and they asked if there were any birthdays. This is my favorite part of my sobriety. It was the most amazing thing, and Albert’s giggling, because he knows and he’s heard it 1,700 times. They asked if there were any birthdays, and I raised my hand because it was my birthday. I had no idea. It’s also, that was also the 35th birthday of AA. I was born on AA’s birthday, just a few years less than 35. Here’s where it stuck. They didn’t make me feel awkward or uncomfortable. They paused, they explained to me, because I’m like, “Hey it’s my birthday.” What? But here I was being truly honest.
15:32 Pam W.: They explained to me about birthdays. Some people prefer to call them anniversaries, and I’m a little embarrassed but I kept coming back. That’s my favorite, favorite meeting and that’s the Tuesday night AA Los Feliz, We Agnostics Tuesday night Los Feliz meeting in Hollywood. It’s my favorite, favorite place to be once a week. That meeting decided to get rid of the Step Study, and we are now a sharing meeting, and like I said, when I walked in the room maybe seven older gentlemen of which a couple still come in to the rooms, more regularly than others. Others have moved on to other meetings due to health and location, but after the Step Study was removed, that meeting’s grown and we probably have between 25 and 30 people, and I’ve been the treasurer for two years now. [laughter] because nobody wants it. Okay. I don’t know if I’ve done the steps right or wrong. I don’t know, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I’m sober, and I have a fellowship that I love.
16:53 Pam W.: So, there I was maybe what, four years into my sobriety and I was going to the Friday night meeting, and I got to know Dorothy, and there were a couple nights here and there when she would stay at my apartment because it would be really late sometimes after a meeting on Friday night, and rather than driving her all the way home which was past my house, she would stay at my place and we’d talk, because girls talk and we talked late into the night. And we’d had some recent occurrences, and this was January 2013, where we’d had a lot of people coming into the Agnostics meeting and say, “Oh my God, I’m so glad I found you,” no pun intended. Dorothy was very excited about this and I’m like, “Oh okay,” so we started digging around and we found Deirdre’s website and we started realizing there were other meetings and other people, and we’re like, “We didn’t know there were other Agnostic meetings.
18:01 Pam W.: It was not as big a deal for me. I grew up in a house where my mother took us to the Methodist church and my dad stayed home. So, by the time I was old enough to finagle, I figured, “Oh, they had daycare. I can go to the daycare instead of going to church.” because I didn’t get it. I’m one of those people that the faith issue, the God issue, a higher power issue, you know, I don’t care what you think or what you want or how you believe your faith is. It’s not important to me. I don’t think that I want anybody questioning my perceptions. I just never understood it. The way it kept coming up. So, I kind of lost track of my thoughts. I’m sitting there with Dorothy and we’re thinking, “Well, maybe there’s other people that this is really an issue. Well, it’s really, really, really needed. What if we got these people together?” I said, “Sure, I’ll help you.” [laughter] “Sure, you get some people together and I’ll help. I’ll be one of those people.” So, needless to say, Jonathan got on board.
19:27 Pam W.: I’m not going to give you all the specifics, but we were digging. We had a team from New York who wrote hundreds and hundreds of letters to every meeting we could find that had some names affiliated with Agnostics or Free Thinkers or Atheists or anything that was borderline that looked like they might be a little more open-minded. Some of you got phone calls and talked to her. She came and visited people. We just kept powering through, and Jonathan came on board early on and his thing was, “Let’s throw a good party.” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s all I want to focus on. Let’s get a good party.” But, when you meet people who really, really are struggling and we can find them a solution and they don’t have to accept anybody else’s beliefs or deny whatever they believe, I think that’s really, really critical. It became really important to me. I’m very emotional to be here. You guys are really important to me. Because you can go out there and you can let other people know they can do this the way they need to do it and they don’t have to listen to anybody else. How am I on time, am I like way under?
20:46 Dave: Yeah, you got 10 minutes.
20:47 Pam W.: Ten minutes.
20:51 Dave: Do another 20.
20:52 Pam W.: Do another 20? I got 10 more minutes.
20:56 Dave: Just Make up some shit.
20:58 Pam W.: Make up some shit? [laughter] I love Dave, so much. You know if you get a chance to talk to Dave when you’re buying your CDs for this convention, he’s got up some stories. Trust me. So, yeah, there was this convention in Santa Monica and I had no idea how emotional I would get. It was like a little community that I got to be part of. I mean you’ve… I feel honored to be part of this. It was just beyond my ability to how people come up and say, “You saved me.” I’m like, “I didn’t save you. [chuckle] I just put a party together.” You know, it’s tough because Jonathan passed away a couple of months before and I’ve never seen so much love coming from my local groups. We called an emergency meeting and people I hadn’t seen in months, showed up and said, “I’ll do it. Whatever you need, whatever you need.” And things happened. And it was crazy. And I’m… You know, Nick. This isn’t an easy job. So, good job, too. It’s hard.
22:09 Pam W.: You get people together and… We’re lazy. We don’t always like to do stuff, but you just inspire and push through. I’ve been able to sit on a couple of the panels and John Elvy earlier today said, “Offer the best AA wherever we are.” I love that. It’s like being the best. It’s a tough time right now. I don’t want to get political. I don’t like to get political, but I think it’s been a very emotional week for a lot of us, and we need to take a higher ground and to do what we can do. I think that we already do that here in AA, and I think that’s what we need to do in AA. I don’t want to be separate from AA. I don’t want to go down the street to a Smart Recovery meeting. I don’t want to go to SOS. if I do, it’s a supplement, because you take supplements every morning, right, with your food? Something a little extra? But you guys are my food, you’re my nourishment, you’re my love, you’re why I keep coming back. I’m sure I missed a great story somewhere. [laughter]
23:36 Pam W.: I don’t have a sponsor. I don’t know if I ever will. Although, Erin and I joked, she’s my beauty sponsor. [laughter] That’s supposed to be my joke, right? I’m supposed to say something nice. Don’t you see my hair’s great? It’s like, whoa, see? [laughter] I’m not a fru-fru girl. I like just jeans and clogs and a sweatshirt. I’m good to go. Recovery’s been great, I have a great life. When I was first a couple years sober, I had this crappy job working for this kid I used to tutor and I started working for him. Our idea of the way a business should be run are very different. I like to take a moral high ground because I have a license that’s issued by the government and I feel like I’m obligated to do things right.
24:31 Pam W.: He doesn’t really care about that, so we used to get into fights and battles and I would come in every week, every week for like five years, and complain about my job. That’s go to get pretty boring to a group of you guys, right? So I go, God, again? So the day I walked in and said, “Hey guess what, he’s given me notice, I have 30 days.” The whole room clapped and I didn’t realize until later they weren’t clapping for me, they were clapping for themselves. They were sick and tired of hearing about my crappy job, but what was really interesting for me was when he said, “Pam, it’s not working anymore. I’m giving you notice, you have 30 days.” Thirty days is a pretty gracious time, right? I’m sitting at a desk, I could have done a lot of damage. Seriously.
25:33 Pam W.: I said, “okay.” I wasn’t upset and I didn’t want to cry and I didn’t want to be angry, like, I didn’t even have any anger left. That’s this program helping me to be calm, serene, to accept what’s happening around me, and know that everything will work out. I stuck around for the 30 days, I did no damage, I was a good girl. I left that job, the day after I left I had a job interview, and I got that job and it was a pay raise. It was a good company and I worked there a while and then the manager of that company left, and he took me with him because he really liked working with me. Then, we both went to that second job and we both got laid off.
26:31 Pam W.: We’re still friends, and it had nothing to do with him. I just grew stronger because I learned in the process of working on the convention, as well as in the years with sobriety too before that, is there’s a lot of people in this world who can be contentious and who can make your life hard, and you can engage with them in a certain way or you can engage with them in another way.
27:00 Pam W.: After I got laid off, I did find another job. It actually was a really low-paying job, but it was one of the easiest jobs I ever had… Am I at time? Oh there okay. So, I went to this other job, and I had no anxiety going to that job, I loved the job, it was actually really easy, but the manager started to become kind of “mm-mm-mm” with me, and I thought, pfft, you’re nothing. I have dealt with people like you for a while, and you’re nothing. I didn’t mean it, nothing like she’s not worth anything, but it was like, you know that drama. I don’t need it, I don’t have to bring it into my life. We had one moment, and I had one cry, and then it was over and I stayed there for a while. Then, I got another job offer, and I’m still there, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had. I’m calm and I’m serene and I’m respected, and I drive horrendously a long time to get to it, but I can deal with things better and that’s… It’s you guys. I love The Fellowship. For me, The Fellowship is the key. If you want to work the steps, you don’t want to work the steps, you want to get involved, do whatever works for you.
28:24 Pam W.: I’m really a big proponent of finding a way the program works for you and letting other people know and speaking out. I would say that the biggest benefit I ever get, when I do get asked to share at a meeting that’s not a We Agnostics or Atheist meeting I will always say my home group name and I will mention the convention sometimes. I will also mention how much I did feel like I didn’t fit in. I once shared that I thought that the family that I really belonged to was going to eventually show up one day and take me home. I also had mentioned that my home group was We Agnostics and I had a woman just run up to me and almost flail and knock me down, she was so excited, she was like, “Oh my God, I felt the same way.” Don’t we love it when that happens to us at a meeting? Because it does, it’s this connection that we have and the shared experience and… I can’t believe I’m standing up here talking to all of you. It’s like I’m still the fraud I was in high school.
29:30 Audience: Believe it!
29:33 Pam W.: It’s pretty awesome isn’t it? I do believe it, I really do. But there’s a piece of me, there’s still a part of me… But I don’t want to drink, it’s not going to fix it, I don’t want to drink because I want to feel it all. I want to understand, I want to listen to you, I want to experience life with you… And I think I’m going to call that the night. I probably forgot to tell some great, silly story but maybe I’ll catch up with you in the next couple of days and we’ll talk more.
Thanks for letting me share.