Episode 102: Freethinkers in AA Denver

00:00 John S: This is Episode 102 of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast.

[music]

00:23 John S: Well, I have to tell you it’s good to be back at podcasting again. And I apologize to listeners for leaving and being away for so long without giving you advance notice. The truth of the matter is, I wasn’t expecting to be gone for as long as I was. Something just happened to me. I think I got busy, life got in the way, it became difficult to podcast, and I just kind of hit a wall. I guess I needed a break, but thank you for your patience. And I hope you will continue listening. And thank you for those of you who sent me such nice emails expressing concern while I was out. I’m fine. I was always fine, things are well. Just needed a break.

00:58 John S: Well, today’s episode, you’re going to like it, we’re going to be speaking with Jeb B from the Freethinkers group in Denver, Colorado. We’ve spoken with Jeb before. He was a guest about a year and a half ago, I think, one of our early episodes. In that episode, you might remember that he was talking about difficulties that his group was experiencing with the central committee of Alcoholics Anonymous in Denver, they didn’t want to list his meeting. Well, I say they. It was actually the manager of the central office there who didn’t want to list their meetings, so I asked him to come back to give us an update on that situation and that’s what this podcast is about. Without further ado, Jeb B.

01:34 John S: Hello, Jeb. How are you doing? Thank you for joining us today.

01:36 Jeb B: Well, thank you. It’s wonderful and a great privilege to talk with you again after these, I guess, it’s a year or two since the last talk, I don’t know.

01:45 John S: Yeah. It’s been over a year, it’s hard to believe. I had you on one of our early podcasts.

01:49 Jeb B: You know, I have to say that we’ve had people come to our group because of that podcast.

01:54 John S: Is that right? [chuckle]

01:56 Jeb B: A guy now who had heard my podcast so that’s why he came to Freethinkers. And it’s been a great… [chuckle] That’s a great reward, you’re getting the message out there.

02:08 John S: What I liked about that conversation that we had is that we were talking about the whole process that you go through, the process of the steps, basically. People love that. They love to hear from somebody who’s secular in how they approach the program and so, that was pretty popular. This will be a nice way to catch up and today, we’re going to be talking more about your group, Freethinkers in AA, located in Denver, Colorado because I know you’ve been having some problems. The last time that you and I spoke, actually, in this… To show you how long this has been going on, you were mentioning at that time, that the Denver Central Committee of Alcoholics Anonymous wouldn’t list your group. And I remember, the reason that they gave you was that they did not want a newcomer’s first impression of AA to be the Denver Freethinkers in AA group. That’s basically discrimination.

02:53 Jeb B: The problem in that is that word “they.” All this plural use in AA is dangerous. And the truth is, it was the Office Manager of the Central Office who made that decision and unfortunately, that’s what dominated because some years ago, they made the decision, whoever they were, [chuckle] that she had the authority to make decisions on listings or delistings and I guess, that was just it. But the big change that’s taken place in the last couple of months is she has retired, and there’s a new central office manager. I haven’t met this person but we have a new delegate that we’re sending. Even though we’re not recognized and don’t have a vote there, for whatever reasons, who hope that maybe in one year will be listed again… Or not again, we never have been.

04:04 Jeb B: Our first meeting was October 4th of 2013 and it started with four or five people who had been together and said, “We need to start offering something for non-religious people who feel turned away or turned off by those other AA meetings.” We started with every other week initially and so, our initial application for registration or whatever for listing, the excuse that was given by this Office Manager was that, “We can’t list every other week, we only list weekly meetings.” And then, that we were going to call ourselves Secular AA. And she said, “You can’t name yourself after the location.” We were meeting in a place called the Secular Hub, and rather than argue with her, I said, “Well, Jo, what other ideas you have?” And she said, “Well, some groups call themselves Freethinkers. Some call themselves We Agnostics or Atheists and Agnostics.” And I said, “Well, Freethinkers sounds good.” That’s when we submitted our registration to GSO and got started making our first contributions to the service director, elected a GSR, became active in the district and attending area assemblies and so forth. That was back in 2013 that we went through that. And it wasn’t until, oh, I guess, maybe a couple years later, we submitted another application, and we were told that we couldn’t be listed because we didn’t meet the criteria that they post on their website.

05:56 Jeb B: The interesting thing is, I have always understood that we meet the criteria, but then the current delegates to the Central Office committee, or what do they call it? Denver Area Central Committee of Alcoholics Anonymous don’t have any of this history. And my experience is generally people who end up as Intergroup reps or whatever are people with not too much experience with AA, the traditions, the concepts, the structure of AA, the history of AA. And therefore, they just go along with whatever.

06:39 Jeb B: So it was last December, we decided to write them one more time and everything went to the office of the the area committee. We didn’t have any direct contact with the chairperson of that or any of the elected officers. Everything went through the manager. They then responded and scheduled us to appear at the January meeting of this year to present our case, as it were. They sent me that in the afternoon of that meeting. So there was no way to prepare to have other people besides me attend that meeting.

07:22 John S: So tell me, Jeb, do other AA groups have to present a case before Intergroup before they’re listed on the website?

07:29 Jeb B: Well, that’s one of the questions we’ve asked them, and we could not get an answer. See, what happened then is, I wrote back and said, “Since we weren’t able to attend that with the short notice, I hope we can come in February,” which we did. Four other members of our group, including a couple of officers, attended the February meeting of this Central Committee. And I will say, they gave us the majority of the meeting time. It was a very interesting meeting with probably 50 or 60 people there. I don’t know how many groups there are in Denver area, but it was very good. But a lot of the questions were very good and I fielded questions for probably 45 minutes to the best of my ability.

08:21 John S: What kind of questions did you get?

08:22 Jeb B: Well, they said that, “Well, one of our concerns is that it appears that you are affiliated, you have an outside affiliation,” which is one of the things just stated there should not, “We really don’t,” any more than any other group renting space from a church has an affiliation there. And then they were, “Well, what about this international… What about Secular AA?” And I said, “Well, as I understand it, that’s the same as Young People in AA, or Doctors in AA, or Lawyers in AA. It’s a part of a network for support and learning.” And I don’t know how that was accepted by people.

09:13 Jeb B: Then they started checking our website. Oh, and the Office Manager chimed up and says, “Well, they have their own website.” And I said, “Well, let me tell you the history. Since we were refused listing locally and our purpose, primary purpose, is to keep the doors of AA open to anyone and everyone regardless of what they believe. The only thing requirement for a membership is a desire to stop drinking, therefore we paid for listing as a meetup group. That got us on Google searches of anyone looking for secular, atheist, skeptical, humanistic AA could find an AA meeting where they would be welcome. Then that helped a lot. And then we immediately started a website so that people could also find if they go to Google or other search, they can find secular or non-religious AA in the Denver area.”

10:18 John S: Sure, and a lot of groups have websites. Are there other groups in Denver that have their own website?

10:23 Jeb B: No, no, no.

10:25 John S: Okay. [laughter]

10:28 Jeb B: I learned very early when I moved here in 2005 that Denver is very parochial, very regional, they’re very suspicious of anyone from outside, it’s like a closed system and they don’t look beyond. And this is politically speaking of, they don’t look beyond what’s happening in Colorado. And I just have to accept that. Well, the thing that I kept saying throughout that meeting is, you have to understand this is not about Jeb Barrett, it’s not about Freethinkers in AA, it’s about the alcoholic who still suffers and our primary purpose is stated in the declaration of responsibility. That’s who we are. And if nobody else is going to do that, then we need to do what we can, not what we can’t. However, it would be really wonderful if people, in calling the hotline and asked about secular meetings, they would be told something other than, “Well, there is no such thing. All AA is about God,” or to be told, “Well, I guess you need to drink if you can’t take… ” That upsets me.

11:42 Jeb B: And I told them I also shared the fact that my partner committed suicide, now 34 years ago. Part of what people had told him, “If you don’t get God, you’re going to die.” I’ve heard that hundreds of times in my 40 years, almost 40 years of sobriety, and that just makes my heart… It makes my heart really bleed. So I’m passionate about being here for those people. I’ve been sober for about 40 years and I’ve known probably at least around 200 people who have committed suicide in AA. And I can’t say this is all because they didn’t get the God idea or they couldn’t take someone else’s concept of what a higher power is or if they didn’t do anything. And that sounds extravagant, but you realize that’s only five a year. And I think a lot of us who’ve been around for a while can think of five people they’ve known at some level who have come in and then just cut away, and pretty soon they’re… We know that they’re dead.

12:48 Jeb B: So that’s one of my great passions is suicide prevention because of my own experience. And most alcoholics I know have thought about it in some way. And I know when I came in, I heard people talking about the fact that their drinking was like slow suicide and not recovering from that, all of that discomfort, disease, whatever you want to call it, does make people to taking one way out or another. So, they did not take a vote. Also, we were criticized, since then, for having the banner from the Austin convention posted on our website on the home page: “Only human power can relieve our alcoholism. May you find us now.”

13:40 Jeb B: Hey, that’s what Bill found out. And that’s what the book really says. But why should I assume that anybody has read the book, let alone tried to do anything about with the 12 Steps? Oh, so I haven’t given up, but I kept saying, “Well, they did not take a vote at that meeting,” and I thought that was great. These people are going to go back to their groups, they’re going to think about it, maybe they’ll visit the website, maybe they’ll visit our group and maybe they’ll do some research. And I will say that a number of GSRs or delegates at Central Office, and GSRs had visited our group, and they had positive things to say. Our DCM had visited our group and was very, very supported. However, early on, I must say that the manager sent a couple of people as spies to our group to see if we were doing things right. Now, I have no idea if that was her common mode of operation that she always had someone go to new groups to see if they were doing things in an orthodox manner.

14:55 John S: So what is your meeting like? What’s your format? What’s a typical meeting like at Freethinkers in AA?

15:00 Jeb B: Well, the whole thing is about inclusiveness. We do a normal welcome and tell them about coffee, and that sort of thing. But we have this phrase, “As a registered group in Alcoholics Anonymous, we are committed to helping others accept and practice the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in an accepting and supported fellowship with honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness.” That sounds like we’re quoting the Big Book. And then we have asked somebody to read the Agnostic and Freethinkers’ preamble, to which we’ve added the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking. I think that’s important. And then we do the chip business in recognizing people’s sobriety. We get people, newcomers, a 10-minute chip because it was earlier decided we don’t want to use chips, medallions, tokens that have the GOD word on the back, just to be fair. So we had to look for something other than that.

16:06 Jeb B: And then after that piece, we ask if there’s anyone at their first meeting at Freethinkers, we give them a newcomer packet which includes a lot of helpful things, including our little pamphlet in addition to Secular 12 Steps; it has questions and answers, one of them is, Do members practice the 12 Steps? And the answer is basically, some do and some don’t. That’s true of any AA meeting as far as… And then after the birthday introduction, we always go around and have everybody introduce themselves. It gives them a chance to hear themselves say, “My name is Jeb and I’m an alcoholic,” or whatever they want to say. We have one fellow who says, “My name is such and such, and I don’t drink.” I love it, because well, it is just accepting. And then we do a reading of the 12 Steps with an introduction to our Secular 12 Steps based on the literature.

17:14 John S: So, you read a secular version of the steps?

17:17 Jeb B: Absolutely, always.

17:19 John S: Oh, interesting. Do they give you a hard time over that?

17:22 Jeb B: Well, Jo did, the manager. She said, “Well, and they use their own 12 Steps.” And my response to that was, “Well, what some of us has learned is that is really what they said they did.” At my first AA meeting, I thought when they read that introduction to how it works, the people in that room had done or were doing those things. It took no time for me to realize that I had to adopt them for myself, and this is it. Also, the book itself doesn’t say we admitted we were powerless, earlier on it says we had to concede to our innermost selves that we were powerless over alcohol. So, that was, I had to concede. That’s where I made the contact, and that’s where other people make contact with that inner, with the great reality deep within, and other things. So the steps, really, in 2014, we had a version, a very simple version of the Secular 12 Steps that we worked with. And then listening to other people, we finally expanded them to what is posted on our website.

18:37 Jeb B: And it’s very practical. That’s the piece that was so important to me, is that Bill refers in the book to precise directions, and no way is 12 sentences or statements, precise directions. So, it meant to me that our steps, or my steps, and ours, need to reflect the process basically described on pages 63 through 88, or through the next chapter, we want to include more. And they seemed to be working for those who worked with them. Now, I did a workshop at the Austin conference two years ago, and that workshop has spirituality minus religion, “No more pretending.” Because that’s what I think AA has done for me, it helped me let go of old ideas so that I could let go of my archaic and toxic belief, that something outside of myself, imagined or real, was going to take care of me, or do any of this shit. And Bill really, if I read carefully in everything, it shows that the action, and that’s why he used the word ‘steps,’ a course of action. This course of action is what made the difference in his life. And in the beginning was finding somebody else who had the same kind of background and thoughts and hopes of getting past the drinking and other things.

20:10 John S: Did anybody from the area or your district speak in your defense?

20:15 Jeb B: Yes, there were. In fact, I guess it was the secretary from the area was there at that meeting, and he didn’t say very much, other than he hoped that this is something that needs to be carefully considered. I want to jump ahead quickly to the minutes of the next meeting, where I thought… We didn’t attend that, although we were told that we could send somebody to be present there, but not as a delegate. We didn’t do that for another month.

20:50 John S: Will they not allow you to be represented as a delegate at the Intergroup?

20:54 Jeb B: Absolutely not, no. They’re not to have a voice, not to have a vote. So, the minutes of the following meeting said that the decision was made that we did not meet the criteria. However, there was nothing in the minutes, or whatever they call it, that indicated they’d taken any kind of a vote, group conscience or whatever you want to call it. And so my guess is that Jo made the decision again, that we can’t listen because they don’t meet the criteria.

21:25 John S: Interesting. Now, here’s the thing that just frustrates me is, you are registered with the General Service Office and you are active in the district, you are an AA group and every AA group, they say in Kansas City anyway, when they listed us, they said, “Every group has a right to be wrong.” And that you’re an AA group as soon as you say you are and even Bill Wilson said, “You can believe anything.” He said, “You can even be anti-AA and still call yourself an AA group.” So there’s really nothing that when they say you don’t meet the criteria, there really isn’t any criteria to meet. Now I guess the pamphlet, the AA group does say that an AA group is just any two alcoholics getting together, provided they have no other outside affiliation. And you don’t have that.

22:12 Jeb B: And there were some people who quoted those things at that meeting and not our members, but others. But the problem is, the majority of people know nothing about the history of the formation of the traditions and the guidelines and so forth, for groups. They know nothing about what an informed group conscience is, even. And as you know, every meeting at every level, there are always new people who come in there totally green and they just listen to the old timers, and the way that they’ve perhaps dominated things.

22:52 John S: So from my perspective, this looks to me like it’s just out and out discrimination. And it reminds me actually of the situation in Toronto. Is anybody there in Denver familiar with what happened in Toronto?

23:04 Jeb B: Yes, I’ve talked a bit about it and I’ve shared some of the correspondence, some of the outcome. I also shared that with Denver Central Office. I don’t know if it ever went beyond the manager though, what happened in Toronto.

23:19 John S: Has your group thought about taking any kind of action, like Larry K did in Toronto? We don’t have anything like the human rights tribunal, but is there anything that we can do in the United States, that when our civil rights are being violated like that?

23:34 Jeb B: Well, I’ve acted and the reason there was such a gap between 2013 or ’14 and up to 2016 is I try to live this program the best of my ability. And one of the things, we just ceased fighting anybody or anything, even alcohol, but even the manager or Central Office, any of those things. So I was not going to get into a pissing match with that woman. My feeling is, it’s going to have to wait until she dies or she retires. So I am hopeful with the new manager and new officers, I guess, that things will change. We have a new person who’s volunteered to attend Central Office meetings, she will have 40 years of sobriety in December. She’s very bright, she’s very sensitive, and she’s hoping to get to know the new manager, the officer, and see if we can’t do something about getting the listing. We have requested and I talked with… Is it Beth H who’s doing the… Who is it that’s doing the survey of all of the Intergroup listings around the country? But anyway…

24:55 John S: Deirdre?

24:56 Jeb B: No, no, no it’s somebody else who’s doing the workshop, actually…

25:00 John S: Oh, I don’t know.

25:02 Jeb B: It’s wonderful. But anyway, one of the things that we want is that there be a filter on the website for people to enter looking for secular because they’ve got young people’s meetings, they got closed meetings, LGBTQ, WXYZ meeting, men’s meetings, women’s meeting, let’s put a listing for secular on there.

25:23 John S: They won’t do that in Kansas City. I remember they gave us… They didn’t give us a hard time when they listed our group. There was some debate, but they finally concluded that every group has a right to be wrong, so they listed us. We did ask in a very informal way, if they would give us the secular AA designation or an agnostic atheist designation, and the person who at that time was the President of the Board of Central Office says it wasn’t a good time to even ask about that. And we have never gone back to ask that, but I was on the board of the Central Office for a little bit, and I found the people there to be very, very religious and I was not comfortable there. In fact, I don’t even talk to the people at my Central Office anymore, I had a falling-out with them so.

26:08 Jeb B: I understand.

26:09 John S: But you know, the thing is, you have your own website, you’re listed on the secular AA website. And the fact of the matter is, when people are looking for a secular AA meeting, what they do is they Google “secular AA” or they Google “AA for freethinkers” or “AA for atheists” or whatever, and that’s when they find your website or they find your listing on secular AA. They’re never going to find you on the Kansas City Central Office website if they don’t even know you’re a secular group.

26:37 Jeb B: Going back many years when I was in, where? Missoula, Montana. I guess it was in Missoula, they were just starting an LGB… I don’t know if they called it an LBGTQ, I can deal with that narrow definition, there were controversies with the district and the Central Office or Intergroup there about listing those meetings and also having a category for that and it took some time, but one…

27:06 John S: How long ago was that, Jeb?

27:09 Jeb B: Oh, that’s 30 years ago.

27:11 John S: Yeah, it’s interesting, I was just reading Deirdre’s talk from Austin where she was talking about the history of special interest groups. And I actually read a book too about the history of gays in AA and people forget, but the gay groups really had a hard time in the beginning. A lot of Intergroups did not want to list them and this started in the ’70s but then in the ’80s when the country started experiencing some religious fervor or whatever, it got worse again and they were really discriminated against.

27:46 Jeb B: Yeah, so that’s… What… I am just trying to remember where we were at. But we did I guess one of the things that we manage to do in Missoula and then after I moved to Spokane I thought they were already doing it that when people called the hotline, they had a list of people who were willing to respond to the LGBT, whatever callers. And that is what I would like to see for secular AA come here in… Well, for the AA hotline in the Denver area because I was at… My old home group here in Aurora has a night watch where they take phones and there’s a party sort of thing covered, potluck sort of thing and I knew the woman who was in charge of that hotline night watch sort of thing and she took a call from someone that later got back to me asking about non-religious AA meetings and of course, this woman said, “Well, they’re not religious, they’re secular,” and the conversation went on.

29:05 Jeb B: And she went, “Are there any non-prayer non-religious meetings?” And this woman who knows me well and knew about our meetings because we had fliers at this Buckeye East, we’ve got all these Southeast Aurora Club here and she said, “No, there aren’t such no such meetings.” And that should not happen when you call. The only contact if people look for AA Denver, they’re going to go to their website, they’re going to find the hotline number there, but they’re not going to find that. Also, if you go to area 10, which is the Colorado area, and you’re meeting things, the link on there is for the three central offices in Colorado that takes you directly to their websites and for ours of course you’re going to find that there’s no non-religious AA.

29:58 Jeb B: Now I know that in many… From this talk that I had last week, and I have done some checking of websites also, that there are many that will list We Agnostics or Unbelief, and all sort of things, but they don’t have the filter for people who look for a non-religious or secular meeting.

30:18 John S: They don’t, but more and more are getting it all the time.

30:21 Jeb B: Yeah. Other than education I don’t know how we’re going to open the hearts and minds and whatever it is, of other people to see that there is a need there and some people just cannot stand the kind of… Well, what Bill actually calls in the Big Book, magical thinking or spiritual make-believe I guess that some of us lived in spiritual make-believe until we saw the childishness of it, had no idea what he was actually talking about there. But I do know that it becomes an impediment for increasingly more people and not just young people, but the wonderful thing for me at the beginning is, after the word got out that we did have a non-religious meeting that ended without prayer and that sort of thing and all the God talk, we had people come back to our meeting who hadn’t been to a meeting for eight or 10-12 years and had years of sobriety, but they brought in some wonderful experience of applying the process of the action, the 12 Steps through their lives and they became regulars and doing things. We now have our home group members for service and recovery is 45 or 50 people and that’s considerable. We have two meetings. We added a second meeting after the first year on Saturday, which at the beginning was maybe three people or four people and suddenly it’s larger than our Monday night meeting.

31:58 John S: Wow! Ain’t that great?

32:00 Jeb B: And I thought, well, the people have been asking, we really need more than one meeting a week. I thought it would be the same people from the Monday night who’d start coming to the Saturday meeting. But yeah, almost half a dozen or maybe there’s four or five of them attend both. I’d go to both of them all of the time and I have for… But we’ll celebrate five years in October this year.

32:24 John S: Fantastic.

32:25 Jeb B: And that’s an accomplishment. Now, not everybody has stayed around.

32:30 John S: Mm-hmm.

32:30 Jeb B: And one of the things right now that I think newer people to the group and those who have had long-term sobriety have to learn something about being more flexible and sensitive to other people coming in and not cutting them off when they’re speaking or contradicting them. But it is, it’s really a wonderful meeting. The result is, I seldom ever go to a regular AA meeting.

33:00 John S: Oh, I don’t either anymore. I haven’t in a long time actually. Starting an AA group is really interesting. It’s an experience that I’m so grateful that I’ve had, but AA groups are interesting in themselves because, as you say, not everybody sticks around, right? I’ve seen our group go through different personalities almost. The group has evolved as one group of people comes in and a certain group of people start chairing meetings and stuff. When I first started the group, you would look around and it was a great group and everything, but there was mostly people my age or older, right? Well, then a couple years ago, we started… I think the first year I was leading the meetings all the time, me and maybe a couple other people. Well, now we turn it over to the group to lead the meetings and we have a lot of younger people chairing the meetings now, and they do it in their own style. They do their own thing, not the way that I was doing it. And now I look around and most of the people in the room are younger than me. [laughter]

33:56 Jeb B: Mm-hmm.

33:58 John S: So it’s funny how the group can change like that, you know?

34:01 Jeb B: Yeah.

34:02 John S: And I like that, and I like to sit back and watch. But I also learned that I need to let people do it their way. I haven’t been going to that mini meetings lately. But the other day, I left a meeting and I was watching everybody outside gathering in the patio, some of them smoking and talking, and I thought to myself, “That’s what’s keeping them. So that’s what’s helping them. That’s more important probably than what was happening inside that meeting room, is that they all have that connection.”

34:37 Jeb B: And it is the fellowship that Bill found with Bob and others found in those original 50 or 60 people that encouraged them to keep moving forward. [chuckle] And that’s the human power. On our own, I couldn’t have drank. No, I was a religious fanatic before I came to AA and some people can’t stand to hear that, but it’s the reality. And I’d say that AA, because of the spiritual program of action that Bill reproduces that helped to make me, first of all, I was pretty much agnostic but then I became atheistic, and now I’m really, well, an anti-theism humanist.

35:26 John S: Ah, what does that mean? [laughter]

35:27 Jeb B: I think it’s dangerous. I think it’s dangerous to be expecting something invisible and imaginary from the Bronze Age or the Iron Age, either one, is going to do a damn thing for me. It has been my experience, but that is my experience.

35:46 John S: Right.

35:47 Jeb B: My whole thing is that working with others has a lot of good stuff in it. One of the things that I got is that I needed to quit hiding behind the Big Book and tell how it works for me, and that’s what I’m doing. I’ll be doing another workshop at Toronto. It’s now called… What is it called? Well, the subtitle is, ‘A 12-Step Checklist.’ That’s where this group has been so helpful to me. Most of my sobriety, I’ve looked at that, the tradition sublet checklist and I’ve seen that it’s all ‘I’ statements. What am I doing for the group? How am I relating to the group? How am I supporting it? And…

36:31 John S: So I’ll be seeing you in Toronto pretty soon. When are you coming into town?

36:37 Jeb B: Early that morning. I’m taking a red-eye.

36:39 John S: Oh, okay. I’m going to actually…

36:42 John S: Okay, so I’ll be in Toronto on Wednesday.

36:45 Jeb B: Oh, will you? Oh.

36:46 John S: Mm-hmm. And I’m staying all through the weekend.

36:48 Jeb B: Yeah, Well, I’m sure we’ll have some time for one on one sort of sharing and so forth there.

36:52 John S: Yeah.

36:52 Jeb B: Because what you’re doing is such a tremendous value to the secular alcoholic out there and inside AA. And your work and the stuff that Roger’s doing in Toronto with his publications and Joe and there’s somebody… And the new guy down in Australia, Justin.

37:20 John S: Oh, yeah.

37:21 Jeb B: With his podcast and so forth. Wow!

37:25 John S: It’s amazing.

37:26 Jeb B: People hearing him had no idea you could look at it that way and still be a card-carrying AA member. And that’s it, you know?

37:36 John S: And it’s funny, it is a good way to get the message out, too. There’s actually a couple of people in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, which is in the southeastern part of the state, who listen to our podcast, and they particularly liked that when we are going through the steps, they’re now inspired to start a secular meeting in Cape Girardeau. I’m so excited about that.

37:58 Jeb B: That’s great. And we have a guy… There’s a guy who’s come to our meeting in Denver a couple times, he was here a couple years ago, and he was out here again last week from Madison, Wisconsin and he…

38:12 John S: Oh, that’s right!

38:13 Jeb B: And he would get… Robert.

38:13 John S: Robert.

38:15 Jeb B: And he said, “Thanks to your website, we got a lot of the stuff we needed to get a meeting going in Madison, and now there are three secular meetings or groups in Madison.”

38:29 John S: That’s right. They got most of their information for their meeting from the Freethinkers in AA Denver website.

38:36 Jeb B: Yeah, and I try to keep that updated. And I think we’ve posted now the 12-step checklist which I’ll tell you because it was a lot of people… We did a little group, it was nine people, 12 people signed up, that was going to be the limit, to be a little closed group to work on this idea of practicing the 12 Steps on a daily basis so that we and those around us can find emotional sobriety. That’s quoting the 12 and 12. And my thing was, we have the traditions checklist, and I don’t know how many people have actually used that or even recognized that it’s all I statement, and it’s for personal inventory, it’s not for groups to do, even though I tried it in groups. How about measuring our progress, as Bill talks about in the sixth step of the 12 and 12, where only the first step can be, I promise, can be practiced with perfection; the remaining 11 steps are perfect ideals, goalposts or something like that, against which we measure our progress.

39:45 Jeb B: Well, I’ve been trying to do that for years, but I didn’t have the right questions to ask myself. So this little group of nine people, we’re meeting for a couple months, helped to put that sort of thing together. And it was what I needed, but guess what? I can’t do this shit alone. And I don’t have to because other people have experience and insights and they keep teaching me. So that’s going to be the basis of my workshop.

40:15 John S: I look forward to that.

40:15 Jeb B: Yeah, I’m putting together… I’ll have the handouts of the traditions 12 checklist and the secular 12-step… Well, the steps checklist because one of the things, after we did it with our secular version, I added above each one there’ll be the Big Book, pages 59 and 60 versions, so that people can see that that’s what it’s all about. And the questions that I ask myself apply regardless of how you’re trying to interpret or word the steps. I never thought I’d keep growing, but I keep learning and that’s it.

40:58 Jeb B: This afternoon, our district is putting on, the second time, A Day in AA, with 10 meetings and three meals and all that sort of thing. And different groups from the district are using their formats or some version of their formats for leading meetings. They did it last year, or we did it last year, and we’re doing it again this year. Our meeting is at 3 o’clock. And we’ll read, I think, a reading from Beyond Belief, which we read at most of our meetings. The first Saturday and first Monday of the month we read from a chapter from Living Silver, which I had never paid much of attention to in my early sobriety. But what I’ve realized, the book is there for people like the people… Those who are coming to our groups now, we find it really valuable. And most people don’t realize that you can download all of the chapters from that book free, you don’t have to buy the book. And the book is only 5 bucks, I believe that’s what we sell it for.

42:13 Jeb B: We also sell the Beyond Belief for 15 rather than 18, or whatever it costs us, because we hear from everyone who uses it, “These are things that helped me to really get grounded and hopeful,” and wonderful resources. I also, this afternoon, will have copies of the articles from the AA website concerning conference-approved literature, which makes it clear that that’s what conference-approved means and recognizes that there’s a lot of other things out there that are helpful to the recovering alcoholic.

42:54 John S: I have got to go out to Denver one of these days. All I have to do is drive across Kansas and then halfway across Colorado and I’m there. [laughter]

43:02 Jeb B: I keep say I need to go south from here a little bit. Further south I’ve ever been is to Santa Fe a few years ago with my sister, [chuckle] and I just don’t do that sort of thing, but…

43:13 John S: Your group just sounds really vibrant and you’re so into the… It’s so funny because these people that won’t list your meeting and everything, you’re really into AA. It’s like, “Oh, gosh.” But you’re not going to do anything like… You’re not going to go to the press, you’re not going to file a lawsuit or anything like that, you’re just going to wait ’em out because I guess you’re doing okay, your group’s doing okay. It might hurt a little, but I guess… Is that your basic plan of action?

43:42 Jeb B: Yeah, just sit back, be patient. And one of the things that I learned… I don’t know, I probably was only about four or five years sober is, nothing is permanent. What we say is, “This too shall pass.” I can’t get all head up about the fact that they’re resisting us or they’re judging us or they don’t understand us. One of my big concerns I hope comes across here is that those darned calls to hotlines. How are they handled? And that just really breaks my heart that people are told, “Well, then I guess you have to go… You might as well go get drunk,” and I’ve heard that more than once from people who finally found us and said, “I’m so dismayed about AA. I will never go to one of those other meetings again because of what happened,” or, “I will never call that number.” And I don’t want that for AA.

44:37 John S: Nope. People listening to this podcast, hopefully someone might find us that has been told that, and now they can find out there is a secular path in AA, that you can absolutely do this from a secular, action-oriented approach.

44:54 Jeb B: And what Deirdre did in developing the list of secular meetings, and now it’s taken over by Secular AA, whatever, secularaa.org, I guess is their website. That’s amazing because that helped people to find us now, and that’s so important. But I guess that last thing I really wanted to say is that our group is going through growth pains, and I’ll have to admit that the first several years, I was very frustrated that other people would not take up responsibility and stick with them to keep things going, whether as secretary, or treasurer, or Intergroup rep, or DSR, and so forth. And so my sponsor had always said the real significance of the 12th tradition is, it doesn’t matter who does the job as long as the job gets done, and not taking the ego out of those officer-trusted permanent positions.

45:56 Jeb B: So I’ve ended up handling, and… Well, some people would say, controlling what had to be done. But [chuckle] it finally brought to a point that we had a business meeting a couple months ago, where I took all the concerns that people had brought up and put them in the form of motions to get a second of discussion and a vote. And they were all designed to try to push the responsibility onto others, and it went to a steering committee and so forth. And what had been happening was a couple people, one of them fairly new to the group with long-term sobriety says, “You’re just trying to control too much, you need to back off, you need to back off.” And I have thick skin so I was glad to hear those things, so I said, “You want to do,” and that was basically what was… One of the motions was, was for the steering committee to make some decisions about the group, the future of the group and so forth. So they’re working on that. There’s a lot of change taking place and people taking responsibility. I’m no longer opening up every Monday and Saturday, I’m continuing. I said, “I will continue as the treasurer, but not as secretary. And for a time, as the principal contact with the landlord.”

47:28 Jeb B: But I want to see that things transition and moved on to other people. We’ve set up a Google Drive thing for Freethinkers so that the officers and others, if somebody decides, can access the files and update things and so forth so that more and more is coming off of my Dropbox [chuckle] where I store everything, and that other people could be taking responsibility. But it’s a slow process, and I want to be supportive. I said, “I’m not going to leave just because things are changing, but these are the things I’m going to do.”

48:09 Jeb B: But one of the things that I did for them is I did a full page of things that I have been doing that need to continue, and I was embarrassed by the number of things that I was doing. I’m down to the thing now where my major concern, other than keeping things up-to-date, is doing something as far as outreach to people who haven’t been at a meeting for a while, or to newcomers. I’ve been, to the best of my ability, been texting or emailing and saying, “I have missed you,” or, “I’ve missed seeing you,” or, “I hope you’re doing well,” or “I’m welcoming you to the group and hope to see you next week.” But I shouldn’t be the only one doing that. And so that’s for the health of the group, I’m hoping we can do something there. But I’m optimistic. It used to drive my parents crazy, I was the eternal optimist. [chuckle]

49:09 Jeb B: But it’s really based… It’s based on what we can do. The fifth column of my inventory is always what could I have done instead? And that of course becomes what could I do in those situations today? And one of them is, as Madeline Albright says, “See something, say something, do something.” And that’s what’s often missing is, let’s do something. So that’s what I do. And that’s probably why you do what you do.

49:38 John S: Well, I don’t know, but you’re fantastic. Look forward to seeing you in Toronto I guess next week.

49:46 Jeb B: Yep. Yeah, absolutely looking forward to it. And you’re such a good man and a good witness for what AA can be.

49:55 John S: Oh, you too. Alright, Jeb. Nice talking to you again. You have a good day now.

50:00 Jeb B: You too. Thanks so much.

[music]

50:08 John S: Well, that concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. Thank you so much for listening, everybody. You all be well, take care, and I’ll talk to you again real soon.

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  1. life-j December 2, 2018 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    This was really a great podcast. I presume it was done a few months ago, right before the convention?

    Still somewhat in combat mode though I’m trying to get out of it, my thinking is that we all need to gang up on the Denver intergroup, and start sending them letters and emails. If they got a few hundred it seems it should have an impact. And though I can agitate for that, I can see how it could cause local disharmony, if you do that Jeb. however I would not start agitating for this without you first saying (not necessarily yea this would be great, but) yes, it is possible this could  help, so if that’s what you’re inclined to do we won’t discourage it. (Maybe include email and mail addresses of your central office) I’d be glad to be the bad guy instead of you.

    Speaking of being the bad guy, seems we have to do some of that – go out to regular AA meetings and speak our piece, speak up against the religious literature especially. If we don’t show up there we won’t be nearly as effective in spreading a secular message. When I first starting to come out of the closet for real, I was the only one, and not looked upon very favorably in the noon meeting I go to a couple of times a week. There was a lot of god talk, and while there still is, it is shifting. People don’t proselytize for their higher power so much anymore. In part because they know I will follow their comment with its opposite, but if they keep it to themselves there is a chance I will do that too.

    And now of the 15-20 people at that meeting there are 3-4 who, while not as outspoken as I am, still will drop a comment now and then about the excessiveness of the religious message in the program, and also show up for our freethinkers meetings. This won’t happen without a few good secular AA marines going in there. I don’t really believe in stopping fighting everything and everyone, I just have to be aware of when I do it because of my rebellious nature and my own demons, and when I do it because it serves a necessary purpose.

  2. life-j December 2, 2018 at 11:47 am - Reply

    not quite done listening yet, just want to say yes it was Beth H who made that survey of the intergroups, same Beth who did the workshop I based last week’s article on. You may want to ask her to do something with that survey to present for this site?

  3. Scott J November 29, 2018 at 3:13 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this podcast!  I enjoyed listening to your conversation and feel inspired and hopeful about starting a secular AA meeting where I live.

    • John S November 29, 2018 at 10:01 pm Reply

      Thanks for listening Scott. Starting a meeting is a great experience. Check out the secularaa.org for information on how to start one.

  4. John Huey November 29, 2018 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Very interesting on a number of levels and a good reminder that different people, through their own groups on the local level,  do things in their own way . Its not a way I might do it (Revised Oxford Group 12 Steps and any Readings for example) but if it works in Denver it works in Denver.

    What was distressing about this  was the weight that we still seem to give the intergroup and other organized  parts of Conventional AA. To me we are getting to the critical mass where we can begin to ignore these people and promote our own, “separate but equal” , groups and National/International organizational structures to get to the point where the AA of Riverside Drive, as embodied in the Area Assemblies/GSO/Grapevine/General Service Conference, can become, one day, as obsolete as the Big Book. I  would not oppose them per-se, just permanently ignore them while promoting our Secular meetings which will, of course, continue to operate completely autonomously on the local level.

    I hope, one day soon, to see us not care, at all, whether these people in Conventional AA recognize us or not.

    • John S November 29, 2018 at 10:04 pm Reply

      Thanks for listening, John. I think that Intergroups are irrelevant and unnecessary.  I would say 90% or more of the people who found our group, found it from our own website. Particularly for a secular group, it’s better to let Google help people find us. I feel at home within AA though when it comes to the General Service Conference structure and I support our involvement there.

  5. kyo November 29, 2018 at 3:56 am - Reply

    If I understood correctly then I’m Stunned that in the AA Central Ofc just 1 person makes decisions & has that much power to add or not add a meeting to the lists. Why isn’t a commitee making those decisions?

    • John S November 29, 2018 at 10:06 pm Reply

      That’s right Kyo. I’m not overly impressed with Intergroups based on stories I’ve heard from doing this podcast and from my own personal experience. They are not part of the General Service Conference and don’t for the most part have a tradition of respecting minority opinion.

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