Voices in Recovery is a new website created by Cindy from the Agnostics and Others group in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Cindy’s idea is to feature recorded talks from people in recovery from any and all addictions. The site’s focus is on under represented groups whose voices are not often heard. In this episode Cindy explains the site and how a situation at her home group motivated her to create it.
00:00 John S: This is Episode 103 of AA Beyond Belief the Podcast.
00:25 John S: In today’s episode I will be speaking with Cindy from the agnostics and others group in Fayetteville North Carolina. Cindy recently created a website called Voices in Recovery, where she hopes to capture audio recordings of recovery speakers, focusing primarily on those whose voices are not often heard. We’ll talk about this project and how it came to be, and also a little bit about her group in Fayetteville. Hey Cindy how are you doing thanks for joining me here on the podcast, today.
00:51 Cindy: Thanks so much for having me.
00:53 John S: Yeah, it was really nice to get your email letting us know about this project that you are undertaking, Voices in Recovery and I thought it was a really great idea. You want to just jump into it and explain what the project is and what inspired you to get involved with it?
01:11 Cindy: The idea behind it is to create a sort of online library where people can find… I know they are not speaker tapes, but that’s kind of what I know them as… Speaker tapes, like you would with when people will share their story and it’s recorded, and you can go on YouTube or there’s apps on your phone and you can listen to them. I wanted to create a place that was convenient to find these shares that sort of highlight voices that aren’t really heard. I got sober through AA and I stopped going to meetings for about a year and a couple of months into not going to meetings I really started to miss the connection that I felt when I was going and so I started listening to speakers on YouTube, and after a while I realized that I couldn’t find any speakers that were atheist or agnostic or “the minority” I guess? And so, that’s kind of how this project came about is I wanted to create a place where these voices could be found easier.
02:12 John S: Is the idea for people to record their story and then email it to you? Or…
02:18 Cindy: Yes.
02:19 John S: Okay.
02:20 Cindy: So they can record the story and email it, or some people if they don’t, for whatever reason want to record it, or are unfamiliar with how to do that, they want to type it… I could post it for people to read I suppose. But yes, they can send it that way or they can contact if they have any questions I’ll try to help in any way that I can.
02:37 John S: Well I think it is a great idea and would you also put them on YouTube? because that’s not that difficult to do either, if you’d like to do that I could help you. If you were interested in doing that…
02:47 Cindy: Okay I really… I mean, I would be open to that. I really didn’t know what was going to happen with this. I mean, a big part of me sort of thought nothing would happen with it, honestly. It happened in a moment of anger. I was like, “I am going to do something because I helped co-found a group here where I live called Agnostics and Other, it’s an AA group.
03:09 John S: In Fayetteville, right? North Carolina.
03:11 Cindy: And… In Fayetteville, North Carolina. And when we started the group I feel like a bit naive because I’ve thought “Oh, we’re this community. We’re all for love and we’re all just here for each other”. And there were a lot of people who were against the group. I was really shocked, I was shocked honestly. And that’s why I stopped going to AA for so long, and then… This was years ago, four years ago. And then about six months ago, it came up again where some groups in the area were trying to get us off the meeting schedule and trying to… Just ridiculous stuff. And I was angry. I got angry that this was still happening. So I was like, “I want to do something. I want to do something.” because it’s not healthy for me to sit in that emotion. So I was like, “”What can I do?” And then the idea to start this up just popped to my head. because up until that, I was still listening to speaker tapes and I was still looking for any other voice besides… And what you find on the internet and on apps, they’re great shares. I do get a lot out of them, I’m not trying to downplay those or anything. There are other voices too out there, that are unheard.
04:16 John S: Yeah and yeah, it’s important for them to be heard. When people do hear… It’s really powerful to hear someone tell your own story, and from your perspective. So that’s what I found from the podcast too is that people are like “Wow, I have never heard an atheist share their story before and it really is meaningful.” I’m just kind of curious, did any of those people that were trying to get your group off the meeting list, did they give any reasons for that action and whatever happened? How did your intergroup or central office react to that?
04:51 Cindy: Well, they actually had sent people to our meeting. And we went to the… I was not at the intergroup meeting. One of the people that co-founded the Agnostics and Others group here, he was the treasurer for the intergroup, and he went to one of the meetings, and people had come from another group and brought some paper that somebody had brought to the meeting, to the Agnostics meeting, and shared or something and said that this is an outside issue. You can’t talk about this in a meeting. They are not a real AA group. And it was the 12 steps, but it was written differently, and it was somebody share. And they were like, “They’re using this in a meeting?” And we were like, you know. And the guy who was the treasurer of course was very upset. I would have been upset as well, but… And they were saying that we were violating the traditions because we were not using conference-approved literature, which is not true.
05:51 John S: Oh boy. Yeah.
05:53 Cindy: And they were saying that we were affiliated because somebody came and shared that this was something that they found helpful to them.
06:03 John S: Right.
06:04 Cindy: That we were affiliated with an outside, I forget the term now, but that’s how it started this last time. But ever since we’ve started the group, there’s been people who… It was just really don’t like us. [chuckle]
06:16 John S: Yeah, ain’t that something.
06:18 Cindy: It’s like… I mean when we started this group, I was so excited. I thought there was going to be this great support. And we do have a lot of support. I don’t want to make it sound like everybody… We do have a lot of support, but I was surprised at how much hate. I was surprised. And then my little naive bubble was popped. I was like, “Oh my gosh.”
06:38 John S: I know exactly that. I live in the same bubble, [chuckle] and every once a while, I would see, “Oh, there are people out there that really aren’t crazy about us,” and I’d see it every once in a while. I haven’t experienced it too much here where I live but I have seen it in other places, and that like what your experience is really similar to what my friend Doris’ group went through when their district actually took them off of their district meeting list and accused them of having outside affiliations and all this other stuff, that was like, ultimately it was like they were just trying to find reasons. because it was basically just prejudice, and I think that’s probably the same thing in your situation. So what happened? Did they… Did the intergroup just say… Did the central office just say no or…
07:24 Cindy: Well, no. [chuckle] The last meeting that, the last intergroup meeting, the group was on the agenda again, and the treasurer asked them, “Is this done?” I thought this was it, because they had voted at the one where the other groups had come and were saying, “If you don’t get them off the meeting, we’re not going to support you. We’re not going to send money to the intergroup anymore.”
07:45 John S: Wow.
07:46 Cindy: There was a lot of discussion that the majority of the people in the room disagreed with that. They were like, “No, you can’t. That’s… You can’t do that. Ridiculous.” And they voted to not remove us from the schedule.
07:57 John S: Good.
07:58 Cindy: And then the next meeting that they had, we were brought up again. The meeting, the group was brought up again and the treasurer asked, “Is this going to continue or are you going to… ” You know, I thought, we thought, “Is it done?” And they said that it was not done. So I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know. As of right now, we’re still on the meeting schedule, but I’m not really angry about the situation anymore. I’ve just sort of accepted that it is what it is. And if they do get us off the meeting schedule, we’re still going to be a group and we’re still going to do what we do.
08:30 John S: Sure.
08:31 Cindy: But it’s unfortunate because I just think about when I started, when I first got sober, clean and sober, if I had come to a meeting and there had been this sort of negativity, I wouldn’t have gone back and I would be dead.
08:44 John S: Yeah.
08:44 Cindy: And so I think how many people are being… How many people are not coming back. Like I feel like that’s… I don’t know. I feel like that’s been forgotten. I mean I don’t have like a 100 year sobriety or anything, [chuckle] but I just, I don’t know. This group should be about helping people.
08:57 John S: Well these intergroups, they’re kind of… These intergroups can be kind of dysfunctional sometimes because they’re not really part of the AA service structure. They’re not really well-informed of the concepts of service and how AA operates. And they don’t seem to have respect for minority opinion. And, first of all, everything that they’re doing here is totally wrong. Even if your group was breaking traditions, there’s no punishment that can be inflicted on you for doing that. [chuckle]
09:33 John S: It’s not like AA has laws and rules that if we break them, we can’t participate with the rest of the AA community, or whatever. So they’re just totally wrong on that. But it’s just ignorant people just displaying their prejudice. But it sounds like the majority of the people at least, are supporting you, and that’s good. But it is too bad that you have to go through it. But I admire you for what you have done, is turn that energy around into something positive. And this will be that, because I know that people will, it might take a little while, but people will learn about your site, Voices in Recovery. And it will get attention. And the more material that you put up there, the more it will be found. You could even put something up there about your group as well, and help people find your group. Probably don’t even need to be listed on the central office website. [chuckle]
10:29 John S: And I think it’s also nice that you’re not specifically… This isn’t an AA site that you’re creating, so you are not going to really be focusing on specifically alcoholism. But you’re welcoming contributions from people who are recovering from any addiction.
10:44 Cindy: Yeah. I am an alcoholic. And I am an addict. And I’m also bulimic. I used alcohol, drugs, and food were my biggest vices. And I remember being early in recovery, and somebody told me I couldn’t talk about drugs. They’re like, “No. No. You can’t identify as that.” I was like, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Okay. Okay.” But you’re new, I’m new, you just… And I was terrified. But thankfully, I had a sponsor who she didn’t tell me that I couldn’t talk about both, you know what I mean? She let me be me. And I remember being at a meeting one time, it was on the pamphlet, Substances and Alcohol, I believe it’s called, I might be wrong in quoting that pamphlet, and I was surprised at how many people agreed that you should only focus on alcohol.
11:33 Cindy: And I think, being the person that I am, and if you had it, I didn’t care what it was, I wanted to abuse it to excess. Thankfully, I had a sponsor who let me talk about everything, otherwise I might… because AA was the first place I think, in my whole life that I really felt like, “Oh, I’m going to be Okay. I belong here.” But I attribute a lot of that to having a sponsor who, she didn’t tell me, “You can’t be an addict, as well.” And I was a few years into my recovery before I realized that food was an issue, because it was something that my whole life had been an issue since I was in elementary school. But until I started going to therapy and exploring… Working on others in my life, I was like, “Oh, this is also a problem for me.” So it was something that I discovered later on after I had been clean and sober for a few years.
12:25 Cindy: But yes, the site is for anybody if they were… If they’re an alcoholic, an addict, if they self-harm, any addiction, any sort of recovery that they’ve gone through. because I feel like, and this is just my opinion, I ‘m not a doctor or anything, but I feel like recovery is recovery. If you’re recovering… If I’m recovering from alcohol, or from drugs, or food, the process for me has been the same.
12:52 John S: That’s right.
12:52 Cindy: It’s just the underlying issues that I was trying to not feel, or control, or whatever. They’re basically the same. It’s just the unhealthy outlets that I used were different. So again, I’m not a professional, but my experience has been that, it didn’t matter what I abused, kind of underlying reason why I was doing it was the same. And the way that I treat it now and try to stay healthy mentally for all of those, are the same.
13:20 John S: Exactly. And I think there’s some… Actually, some scientific evidence to support that. I’m like you, I’m no expert at all. I’ve read a couple of books, and talked to some doctors, and so forth. But basically, addiction is addiction. From my understanding, it’s a dopamine issue. It’s what happens to your brain. There’s a change in the brain that takes place, and it doesn’t matter what substance you use that does that, it’s the same dysfunction with the brain reacting to whatever that chemical influence is. And it can be a reaction from sugar. Or it can be cocaine. Or it could be marijuana, or whatever, and the treatment for it is the same as well. And the recovery process is the same for all of those drugs. But you know what I always found funny, because we have that here, every once in a while somebody gets… Some group goes on this tirade about… Speaking about things that aren’t alcohol. But the truth of the matter is, rarely in meetings do we ever speak about our use. It’s usually about the recovery, anyway.
14:29 John S: And most people, especially drug addicts if they want to recover from drugs, they also, they include alcohol in that. They say “It might not have been my drug of choice but for me to be clean, I should also abstain from alcohol”. So they should be welcomed to AA and they should be able to speak about whatever they want to in my opinion. But that’s beside the point. I think it’s great that you are welcoming all addictions and also really trying to focus on those people whose voices aren’t being heard, now that would include atheists and agnostics and free thinkers but that could also include gay, lesbian, transgender.
15:08 Cindy: Yes, I think it’s important because I know for me personally when I heard other people share, and it was something that I hadn’t shared when I was early in recovery, that’s what started to allow me to actually share what was going on in my head and that’s when I truly began to heal is when I quit keeping everything bottled up. And so I think it’s important to hear that even and it might not be what everybody needs to hear.
15:35 John S: Right.
15:36 Cindy: But nothing is.
15:37 John S: Right.
15:38 Cindy: I remember there was a lady who she traveled back and forth through Fayetteville. She had a son that lived here. I’m not sure if people was here but she was the first person I ever, ever heard share in a meeting getting sober without God and I don’t remember, within my first year, I believe, and when she moved away I was so sad because there she sat and she shared that she got sober without God and I had never even considered that was possible.
16:06 John S: Yeah.
16:06 Cindy: Because here where I live, I don’t know about other places, nobody ever talked about that. Nobody ever said that.
16:14 John S: Right.
16:14 Cindy: My sponsor didn’t tell me. I had my sponsor. She wasn’t like, “You have to believe in God”.
16:18 John S: Right.
16:19 Cindy: She just sort of led me to this… She was just my guide. And she was amazing. She was amazing. She never told me, “You have to do this or do that or whatever”
16:27 John S: She does sound great.
16:29 Cindy: But this woman who has moved away and needs to move back [chuckle] she was the first person I ever heard share that and it was important for me to hear.
16:38 John S: Yeah.
16:38 Cindy: Not important for everyone, but it really helped me, it helped me [chuckle] get better.
16:45 John S: No, I know. I was going to meetings on a very regular basis for 25 years in Kansas City and never once heard anybody say that they were an atheist [laughter] until finally many, many, many years later and my friend Jim is an open atheist, and he was the only one I knew in AA who was and so he and I started our group together the “We Agnostics” group here and but yeah, all that time I never, never, never knew. I didn’t even know they had these agnostic-secular AA meetings going on, which they’ve had for a long time. I had knew nothing about it. And around the time that you were getting sober, I think you said it was around 2012, right?
17:29 Cindy: Yes.
17:29 John S: That was about the time I was kind of realizing I was an atheist, and I was searching for just what you’re saying. I was looking for atheists in AA and stuff like that, and I really was having a hard time finding anything, there really wasn’t a lot out there. Yeah, that’s very, very true. But I’m also thinking there’s other under-represented communities too in recovery and I know maybe not so much with AA and other 12-step programs but the African-American community is very under-represented in AA and I don’t know how many stories were out there from that community. Native Americans would be another one. You know, just… You can just go on. But yeah…
18:09 Cindy: It is hard to find because when I first started looking, initially I was just looking for atheist or agnostic speakers just out of curiosity, and I had found one speaker. He was Irish, and he spoke at a convention in London and he was an atheist and I just… And I forget his name. I have to find. It was on YouTube but I found him and I was like ooh!
18:30 John S: Yeah.
18:30 Cindy: Because they just… And I couldn’t find. I found some on other sites but they’re only 15-20 minute shares. They are very short.
18:37 John S: Yeah.
18:38 Cindy: So I started looking… Are there any other ones? And then out of curiosity I started looking. Are there? Can I find Asian-American, African-American, gay, or lesbian stories? And you can’t, or I can’t.
18:48 John S: Yeah. No.
18:48 Cindy: And so… The internet is amazing though. It is, I feel… I was actually talking to to somebody today about how I feel more connected to recovery through the internet than I do through the community here. [chuckle]
19:02 John S: Yeah, I know what you mean, yeah.
19:05 Cindy: You can find people to talk to and with your site and stuff. I just found it, but…
19:11 John S: Yeah.
19:11 Cindy: It’s great, and I’m telling everybody that’s in my group people “You gotta go here”. [chuckle]
19:16 John S: No, that’s very true. I was never… I don’t really actually get into the online meetings so much, but I do all this other stuff online, like… Well the podcast or website, Facebook, and I’m always connected with other people in recovery through the internet online and I have good friends from all over the world, and we’ll have skype conversations from time to time or whatever, and it’s just really nice and I feel like I have got plenty to do to keep me occupied, and I could probably do this, and feel just like as involved in the program as I would be going to meetings every day. So yeah, it’s kind of nice to have that and to have input from outside my local community. You talked about, we were talking about being in bubbles, but for a long, long time, my AA world was pretty small, it was just my little group that I went to for all those years, it was a men’s group even in Kansas City, and so my whole experience was confined to these men.
20:23 John S: Mostly white, sharing about God and the big book [laughter] in these meetings, and that was all I knew. And so, I kind of woke up when I… It was kind of a good thing for me when I realized I was an atheist, because I started thinking outside of that bubble that I had been in for all that time, and it really catapulted me into a whole new respect for the program and appreciation for it and knowing that, like a friend of mine says, “We can create our own fellowship if the one that we are in doesn’t suit us.”
21:01 Cindy: Yeah, I think the fellowship is definitely important. For me, it was important to have people that I could… There’s something about talking to somebody else and you don’t have to explain yourself, they just get it. They’re like, “Yeah, I get it, I’ve been there.” [chuckle] It’s very powerful, for me anyway.
21:18 John S: Well, I’m glad you started your group in Fayetteville. That’s good. I know that there are some other groups in North Carolina also.
21:25 Cindy: We based ours off of a group in Raleigh, actually. When we started the group, there were two in Raleigh, and I went to one. And then, I didn’t go to the one that we based ours off of right away, but I did get the phone number for the founder and spoke with her, and she was incredibly helpful in helping us get started, and so, we just, we’re like, “We’re going to take your name too.” [laughter]
21:48 John S: Good.
21:48 Cindy: We’ll just be like your spinoff.
21:50 John S: And then, there’s another group in Asheville, then they meet…
21:53 Cindy: I’m not…
21:53 John S: They meet five days a week, I think.
21:55 Cindy: Oh, that’d be great. We tried to do that, but it was hard to find a venue [chuckle] that would let us meet.
22:02 John S: Yeah. Where did you finally find a place to meet?
22:05 Cindy: When we first started, we were meeting at the Quaker house here in Fayetteville. They were the only place. And then, we just this year moved to a treatment center, they’re called the Carolina Treatment Center. And they allow us to meet and it’s an open meeting, so they…
22:21 John S: Oh, nice. So do you get people that are in treatment that go to the meeting?
22:26 Cindy: We do get some people from the treatment center. We’ve just started back up today, I’m not sure how the meeting went because of the hurricane and stuff, but they’ve been really supportive there. We’re excited. We did ask if we could meet more, but it’s inconvenient for them and so… We’re a small group. We are a small group, but we still have some good meetings.
22:49 John S: Well, that’s great. Okay, well, I look forward to watching your progress as you start getting submissions. And if there’s anything that I can do here to help, I’d be more than happy to do that. I love audio and I love listening to speakers and trying to preserve as much… Anything I can find, I just really am into it, so I’m really excited about your project and really wish you the best with it, and will do anything I can to help you, if you need any help at all.
23:23 Cindy: I really appreciate it. You’re already helping so much. Like I said, when I started it I was just like, “Well, this is… What’s going to happen?” And then, you agreed to do this and help, and I was like, “Wow, this might actually happen.” I’m excited for it.
23:34 John S: So people out there, if you’d like to get in touch with Cindy, you can email her at email@example.com and the Voices in Recovery website is voicesinrecovery.weebly.com, and you can find all the information about that there. And we posted a little news article about it on AA Beyond Belief that has links to the website and to Cindy’s email address. So that’s how you can get in touch with them. Cindy, anything else that you need to… That we left out?
24:10 Cindy: No, not that I can think of. Thank you so much for inviting me here.
24:12 John S: Oh, thank you, it’s been wonderful.
24:14 John S: Yeah. Oh, thank you.
24:32 John S: Well, that concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. Thank you for listening, everybody. Again, you can visit Cindy’s website, Voices in Recovery at voicesinrecovery.weebly.com, and contact Cindy at her email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.